My 50k PR under the microscope: Chuckanut 50k

Coming into Aid Station 3.  Photo Courtesy of Ross Comer

I'm double dipping here by posting twice about the same event, but 1) I'm on the first day of my last spring break (party!) and 2) my friend Martin commented on my last post that he'd like to see a blow-by-blow account of the race.  I've historically eschewed that style of report in favor of a more general picture of the event, mainly because I think it's hard to write a personal race account that's interesting when you're a midpacker. ("Who cares about the strategy you used to finish 99th in a race?", I say to myself.)  But hey, this blog will publish anything and it's good to stretch yourself, so why not take requests!  (I was also thinking about just posting this in response to Martin's comment for his edification, but it's long enough to make into its own post (or three).  YOLO!)

 Strategy Part 1: Pre-Race Rest and Nutrition, or Lack Thereof

I didn't approach this as a focus race going in (Cascade Crest, if I get in off the wait list, will be my only real focus this year), and I started the week with double long runs on Cougar and Tiger Mountains in the Issaquah Alps, going out for 3ish hours of long slow miles on both Sunday and Monday.  I was thinking of Chuckanut as part of a nice 70 mile training week that also included a little bit of bouldering for cross training.  That's on the high end of where I've been training in terms of miles recently, but I was relatively confident that I could race at a decent clip, because my legs have been feeling strong and injury-free lately, and my marathon PR came at the end of a similar week last Summer.  I didn't do anything special with diet, and if anything it was a little worse than normal, because last week was Finals for me so I ate whatever was convenient on Monday - Wednesday before my tests (that did involve lots of lentils and vegetables that had been made up, so pretty decent nutrition), and then consisted on nachos, pizza and beer on Wednesday and Thursday after my last test and clinical (seriously - I'm not proud of my decisions).  On Friday night on the way to Bellingham we stopped over at the Skagit Valley Food Co-Op in Mount Vernon (which has a great whole food buffet and puts our local co-op to shame) for dinner (Sausages, Broccoli/Cauliflower, some kind of bean dish, a cupcake and some Ginger Beer).  I think we had some more dessert and a beer, and then got to bed relatively early - around 10 - and were up at 5:30 to get ready for the race.

Strategy Part 2: Wearing Things

The weather forecast was for high 40s and rain, which I assumed meant high 30s and low 40s and rain for most of the run since we'd be starting early and climbing to a little bit of altitude.  I decided to go with my standard winter look - off-brand running tights that I got on sale at REI, my Seattle Running Club short sleeved tech shirt, a Nike jacket made from Dri-fit fabric that doesn't repel water but always seems to be comfortably warm and breathable in PNW winter weather, some Adidas running gloves from the Pigtails Fatass Marathon and a Smartwool sock hat.  I wore my standard Brooks Cascadia 8s and my newish Ultimate Direction Scott Jurek vest with two 20 oz chest-mounted bottles.  (Ben Gibbard from Death Cab for Cutie was wearing the same one - I didn't recognize him at the time, but ran with him for a few miles shortly after the picture above was taken, and he made a 'nice vest' comment.  Swoon.)  I ran most of the race with just 1 bottle filled because aid stations were close together, but appreciated the vest b/c I like having my hands free.  (The only problem I had was that I ran for a few minutes with a little bit of Coke in one of the bottles, and the CO2 pressure would occasionally build up enough to shoot out of the bottle and into my face.  Adam Gaston filled the bottle, so I blame him.)  The gear was pretty perfect for me, though I could have done without the gloves.  It started pouring 3/4 of the way through the race, so I was happy to have the hat and jacket.  I usually run cold anyway, so I had them both on for most of the race.

One point of note is that runners were required to carry a small collapsible Ultimate Direction plastic cup on this race, to cut down on paper cup waste at Aid Stations.  I heard several reports that they were hard to drink from, but I didn't use mine - just the bottles.

Strategy Part 3: Running

This was the first year I ran Chuckanut, but had done the different elements of the course several times on training runs in the last few years.  The key thing you have to know is that the race is broken up into three sections: 1) 6.5 miles on the Interurban trail from town to the hills, which is basically road running, and where people tend to go out fast 2) the middle 18 miles which is about half logging road and half single track, including a several mile climb up Cleator Rd and a steep but short section of climbing called Chinscraper - probably the course's most well-known feature, and 3) the 6.5 miles back on the Interurban, which people tend to both hate and blow up on because they went too fast on the downhill leading up to it.  (The section before the return on the Interurban used to be a 4 mile descent on Cleator Rd, but they made a slight course change so about half the descent was on cushy singletrack - a great adjustment, in my opinion.)  (Here's a Course Map, if you're interested.)

