On Sunday, I raced in my longest distance trail run ever, a 30 km race held in Bellingham, WA, put on by the Bellingham Trail Running Series.
I had been eye-ing this race for a while, we didn’t have anything happening this weekend, I’m always up for a states trip *cough* shopping *cough*, I’m always down to try new race venues, and I wanted to get in some more trail running before the Arc’Teryx Squamish trail half marathon (-ish, it’s maybe 23.5 kms) race on August 11.
So, we packed up, and headed to Chuckanut Bay, approx 60 mins from our front door.
Saturday we had a lovely day of sleeping in, packing up, driving across the border, and doing some shopping. I’ll post some pics of my shopping finds in the next post for those of you only wanting to hear about the race.
The race started at 8:30 am on Sunday at the Larrabee State Park, which is a short 10 min drive from downtown Fairhaven, the histroric district of Bellingham. We had to buy a $11.50 USD State Park Day Use Parking Pass, which I had trouble purchasing, since their online payment was down, and the people on the phone neglected to email me my pass, and I had to phone back the next day. Kind of annoying.
The race registration was $50 and included your race bib, 2 aid stations, and post run snacks. So, for parking and registration, the race cost me about $64 CAD total. Not bad for a trail race of this distance. Obviously, I would’ve liked to have had a souvenir included, but I’d rather not have a souvenir I won’t use, so better to nothing than a crappy cotton shirt that bumps ups my registration fees.
We arrived at the park just before 8 am, as we were a bit worried about limited parking. But, it wasn’t an issue, we got a spot, and noticed quite a few other BC plates there too!
I wore Lululemon fitted shorts, a Nike running dri fit top, my Salomon hydration vest, Salomon Wings 2 trail runners, and fuelled up with Honey Stinger Chews & Waffles.
My bib with the fuel I took with me for the race :
I had no idea what to expect, and was a bit freaked out about the distance, and the unknown terrain. This is my “Oh shit, what’d I get myself into??” face :
The race started on time at 8:30 am after a short de-briefing, letting us know to follow the pink ribbons. The field looked to be about 50 ppl, and I later learned that there was 56 total participants.
We started off up a bit of a hill, crossing Hwy #11 and went up a series of switchbacks. Not terribly steep, not terribly technical. For the first approximate 8 km we followed a nicely groomed, easy to navigate trail that went I’d say 80% uphill, and had a couple of nice descents mixed in.
Some pics of the terrain for the first 8-ish kms.
We went down one nice downhill section, and got spit out onto a gravel road, which I’ve nicknamed the “stupid never ending gravel hill”. I think this hill bothered me so much because I wasn’t expecting it. It was approx 2 kms long, and was relatively steep, and just seemed to NEVER END.
During this climb, I was passed by quite a few (like 6 people), and was really losing time, and feeling so annoyed by this never ending stupid hill, that to be frank, you would 95% never find in the BC trail running. Even in the never ending steep of Whistler 5 Peaks, you have a beautiful view to look out at. Here, it was just a gravel road, with trees on both sides. Luckily, a guy caught up to me, and we decided to join forces on climbing this hill. Thank you Stuart from Seattle! Stuart was great, we chatted about other trail races and routes we’d run, he’d run the KneeKnacker 50km 20 yrs ago, when it was first starting out as an Ultra. We walked most of the hill, and ran the flatter parts, and eventually we made it to the first aid station, which was at about 10km.
I grabbed 1/2 of a banana, and gulped down 4 glasses of water. We headed into a trail, which I later figured out was the Chuckanut Ridge & Dan’s Traverse.
I quickly caught up to a few of the runners who had passed me on the uphill, and finally got to enjoy some more technical running. My only problem during this section was that my hair was not co-operating and pieces were falling out all over the place. It was driving me nuts!! I think for distances longer than 10 km, I have to wear a hat to keep the hair contained. All the bouncing on the trails seems to not get along with the mess of bobby-pins and clips I use to clip it back.
A few pics of what to expect along the ridge :
After the ridge we headed into some downhill, where I passed a lady who seemed to be a bit scared of downhill running. We then came onto a mostly flat trail, where of course, she caught up to me. I passed along some downhill tips, as that’s what I’m best at, and we yo-yo’d again with her passing me. Right after her passing me, I felt a bug go inside my eye, and I could not get it out. It was driving me nuts.
At this point, I looked up suddenly to see Jay standing in the middle of the trail. Of course I was started and made some weird “Ah!” noise. The lady in front of me was out of sight, but had run by Jay, and heard me startle, and I found out later, stopped until she heard me talking and knew that I was safe, that Jay wasn’t some crazy man in the bush. Hahahahaha Thanks Renee!!!
