Chuckanut 50k Race Report

Last year, when writing race reports I would drop a hook into you and pull you along for a wild ride on whether or not I was going to make it or prevail, holding out until the end to give you the results and triumphant, "I made it". As I sit down to write this, a day after my first "real" race of only my second year of ultrarunning, I think its time for a change. This week of my life has been defined by change and mutability, so as goes my life so goes my blog.

This has been my week. Sometimes things just conspire to come together in positive ways all at once. Even when you are able to look back and see that you cultivated the seeds of what you now sow, it is still a validating feeling when things start to blossom. For the past several months, instead of things in my life feeling like they were coming together or even moving in a positive direction, they have felt instead very difficult, like there was a heavy weight on my shoulders. I kept working to put things in motion for that to change, but frankly, I was starting to lose a bit of faith. One of the things that weighed most heavily and influenced the most other things in my life was my job. While it offered the benefits very flexible hours, the ability to work from home and decent pay, it was crushing my soul. That may sound extreme, but imagine if you will feeling like those benefits were a mere tether or shackle to something you didn't want to be a part of. Compounding that feeling was the internal struggle about my job and desire to leave due to the fact that it is in fact a family business. I have been job searching seriously for 2 months now and even before that, I applied and interviewed to get into the Seattle Public Library and King County Library Systems continuous recruitment pools. It is very, very hard to get a job in either system. Put it this way, you have to do 3+hours of interviewing, just to get into the recruitment pool and once in you have zero guarantee they will ever call you up for a specific position interview. Since I was in grad school 4 years ago, I have been wanting to be back in the public library. In fact, public and academic libraries are the only ones I can see myself in and are also the two hardest types of positions to get. That is how I ended up in private industry. Late January, I received position from SPL for a children's librarian position and I immediately sent in my letter of interest and a few weeks ago went for my next round of interviews. I had felt the interview had gone well, but in no way felt I had it in the bag. Thursday, I received a call from the branch manager, offering me the job! In that moment, it felt like 1,000 lbs had been lifted off my shoulders, the clouds had parted and the sun was shining. On Friday, I enthusiastically accepted the job. It is a perfect compliment for my running, as it is not full time, but does include full time benefits and excellent wages (yeah for the librarians union!). While this literally thrusts me out of the comfortable, safe and stable position (in life) I am currently in, I feel like instead of being afraid, I feel liberated. It's like I jumped and realized, "hey, I actually CAN fly". This change is that significant and will quickly hasten in many other new changes, like moving to West Seattle where the job is located!

Running Chuckanut on Saturday would be the second high note of an already phenomenal week. I put together a really great race, finishing 17th overall and 1st place woman in a time of 4:40.

Over the past two weeks, I have been mini-tapering for Chuckanut 50k. While not an "A" race, it is a race to me. Not training, not training through it, nope. I wanted to be ready. And when I thought back to last year, I realized that I did in fact race every race that I entered. None of this "training race" stuff. Having recently read and reflected Greg's posting on "just a training run", I realized that I fully agreed with him. There is a benefit to "just a training run" races, yes. They are called FatAsses. For me, a race like Chuckanut no matter what I could have told myself had I decided to go into it not rested, is very much a race. And I would have paid a price running it under those false pretenses. Racing Chuckanut was a way to gauge how my training and fitness are progressing. Mentally it held alot of sway for me. I had been feeling pretty tired after a training block of 4 big weeks, a so took the past two weeks to taper, running 50+ miles last week and about 30 miles this week pre-race. For the past few days, I was not feeling spectacular. My legs were feeling a bit tired, I was overall just feeling a bit drained. When I got the good news on Thursday, I found a bit of levity but driving up to Bow, WA on Friday afternoon, I was a bit concerned how I would fare. Call it sophomore angst, call it what you will but a part of me was still wondering if I would be able to pick up where I left off. Despite how strongly I have been running and training this year, a sliver of doubt was stuck in my paw. Was last year a fluke?

I stayed with Race Director and very close friend, Krissy in Bow at her parents house, along with several other racers and volunteers. Late Friday night we had to "earn our keep" and help take all the kitchen stuff and food over to the race start and move it in. Before we left, I ate my usual pre-race meal of sweet potatoes and guacamole, as well as a large salad. We managed to get everything moved quickly and were home and in bed by 10pm. I set my alarm for 5am, so I could get up and eat and then head back to bed for another hour twenty of sleep. I did not sleep well. Despite having luxury accommodations (a room to myself!), I slept very restlessly. I woke up at midnight and was thoroughly convinced it was 4:45am. Once I established it was not in fact, I slept but had one of those miss the exam, show up to school naked type dreams in which I missed the race start because I was looking for a parking place. I have never had those kind of dreams and usually sleep incredibly well. To top it off, I was feeling a bit of the snuffles set in which was the last thing I needed or wanted. 5am rolled around, I hopped out of bed, went upstairs and made my rice bread with almond butter and ate my brutalized banana. I felt ok, but not great. I wasn't really feeling pre-race jitters as I looked outside at the rain, I was feeling almost indifferent, which is far more worrying to me. I headed back to bed and hope that the extra hour of sleep would make a difference.

