Bellingham Trail Marathon & Half!

On Saturday, November 4th, before Daylight Savings gained us an extra hour of morning light, teammates Nikki and Maxx set out to tackle Destination Trail’s Bellingham Trail Marathon; also on tap was Kathryn who competed in the Bellingham Trail 1/2 Marathon, racing for the first time since summer after enduring chronic plantar fasciitis. A few days earlier the sky glowed in purpled light, and a half a foot of snow fell on Bellingham. Race morning, as Nikki and Maxx warmed up in the dark, snow and ice still covered the course. Many trees had fallen due to the premature snow, and though some were removed, many others remained as mid-race hurdles. The Bellingham Trail Marathon started at 7:30 am, and in a cluster of spotted headlamp light, a group of badass trail fans took off, knowing full well that it would be a day for racing and enduring, not for times or splits or specs. Kathryn would start an hour and a half later, after busing to the start of the 1/2 with the other racers, and having the added benefit of light. We’ll start off with Nikki’s Race Report:

“My fall training has been going great; I’ve been having fun jumping into a string of races, starting with a near PR at the Homestead 15k, a fun time chasing Lauren in the rain at Baker Lake 25k, and testing my trail skills on a beautiful day at the Lake Padden Trail 1/2. The Bellingham Trail Marathon hosted by Destination Trail on Nov 4 was set to be the end of a fun season. Candice’s races are notoriously difficult – 26.2 miles with 5000 ft of elevation gain and all of my least favorite trails on Chuckanut definitely sounded like a challenge. To add to the challenge, the Saturday before the race I did a 16 mile training run in the trails, completing it in one of my best times thus far. I felt strong on the climbs, confident; like I was finally becoming a real trail runner. That is until I tripped on a rock descending fast down Lost Lake…I did a full somersault, hit my sacrum on a rock, and got a few nice scratches and bruises. I shook it off as a clumsy mistake and finished the run. I was achy and sore the next few days but figured it was to be expected and was able to do all my training runs as planned. When the cold weather set in on Thursday and Friday I noticed way more soreness and started to worry about whether it would actually hold up for 26.2 miles of trails. With the dropping temps, continued snow, and gusty winds I was starting to panic – a tough course, tough conditions, and a sore back seemed like too much to handle. I hate winter. I’m always cold, not a fan of slippery, muddy trails, and I’m a bit of a chicken. Luckily my coach answered all my desperate emails, my co-workers checked my injury to assure me it was just a bruise, just stiff, and my teammates convinced me to at least show up and give it a try. It’s important to have good friends for your moments of weakness 😉.

Photos by: Takao Suzuki

Saturday morning in the pre-dawn snowy darkness I pick up Courtney and headed to the race.  Walking across the snow to grab my bib in the dark I was convinced I shouldn’t do it. I didn’t even have a headlamp with me for the warm up. But we bumped into Maxx and he was prepared with a nice bright light and after more whining and a few tears in the car, they convinced me to warm up. Bundled up in all my winter clothes, it wasn’t as cold as I expected and the footing in the snow was surprisingly manageable, best of all my back barely hurt.We lined up for final pre-race instructions, they gave a hurried count down, the gun sounded, and we started across the snow covered grass in the dark. The first few miles of trails were dimly lit but all the fellow racers yelled out warnings for trees, rocks, and other hazards, and a few people were smart enough to wear headlamps which helped illuminate the darkest sections. By the time we reached the south side of the lake the sun was up and my nerves were starting to calm. The course was very well marked but the weather had made it a mess with downed trees everywhere and slick spots because of the snow. I knew a fast time wasn’t going to happen and that the conditions were using up more energy than they should. I revised my game plan – stay relentlessly positive, keep calm and keep moving, and give myself grace when the moving was slow – the goal was to prove to myself I could finish.

