Knuckling Down, Sucking It Up: Ellie Greenwood’s Chuckanut 50k

Looking at my race calendar this year, I have a few new races but also a lot of ‘repeats’ from previous years. This was slightly a conscious decision and also just because I have had so much fun at some races in the past I couldn’t resist signing up for 2012 again. Chuckanut was definitely one of the ones that I initially didn’t plan to do, I’d raced it the 3 previous years and it would seem I should find a new early season 50km race to target to mix things up a bit. But I just couldn’t resist: a larger field than ever before and an awesome mix of high level US and Canadian ultrarunning talent. Sure, I already had the course record (CR), but what better way to kick off the racing year than hanging out with a bunch of great friends at what would be a low pressure race for me as I am familiar with the course and whole set up. It can be fun to travel to new destinations to race, to run on new trails and to meet new people, but in returning to familiar races new challenges can be set – training for specific sections of the course, and as ever – an aim to improve on a finishing time from a previous year.

The week prior to Chuckanut I was definitely keen to shoot for a new CR. I was somewhat confident my training had gone well as I had managed to get in decent mileage and was only lacking back-to-back long runs due to a new work schedule, but then back-to-back long runs really aren’t needed for a ‘fast’ 50km like Chuckanut. I had also worked well on my hill running and was excited to see if that 15% on the treadmill had paid off! However, a few days prior to the race the weather report sounded a lot like I was bringing the Alberta weather with me – snow up high and more forecast, this was slightly disappointing as I figured it would slow the course and thus a CR would not be in the cards. No matter, all runners would be in the same situation and as ultra trail runners we all know you just have to take what the weather throws at you.

Knowing a course also has the advantage that you can split a race down into sections, pieces to attack with a different approach and focus, and also break the race into manageable chunks. I enjoy this as it means you always have a section to look forward to, or a tough section is simply that – a section that will soon be done!

Our pace started out decent on the flat gravel of the Interurban trail and I settled in with Jenn Shelton and Pam Smith. I commented to them that despite the fact that we were hitting pretty dead-on 4min per km, there was a sea of at least 50 men out in front of us. If nothing else, I wanted to run fast to get to the finish line and find out the men’s results in what can only be described as a stacked field! The pace seemed a little fast, but I wanted to go with it and although not over anxious to take the lead right away, I took any opportunity I could to ease ahead of Pam and Jenn. No sooner than I had, but Jodee Adams-Moore zipped past me. We would pass to and fro a little, but she looked comfortable and relaxed and even of the smallest of downhills she crept ahead of me. I took note of this.

I didn’t know Jodee’s running background at all and figured that if she was a downhill runner, I couldn’t afford to lose much ground early on given the significant amount of fast downhill in the latter stages of the course, but as I left the interurban and onto the Fragrance Lake trails and, then, onto the Cleator Road uphill climb Jodee was still maintaining about a minute lead on me. Having not been able to catch Anna Frost with my usual finishing kick at TNF San Francisco in December, I didn’t want to leave you much for later on, but was equally content with my progress up Cleator Road. In 2011, I remember losing what seemed like quite a lot of ground on the runners around me on this slow and steady upward slog, but this year I certainly ran more than I walked and was happy to see my training had paid off. I even mentioned to a guy next to me that it was just a matter of ‘knuckling down and sucking it up’ and that is what I did. Still, I can’t deny that I was happy to reach the top (which was sprinkled with a good 2 inches of fresh snow) and to turn onto the Ridge Trail.

The Ridge Trail is what I think of when I think of classic Pacific Northwest trail running – up and down, down and up, weaving in and out and around trees and over slick moss and snow-covered rocks. It’s the sort of trail where you could run for an hour and it seems like 5 minutes as you get so lost in just watching your footing and hopping and skipping along the trail. That said, despite my awesome Montrail Rockridges, I am always a little leery of slipping on snowy slabs of rock and on occasion slowed down a little figuring that overall I would be faster doing this that shooting over the edge of the cliff! I enjoyed this section and had to remind myself not too relax too much – it was a race and I was in second – I focused on not letting up and couldn’t see Jodee ahead and didn’t want the gap to grow too much.

Ellie Greenwood 2012 Chuckanut 50k - Chuckanut Ridge Trail

The author on the Chuckanut Ridge Trail. Photo courtesy of Michael Lebowitz/LongRun Pictures.

After getting off the Ridge Trail and hitting the undulating terrain of Dan’s Trail, I pushed on. Despite the trail being snowy and somewhat muddy, it was far less muddy than it would have been had it been a few degrees warmer when the snow would have surely been rain. I am sure by the time the back of the pack racers were through it would have been a different matter and a lot muddier, but for most of the race I felt like I was in the perfect place in the pack – far enough up front that the trail wasn’t too churned up, but far enough behind 20+ men that there was a clear ribbon of mud through the snow to make the trail obvious. It was as I pushed along here and approached a gradual climb that I saw Jodee ahead, soon I passed her which gave me an extra push to run every step I could. I don’t shirk from power hiking hills, but I also believe in running every step you can, even if it is just one or two at a time, anything can help to open up a gap on a runner behind.

Coming up to the Chinscraper climb, I was having a lot of fun. Previously, I have not exactly loved this section, but to be honest, it’s about a 20 minute push to get you to the top and then you know all the big climbs are over and you are in for some pretty sweet downhill pounding before a quick 10km along the Interurban to the finish. Up Chinscraper, a quick smile/ grimace to Glenn Tachiyama who was busy as usual behind his lens, and wheeeeee – downhill time! At least at this stage in the race a little quad-pounding can be ok and I was pushing to pass a few men, which is always encouraging to move up the field and know you are making good progress towards the finish.

Ellie Greenwood 2012 Chuckanut 50k - Fragrance Lake Rd

The author crushing her quads descending Fragrance Lake Rd. Photo courtesy of Michael Lebowitz/LongRun Pictures.

At the end of the downhill I zipped through the aid station with just a few mouthfuls of coke. I’d done this all of the race, which is one of the reasons I like to wear a hydration pack even in shorter races like Chuckanut – I had everything on me to get from the start to finish so any stops were a few seconds at the most. As I pulled out of the aid station and on the heels of a few guys I checked my watch – 3h26min approx, about 46mins to get the CR – doable, but I didn’t have much leeway to falter.

There were a couple of men up ahead and I soon settled in behind ‘the guy with yellow-soled shoes’ [Jacob Puzey?]. He was clearly keen not to be ‘chicked’ and to be honest I didn’t care too much to pass him, I was happy to be dragged along as if on a virtual tow rope. On a rare occasion, I caught him and said he was a great pacer, I think it was then I realized he really didn’t want me to pass him, no problem I thought – but I’ll just hang on for the ride if that’s ok. I’d glance down at my Garmin – a couple of slightly too slow kms and there’d be no CR, plus I was just counting down to the finish so my hamstrings could stop screaming at me. Before I knew it, I was pulling into the finish (after one minor detour onto an incorrect side trail which I also directed my pacer onto – sorry!). Push, push, push and try get sub 4:10 – yippee! 4:09:28. It wasn’t pretty – mud all up my back, in serious need to blow my nose, jacket flapping all over the place, beanie pushed back at some silly angle. But hey, who said ultrarunning is a glamorous sport? It’s more about knuckling down, sucking it up, gunning for a CR and feeling content that the racing year has been kicked off to a quietly optimistic start.