It didn't, not much at least. I got up, suited up and ate two spoonfuls of Chia seeds. For those of you who have been wanting to know how I consume my Chia seeds, that's it. Two teaspoons straight up with lots of water. They would once again prove that they are a dream ultra food during the race. Dagan (Krissy's boyfriend who was running his first 50k ever!) and I headed out into the dreary rain and drove to the race start. We had reserved parking and so we got to sneak into the lot that was actually at the race start, while pretty much everyone else had to go to overflow parking which was decently far away.

We went inside and procured our race numbers and I met up with Alison, who had also been staying at Krissy's parent house. We mutually lamented by our lack of motivation. I am not sure if "lack of motivation" is even the right way to describe it, it was a mixture of emotions I still can't even seem to describe. The start was much larger than most other ultras I have been at. Being the 10th largest ultra in the country, it felt more small marathon, than ultra. We lined up about 10 minutes late, I had hedged my bets and opted to not wear a rain coat and just wear shorts. As we stood at the starting line, it seemed like the rain had let up and the temperature was cool but just right, around 41-42 degrees. I mingled with the usual suspects and worked my way towards the front in order to get out at a good speed. Alison asks me if I am going to take off fast and I say no, that I am hoping to run mid 7's for the first 10k which goes along the flat, manicured Interurban trail. I said a brief hi to Scott Jurek, Brian Morrison and Bryan Dayton (the worlds most brief introduction ever). And we were off.

Immediately my word was out the door as Alison yells, "Bye Devon" and I sped off with the lead pack of guys. I cruised behind the fast guys about 20-30 feet back and told myself that I would be well advised to not try to keep up. It took about 4-5 miles before they were out of sight down the path,which meant I was clocking mid 6's. Two weeks ago, I had come out to the course and run the middle 20 miles with Fairhaven runner and friend Dan Probst, so I knew what was to come. As we crossed into a familiar section, I mentally prepared for my first hill. When Dan and I had run, it had been super slow going for me on the uphills, I had absolutely no juice on the hills, so as I approached the trail to Fragrance Lake, I was nervous at how much power I would have on the uphills. That said, knowing the course made a huge difference because I was able to know how much juice (strength) I needed at what points and what sections of the trail I could exploit either for its flat, downhill or technical.
Along the Interurban (photo by Glenn)

I sped through the first aid station without stopping, as my waterbottle was mostly full, the chia keeping my hydration steady. I also knew I only had 4.4 miles to the next aid station. I looped down back on to Interurban and then took my right hand turn up into the shade of the trees and started working my way up. I was pleasantly surprised how my legs responded. I didn't suddenly have super human ability to fly on the ups but I was tackling the hills well and my legs definitely were 1,000% better than they had been 2 weeks previous. I ran up the hill with a guy named Jason who was running his first 50k and had never done more than a trail 25k! We made our way up to Fragrance Lake, trading places on the ups and down. It was quite a mudfest, but not nearly as much as what was to come. Nearing the lake, another guy came up behind me was breathing hard behind me but just kind of lurked there for a while. He would come on strong on the ups and fade on the flats and downs a bit. I am perfectly willing to let someone pass, graciously in fact. However, all I ask is that we remember our manners and politely ask. Several times in the race, I felt like I was trying to retrain people passive aggressive natures and encourage assertiveness. How hard is it to say, "may I pass please?". Jason, myself and "Lurker" as I renamed him made it around the lake and headed down towards aid station 2. Jason introduced himself to Lurker and I laughed and said, that I had given him that name and he thought it was funny. He said he was lurking because Jason and I were much faster on the flats and downs so it made more sense to try and hang with us on the downs.
Mind the muck on the downhills, coming into Aid 2 (photo by Glenn)

We made it to aid station 2 and prepared ourselves for the grind up Cleator Road to aid station 3. It is 2.9 miles on a gravel road uphill the whole way. That said, it is a very runnable grade. Steep but not too steep. I again passed up aid at the station and got into a rhythm going up Cleator Road. Jason hung with me and Lurker took off ahead of us. Two weeks previously, Cleator had been a nightmare to me, but today it felt good. Really good. This pleased me greatly since I knew that once I made it to the top I only had one more "hill of significance"--Little Chinscraper. The section from Aid 3 to Aid 4 mostly was right up my alley. I made it to the top of Cleator Road and Krissy was there and it was really nice to see her. Jove and some other familiar faces were also there and I handed off my waterbottle to be filled with Nuun, especially since it was 7.6 miles back to this aid station (which was both Aid 3/4). I asked for Clif Shot but my hands were so cold, I couldn't open it. Krissy grabbed it, ripped it open with her teeth and handed it too me saying, "see thats how much love you!" It was a nice boost to see her.