Photos by: Takao Suzuki

Photos by: Takao Suzuki

With a new mindset and a lot of patience, I carried on down the trails, running when I could, walking when I couldn’t, trying to take it all in stride, and enjoying the gorgeous snow covered trees. My summer European adventure in the Alps came in handy as I actually passed or gapped other runners power hiking. I leap frogged back and forth with the eventual women’s winner, Emily Gordon of Anacortes, and a few very cheerful and kind guys. It was a ‘let’s do this together’ kind of day and everyone was super encouraging and helpful trying to be sure we all navigated the more gnarly sections safely. There were way too many downed trees to count, at best I could clear them with some high stepping and hurdling, at worst it was a full stop and crawl through, climb over. My hat served as good protection from white-washing snow as I ducked under and through the low hanging branches. I think if it weren’t for the trees, the actual footing on the trails was decent, especially for those mountain goat runners with steady feet and technical prowess (I’m not one of them). The slickest section of trail was the upper ridge. Snow was freshly falling and the compacted snow from other runners was re-freezing over the rocks and roots making it especially slick. I was leading Emily when we got to the ridge but fell 5-6x’s in the first section and freaked myself out, so I let her pass and tiptoed my way across cautiously. I knew I was giving up too much time and hoped I could make it up on the more run-able sections of the course, but as I finished the ridge and started down Salal I was frustrated at myself for not being braver. Finally back on the urb I fought to make up whatever ground I could over the last 3 miles climbing back up to Padden, but ended up about 2 minutes behind. Overall I was happy with how my legs handled the distance and even the 5000 ft of elevation seemed manageable (though admittedly both were made easier by the excessive walking). I know I’ve gained fitness over the past few months and I’m excited to race again on a day where I feel like I can really use it. I learned I can tough it out in bad conditions and to not give up before I even start. I also learned that I need to practice my hurdling and fancy footwork if I want to really compete in these technical trail races!The finish line hosted plenty of food, tacos, hot drinks, and more but after 5 hours in the snow I was ready to head home. Thanks to Destination Trail for hosting a great event, to teammates Scarlett, Maria, Tad and David who cheered out in the cold, and extra special thanks to my coach and Maxx and Courtney who made sure I actually got to the starting line 🙂 ”

Photos by: Takao Suzuki

Photos by: Takao Suzuki

Maxx’s Race Report:
“Winter made a premature announcement, just in time for the Bellingham Trail Marathon. What was already a challenging course became a test of mental fortitude and perseverance through the conditions. For me personally, the greatest challenge came in the form of fallen trees. My biggest strength as a trail runner is that I can fly once I hit a run-able trail. The numerous fallen trees across the trail proved to be my kryptonite as the constant stopping to climb over, under, or through downed trees kept me from being able to pour on the speed relentlessly. However, this turned my day into an excellent adventure and forced me to rely on the other tools any good trail runner should be constantly working to develop! Remaining patient and calm in the face of adversity and honing my fueling and hydration strategy as I found myself out on the course longer than anticipated were more than worthwhile areas for me to focus on and were some of the reasons I was able to finish the race in one piece. Despite the rough conditions, it was impossible to lose a positive attitude with such amazing volunteers out on the course. My favorite part about running local races is the familiar faces out working on the course. I wasn’t able to go more than 30 to 45 minutes without running into a friend out on the course working an aid station or directing an intersection or serving food at the finish. So many people braved the rough weather conditions to make this an amazing event and I am eternally grateful for that. I may not have had the result that I hoped for or that I know I am capable of, but none of that matters when I can experience the love of our local trail running community through the amazing events put on by Destination Trail.”

Kathryn’s Race Report:
“The Bellingham Trail Half Marathon began with snow on the ground and temperatures in the 30s! I have done a 6 mile race on trails before, but never a race this long and with snow! As this was my second trail race, I felt like a novice when I showed up to the line, but I was impressed and put at ease by the welcoming and warm attitude that the trail community exudes. I made friends with four different people out there as we all utilized each other to run a little bit faster and for company as we climbed 3100 ft into the frigid air. I am definitely grateful to a guy from Seattle who showed me it was possible to go much faster on the downhills than what my timid legs told me I could! The course was really well-marked, and they had aid stations WORTH stopping for, with m&ms and gummy bears! The climbing was really quite tough through the first 4 miles, and it had me thinking that maybe the stair master at the gym might not be a bad idea…Once at the top, we were rewarded with breathtaking beauty that escapes description and almost made you forget all that hard work it took to reach it! Almost. Things I learned: trail runners rock! Elevation gains in a race are no small matter. I definitely need to invest in trail shoes, be a bit more courageous in my downhill running and perpetuate the welcoming and vibrant spirit radiated from those who love running free in the woods!”

All photos by: Takao Suzuki
Photos can be purchased HERE!
Bellingham Trail Marathon RESULTS!
Bellingham Trail 1/2 Marathon RESULTS!