Chuckanut 50k Race Reports from VanderWiele, Graham

As you might have heard, BDP was stacked at this year’s Chuckanut 50k. Corrine Malcom, Scarlett Graham, Nikki VanderWiele, as well as Nikki’s husband, Josh all competed in last weekend’s race with high goals in mind. It was Nikki’s first 50k trail race, and Scarlett, Corrine and Josh were seeking high placement on the podium, with the race a stepping stone for Corrine, as she aims for the Gorge Waterfalls 100k on April 2, 2016. Our women went on to sweep the Whatcom County Division, with Corrine taking 5th, Scarlett 12th and Nikki 15th. Josh took 15th for the men. Results can be found HERE. Post race, the women reflected on their experience, and it is with great pleasure that I share their stories here. Flying by the seat of her racing shorts, Corrine is buried in midterms, and notes that the Chuckanut 50k was super fun. She considers the race to have gone well with the goal being to have as much fun as possible. She enjoyed the spectators, the cheering (the best of which she notes were Maria, Lydia and Amber), rubbing elbows with the big gunners and maintaining her focus of keeping the race controlled in alignment with her training. She loved standing on the starting line with her teammates in BDP singlets, and we love her. Read up Nikki and Scarlett’s experience in the Chuckanut 50k below!

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Purpose

by Nikki VanderWiele

In early October, post-Chicago Marathon, I felt melancholy and empty handed; months of training, long runs, workouts and plans had come and gone but the goal wasn’t met, the dream didn’t happen. I had nothing to show for the effort that I’d given, save for a mediocre time. I wanted so much more. I wanted a re-do, a second chance, something. I wasn’t fast enough for a late comp into upcoming big races, and my hamstring still hurt from the effort, so I set aside the desire for a redo in the marathon. Instead I aimed my focus on a cross country season. Then cross didn’t happen. Weeks went by and my training felt like it lacked purpose; I invested in my friends and their dreams, and in those aiming for the OT’s, living vicariously through them. These plans unraveled as well with injuries, last minute time changes, and in the end, I still felt like I needed something more.

That’s how it evolved. This Can I, should I, do I even want toTrails? An ultra? I never intended to race a trail or ultra, considering them more like fun runs than races. But, then I started training for the Chuckanut 50k and I fell in love. With training came views, challenges, hard effort and fatigue, but also rewards and a feeling of accomplishment at the same time. I love that the time doesn’t have to mean something and that the best way to track my progress in training came via segment chasing on Strava and geeking out over times posted by my new found trail friends. The runs got longer, the hills got steeper and Strava encouraged progress.

Christmas Day my husband, Josh, who also raced the 50k, led me through the middle 18 – a test run, which is one of those things where if you can finish, then maybe you’re equipped to handle the 50k. We ran for hours in the snow; it was dense, and I got fatigued. We had to turn around early. Though I didn’t complete the run as we had planned, he registered me for the race anyway.  On the calender – 3/19 Chuckanut 50k. A few more weeks, a few more tries – with Josh, with Scarlett, solo, because I wanted to figure it out, prove myself capable. In doing so I learned so much: about the trails, about toughness, about myself and what I can do, about how Josh is patient, all the advice Scarlett, Corrine, Maria and Tad have given, their investment and invitations. I’ve never had more fun preparing for a race. Is it the trails? I’m not very good at the technical sections or the climbs…Is it the company? I love Saturday morning hours together and the effort shared. Or, is it the newness? Learning new skills, pushing my fueling, having clear goals and purpose. I think it’s all of them –  but mostly it’s about having a goal.

Race week came. Everyone sent texts and notes and love. I felt loved and I felt their hope and belief. I tend to shy away from this sort of thing because it builds on a pressure in me to perform, but I tried to look at it differently –  it really isn’t pressure – it’s votes of confidence. I aimed to soak it in. A goal shared gains value and I claimed my goal and I let them buy in and invest in it and they did in so many ways. I couldn’t be more thankful. Race week was routine. The runs felt easy and with nerves in check I felt ready. Day of, we warmed up, gave hugs and read last minute cards – it felt good to have so much support.

The race started. It felt weird to start so easy and not try to get into position, to let people go and to focus on sticking to THE PLAN – 8:00 minute pace on the Urb – I started out a little too fast, but felt in control. The girls running alongside me were breathing heavy and seemed to be struggling, which was surprising, as we hadn’t even hit the good stuff. Once we hit Fragrance, within 5 minutes all but one were gone, and then at Cleator, the last fell away. Though I walked some sections of Cleator, I passed a lot of people, feeling good and confident. At the top, my teammate Lydia said I was in 15th, and other teammates, Amber and Maria asked if I needed anything, told me I was doing great. I was having fun. But then the ridge…I hate the Ridge.

