The Chuckanut 50k is one of the top, if not the most competitive 50k in the US each year. Incredible race organization, support and a top notch course attract runners to this sell out race and draws the top runners in the US to compete. The course is very runnable, with just a few miles of technical terrain and steep climbs – most of the rest of the course is on either forest roads or non-technical trails. It plays well to the speedy marathon runners that have put some time in on the mountains.
My husband, Steve, and I had done a preview of the course 2 weeks earlier and were wondering what the course would be like on race day as we encountered snow and a closed section of trail from a single engine plane crash. By race day the snow had melted and the trails were cleared. There was very little mud which lead to absolutely perfect conditions for the race. Crisp clear blue skies and incredible views from the top!
The course is challenging with climbs and descents that can wreak havoc on your legs if you are not ready. What makes it tough is the speed that it can be run at. You should be running most of the climbs (Chinscraper climb might be the exception) and hammering the downs. After some marathon and track adventures at the start of 2018, a lot of my preparation for Chuckanut included long runs in the mountains and hill workouts each week in order to get my legs fine tuned. This race and Lake Sonoma was a last minute addition to our race schedule. We had originally planned on running Barkley this year, but things ended up not working out. In the end, I deferred my entry to next year (2019) and we hope Steve will make it in as well.
This year’s mens and womens fields were both stacked with elites, and given the conditions we knew it was going to make for a fast day up front. We were coming off a full 115 mile training week, and knew that fast from the start would not work out as our legs were not recovered and primed to go after this one. Steve had a goal to run sub 4:00 and try to make it into the top 10. I was out there to see what I could do against this stacked field of talented athletes.
Steve: I knew I would not be part of the race up front with the speedster marathon runners. It was evident from the start, when I went out at a steady easy 6:20/mile pace on the early 10k flat – and they were running at least 1:00/mile faster than me. My plan was to catch the guys who went out too quick on some of the late hills and on the reverse flat-section 10k at the end. As a result, I quickly found myself in no-man’s land, with other runners just in sight but far enough ahead of me (and behind me). Gina and I were racing without crews and had these handheld collapsible water bottles that we could slide into the palm of our running gloves while not drinking from them. Both of us prefer to not carry water bottles as it tenses up your arm and back and it is difficult to get into a relaxed, efficient running form. These bottles were not meant for running though, and I found out at the first aide station that they actually were difficult to work with. I would lose what felt like at least a minute at each aid station trying to open and close the bottle. More concerning to me was that I already needed fluids at the first aid station, and the temperatures were only in the 30s. Little did I realize it would be a sign of what would come later for me.
Gina: On toeing the line, I pretty much had no clue on who was running in the women’s field. Prior to all of my races, I don’t check to see who is running OR what the weather will be. It adds unneeded stress to something I can’t control. However, I will ask Steve about the weather a couple of days prior so I can dress appropriately. Otherwise, I don’t track my competitors and always get surprised on who I see on race day. That morning I saw Ellie Greenwood and Camelia Mayfield. After seeing them, I figured it was going to be a fast day! On hearing the start, the field took off at a fast clip and I was immediately running in the 6th position, or so. I like seeing these starts because it helps me during the second half of the race, when the women start falling off pace…. which I have experienced quite often in the past. I took it out in a jog and hoped to maintain a pretty steady pace for the duration. This has been my strategy over the last year, since running on the 24hr Team. Things went well up to the first aid station and I passed the crew without taking in any water. Just like with Steve, this
would come back later in the race.
Steve: After fumbling my bottle a bit at the first aid station, I now had no runners in view ahead of me, and was solidly in no man’s land running all the switchbacks ahead on the way up to Fragrance lake. The climb I kept comfortable to not burn it too early and after the short scenic loop around the lake I found myself making my non-eventful way back down to the next aid station at the base of Cleator Rd.
Gina Slaby and Camilia Mayfield – Photo Courtesy Tad Davis
Gina: Between aid station 1 and 2, I passed one of the women on the uphill who then caught up to me on the downhill. I was trying to stay relaxed and glide on the downhill. I ended up losing some ground in the meantime. It was at the base of Cleator Rd that I got my first bit of water. I drank about 8 oz to wash down the Honey Stinger Gel and called it good. I don’t know what Steve was talking about in regard to the collapsable water bottles we were using. I specifically picked them out online and they worked like a charm. It is definitely user error.
Steve: At the Creator Rd aid station I now could not get my bottle to open. I will stop now with the bottle lamenting – like I said fumbling around I lost time – I figure about 5 minutes throughout the race, which made me realize why the elites have crews to just hand them their bottles. Running all the way up the hill on a nice forest road on Cleator Rd, I could barelymake out someone off in the distance in front of me. Finally someone to shoot for. After seeing a familiar face in local 24hr runner Yvonne Naughton at the “Irish” aid station (where Guinness was offered), the technical upper ridge trail proved to be a nemesis for me, and I felt like I was just losing time on the short and steep up and down technical trails. I was surprised to find two other runners leaving the aid station when I got there – they had also had a rough go at this section and I suspect it was that way for a lot of people.
