Monday, March 19, 2007

Another Wet Day at Chuckanut

Photo thanks to Glenn Tachiyama

I think I learned a lot from this one, primarily that I just suck at technical trails. Being one of the heaviest people out there, even at my now "svelte" 192 lbs, just means I can't twist and turn around trees and rocks as well. That takes it out of me.

Chuckanut 50K is one of the premier 50Ks in the Pacific Northwest. It fills very fast and draws a very accomplished field. Krissy Moehl the RD runs an excellent event. You can really feel the sense of family that binds all these accomplished athletes from the area together.

The course starts with a 6.5 mile flattish stretch on a bike path, then climbs up the mountain on a combination of singletrack and logging roads. It spends 7.2 miles at the top on fairly technical trail, on top of a knife-edged ridge, then down around the back side, and finally up over the top in an extremely steep scramble called chinscraper. Then you lose all the elevation over about 3 miles and run the bike path back to the start/finish. The weather on race day turned out to be a steady drizzle, which added a little to the difficulty by increasing the mud a bit. You could also tell that it sapped some runners' spirits by the end.

I found I was able to climb better than the other mid-packers around me, being able to easily hold a slow run as they stopped to walk. I felt good about how I was doing until the third aid station at the start of the technical section. Then I just slowed down. In particular I would lose lots of ground on everyone else on the downhills, as I was tentative and lacking in confidence. The time I spent at the top of the mountain was one of the emotional low points that seem to happen in ultras. I felt like I was running hard but the time just slipped away. I found myself dropping back in the field and was overly careful in an attempt to protect my bad knee. As time dragged on I emptied my handheld bottle, and found myself getting thirsty with no aid station in sight. As a final indignity, the Garmin that I'd just bought took this opportunity to act subtly wonky; the miles which had been crawling away slowly suddenly started to go backwards. I started to wonder if I would ever finish.

Getting back in to the Aid Station was a welcome relief, heralded first by the sight of Glenn Tachiyama and his camera. It felt like coming home with all the smiles and cheerful help from the volunteers. I was eager to get out and recover my pace on the long downhill but soon found that I was still sluggish on the downs, protecting that knee. Still, the descent went by pretty quickly.

I never really got that tired, and managed to recover a good solid pace on the final flat stretch. Final time was 6:10 - about 20 or 25 minutes slower than I had hoped. Even so, I had a wonderful day, collected a bunch more of those special smiles that you only see at endurance events, and got to hang out with a bunch of people whose company I enjoy immensely.

After finishing, I really felt like I hadn't worked very hard and wouldn't get sore. But as the hours passed, I've started to realize that I really battered my wonky knee. I wasn't able to get much sleep that night even with pain meds, and it doesn't allow me to walk easily at the moment. I've learned to withhold judgement on recovery for a few days, but this has me worried.