I started strong and was all alone, but 2/3rds across and 10+ runners caught me one-by-one, recklessly barreling down; I had to keep stepping aside for them or try to stay ahead of them and I ended up stubbing my toe, tripping, and then pass them back when we’d get to the next incline. I was frustrated and grumpy and started to get tired. Pressing on I pass the chumps that passed me on the Ridge because they started to walk and I call them something in my head.

Lost lake looped and climbed and the fatigue was real. I, too, began walk, even looking forward to Chinscraper, as I knew it would be another walking section. I hit the top with relief, told myself it was time to go, to fly down the hill and go all out on the Urb. The downhill was ok, I caught 5 more guys but it was slower than usual; I hit the Urb at 4:06, hoping to break 5 hours. All I needed was 8:00’s and I could go sub-5. The pace felt like 7:00’s – I continued to push and it hurt. The watch dinged, said I was well over 9:00. Just hang on, rally, don’t give up! I walked the switchbacks at Arroyo, thinking to myself, Really? You run these all the time! But I was tired and my legs said No. The last 10k was boring – I was hating the guys earlier and just wanted to be alone on the mountain, but here I was alone on the Urb and it dragged on. The 5 people I passed wasn’t enough motivation to keep me going, I struggled all the way in, with a finishing time of 5:03. Not quite sub 5, but close, 15th female and our team ended up sweeping Whatcom County Division; goals met. 5:03 isn’t missing the mark, it’s just a ‘not yet’ and that’s fuel for next year. I learned that I find the training more fun than the racing, it involves more camaraderie among friends. Whether I race a trail ultra again or choose a different distance, the training together is what I value most.

In the end, the melancholy of October wasn’t really due to failure. It was due to a lack of purpose. Because in running (or in life, if your life isn’t running) you always need a purpose. A goal – a not-too-easy, not-too-hard dream to chase because believing in something creates hope and motivation.

Written by Nikki VanderWiele on her experience running the 2016 Chuckanut 50k

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I Want to Rock Too

by Scarlett Graham

Saturday was my third Chuckanut 50k, Chuckanut being my first and only ultra-distance race to date. In my two previous attempts, I felt I raced as fast as I could have, given my fitness. I suffered a lot, but overall felt like I worked hard, didn’t do anything too stupid, and I was satisfied with my demolished post-race quads. This Saturday, however, I ran my fastest time on the course by 2 minutes but didn’t feel like I ran to my fitness. And, well, it’s obviously super unsatisfying to have a bad day when you’ve been training for months to have a good day.

So what happened? I had a race plan that I devised using past experience on the 50k course and a spreadsheet that breaks it down into segments, where you can input average pace per miles. With that, I had time estimates for when I should be done with the Interurban (51 minutes), done with 2 Dollar (just under 1:30), done with the Ridge (2:30), done with Chinscraper (3:25), and done with the overall race (4:45). I executed the plan for the first 16 miles, and was feeling comfortable, even holding myself back at times, yet still steadily catching woman #7 and #6. Once I hit the relatively flat Lost Lake trail, I wanted to let it flow more and run hard! However, when I tried to go, I would get a side stitch in my right side and be forced to slow or walk. So instead of getting my race on, I had to slog along, managing a side stitch for the last 15 miles. I did lots of things to manage it during those last 2.5 hours: I took deep breaths, I leaned over to give my side relief, I ran with my arms in the air, I walked, I tried to run hard and change paces, I drank electrolytes, I took in calories, I loosened my fuel belt, and I contemplated hitching a ride back to town. But in the end, nothing solved it…but I did manage my way back.

One of the only things that I did differently on race day compared to any other long run was to wear a fuel belt instead of a vest. Different gear doesn’t seem like a good reason to me, but I remember cinching it up tighter at the starting line, and maybe it was too much. And maybe that eventually caused the stitch and I was too far into the race/oxygen debt to recover? I’ve done something similar in the past with shoe laces…but at least I had some sweet bruising to show for it (this was 2015 Chuckanut and another story).

Looking ahead?  If this happens again, I’m taking the Tennessee Honey at the Chinscraper aid station. No, but, really looking ahead, I’ve got the BMO road marathon in about 6 weeks to get some racing redemption. I’m also planning to volunteer at trail races, because volunteers rock and I want to rock too.

Finally, while I did get my racing “fun” on Saturday, I had a ton of training fun thanks to my teammates at BDP and the Often Epic Wednesday night runs. Plus there were lots of friendly supportive faces on the beautiful course including the BDP ladies, Tad lurking with his camera, Dan and Brian hauling H20/snacks down Chinscraper, John in his St. Patty’s day outfit, Jessie faking it but passing me anyway on the urb, going under 5 hours with Bike Valente, and Ben at the finish wearing his Chuckanut shirt. When I first started writing this, I thought I wouldn’t have anything nice to say, but clearly that is not the case!

Written by Scarlett Graham on her experience running the 2016 Chuckanut 50k

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*Photo Cred: Tad Davis, the wonderful partner to Maria Dalzot, is an incredible photographer, and takes really beautiful race/action shots. All of the photographs posted in this blog are his.