Gina: On my way up the forest road, I ended up passing the 5th placed girl. I really pushed this climb and wondered if it would come back to bite me in the butt later. I eventually made it up to the best aid station…. “ye old Irish aid station” run by our good friend Yvonne. Hearing the music and seeing the friendly faces was welcoming after a long climb. I once again neglected my water intake and ran right past the aid station, worried the girl behind me would catch up. I wanted to beat her to the single track, technical portion of the course. Surprisingly, I was able to fly through this section, passing the 4th placed women and several men as well. When Steve and I had done the course preview weeks prior, it was crusted in ice and snow. I was happy to see it was free of snow and very runnable.
Steve: The run to lost lake I was finally chasing people and moving fast again. While icy during our scouting trip a few weeks ago, now there was just some lingering mud – much better footing! I got to the base of chinscraper one place better and feeling motivated on the heels of the guy just in front of me. I ran all the way up chinscraper (well, actually there were about 10 yards that I walked on a steep part right by the top) – my legs finally aching from an uphill on the course – now feeling back into good form.
Gina: At the end of the technical section I stopped at the next aid station and grabbed another 8 oz or so of water. It seemed like enough, but it was starting to get warm. A short time later I made it to chinscraper. Starting to feel the effects of dehydration, this section included a lot of walking. I wasn’t passed by any men or women, but I definitely didn’t gain any ground.
Photo Courtesy Tad Davis
Steve: Down the forest road I ran out of water and temperatures were starting to get warm. Despite the hill training leading up to the race, my quads did not like the hill by the bottom of it. I had not hydrated well enough, either leading up to the race or on race day the cooler temps deceived me into drinking less, and dehydration does a number on quads. I was right with the guy in front of me and a quick watch check showed if I could just average those 6:20s on the way in, I would still be very close to my goal time of 4 hrs. Maybe I could even pick off a few late stragglers who went out to fast and punch into the top ten?
Gina: Running down the forest road off chinscraper was pretty benign. I felt a side stitch develop which was a clear sign that I needed electrolytes and water. Unfortunately, I didn’t bring any electrolytes because this was only a 50K. Who needs electrolytes for that short of a race? Ha, well I sure did! I was looking forward to getting to the bottom of the mountain just so I could drink some water. Eventually I arrived and took a short break to hydrate and eat some gels. I was told I was in 4th place and that I could catch the 3rd placed girl. That gave me some motivation, so I took off for the last 10K on the gravel path.
Steve: The flat fast section into the finish was anything but that for me. After gulping water at the aid station and filling my bottle with tailwind, about a mile later I had finished my bottle and was suffering. 8:30 pace was all I could manage. The top girl came up on me and I made it all of 50 yds trying to hold on before she took off with some guys that she knew. I knew I was not moving fast when I saw a woman out for her Sunday morning jog come in off a side trail, and I was only running as fast as her. It was a slog to the finish. Five more guys passed me despite my efforts to hold them off. I was constantly looking back to see if Gina was coming – we have our own little duels within the races and I tell her I can get her in anything up to 100k. Well she beat me at 100k in January, was the 50k next? Spoiler: I held her off.
Gina: As Steve said, the last 10K is NOT a “flat fast section.” I struggled in the heat and started to cramp up in my legs. At about 4 miles left, I passed the 3rd placed girl who was really struggling. I think the heat really zapped her. I continued on with the hope that I’d see the 2nd placed girl. With under 2 miles left, I decided to shuffle it in, thinking I secured a podium finish. Well, that was almost NOT the case. I started to walk some of the uphills and was passed by a couple of guys. One of the guys mentioned, that I might want to pick it up. Ellie isn’t too far behind. I couldn’t believe it. I looked over my shoulder and saw some guy with a ball cap on, jogging slowly, but no Ellie. I decided to pick up the pace, ie, not walk. Slowly I moved on, occasionally looking over my shoulder. I just saw the guy with the ball cap on getting closer. Dude, no problem. Chick, a problem. Well, I don’t have the best of vision (PRK surgery has made me extremely light sensitive) and realized the person with the ball cap on was Ellie. I was completely taken by surprise and almost crapped my pants, figuratively. She came up beside me with about 800m to go and said hi. I said hey and then took off in a dead sprint. I ended up out kicking her in the end, barely. Probably my most memorable finish.
Ellie Greenwood, Gina Slaby
Steve: Overall I ran well except the last 6 miles of the race. Nutrition had thwarted me again. While fit enough to run well, better nutrition and a crew would have placed me right at my race goals. The race lessons are always huge. Given the great weather, fun atmosphere and after party I left with a smile on my face, ready to get back into training for Lake Sonoma – where I have my eyes set on other goals.
Gina: Race day execution went well. I relaxed on the flat miles at the start to keep my legs ready for the climbs. I started to cramp up at the end from not consuming enough electrolytes and water, but was lucky enough to hold on to a podium finish. I’m not a fan of the 50K distance because it’s too much like a marathon. Even the 50 mile is a struggle….more to follow at Lake Sonoma50mile.
Gina Slaby, Keeley Henninger, Anne-Marie Madden, Krissy Moehl (The best Race Director!)
That’s it from the Slabys at Chuckanut – see you at Lake Sonoma!