Sunday, March 18, 2007

Mud Chuck Fest

The Chuckanut 50k was so much fun. It was cool and rained the entire time. There was mud and mud and more mud, much of it unavoidable shoe-sucking mud. All runners that withstood the test of the elements for the enitre 31 miles are to be commended. This was certainly not the year to set a PR on the course. Even far more impressive than the runners, however, were the volunteers who waited on us in the rain and cold. They are the best. At every opportunity, I tried to convey my appreciation that they were standing in the rain and serving us (much harder than running in it) just so that we could run the race. Ultimately, they are the ones who deserve the attention and praise.

Krissy did a fabulous job as usual. The race was chip timed and the very nice and practical long-sleeved dry-release T-shirts were optional and could be purchased for $15. The aid along the couse was plentiful with Clif Bars and Bloks, Nuun, and the rest of the usuals. I was pleasantly surprised to find coke later in the race. The post-race burrito and soup feast is prepared by Krissy's family, and the park's bathrooms were heated, making changing out of our sopping wet clothes a relatively easy task.

Did I mention there was mud on the course? Well, there is always mud on the Chuckanut course, but it was so muddy this year that I cannot fathom how anyone could possibly run a 4:10 on that course.

So, I started out the morning of the race with a scroll list of excuses about why I shouldn't even start the race. I forgot my ankle ASO brace at home and I also forgot my TRAIL SHOES! It's been so long since I've worn my trail shoes that it never even crossed my mind to pack them. It was only as we were standing around socializing about an hour before the start did I realize I had my slick road shoes on! Oh, what a blow to my confidence it was that I would have to endure the uneven slick trails on with a crappy ankle that's seen at most one mile on this kind of technical trail.

And then there was the hip flexor on the hills.

And then there was my old waist pack that I have used for over a decade that must've shrunk while it was sitting in the closet for over a year. Dang, it fit so snug around my waist!

And then there was the bronchitis. It was quite obvious that it was still infecting my lungs since I had not taken any medicine for it that morning. Others too, like sweet Marlis, said they were opting for the first 21 miles of the race with plans to drop at that point to save their bodies for fighting the same crud I had. Hmm, I suggested to Marlis that maybe we should stick together and drop together.

And the list of excuses goes on.

I'm not usually like that before a race. There have been many times I have forgotten to pack a most important piece of clothing or supply, but I usually brush it off. It happens. Whatever. But this time, I thought for real that I really had too many things against my favor for me to think I'd be able to finish this race without trouble.

I struggled to purge my mind of those thoughts and finally I decided that I would run the first 6 miles (relatively flat), walk the middle 19, running only where safely possible, and then run the last 6. I thought that could get myself in to a finish without risking any body parts with that plan.

I chatted with Tony C and Glenn T (who was there to take photos). I was hoping not to see the always friendly Steve L again since he was sweeping the course. Olga came by for a hello and a hug, and we all moved to the start line. There I chatted with Ferg H and many others. Then, I notice standing next to me a runner with no shoes. Just barefoot. I've seen him here before at Chuckanut. He stood there shifting his wait back and forth a bit, attempting I presume, to keep the cold wet grass from chilling him via his feet. We chatted, and after talking with this bare-footed runner, I couldn't even bring myself to thinking that I was at a disadvantage in my road shoes. I mean, dang! I'm complaining of having only road shoes and this guy doesn't even have ANY shoes! It was a delightful (and needed) encounter. Perfect cosmic timing!

(Pic: Start of the race. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama)

I kept my pace nice and slow the first flattish miles so that I could warm up my muscles. My body did warm up and pretty much stayed that way except for my hands that remained cold the entire run because my gloves were literally wringing wet. At one point, I was going to diss my light windbreaker, but later on the ridge section was glad that I didn't.

