Oregano’s Race Report – Chuckanut 50k

Post-Race Face.
Post-Race Face.

In the last few hours, as I’ve been staring at the open “race report” tab on my computer, I’ve come to the conclusion that it is way more fun and exciting to write a race report from a race that goes the way you want it to go, than it is to write one for which you miss your “A” goal. But, it’s important to reflect either way, and it’s probably nice to read an imperfect race report every once in a while as well. Going into this race my “A” goal was to run sub-4:45 and to finish in the top 10 women. My “B” goal was to finish no matter what happened and live to fight another day.

Pre-Race: Race morning dawned cloudy but surprisingly beautiful. I showered, packed up my bucket of stuff (including my chosen “nutrition” of plain flavored GU gels and Nuun), drank some coffee, ate some oatmeal and jumped in the car for the 45 minute drive to the race start. When we arrived I did all of the usual pre-race things, check gear, use the port-o-potty, drink some water, use the port-o-potty, say hi to friends, second-guess clothing choices, re-tie shoes, use the port-o-potty, etc. And before too long it was 7:59am and everyone was lined up receiving instructions to FOLLOW THE PINK TAPE and then we were off.

Section 1 – Start to Fragrance Lake Trailhead (11.2km): The Chuckanut 50k course is a lollipop loop, with the stick of the lollipop being a fairly flat 11k along a well-groomed trail. I ran this section conservatively, at a steady 7:40ish pace. I was a bit surprised that it wasn’t quite as flat as the elevation profile made it look, but the dips weren’t a big deal. I had a gel at 45 minutes and took off my arm warmers at about that time as well. I was feeling really good as I ran through the first aid station and started up Fragrance Lake Trail.

Section 2 – Fragrance Lake Trail to Cleator Road (5.2km): The Fragrance Lake trail was the part of the race I was most worried about. No one said anything about it, but looking at the elevation profile, it appeared to be pretty intense. And it was. I totally trained for hills like this, but somehow in the race I just choked. I couldn’t catch my breath running, and even my powerhiking wasn’t very fast. My greatest fear, of not being able to breathe well in a race was coming true and I had no idea what to do about it, so I just kept hiking, and people kept passing me. It was at this point, only 8 miles into the race, that I stopped racing and started just enjoying the experience. It was a beautiful day and I was out on beautiful trails that I had never had the privilege of running before. After a while, the trail started going downhill and I picked up the pace.

Pre-race modeling - sweatshirt over hydration pack profile
Pre-race modeling – sweatshirt over hydration pack profile

Section 3 – Cleator Road to Ridge Trail (4.6km): I hit the aid station at the bottom of the hill and continued jogging through to the infamous Cleator Road. This is the part of the course that most of my friends claimed was “the worst”. It is basically a 4.6km long fire road that just gradually goes up and up and up…I should have been able to run the whole thing. I practiced on a very similar road in Portland in the middle of a long, hilly run, but again, it just wasn’t happening. So instead, I used the strategy of “run to that tree, walk to that stump, run to that sun spot, walk to that fern, etc.”

Section 4 – Ridge Trail to Little Chinscraper (11.8km): This section of the trail was pretty fun. It would have been scary and technical if it was raining, but the rock slabs and roots weren’t quite as terrifying in the dry weather. Of course, I still picked my way down cautiously (no longer racing at this point) while HORDES of runners bombed down past me. I was going at about average pace on the uphill climbs (no one was running them as it was super steep in places), but I definitely lost a lot of time on the descents. Even though I was being careful (maybe because I was being careful) I almost ate it on one of the slabs and made my right hamstring spasm. As I stopped to stretch it out still more people trooped by. At this point I really just wished I was out doing this run by myself. I really was enjoying myself, but it would have been easier to enjoy myself if people stopped passing me every 10 seconds. The techy part of the trail eventually gave way to a rolling, muddy section which wasn’t too bad.

