It may be just a coincidence that two of the most competitive trail 50k’s in the U.S. are a week apart. Both events sell out the day registration opens,and only a very small number of people attempt to do both. I couldn’t pick just one. After a 4th place finish and an enjoyable time at Way Too Cool in 2010,I had to come back this year. The Chuckanut 50k in Washington is a lot further from my home in California,but I’d heard good things about it,am a fan of RD Krissy Moehl,and I’d also have a chance to visit family in Seattle. It would also be an experiment in recovery,with the goal being a high finish at both events.
Way Too Cool always attracts a very competitive field,with a number of runners traveling from afar. It would be a bit different than last year,as the top three finishers from 2010 were absent due to injury (Pantilat) or different race plans (King and Roess). The strong favorite was U.S. National 100k Team member Todd Braje,but after that,the registration list looked like at least a 10-way race for 2nd place –Ian Sharman,Hal Koerner,Tim Olson,Rod Bien,Mike Wolfe,Peter Fain,Josh Wheeler,Lewis Taylor,Jacob Rydman,and okay,me,among others.
RD Julie Fingar of NorCalUltras does a great job improving the event year after year. The biggest change was to the route which now eliminated a long and narrow stretch of two-way traffic ,but also had a bit less climbing,and more opportunities for flat and fast running. The last ten miles of the course,with its short,steep climbs towards the finish remained the same. What never changes is mud and wet feet.
We started out at a fast clip down the paved promenade. Jady Palko did his usual,and somewhat unnerving, time trial off the front and didn’t come back to the leaders for about a mile. Jady must have the world record for the fastest first mile of a trail ultramarathon. This time,however,someone unknown to me took the bait and actually pulled away ahead of Jady. We passed the enthusiastic and costumed fans from the Auburn Running Company,including a gorilla and a banana,and turned on to the dirt trails for good. Both Todd and Mike looked very comfortable in the opening miles. I traded the lead with them for a while with Josh on our heels and the best of the rest very close behind. At mile 4 or so,Todd passed me on the single track and took off at a pace which would have put me in the red zone,but Mike was keen to follow. Before long,I settled in to 3rd place with at least 30 seconds on the rest. Coincidentally, I was wearing bib number 3. Was it a curse?
Through the American River canyon on mostly flat fire road,I could catch glimpses of the two leaders all the way to mile 12. The gap was about a minute. It appeared that Mike was making repeated attempts to get away from Todd. I thought (hoped) that these efforts might cause him to blow up and come back to me much later.
I looked around a few times and could see no one behind. A quick stop at the Mile 21 aid station,and I was off and cruising fast along the Western States trail. My average pace and heart rate to that point were right on target. I knew that trying to lift the pace any higher would likely spell disaster. At around mile 22,my heart sank. Out of nowhere,I suddenly hear the breaths and stomps of Tim Olson coming up from behind. There was no alternative,so I shifted in to the gear I would need much later and tried to reopen the gap. Suddenly,that bib number 3 on my shorts sure looked better than a 4. Tim shadowed me at about 15 seconds all the way to the Mile 26 aid station. After a gnarly,steep hike up Goat Hill,my calves started cramping a bit. It turns out that Tim was suffering the same state of overexertion. With about 2 miles to go,and long since out of sight from Tim,I see Karl Meltzer spectating,and caution him to be quiet so I can sneak by. Shortly thereafter,Karl yells (to Tim) “20 seconds!”. With one mile to go,I dig deep and motor up the last gnarly climb and on to finish safely in 3rd place,less than a minute ahead of Tim. Todd finished just under 2 minutes in front of me,and Mike ran an incredible time of 3:28 to win by close to six minutes –phenomenal.
A week of no running and a few easy bike rides will hopefully do the trick for the next big effort at Chuckanut 50k this coming weekend.
Gary Gellin is a member of Team Inov-8 as well as co-Race Director of the Boggs Mountain 50k/25k. We look forward to seeing how part 2 of his back to back 50k adventure turns out.