I kept assessing my body. Like a checklist, I'd go down my list of possible body quirks: my ankle, my hip flexor, my back, my mind. I was feeling pretty good and kept passing my mini assessments. I didn't know what to expect of my body on the trail section. I only knew that I was going to take little mincy steps and all efforts to avoid rolling my unbraced ankle. It was a new experience for me to have to be the one to say to the runners who would catch up behind me, "let me know when you want by; I'm happy to move over." And all were gracious and let me move over when the trail allowed. Sometimes I'd let one person by and sometimes I'd let a group of 5. In any case, I moved over maybe 20 times. I thought it would get me down but it didn't. Not even a bit. I was happy to do it because I was so happy to even be on the trail and have the opportunity to do it. It meant I was trail running again!

Some trails were beautifully runnable and other parts were better descended on your butt. At some point, I caught up to David who had some leg cramping problems. And just a few seconds later, I hear Olga behind me (she took the first part slow because of some chronic compartment syndrome symptoms). She says cheerily, "Hey, Lisa, is that you?" Hey, Olga! And I turn to see her voluntarily going to her butt on the slide down the muddy slick boulders, while others were trying to lower themselves down by holding onto the trees. Not Olga, no, she was in her trail running glory mode! I was thrilled to see her come back from a slower than usual start. Even more, it lifted my spirits to see that hers were high too.

So, I kept mincing away the miles and was having the time of my life being overjoyed to be out on real trails again. I was also just so happy that I didn't have that psychological burden of paralyzing fear of twisting an ankle. I was very cautious but was not weighted down by immobilizing fear, as I have been in the past. My shoulders and brow were relaxed and I kept thanking my ankle for the amount of confidence it was giving me.

Now, because of the mud, there was a LOT of unlevel surface and sliding even when the trail would ordinarily be very flat and fast. The climbs too put strain on the ankle and I could feel my tibial neuritis flaring a little. It reminded me that the nerve still wasn't back to normal after the damage done to it. I knew it wasn't and expected to feel it, but it was more of an awareness and soreness rather than pain. At no point was there pain nor did I suspect I was injurying it. So, I kept on. ...not that I had any other choice in the middle of the trail between aid stations which were about 6 miles apart.

The climb up Little Chinscraper was tough for my deconditioned climbing muscles, but it was easier than I thought it would be. It seemed even shorter than in 2005. The runner in front of me on the climb asked me how far it was to the top of Chinscraper. I really didn't know; I remembered in 2005 just putting my head down and chugging to the top. Hmm, I said, maybe 1/2 mile, maybe less, maybe more, sorry I can't help much. Let's just say a half mile and at least then we'll be pleased when it's much less than that (and I knew it was). One thing I do know, I said, was that I will bet you that my friend Glenn will be perched somewhere near the top with his camera with the seemingly 2-foot lense taking our pictures. So, when you see're almost there. We were laughing, and no sooner did we settle back into the head-down power-up position, did we see Glenn sitting there on the cold wet ground with his long lense pointing at us.
He was trying to keep it dry under a towel. Poor guy looked miserably cold! He snapped our pictures and inquired about how I was doing. It built my confidence to tell him I was doing fine, a little sore, but then again, who wasn't after that phenomenal climb? "Well, the hardest part is over," he said. Yes, it was, and I knew then that I could make it to the finish line.

David caught me there and we ran down the road together. I remember spectating here last year with Steely, cheering the runners as they turned off the trail and onto the long descent on the road. I was impressed then to witness the toughness of the runners at that point, and this year, while I certainly didn't feel at all tough, I was aware that I had survived the trail and was thrilled to hit the road.

David and I talked as we ran down. He was doing ok, except for the significant legs cramps back on the trail. Salt quieted down his muscles but his calves were still sore. I felt my ankle every step of the downhill and was cautious not to go into a limp and so blocked it out of my mind. It felt more arthritic than anything, nothing that overly concerned me. We came into the last aid station and I helped him with his Red Bull that he carried with him the whole way so that he could drink it at this point. Then, we prepared our minds for the last long stretch of an ever so slight upgrade to the finish.

