Monday, March 12, 2012

Chuckanut 50km Preview

Only a few days away from what should by all accounts be a barn burner on Saturday in quiet, little Fairhaven. What started 20 years ago as a low key fun run has now blossomed into arguably the most competitive 50km in North America.

Over the last decade RD Krissy Moehl has taken the race to new heights not just because of her name but the attention to detail, passion and love she puts into the race. Teamed up with her mom, Peggy, working the kitchen to feed all the hungry, muddy and sometimes cranky runners, co-RD Ellen and small army of volunteers this team delivers ultra running at its finest.

To celebrate the 20th year the field was upped from its normal 350 to 1,000 this year. In the end 696 runners have signed up to toe the line this Saturday. Ironically the ratio is exactly 2 males to every female (464 males, 232 females). Poor odds for those single dudes planning to attend the post race bash the race has planned at the local brew pub to celebrate the race, St. Patrick's Day and enjoy a few frosty ones.

For those that don't know the course offers the full spectrum of trail running and ultra running. The words from Dave Terry on the races homepage couldn't sum it up any better. A brisk 10km along the InterUrban Trail allows you to get warmed up and space the field out before heading into the gorgeous Fragrance Lake segment. Lush greenery and dreamy single track trails await you in this section. After a nice 3/4 circle around Fragrance Lake itself you drop down to Cleator Road where one of the 5 well stocked aid stations await your arrival.

A 4.5km grunt up Cleator Road gets that heart rate pumping, if it eased up on the last downhill, before the famous Ridge Trail. On a clear day it offers stunning views of Mount Baker. I recall this section the first year I ran Chuckanut in 2004. I lived back on the east coast where what we called mountains were scarce. The climbs had whipped me like a rented mule and I couldn't believe how horrible I felt a mere 13 miles into the race. It was a beautiful spring day and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. About a 1/2 mile in I came across the first lookout towards Mt Baker and suddenly it took all the fatigue away and even though I wasn't on my goal pace it was rewarding just to be in such a beautiful place.

The beauty fades within a few miles after descending Dan's Traverse and running the Lost Lake Trail around the back side of the ridge as you encounter the infamous Chinscraper! Brilliantly placed at the 20 mile mark Chinscraper brings you off any high you may have had and abruptly rips out your lungs with little regard. Having said that it is still a very beautiful piece of trail to be on and halfway up the climb stands Glenn Tachiyama to capture you looking like absolute death! For those that don't know Glenn he is a fixture at Ultra Running events across the country and produces the Tribute to the Trails Calendar. $20 to support trails to keep events and trails in local communities open.

Once you make the top of Chinscraper you may think the work is done. Technically it is all downhill from here. a 6km quad crushing descent back to the InterUrban Trail followed by what may be the hardest/easiest 10km you will ever run to the finish in Fairhaven Park. Once across the line you experience ultra camaraderie at its finest. Elites, midpackers, backpackers sharing laughs and swapping stories.

And this year at the 20th there is no shortage of elites. On the men's side you have Max King, Jason Loutitt, Adam Campbell, Aaron Heidt, Geoff Roes, Dane Mitchell, Jason Schlarb, Dave Mackey, Peter Ellis, Mike Wolfe, Gary Gellin, Dan Olmstead, Hal Koerner, Ian Torrence, Topher Gaylord, Duncan Callahan, Joe Grant, Joe Uhan, Brian Morrison, Luke Nelson, Timothy Olson, Adam Lint, Justin Angle, Jeff Browning, Brett Rivers, Nicolas Mermoud, Jared Campbell and more! If that isn't one of the most impressive lists assembled for a 50km...everyone has one heck of an impressive resume.

The women's side also has some serious talent depth making an appearance as well. Defending champion Ellie Greenwood is back, Joelle Vaught, Mel Bos, Pam Smith, Jenny Capel, Stacey Cleveland and don't forgot masters champ also from north of the 49th Susan Reynolds!

For me the 20th Annual Chuckanut will also double as my 150th ultra. I can't think of a better race to have this happen. It will also be my 5th Chuckanut as well. I started training for my first ultra way back in 1994 when you used a walkman or your long runs. The Backstreet Boys were cool back then, Clinton hadn't gotten any nookie in the Oval Office yet.

A lot has changed in in 18 years. First the depth that you see with the talent listed above didn't exist. Ultra Running has really taken off in the last few years. Back then people waited a month or two for the next issue of UltraRunning Magazine to come out to find out how people did in races. People didn't tweet about every training run they did. To sign up for a race you mailed a check to the RD and showed up the morning of the race to grab your stuff. There are more people in that 20 something demographic running ultras.

A few things that haven't changed. Ian Torrence still rocks some of the best sideburns in the ultra world. Hal Koerner rocks a visor like no one else can. My mind still thinks I can win every race despite being heavier set, older and broken. (Unbeknownst to Geoff I'm hoping he brings the sled he used for his Iditarod victory and pulls me around Saturday)! Montrail still makes one heck of a trail shoe. The Badwater will be the shoe of choice for Saturday's festivities. The respect and camaraderie in the ultra/trail world is as strong as ever.

I'm looking forward to seeing a bunch of old faces and meeting some new ones Saturday. And if you aren't on the list and making the journey down to Fairhaven you can follow the action as Bryon Powell from iRunFar will be covering all the action!

Happy trails!


  1. Sounds like one heck of a party!! Best of luck on number 150, Ryne!!!!

    All Day!

  2. Save the "elite" moniker for those other guys. I prefer to use the bike racing term "faux pro" for myself.

  3. Thanks Ken!

    And btw congrats on a stellar race at Way Too Cool last week Gary!!!

  4. Thats a wicked description.. im sad i wont make it.. Have a Gnarly GOod time.. and write up a post race report so i can vicariously live through you..alright? ha.