Section 5 – Little Chinscraper to Interurban Trail (6km): Little Chinscraper is probably the most infamous section of the trail. As the name implies, it’s a very, very steep climb and lasts just a little over a mile. I actually kind of liked this section because no one passed me and I didn’t feel bad about walking. The photographer was at the point that the trail got really really steep and I hammed it up, pretending to climb up the slope on all fours. At the top of the climb I stopped at the aid station to get a refill on water, but made the mistake of filling a body bottle on only one side, which caused my whole vest to drag to that side. I had to stop and try to fix it by emptying the bottle into my water bladder, but then my water bladder fell out of my pack and started gushing water everywhere, etc. Meanwhile people are bombing past me on the hill (running down Cleator now, basically a road). UGH! Eventually I got everything sorted out and headed down. I caught a few people and felt awesome on the descents and flats, but when the trail started aiming up again my calves and hamstrings started to cramp up.

The finish!
The finish!

Section 6 – Interurban Trail to Finish (11.2km): I grabbed a couple of salt pills at the aid station to hopefully help with the cramping and headed out feeling pretty decent on the flat easy trail. At this point in the race I still had lots of energy which was great, I was reaping the rewards of keeping up on food and water, but my uphill muscles were just spent. I ran pretty much the whole way back, but had to stop and walk a couple times when my calves or hamstrings started spasming. I passed a couple of people; a few people passed me. A kid on a bicycle told me I had a quarter mile left when in fact there was about a mile and a half left (fortunately I knew this) and I took a wrong turn about 1200 meters from the finish (someone had taped some plants with unrelated pink tape), but I didn’t get too far off course. And then I could hear the announcer in the distance, I rounded the corner and came in for the finish in 5:13:20. 19th female, 77th overall.

Post-Race: I was definitely not very happy with my finish time/place. Considering how must structured effort I put into training specifically for this race, it was not the result I was hoping for/counting on. However, it was what it was and I finished my second 50k and enjoyed myself. I know that I love trail running for long distances. I am not yet sure if I love racing long distances on trail or not. But either way, I have unfinished business with this race…

Top 3 things to work on for the future –

  1. I need to figure out what the deal is with the breathing issues – I think it may be allergies as it’s only an issue in the spring/summer, but whatever it is, it’s not cool and I want to figure it out.
  2. More hill workouts.
  3. Carry electrolyte pills or throw in an extra Nuun tablet or two

Now, time for some recovery this week, a trip to Korea for work next week and then back into training!

I'm a proud resident of Portlandia, ex-running store employee, pulmonary emboli conquerer and connoisseur of high fives. I write about running community, trail running/training and anything else that grabs my immediate interest. I'm currently running for fun with my crazy friends - no races on the horizon YET.

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  1. I’m sorry that the race didn’t go as you wanted it to, that’s always tough to swallow. BUT, you completed another 50k, and what sounds like it was a doozy too! You certainly did the work for the race though, I remember reading all your training logs along the way and thinking “daaammmnnn” with the elevation. Is your heart rate super high when the breathing thing happens? I had the breathing thing happen in the first 5 miles of a hilly 10 mile trail race I did last year but it was mainly because my heart rate was WAY out of control.

    I really like that you pulled some lessons or things you want to work on from this, for the future. That is how we progress- learning from the good and the bad!

  2. Thanks Barley! Hopefully I can use what I learned in this training cycle/race to improve for the next one! : ) And no, unfortunately the breathing thing isn’t related to heart rate as it also happens when I am not doing anything (driving, sleeping, lounging, etc.). Bleh.

  3. Sorry you didn’t get the results you hoped, but I am in awe at your bad-assery. Even a bad 50k trail race is still 50 freaking k on some really tough trails! Glad you were able to adjust your expectations and enjoy the course. That’s something I struggle with in races- when things go south, I have a hard time just letting myself enjoy the experience of being out there.

    Also your pictures are amazing. LOVE. 🙂

  4. Congratulations on a very tough course! We all have good days and bad days no matter the timing, the training, the mental endurance….sounds like you still enjoyed the tough course, the scenic beauty, and have some take-aways for the next one!