Last weekend I spent almost eight hours, longer than I ever spend on any other single thing, running through the beautiful trails of Chuckanut Mountain. Lost Lake was my first 50K, and I could not be any happier with my race choice.
I’ve talked a lot about my history with running leading up to this point, so I won’t dwell on it much except to say that finishing a 50K and running for more hours than I ever sleep was definitely the crowning achievement of my running career so far.
I arrived shortly before 7 a.m. and easily nabbed a great parking space. I was worried I’d arrived too early, but shortly thereafter the parking quickly filled up and I was thankful to have been as early as I was. I checked in, grabbed my bib and shirt, and then headed back to the car to rest for a bit and do a final gear and snack check. With a race this long and difficult, a variety of fueling is necessary. In addition to my homemade electrolyte drink, I also brought along some Clif Mojo bars, Primal Spirit seitan jerky,YumEarth fruit snacks, and Pocket Fuel Chocolate Haze.
You may have noticed that what I don’t carry is energy gels and items or drinks high in sugar and carbs. I’m a big proponent of training your body to rely more on fat burning than carb burning, especially for endurance sports. For a good read about fat burning and ultra running, check out this article on UltraRunning.com.
About 30 minutes before the race start, I did a little warm-up run. Most people skip this step, but I’ve learned that it’s probably the most important pre-race thing you can do to lessen chance of injury and help recovery. A really easy jog and some pick-ups before your race will help loosen everything up way better than stretching.
Just before 8 a.m. about 60 of us all lined up at the start and were off. My coach, Eric Orton, and I had a complete plan for the race–when I’d take it easy, when I’d push hard, etc.–that I had overlayed on the course directions and had printed out. I studied it over and over before the race which came in handy when, somewhere around mile 15, I lost my notes!
I had never been to Bellingham or Chuckanut Mountain, so this was the perfect trail and weather for an introduction. Although it did get up into the low 70s, almost the entire course was shaded by magnificent trees so it never felt too hot. Runners were treated with magnificent views up on the mountain, as well as beautiful lakes and clear blue skies.
The first half of the race was hard but nothing too terribly will-crushing. Despite there being a very good rule of “don’t try anything new on race day,” I snagged a pack of Electro-Bites at the aid station. I didn’t regret it at all as I didn’t feel sick despite downing the whole pack, and I never got a cramp the whole race.
Once I hit the mid-point aid station, though, the climb back up threatened to shake my resolve to finish the race. 1300 feet of climbing in two and a half miles was just brutal. After that huge climb, though, the rest of the course is pretty rolling with only one more long climb near the finish.
The course was very well-marked overall, though I will admit to a small handful of times where I was sure I was lost and off course and couldn’t find a marking. Maybe I was lucky (or maybe I have an innate trail finding ability), but I was able to always be on course even when I had those brief moments of freaking out.
One thing I found very interesting relates to the fact that I have vertigo and a slight fear of heights. When I’m up in a tall building and I get near a clear window, I feel like I’m going to fall out of the building and get a little dizzy. For some reason, this doesn’t happen when I’m in a natural setting. The photo above was taken after I clambered onto a large rock along the trail. What I didn’t know until after I climbed onto the rock was that it was, literally, a straight drop down the other side for several hundred feet. Standing there looking down, I felt no fear and no vertigo.
More than anything, my goal for this race was just to finish, but my secondary goal was to finish under eight hours. I managed to cross the finish line at 7:52, which made finishing the race all the sweeter. All race photos were taken by Takao Suzuki. Unlike most races, these photos are done by an actual professional and are actually affordable! I’ve never liked any of my race photos before this race. After finishing, I quickly went over and grabbed my free beer before cooling down, stretching, and heading home.
I promised in my last post about running to get into some of the more technical details of my running gear, so, to start, I wanted to give a quick rundown of my most important gear. This may come as a surprise, but, of all the gear I use on my runs, the single most important thing is my socks.
I’ve been a fan of Injinji toe socks ever since I originally tried out Vibram shoes. Even though I rarely run in Vibrams, I always use Injinji socks. My current favorite, especially for these long trail runs, are the Injinji Trail Midweight Mini Crew socks. They are thick enough to provide a little cushion but not so thick that they make your feet too hot. The mini crew height is also great for trail runs as it helps keep dirt and rocks from getting inside your socks. The best thing about Injinji socks, though, is that they keep your toes from rubbing against each other. After 8 hours of running up and down (8200 feet of total elevation gain) through forests and mountains, I did not have a single blister. You can’t ask for better than that.
The next most important piece of gear is my shoes. Without shoes, a 50K trail run is pretty difficult (though not impossible). I fell in love with the Merrell Trail Glove a few years ago, and I use them for all of my running, trail or road. They give pretty good protection from most any terrain but they are still fairly minimal which is very important to me. I’ve used these on dry roads, snow, muddy trails, and rocky slopes, and I’ve never wanted to switch to a different shoe.
For many years I wore a water belt for my races, carrying water bottles that I’d often drop and have to pick up, and that would bounce against my hips and waist my entire run. Last year, when I began training again in earnest, I decided to switch to a hydration pack. The biggest downside to a hydration pack versus a bottle is that, if you need to refill it during a race, you need to take the pack off; however, the pros far outweigh that single con. The ease of being able to take a quick drink while running without fussing with a bottle is a huge plus, and my hydration pack, the Nathan HPL 020 Vest, can carry two liters of liquid plus has several pockets for snacks, keys, etc. I tried a couple of different vests that all rubbed and chaffed before I found this one, and, just like with my socks, after 8 hours I had no chaffing or raw skin from the pack. I cannot recommend this pack enough if you are looking for a better way to carry your drink.
The last piece of gear I’ll mention today is my Garmin Forerunner 220. I’ve been a user of Garmin watches since I started running 6 years ago, and I used my Forerunner 405 the whole time until last year. With so many new watches being so much smaller, I wanted to finally upgrade and get something less bulky. The Forerunner 220 had all the bells and whistles I needed and expected from my watch without being over the top. I also have fairly small wrists, so a flexible, very adjustable band and less watch bulk was very nice for me as I always felt my old watch was weighing me down. The only negative I found with the Forerunner 220 is that the newer comfort heart rate strap just didn’t work as well as my old one. Yes, it was more comfortable to wear, but if I couldn’t get accurate readings it was pointless. Thankfully, the new Forerunner 220 works with my strap from my old watch. Because the old style strap is still available, I would recommend getting the 220 without the strap and buying the old style strap separately.
Need another reason to try a long distance endurance race? I burned about 4700 calories just during the run so not only did a have a nice huge post race meal, but I had a huge breakfast the next day too. The Lumberjack breakfast I ordered was so big it came on two plates! I will definitely be doing this race again next year with a goal of beating my time from this year.
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Next up is the Seattle Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon. This race will be pretty easy in comparison, but its a nice one that’s close to home. I’ll be trying to beat my time of 1:51.