In January, I had a few rare days where I was running better than Sunsweet teammate Craig Thornley. At some point he claimed I would beat him at Chuckanut. I begged to differ, but then embraced the idea as I found myself dropping him on more than one occasion. Granted, he did beat me in a 4 mile race in February, but I was not phased, even when he boasted a sub 4:00 50k at Pemberton one week later. He was, however, a bit shaken by my 2:46 marathon.
So when Chuckanut race day arrived, we had been trash talkin’ for a good amount of time. My race goals were to run faster than the current course record (4:34), run the last 6.5 miles as a hard tempo, and in the process, beat Craig.
I had the good fortune of bringing my running partner and friend Erica Pohl to crew for me. She diligently wrote out each aid station time frame of arrival, figured out where to drive, where to hike, what I would need, and was really on top of things for me.
The day dawned clear, calm, and chilly. When I warmed up, I ran into Susannah Beck. Claiming to be not too fit, and wondering if I had recovered from Napa, I was sure she would be up in the front. Her talent carries her far regardless of her mileage. I determined who the course record holder, Ellie Greenwood was. When the race was about to start, I gave Craig a hug, trying to bruise his already bruised ribs (biking accident), and wished him luck.
The race started, and I tried to stay contained. I could see Susannah in her kilt, and Ellie, pulling ahead, and another female runner unknown to me. As we cruised onto the lightly graveled Interurban Trail. My heart rate was freakishly high. I was running with Craig at this point, telling him “that is one caffeinated heart rate”. It was above my so called max, but breathing was easy. It finally came down to a reasonable level. I was trying to get to aid station 1 in 45 minutes or so, given the course description (flat) but as is often the case, flat can mean ‘flat with some hills thrown in for good measure’. I kept seeing Ellie ahead, and gradually pulled away from Craig. Just before the first aid station, I met Hal Koerner and Joe Grant racing side by side at the only out and back section of the course. As I cruised in, Erica was there with a fresh bottle for me, and a gel. She said I was fifth woman. My split was 45 and change, so I felt satisfied. I went back out, and met many a runner on their way in. Then a sharp turn off the Interurban to a long, gradual, but runnable climb.
Climbing is not my forte, and I also didn’t want to use up my legs early on. I stayed in control, getting passed by a few guys. The trail switchbacked a number of times, and I could see Craig below. Finally he yelled up to me “How is the marathon treating your legs?” I told him “Great!”. He didn’t quite catch me by the time I got to the top, so I was safe for awhile. The single track was nice and runnable. I didn’t do a good job remembering aid station distances, and after awhile was afraid we had missed one. I waited for Craig, mentioning my concern, but he was sure there wasn’t anywhere we could have turned. We cruised into aid station 2, Erica there waiting with more gel (would you like the Mountain Huckleberry?), and we ran out together on a long slow climb. Only I was going slower. I asked Craig how my marathon was treating his legs, and he said “they’re tired!” as he pulled ahead. Oh well, I thought. I may not see him again until the end.
Keeping myself contained, I pulled into aid station 3 – very minimal and difficult for crew to get to. Erica said she wouldn’t make it to that one. I grabbed a gel, choked it down (yummy) and continued on. Craig had a pretty good lead on me, and I couldn’t see any women. Finally I reached the best part of the course – the Chuckanut Mountain Ridge trail. It was very technical – roots, sharp turns, quick ups and downs. There were views to be had, but my eyes were glued to the trail. I was in runner heaven. I focused on the trail and flew. Eventually, I could see Craig, coming closer and closer. That was new – catching him on a technical section. Oh yes, I was pleased. Finally I was on his heels. We ran together for awhile, and finally I said, “Okay Craig, let me by”, to which he replied “show off!”. Shortly after we popped out onto a straight trail. As I continued to pull ahead (yes, on an uphill) he asked me if the Garmin could tell me how far to the next aid station. I thought it was at mile 17 (wrong) so said “about one mile”. Ahead I saw a female runner, and eventually caught and passed her. This section was all relativly smooth going. Not technical, a little muddy, a gentle climb. Then came a good bit of downhill, all the way into aid station 4. Erica was there again, and offered me a warmed up gel (is she great, or what?), a fresh bottle, and said the girls were a fair bit ahead.
The next challenge was a climb called “Little Chinscraper”. It was much like climbing the north face of Spencer Butte in Eugene. Very slow, ridiculously steep. Every now and then it would flatten for about 10 feet, and I jogged every flat bit to shake my legs out. I reached the top without any signs of Craig, hit a gravel road, and started the long sweet downhill. Still feeling pretty decent, knees a little sore, I was at first surprised to be passed by a woman, until I recognized Nicola Gildersleeve. She has blown past me on downhills before, and I asked her what took her so long to catch me today. She glided away, and I followed her as she turned onto a much softer trail. My knees relaxed, and I picked up the pace, thinking I could catch Nicola. The downhill was long and relentless. I hooked up with Brian Morrison for awhile, chatted briefly until he pulled ahead, and finally, made it to aid station 5.
I handed Erica my water bottle, ate a gel, and prepared to meet goal number 2 – run tempo to the end. I was quite pleased to have legs left for the last 6.5 miles. The flat sections I was getting under 7 minute pace, but the fatigue was definitely noticeable on every tiny climb. Ahead I saw 3 runners, the middle one with a long pony tail. Cool – maybe I’ll move up another spot! As I approached I realized pony tail was not only the wrong gender, but not even in the race. Never mind, it gave me a reason to keep going hard. With about 2 miles to go, I could see Nicola at the top end of a switch back. I pushed hard, and caught a male racer, walking. I told him “come on! run! only 2 more miles!” He replied “okay, but if I puke it’s your fault!” I said that was okay, but don’t expect me to stop.
I could see Nicola coming closer and closer, but I was running out of real estate. I was definitely working hard, but didn’t want to get in the frenzy I had experienced at Napa just to be 10 seconds faster. Nicola looked back one time just before she entered into the finishing area, beating me by 30 seconds. My time was 4:36 – pretty close to time goal, I had run hard the last 6.5, and oh yes, I beat Craig by 11 minutes. Not that it mattered. Susannah, Ellie, and relatively newbie Lia Slemons all broke the course record, Nicola and I getting close.
I highly recommend this race for its beauty and organization. RD Krissy Moehl did a great job, and the post race food was awesome!