Going in, I knew that my strategy was going to be to try to take the first go on the Interurban relatively slowly, and to do a walk-jog up Cleator to conserve for the fast second half of the race.  I'm a fast hiker but not a great hill runner, so at this stage in my career I think I lose more than I gain by trying to run hills that are longer than a mile, or are any kind of steep, in ultra distance races.   For the most part that strategy worked, I think.  I was a bit worried that I went out too fast on the Interurban, b/c I was running with people who I know generally finish ahead of me - Michael Linscott and Robert Bondurant.  I finished the first 6.5 in about 56 minutes, ahead of my goal of an hour.  I climbed Cleator according to strategy - pacing based on heart rate and slowing to a walk when I started to feel my heart pounding in my chest - and had a standard run through a middle flat singletrack section - 10 - 11 minute miles probably.  I pushed up Chinscraper, which comes somewhere around mile 21, and lasts for about a mile.  Pushing for me meant trying to hike fast.  And on the descent back to the Interurban, I tried to use the only strategy I know from Chi Running - to lean forward a little bit from the hips, relax the lower half of my legs and focus on fast turnover with minimal effort, letting gravity do the work, and letting my feet land midfoot underneath my body to maintain control.  I'm not really fast on descents, but I've figured out how to run them efficiently, I think, which helps a lot late in 50k's and is a key goal I have for 100 training.  When I got back to the Interurban, I was ahead of schedule - my goal was a 5:30, and I hoped to run the last section in 60 minutes.  I arrived with about 67 minutes left before the 5:30 mark.  The last 5 miles of any race suck psychologically because you know you shouldn't be holding back, and you know you're almost done, so I tried to prepare by just thinking about the time I had left rather than the distance - focusing on running at a somewhat uncomfortable pace for the next 60 minutes.  That seems to be more quantifiable for me than mileage.  Shortly after I hit the Interurban, it started to really pour, which I think actually might have helped me because I was starting to feel warm at a higher level of effort.  Going out, I'd tried to get prepared psychologically for the end by embracing the fact that the last miles would be flat and fast, and making note of the 20 minute and 10 minute points, and I think that helped the last miles move more quickly.  It felt like the end of a marathon, but not worse, and I managed to keep about 8.5 minute miles on that section to finish in 5:18, negative splitting the Interurban by about a minute - I consider that a win.  I passed probably 5 - 6 people in the final section, and no one passed me so I was pretty content that I'd run a smart race.  My time was a 50k PR, which I was surprised about - I didn't feel bad at any point in the race, but I also didn't feel amazing, which makes me think I can do better - a sub-5 50k is in there somewhere, I think.              

Strategy Part 4: Eating Things

After the Orcas Island 50k a month ago, I started to feel happy with my nutrition strategy for these shorter 50k's.  I basically drink water when I feel like it and take a gel or some Clif Shot Blocks every half hour between aid stations.  At aid stations early in the race I eat a half a potato and salt, a couple orange slices and a third of a banana, drink some Coke or electrolyte drink, and then roll out.  My stomach handles potato and banana really well, and I haven't really felt that spike and crash energy dynamic as much in races when I eat those instead of primarily gels.  I just like the little caffeine jolt I get from the Coke, plus it tastes awesome when you're thirsty and tired, so it's basically just a little treat.  I used to eat candy and cookies at Aid stations, but I think it makes me feel crappy.  The fruit seems to be a better option.  PB and J is too hard to choke down but I'll grab one from time to time - though I didn't at Chuckanut.  Towards the end of the race, I don't generally eat potatoes unless it's hot and I need the salt, but will still grab a banana and some oranges, basically because it sounds better.  On this race I felt great for the most part.  In the last two miles I started to cramp just a little in my quads, and started to feel a bit grumpy, so I took a gel and that seemed to almost immediately take care of both problems.  Overall during the race I probably ate two full small potatoes, one banana, a half an orange, 6 oz of Coke, 400 calories (2 packs) of Shot Blocks, and 2 Espresso Gels.  I accidentally got this some gross tasting electrolyte drink at an aid station in one of my bottles, but mostly just drank water - not sure at all how much.  It was a cool day, so I never felt particularly dehydrated. 

Strategy 5: Recovery

After the race I ate some soup and changed clothes b/c I was soaked and it was cold.  Angel came in about 15 minutes after me and we stuck around and chatted with folks after the race.  It seemed like most people were generally happy with the course and their times - I think it's a deceptively fast course, despite the fact that there's a fair bit of climbing, because of the Interurban sections and the fact that you gain most of your elevation in two relatively short pushes.  As a whole the post-race had a big event feel, with prize money and schwag, and a bunch of fast runners milling around. 

After the race we grabbed some food and a couple of beers at the post-race venue - Big Fat Fish.  I made the same poor life decision that I usually make and ate a bunch of fried food.  It tasted awesome but made me feel mildly crappy the rest of the day.  I'll take the trade off.    

I took the day off on Sunday and will approach this as a down week.  I did a 4 mile recovery run yesterday on the way home from work to shake off the cobwebs (quads are a little sore, motivation's a little low, but other than that felt fine), and will probably run between 30 - 40 miles this week.  Nothing special other than that - maybe a little massage with the foam roller.  We have another 50k coming up in a week and a half at Gorge Waterfalls, so are treating the intervening period as a practice in maintenance and recovery.


Hahahaha... Awesome! That is exactly what I wanted to read. Regardless of whether or not you are a mid-packer, living vicariously through race reports is a blast. It's the description of effort that I really enjoy reading.

In case you have any interest, here is my report from last year:
LukeD said…
Good read, and I think I employed (or tried to) the same strategy: