11 November 2012

Bellingham Trail Marathon

Nice. Sometimes there is truth in advertising and the Bellingham Trail Marathon does a good job of connection two major trial systems with a minimum of boring stuff in between. Yes, there was a two-mile section of pavement we had to run (twice) to make the connection but in hindsight it was not that bad.

Today I accomplished some firsts and some seconds for me.

  1. This race was the day after a longer (for me) run on Saturday. It's the first time I have done two long runs back-to-back and it went surprisingly well.
  2. For a change I exercised patience and started slow. This is only the second time I have had the discipline to do this (Chuckanut was the first) and it paid dividends in the end.
  3. Even after two substantial runs my joints were not kaput! This is HUGE. In the past, every time I finished a longer run my knees and leg muscles would be toast from the impact and limping around was pretty much the norm. This time I was tired but not sore and only a little stiff. Ditto the following day. My body is adapting to running!


Google Maps told me it would take 1:45 to get to Bellingham so I rounded up and left three and a half hours before the start time (I threw in 30 extra minutes just because I wanted to be safe...) as I like to arrive at least one hour prior to the gun. Turns out there isn't much traffic on I-5 at 6 AM so I made it up there in 1:30. Oh well, time to park and nap.

I had a little nibble of food, got my number, pinned it on, took the usual nervous pre-race piss, sat in the car until the last minute (it was pretty cold out) and finally jogged about .25 miles in a feeble attempt to warm up and then it was time for the pre-race meeting. Two words: 'propane' and 'heater'. Oh man was I grateful for the heaters. The talk wrapped up with five minutes to go so I ditched my extra clothing and walked to the line.

Some young kid (turns out he was 20 years old and got 2nd place by just a few minutes) was doing wind sprints up and down the paring lot in some major minimalist shoes. I opted to wrap my arms around my body for insulation and since only a handful of runners were eager to line up right at the line I went to the front. What the hell.



We took off across a long, paved parking lot, down a gravel road and then got onto the singletrack pretty quick. Across the pavement I was in 10th place (yes, I counted) but then once we hit the dirt people started to pass me. First it was one, then another, then a small group. The pace was not fast and except for the leaders I could easily have matched the speed of most everyone that passed me but I kept telling myself to hold back. First of all I was not sure how I was going to feel after yesterday and secondly I wanted to try closing strong today if I had anything left at the end. The first five miles were on some really cool trail but by the time we exited the woods I was all alone. Sheesh, this was too early to be solo. :(

As we came out of the woods there was the first aid station, the pavement and it was time for that connector section. It was flat, down a hill and then more flat.

As we entered the woods again we got on the Interurban trail that is the first 10 km of the Chuckanut race. One mile later we got to aid station #2.

The race web site and the pre-race meeting made a big deal about stocking up on food and water here because it was eight miles to the next aid and it was mostly all uphill. At the first aid station I had grabbed two gels thinking that I did not want to drop a food bomb into my gut right before a big climb but here I grabbed another gel, half a banana and a quarter of a PB & J anyway. It only took me a few seconds to gulp the gel, top off my bottle and choke down the banana and I ran out of there with the tiny piece of sandwich in my hand.

We went up some trail, some of it kinda steep and then we did the bulk of the climbing on a dirt road. We climbed up to Lost Lake on the road and then ran the same trails as during Chuckanut all the way to Chin Scraper (so called because it's steep enough that you might).

On the road climb I was still all alone and actually hiked a fair bit. I would run some, hike some, just to break things up. Plus hiking let me finish my sandwich and keep drinking. :) Again, I probably could have run all of it but then I might have been blown at the top. Instead, at the top I felt pretty good and started pushing just a little once I got back on the singletrack. It was FUN up here! This trail is phenomenal. I was running around massive boulders, climbing up stone steps, over spongy earth, jumping over logs, the conditions were so good.

After a mile or two of singletrack I saw someone up ahead. I caught them on a longer descent and then as the trail flattened out we exchanged superlatives about the trail conditions. And then I slowly eased away from him. Oops. I had wanted some company but I guess he was not going to be it.

The next section is rolling. First it is flat, then there is one longish climb but it's not very steep and then there is a longer descent that takes you to the base of Chin Scraper. Eventually I saw two more people up ahead. Then another. And right before I pulled into the third aid station one more so I sort of caught four guys in the span of perhaps 15 minutes.

ASIDE - as I was descending towards the base of Chin Scraper who should I see but Gregory Mackenzie and his buddies on mountain bikes riding up the trail. And incredibly he recognized ME while I was running at him. It was cool; as I ran past the group I got one long, extended high-five all the way down the line.

I think I had passed two or three guys on this descent and as I hit the aid I caught the rest. This time I was fast. I topped off my bottle, put a gel in my pocket, ate another, grabbed another quarter of a sandwich and was out of there in about 30 seconds. Nice.

Although I jogged out of the aid station that didn't last long and soon I was hiking. And hiking. And hiking. With the exception of perhaps two 50' sections I hiked all the way to the top of this climb - it's steep! I was also trying to eat my PB & J without choking.

It was hard but I felt good! At the top instead of being crushed and needing to continue walking (a sure sign you have overdone it) I was able to start running. One guy had bolted out of the aid behind me but I slowly pulled away on the climb. Next up was Chuckanut Ridge in the opposite direction of the Chuckanut race.

By most accounts this section of trail is pretty technical. There are tons of roots, slippery rocks and plenty of short, steep ups and downs. More than once I found myself grabbing a tree branch to prevent myself from sailing off the trail. By now I was getting tired so wasn't exactly running here but I kept the forward momentum up and even when I was walking it was not slowly. This ridge is pretty exposed in places and the wind was really whipping up. Then I started to feel something tickling my face and guess what... snow! Up until now the precipitation had held off but now it was snowing lightly and it was pretty fun.

ANOTHER ASIDE - I always prefer snow to rain, it's not so wet. But it sure hit home that had I not been exercising pretty vigorously I would have been a prime candidate for hypothermia up here. This was easily the coldest section of the race.

Up here on the ridge I caught one more racer. As I passed him he uttered something like, "This trail is insane!" He sounded like a road runner to me. :)

Then it was time for a long descent. This was pretty much all on dirt road but thankfully I learned my lesson at Chuckanut (where I went a little too fast on the descent) and did not hurl myself down the mountain. I tried to keep the cadence up, land soft and not put on the brakes too much. I think I did okay?

At the bottom we descended the trail we had climbed just after the second aid station and here I passed another racer. By now I was starting to entertain thoughts of a top-10 finish? And then I got to the aid station. "Good job, you're in 9th place!" Oh my, I guess I'm racing now.

Remember how I was planning on closing strong? Easier said than done. :) Now I had to run about five miles to the finish; one on the gravel Interurban trail and then the 2-mile paved connector back to Lake Padden and then two miles around the lake to the finish. Ouch. In the middle of the paved section I found myself walking. WTF? Get moving Martin, you can do it.

As I got to the base of the paved climb - which seemed infinitely steeper going this direction of course - one of the crossing guards told me, "Great turnover, looking good!" That boosted me up the first third of the climb but then I was walking again. Rats. At the top of the hill I even took a long look back. :) But I didn't see anything thank goodness.

As I entered the trail with two miles to go I passed the last aid station (which had also been the first). Here I just gulped two half cups of Coke and almost didn't get out a 'thank you' to the volunteers because the carbonation was forming a giant bubble in my throat.

Two miles. I can do this. Just run it in. No need to race, you are all alone and you're got 9th place locked up.

One mile later I saw a racer up ahead.


Funny how the mind works sometimes... what did I do when I saw this guy? I started emptying my bottle on the ground as I ran to make it lighter. Guess who was going to try and close strong.

It's times like this when you realize that 'strong' is a very relative term. If you look at my GPS data below you will see that in this case strong meant about 7:00 pace. Trust me when I say it felt a lot faster at the time.

So I saw this guy with about one mile to go and I caught him with maybe half mile to go. The only thing worse than having to catch someone is actually making contact and then having them pass you back. So now I had to not die and hold him off. Yikes. With about .25 miles left I looked over my shoulder and saw him making a huge effort but somehow I found a little extra and managed to maintain my gap. How big was that gap you might ask? Oh, about FIVE SECONDS. But I did it. And, he was wrecked/practically collapsed when he crossed the line and I didn't. The only thing better than winning your race (even if it's for 8th place) is looking good while doing it.

To keep up the fa├žade of feeling fine I walked around a bit so my stomach would not revolt. Nothing like a hard effort (after a long effort) to put your guts in turmoil I always say. I walked to my car, changed into warm, dry clothes and then shuffled back to the finish to eat. Oh yes my friends, I do this exercise thing for a reason; behold.

Post-race orgy. Always a good time.

Post-race hydration(?).

Chocolate milk or...

Recovery pie.

Did I mention the HOT butternut squash soup? What's not to like? That's rhetorical by the way.

My only disappointment with this race was the fact that they only had medals for 1st place in all the age categories. Only the overall men and women got 2nd and 3rd place medals. Poop. By the way, 2nd place in my age category got 3rd overall!

Here are all the pictures.

Sleep 6
Waking HR  
Body Weight  
Body Fat  
Breakfast 5:15 AM - banana, almond butter
while driving to the race - 6 Perpetuem Solids, apple, tea, water
Workout Food 8:30 AM - 2 gels
race - 5 gels, 3 bottles Nuun, half a peanut butter and jam sandwich, banana, 2 cups Nuun, cup of coke
Injuries Nothing! Everything felt pretty good and I didn't fall down.
Therapy Epsom Salt bath when I got home, 2 Ibuprofen
Time of Day 9:00 AM
Workout Type race
Weather low 30s at the start, mostly cloudy, calm, dry; low 40s at the finish, light rain
Course one big climb,
Results 3rd - Men 40-49
8th - Overall
official results
Time 4:09:17
Distance 26.2 miles
Pace 9:31 min/mile
Equipment Brooks Cascadia 7, hand-help bottle
Clothing Teko organic SIN3RGI Light Minicrew, Brooks Infinity Short III, Craft long sleeve undershirt, SRC Brooks Podium SS shirt, Polypropylene gloves

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