That last long section is the kind of surface on which I love to run. I remember passing many people here in 2005. This year, I consciously decided to run/walk it. I was so happy about making it through the 21 miles of trail and didn't want to now hurt myself. Also, I needed to save my deconditioned legs for the 100k in 2 weeks. So, we ran till we felt like walking and walked till we felt like running. At 6 hours 48 minutes, we crossed the finish line together.

I can't tell you how happy I was at that very point because it was only then that I allowed myself to think that yes, I just may be able to be a trail runner once again! I had resigned myself to the fact that I may never again tolerate the trails. That was a sad resignation. And this was a most JOYOUS realization for me! I do miss the trails so much. And for the first time since Western States 2005, I have reconnected with the dirt and rocks and mud. Life doesn't get much better than that!

It took me about 20 minutes to change into dry clothes. I needed to be sure I was comfortable so that I didn't get too chilled; we had a long 6 hour drive back home to Spokane. After donning dry clothes, I did the mini body part assessment again: my ankle felt fine, hardly any difference compared to the good one; my back was sore, which was a bummer; my hip flexor was fine; my bronchitis seemed to actually clear a bit, probably because I left about 3 pounds of snot on the trail; my overall soreness was minimal, so my recovery for the 100k should be good; my spirits were light and free; my hope was renewed.

We hung around just a little afterwards and then headed to the car for the long drive home. With the pouring rain and traffic, it took us longer to get through the first half of the trip, but once we got over the pass, there was no rain and the drive was easy. David and I listened to a Sirius station that was playing all the big rock hits from the past, so we the played "What's the name of this song and who's the artist?" game for over an hour. From J. Geils Band's Freeze Frame to Styx's Renegade, we got most of them right, proving not that we're smart or cultured, but that we are getting old. :)

What a joy it was this morning to hose off our shoes! Boy, do I ever miss doing that! My legs are a bit sore, but nothing that would keep me from running. My back, however, is quite sore, and this I know deserves my attention so it can recover fully by tomorrow. So, no running today; just a 4 mile walk in the sunshine here and a nice long sauna session. I should be fine by tomorrow.

Chrissy and the volunteers at Chuckanut deserve HUGE praise for putting on this race again and running it seamlessly despite some pretty tough weather conditions. Without them, there'd be no Chuckanut, no runners, no race, and no opportunity for someone like me to come back alive on the trails.

A HUGE thank you to them all.

She has already posted a nice race summary, the results and a link to the official race photos on the Chuckanut website.

I unfortunately didn't take any pictures before or during the race. I did get this nice one (first picture) of Steve Yee, President of Marathon Maniacs, after the race. (Steve swears he's sticking to marathons only after this run!). Glenn also has phenomenal pictures from the race. In fact, all other pictures posted here are Glenn's. To see how ultrarunners run in a mixture of mud, rain and roots, see Glenn Tachiyama's pictures here. (Note: these pictures show the driest parts of the course!)

Hope y'all had a fun St. Patrick's Day, however you decided to spend your time.


Bob Gentile said...

Lisa Said:And this was a most JOYOUS realization for me! I do miss the trails so much. And for the first time since Western States 2005, I have reconnected with the dirt and rocks and mud. Life doesn't get much better than that!
Congrats Lisa to you and David. and I am glad you had a great TRAIL experience again and was able to recall some of your past joys and see that this race will give you the joy of many more:-)

olga said...

Lisa and David, it was so fantastic to see you, and to run with you bits of the start piece, and to see you in the middle - yes, I was just coming around from my funk, and seeing you guys lifted me so much as well! What a good friend and a good word can do to a person:)
So happy you had no major mishaps for the ankle!!!

Bob Gentile said...

Lisa thanks for the tip about standing on one leg to help build up the ankles--

whew closing your eyes is pretty tough, open I can do easily....funny how much u lose it when the eyes get shut...i really focus in!