I headed along the ridgeline with a pack of guys making my way over the technical landscape which rolls, dips and dives. I clipped along comfortably, though still pushing the pace as much as I could. I knew that the next woman could be right behind me, especially since there were some very fast ladies in the field. Somewhere along the ridge which offered no view today except that of dull gray clouds, Jason realizes he's made a huge error in judgement and starts fading. I run with a pack of 3-4 guys and finally made it off the ridge and to the lost lake trail. Let the shoe sucking mud begin. The trail is so muddy in parts that even the "clear" path still puts you ankle deep in mud. I am feeling strong still and make my way up a gentle grade towards the trail sign that use to have the dictionary on it. I was very sad to see two weeks ago that the dictionary that has been sitting on that trail sign was gone. Who steals a dictionary which is a mini-icon like that? Along the trail I see Doug M, former RD for the race and he says that at Aid 3, I was about 2 minutes up on the next woman. I knew I would be strong in the final 10 miles, but had to survive Chinscraper first. I told myself that if I could get over Chinscraper without being caught than I would be hard to catch. But knowing she was only 2 minutes back lit a fire under my ass and I flew down the hill towards the Chinscraper turn off. I took my S Caps, aspirin, caffeine and maca and drank some more Nuun. As I went down the hill I registered a sharp blister pain in my foot and went about stomping on it as hard as I could to pop it. The pain dissipated once I successfully popped it.Its 1 mile to the top of the hill and I powered up as fast as I could, which translated as a fast walk and jog on the flatter parts. I caught up to Lurker and another fellow. Lurker lamented that he didn't know what was wrong with his legs and that he usually felt way better on this hill. I fell in behind him and the other guy and made my way slowly to the top, glancing over my shoulder at every switchback, but seeing no one coming. Finally, I see a volunteer/fan directing us to the left and I squeal with delight, "we're at the top!?!", I run around the corner and Glenn is there taking pictures and cheering me on. I bound into the top parking lot where there are many fans congregated, cheering. I do a fist pumping, leg kicking, "I am over the top" dance as I run, saying "Yes, I am done with the hill!". The two guys who were ahead of me didn't seem to have anything to speed up with, so I kicked into next gear and apologized for powering ahead of them right before an aid station but I was on a mission. I flew into Aid 3/4 got more Nuun for the duration of the race and took off down Cleator Road. I had under 10 miles to go and my legs were feeling pretty strong. There was a nice 3+ miles downhill. I came running down Cleator and was nearing the sharp left off the road when I hear my name being cheered. I recognize James and wait.....Alison? Whats she doing there, shouldn't she be running? I hoped it wasn't her hamstring. They cheer wildly for me and I feel uplifted by seeing them. Part of me also say, if its not her behind me, who is it? Helps push me a bit. I make it down to the aid station and without breaking stride go right through and back on to Interurban for the 6.3 back to the finish.

Yeah I made it to the top of Chinscraper (photo by Glenn)

Finishing strong with Todd (photo by Krissy)

I had been about 10-15 yards behind a guy all the way down the hill and we were now running together, no one in sight either direction as far as the eye could see. We chat a bit, introduce ourselves and decide that the most mutually beneficial thing to do is to run together. Despite him expressing that his legs were not feeling great, we were able to keep an excellent pace. I am sure he thought I was a bit of a loon since I was chattering intermittently at a million miles a hour and was nutty like I get at that point. It is excitement and exhaustion all rolled into one. I ate another Gu not out of needing the calories, but wanting the caffeine. Chia had kept me hydrated and fueled, so I needed only 3 Gus for the race (really needing only 2). The Interurban is definitely not fun on the way back, but I was getting more and more excited to be done! Todd, my pace buddy was running his first 50k, but was a long time adventure racer. I apologized for being too chatty, but he said that he appreciated the company and that I was enabling him to keep going. We finally got into the more residential area and he said, just so you know, I am not going to try and take off at the end. I said, I usually push in through the finish but that I think it was appropriate that we finish together since we had helped each other. After about 3 different, "its just around the corner"s, we finally crossed up and over into the park and the finish line came into sight. They announced our names as we pushed through the final 50ms (mine correctly, his not). I had run the final 10 miles in 1:15 and finished the race in 4:40:29. Krissy was there to congratulate me, as were Alison and Alexa (my new best friend). Krissy told me that my time was great especially with the amount of mud we were facing. I felt great and couldn't stop smiling. I was also very excited because I was "test running" my new Inov-8 Roclite 295s and absolutely loved them. Flexible through the foot, wide in the toe box for my flipper feet! Love them!

After the race, I hung out with Alison and Alexa, who both pulled out because they weren't feeling it. I also chatted with top male/ 1st overall finisher and Inov-8 teammate Bryan Dayton. The top 5 men were within 4 minutes of each other (including fellow Inov-8/Nuun teammate Brian Morrison in 4th, behind Scott Jurek) and the top 3 woman were within 5 minutes, with the 2nd and 3rd coming in 4 and 5 minutes behind me respectively. What a great race. After a bit of mingling, I hoped into my car and headed back home. It was a very validating race and my doubts and fears about my training, fitness and abilities lifted off my shoulders. I hadn't realized it before the race, but upon talking to my mother after the race, it registered: I was running happy for the first time in a long time. Despite the doubts I went into the race with, deep down inside and more fundamentally my funk, my despair were gone, replaced with hope, happiness and deeply abiding peace.

It doesn't get much better than that. New job, great race, time spend with great friends. They say good things come in threes, so who knows...maybe I haven't seen the end of my luck just yet!