Chuckanut 50k race report- A battle of will

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

It started pouring about halfway to Bellingham. Not just raining, raining so hard I could barely see out the front window of the car as we drove through the early morning pre-dawn darkness. I was not enthused. I was downright ready to turn around and drive back to my sister's house and not run Chuckanut. I felt like a cranky little baby. I didn't want to slog through the pouring rain and mud. I was lacking killer instinct for racing, in fact, I was lacking any inclination to race at all. My mind has just been so many other places recently, under so many other stresses, that it lacked the ability to focus on the idea of racing.

I did in fact make it to the start line. Nathan wouldn't give me the opt out or play into my vacillating. He simply got out of the car and laced up his shoes to race and I followed suit, grumbling the whole way.

I saw lots of familiar and friendly faces at the start and felt more at ease. Unlike road races, the energy at the start is much more casual and laid back. I didn't feel like I needed to be "on" from the word "go". I had time to get warmed up AFTER the gun went off. And off we did go...

I started out on the interurban slowly, pretty far back in the pack considering I know I have the speed to take the race out fast. I was probably 20th female through the first half mile, but gradually moved up in the first few miles, dropping my pace down into the 6:50s. It felt pretty easy and I worked my way up to run with Alicia Shay and Cassie Scallon. I assumed they were running 1-2, but was quickly corrected that last year's runner up Jodee Adams-Moore had taken it out hard. By the first aid station just after mile 6, we were already 3 minutes behind. I thought to myself, "well, guess she'll either set a huge CR or blow up- it's a race for 2nd now!".

Yeah, Glenn Photo!!! Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

I never felt truly in a race mindset. I struggled with my motivation as I went up the first slippery climb, my calves protesting. But after all the debacles, fails and craziness of this year already, I resolved no matter what, just to keep moving forward as quickly as my body would allow.

Once at the top of Cleator, I fell into a nice rhythm on the ridge and loped along, feeling neither good nor bad, just pretty steady. The ridge is particularly choppy and has lots of dicey footing, but I managed it better than I've managed anything technical in a long time, probably since I fell last September and hurt myself badly.

The stretch along the ridge from Aid Station #3 to the Aid Station at the bottom of Chinscraper is a long stretch and I just tried to stay focused on moving forward. I glanced over my shoulder a few times to see if Alicia or Cassie were still right behind me but I didn't see them. I ran with a few guys along the trail and tried to prepare myself for the slog up Chinscraper. By the time I actually arrived, I was perfectly fine with the idea of it sucking, taking forever and being a power hike. I figured I could just push the last 10 miles. I hiked as fast as I could up Chinscraper and was pleasantly surprised to find that it was shorter than I remembered. 5 years earlier, I ran a 4:41 and won but my memory of Chinscraper was that is was about 3 times longer. Glad my memory was incorrect.

 Smiling because I know seeing Glenn means I am at the hardest part/near the top

Photo by Glenn Tachiyama

Near the top I glanced down and saw Cassie, she was a few switchbacks below and I knew that I had my work cut out for me in the next 10 miles. Cassie and Alicia are both very speedy runners and while I too am fast, I didn't know if I had the heart and will to really race to the end.

I hit the road and started descending. I glanced over my shoulder and saw Alicia speeding along behind me, Cassie not far behind. I mentioned to the guy I was running with that I was going to have to do battle. He told me just to bide my time and wait for the last tiny hill with 2 miles to go to make my move. I assured him I was not feeling peppy enough to put moves on people, but he laughed me off and told me I'd be just fine.

Alicia fell into step behind me as we descended down the trail. I really liked running down the trail instead of the road the way the course use to go. Much more beautiful and sets you up better for the flat less than scenic final miles.

We were nearing the bottom when I could sense someone wanted to pass me. I thought it was Alicia, so I said, "nice work Alicia" and moved out of the way. It wasn't Alicia it was Cassie and she was blowing by me like I was walking. It seemed the battle was on. I checked my waterbottle and there was enough water seemingly to get me through to the end of the race. I didn't want to spend time at the final aid station nor carry water I wasn't going to drink. I hate carrying hydration.

I blew through the aid station, as did Cassie and Alicia. I am quite adept at running with very little hydration or fuel, so I figured this worked most in my favor. I quickly took back the lead from Cassie and she fell off the pace. The transition from flying down hill to the extra flat is brutal and I took advantage having running very moderately down the hill. Alicia was hot on my heels. We had over 6 miles to race and I needed to figure out how to get my head into the game.

I hadn't felt like racing all day and there I was, in the throws of battle, trying to find a way to get my mind up for it. I have been reading a book called "Your Brain at Work" by David Rock. It is a fascinating book and talks about how the brain functions and how you can optimize your focus and "direct" our own brain through understanding the science of the brain. I was failing to talk myself logically into racing hard, so I decided to use some of the idea in order to release the right chemicals in my brain to put up a fight. And sure enough, I managed to get enough adrenaline and dopamine flowing in my brain to be hungry for a fight. I was focused and I was into it. I was ready to have fun.

At this point Alicia, had made a little move on me. Moving ahead of me quickly, but only gaining about a 20 foot advantage. I knew as soon as she didn't instantly pull away that she was mine. She had hoped to break me, but instead I could see that I was feeling a lot fresher and had more confidence in the remaining distance.

I pulled past Alicia with 4 miles to go but didn't drop the hammer. I was waiting for the little hill with 2 miles to go to do just what me earlier running partner had advised. I stayed comfortable, alert and ready. I checked back at Alicia occasionally around turns and got myself excited for a final 2 mile tempo.

I crossed the road and hit the little hill and made my move. I simply went, without regard for potentially blowing up. I knew I could do it. I knew my body would respond. I dropped the pace and pushed. It was fun. I hit a 6:50 mile, then for my final mile dropped a 6:38. I looked back a few times and soon could not even see Alicia anymore. I didn't relent. I just pushed to the end. It was incredibly satisfying.

I crossed the line in 2nd place in 4:22, nearly 20 minutes faster than when I won in '08.  Jodee had obliterated the course record and ran an amazing race. Alicia finished 2 minutes behind me and Cassie 2 minutes behind her. Nathan came in a few minutes after that and we said quick goodbyes and hoped in the car back to Seattle. The reason we'd come to Seattle in the first place was not the race but to help my sister and her husband move to San Francisco! (So excited for them to be here!) Nothing says recovery like an incredibly long road trip.

All in all, the weekend was a blast. I did battle in my mind and found new ways to give myself the will to fight. I got up for the occasion when it mattered and I had fun doing it.

Thanks to Krissy for putting on a fantastic race! Chuckanut is a classic!