Chuckanut 50km – Julie Robb

Chuckanut 50 (March 21, 2015)

In early January, I signed up for my third Chuckanut 50 trail running race. It was my very first ultra back in 2013 and I was hooked.

The race took place on March 21. It is early in the season which can make training challenging, particularly if the weather is poor leading up to the race. Luckily, we had one of the warmest and driest winters in Vancouver this year so the long hours on the trails were not a problem!

This year, both my husband (Joost) and I decided to give off road triathlons a go but, I still wanted to race in several 50km trail runs. I had been training for these triathlons since December, along with Chuckanut. I was concerned I was not getting in enough running miles but, I had full confidence in Chris who would ensure I was ready.

I woke up at 4:00am on race day to get ready for the drive with Joost from Vancouver to Bellingham WA. It was raining outside, but it was warm. We arrived at the package pick up tent near the start line at 7:00am. The race started at 8:00am so I had time to relax and get ready. Typically with a race of this distance, I don’t do a long warm up. Just a quick 10-15 jog to loosen everything up.

Nearly 350 competitors assembled to the start line and we waited for the 10 second countdown. My heart was fluttering and my stomach was full of butterflies but I tried to stay relaxed and focused once the race had started. The course is a lollipop route with the first 11.2 km and the last 11.2 km on the same trail. This first leg is a fairly flat interurban trail. It’s ideal as you don’t have to worry about technical terrain or steep hills, you can just focus on getting settled, which I did. I tried to keep my pace consistent and my breathing regulated. I forced myself to drink my water filled with Pepetuem to ensure I was getting the liquids down.

I reached the first aid station at the 11.2 km mark where volunteers were on hand to give out water, electrolyte drinks and food, much of which was home-made! I kept pushing through, forcing one of my Hammer gels down my throat. The next section of the race brought us into the forest onto a 5.2 km climb up the Two Dollar Trail which brings you through beautiful old growth trees. This section is steep in some sections but runnable.

At the end of this leg, you come onto the Cleator road climb and the second aid station. I pushed through, forcing myself to drink and down another gel. This climb is up a gravel service road that runs 4.6 kms. It is quite step in sections but I forced myself to run every bit of it. I knew Joost would be waiting for me at the top of this climb so it was incentive to push myself. Even though this section is not very interesting, it’s always a place where you can strike up conversation with your fellow runners, encouraging one another up the climb. At the top of the climb, I could see Joost waiting for me near the third aid station. It looked like he was one of the only support people on site. I was so happy to see his face. He quickly changed my bladder, took my empty gels packages, gave me a kiss, and then I was off again….

The next section is called the Ridge Trail. It is 6 km of twisty, rolling, technical terrain. The conditions were wet, but totally runnable. I just got into a flow and ran through the trails keeping focused on my footing. At the end of this section, you come onto the North Lost Lake trail and the half way point. Yippee!!! Tonnes of volunteers were on hand to give us all hi-fives.

The North Lost Lake Trail is a continuous, wide trail with a deceptive incline. It is just under 6 km in length. It was a really tough leg of the race because it was so wet and muddy. At one point, one of my shoes nearly got sucked into the muddy terrain! It was pretty relentless. Part way up this road, I had to take a “natural break”. It is a pretty open trail so there are not a lot of options, especially for a woman. I finally saw a “somewhat” protected area about 10 metres ahead. I was running with two guys at that point so I raced ahead to get in front of them and dove into the bush. I tried to relieve myself as fast as I could but, unfortunately, the two guys caught up to me, staring at me as they ran past. Really????!!! I raced back onto the trail and right past them, holding back from saying anything :)

The end of the trail brings you to the fourth aid station where Joost was waiting for me to give me dry gloves, an ibuprofen and another kiss! This aid station is at the bottom of the Chinscarper climb which generally can be cold and wet. The aid station at this point is not only stocked with the delicious variety of food and drinks, but they also have a covered section full of seats, a small fire and volunteers giving out shots of whisky and smoores! I have never taken them up on either offering but it always puts a smile on my face :)

The Chinscraper climb is steep and typically cold. It is 6km in length and parts of it are runnable. There are tonnes of volunteers sprinkled throughout this section to cheer you on and give you motivation. It was so lovely and encouraging seeing these people standing out there in the cold, wet weather with big smiles on their faces.

Once this section is over, it is another 6 km down part of the Cleator road and back onto the first half of the Two Dollar Trail. It is all downhill, which is not my strength, but it is so welcomed after all of the climbing in the previous 30 + kms of the race. I met lots of great people as we raced down this section together. The last section in the Two Dollar Trail was so fun and fast, despite my tired legs.

At the end of this leg, you come to the final aid station. Joost was waiting there for me, along with dozens of other supporters cheering us on . He took my pack and gloves and gave me a bottle and a gel. I was so happy to be 11.2 km from the finish! This is the most mental part of the race, in my opinion. You are tired, the road is familiar (not in a good way…) and you can see your fellow runners kilometres ahead of you as you stare down the endless road. It’s a mental game. I just focused on keeping a good pace and kept thinking positive thoughts (looking forward to the delicious homemade soup and bread offered to the finishers at the end!) and I watched the kilometres come closer and closer to 50 km on my watch. Joost kept appearing throughout this route to be my own personal cheerleader. I felt so lucky. When I crossed the finished line, I had a huge smile on my face. Another Chuckanut 50, done and dusted!