I think it is safe to say that Chuckanut 50k, held in Bellingham, WA, is arguably the most competitive trail 50k in the country. In the 2010 version I raced to a sixth place overall with a time of 3:57. This year I knew, from the lineup of entrants, that placing in the top ten and running that same time (or better) would involve a really strong showing on potentially a slightly slower (muddier) course.
Training went fairly well leading up to the race with only some minor foot issues which forced me take a little bit longer of a taper than normal. I definitely went into the race feeling well-rested, but could have probably logged a few more miles. The race weekend was kicked off by a tour of the Flora Health facility that churns out many health products including Udo's Oil which I take regularly. The tour was extremely interesting and I felt honored to be guided by the CEO Thomas and team manager Shane as they explained the history and everything that goes into producing these beneficial products. I was thoroughly amazed and inspired and am so grateful to be part of Team Machine!
(Some members of Team Machine surrounding the formulator of Udo's Oil.---Joe Grant, Scott Jurek, Udo Erasmus, Adam Campbell, Geoff Roes, me, Krissy Moehl, Photo: Shane Hart)
Friday night at Shane's beautiful home was the setting for a big family-style dinner that stocked us up for Saturday morning. It was really fun hanging out with the Hart family and chatting with friends. Before we knew it we were attaching our bibs to our shirts and finding our way to the starting line. Honestly it was like a family reunion at Fairhaven Park! I kept seeing people and I had to remember to focus on getting mentally prepared to hammer for four hours straight give or take.
7:59:50 a.m. Krissy gave us the countdown over the loud speaker....I closed my eyes...took a deep breath and tried to get centered before we were unleashed down the bike path.
(And we're off! Our adrenaline glands squeeze and Chuckanut 2011 is underway...Photo: Glenn Tachiyama)
The first two miles were like 5:40 pace and I was privileged to chat with two-time ultra runner of the year Geoff Roes about our plans for the year. Michael Smith of Flagstaff, Arizona put a little gap between Geoff and a chase pack that followed close behind. I knew that I was going too fast so I knocked the pace back a little and settled in with Timothy Olson for a bit. He told me that we were still running like a 6:08 pace...but I was glad that I slowed down from my road half-marathon pace! I knew I needed to ration out my energy for some of the climbs we would face over the next few hours. We enjoyed some nice views of the sound, the sun was shining, and it was turning out to be a gorgeous day.
The race started thinning out a little by mile 5 and I caught glimpse of Joe Grant ahead of me. I worked hard to try and catch up with him before the first aid station but he was moving at a pretty good clip. I continued to run my race and it was helpful that I knew the course from last year as we entered the first climb.
(Entering the forest and the first little climb. Photo: The Bellingham Herald)
We hit the switchbacks, climbed a few hundred feet, and eventually made it to the never-ending dirt road where I was surprised from behind by Phil Kochik. Phil, Jacob, and I would switch out the next few miles together until we hit the ridge trail. Once we entered this super fun, technical section I really started turning it on. Those two guys let me go and I tore off like a mad man. Just like last year this part of the race turned out to be the most enjoyable for me.
The next section that kind of traversed over to the base of Chinscraper was a little muddier than last year which may have added a little time. I was thankful to have my Inov-8 X-talon 212's to negotiate the slop, but even with the additional traction I still went down hard at one point and hit my arm on a rock. Luckily I was ok...just a little bruising. Also on this section when running hard w/ Phil and Jacob I was quite annoyed when my shoe lace came untied. Up until this point I was pretty pleased on how I was running and I thought that maybe I could reel in some of the guys in front of me.
As we bombed down to the base of Chinscraper at mile 20 I was told that I was in 10th place. I quickly re-filled my bottle half-way and charged toward the steep climb. My training this season hasn't included as many gorge climbs as last year but I still felt pretty confident in tackling this short, steep section. Once I started picking it up a little I spotted 9th place Adam Campbell up ahead. This motivated me even more!
When I finally made it up and over I started to hammer down the backside. Just when we took a hard left and continued down I felt a little cramp in the hamstring. I was forced to slow down a little and I heard Phil closing in on me. He said, "come on Yassine!" but I couldn't muster up anything more than a cruising 7:00 minute pace. I wanted to scream down the mountain at more like 5:30 pace...This was the section where I closed in on Hal Koerner last year! Eventually Jacob came zooming past me too and I was hoping this wasn't going to become a trend.
It was pretty frustrating but I just held it together all the way to the bottom and the last aid station. I quickly grabbed a couple gels and motored on for the last flat 10k to the finish. During this time I started feeling much stronger partly because of the gels that I ate but mostly because I felt that my tempo-run training prepared me for this much needed gear late in this race. I was able to reel in Jacob who was obviously having some problems but Phil was long gone. I continued to monitor my watch and knew that it was going to be really close to a sub four-hour race for me.
The closer I got the more I started to kick up the pace. My watch said 3:58 and a spectator told me I had like a quarter mile to go! I basically dug deep and gave it everything I had and was as close as you can get to a sprint after running for almost four hours. As I came into the park and I could see the finish line chute my watch clicked over to four hours. I came in and crossed the line 20 seconds after four hours... good for 11th place overall.
All in all I felt pretty satisfied in how I ran. It was pretty on par with what I did last year and to be following close in the footsteps of some of these elite runners was quite an honor. This was by far the most competitive 50k I have ever run and I was completely humbled by the talent that showed up last Saturday. Chuckanut is a fun race and it's deceptively tough. 5,000 feet of climbing in roughly 18 miles is pretty stout and the flat 13-ish will keep you honest. And for the winners...men: Geoff Roes...um...well...this superstar again shows us why he is Ultra Runner of the Year! and the women: Ellie Greenwood ripped this course and it was so inspiring to see her come into the finish line (not far behind me) w/ a big smile on her face. Watch out for this woman as she continues to shred the trails and roads! Nice work to ALL runners who ran this past weekend! :-)
Krissy, Ellen, and volunteers did another wonderful job...Thank you! I can see this one being a yearly "reunion" where friends come to race fast and slow, and enjoy each others company here in the great pacific northwest.
Full Results HERE
Amphipod 20 oz. bottle w/ waist pack
Inov-8 X-talon 212's
Drymax Mini crew trail socks