We tried to get the bug out of my eye, but Jay couldn’t reach it, so I decided to keep going, I figured I was around 20 km, but Jay figured closer to 15 km. The trail was relatively flat, with a bit of rolling uphills & downhills. I caught up with the same lady, and we ran together, for the next bit. I didn’t realize it at the time, but she was another savior, as I was getting kind of blah and tired, wondering if I could go another 15, if we were only at 15 kms!
We chatted away, turns out her name is Renee, and she like Stuart, is from Seattle. Her husband was also running the 30, and was a few minutes in front of us. It doesn’t matter where or who you are, if you have a love of running in common, you can always make conversations. Renee and I stuck together, chatting away, and the next kms went by quickly. We chatted about both having super fast running husbands, running marathons, trails vs roads, and more.
We came out on the next aid station, which I thought was at the 20 km mark. WRONG. It was actually at the 23 km mark, bonus! When we learned we only had 7 km to go, and we were at exactly 3:00 hours, we felt pretty good. We knew we had 1 more big uphill, and then mostly downhill to the finish. We picked up some steam on the uphill, and over took a few runners ahead of us. When we came out to the downhill, Renee took a pit stop to the bathroom, while I kept running. Turns out that we were running back down part of the “stupid never ending gravel hill”, and I managed to catch up to another runner ahead of me. I came around a corner, and ran into Jay again!
I quickly told him to take pics of Renee who was behind me, and continued my descent. Apparently he only saw her from behind??
I was so glad to see the trail take a sharp left off of the annoying gravel road. We headed into a narrow rocky path, and I pushed the speed, knowing that there was a guy right behind me. I heard someone coming up quickly, and to my surprise, when I turned, it was actually Jay, running, with his camera in hand.
This is him scaring me!
He had realized that the area had no short cut trails, and decided he was better off to catch up to me and run with me to the finish, then to try and find a shorter way there. This was a nice change of pace, and we ran together as the trail came out onto a wider, less rocky, more groomed trail. It was still quite a steep descent, and was really hard on the legs, a lot of pounding. I knew there was about 3 km left from here, and just tried to run as strong as possible.
Jay took all of these shots while running with me!
We came out at the #11 HWY, and there was a race official standing there yelling “Cars will NOT stop, look BOTH ways before crossing!!” This made us both laugh out loud.
I just had to make it another 300m of downhill to the finish line.
I came into the finish with a time of 3:51:17.
Renee came through 4 mins after me, and Stuart was about 12 mins after me, only 3 mins after his projected 4 hour time goal.
At the finish line, they had a great selection of food. They had a lady making sandwiches, brie cheese, brownie bites, cookies, donuts, orange juice, pink lemonade (soooo refreshing after the run!), and of course water. They also had coolers full of pop & beer! Never ever seen this before at a race!
We weren’t able to relax and enjoy the post race band and awards ceremonies. Unfortunately we had a hotel to check out of, so after grabbing a few munchies, we had to be on our way! It’s too bad, because the sun was shining, and the lawn looked so inviting to lay down and relax on.
My official results were : 3:51:17, 31st of 56 overall, 6th of 21 females, and 2nd in 20-29 (by only 90 seconds!)
Overall rating of the race, I’d probably give it a B. It was reasonably priced, with great volunteers at the aid stations (seriously great volunteers. I had to get one of them get the bug of out my eye, another calculated miles vs kms left for me, and overall everyone was super supportive and awesome!) The food was a great spread at the end of the race, it was cool that they had entertainment as well, and overall the organization was well done. The course was well marked, and I didn’t get lost once. There was a section along the Ridge that I did wonder if I’d gone off course because I didn’t see any pink ribbons for quite a long stretch, and didn’t see or hear any other runners in the area.
Where this race was lacking was the course. It was nowhere near as technical as any of the BC races I’ve done. The “stupid never ending gravel hill” was super annoying. The overall race could have been raced in normal runners instead of trail runners. And with a race that is 30 kms long, it would’ve been helpful to have a few markers letting you know how far you’ve come. Also, if the field of runners would have been larger, it would have been more enjoyable, there was definitely points of the race that were spent alone, and got quite lonely. Also, having such a long pounding 5 km at the end was really rough on the legs. I feel like the course could have been laid out in a more runner friendly route.
I learned a few things about myself during this race. 1) I love technical trails. I prefer if the race is super technical, and I also don’t mind mud, or trail running in the rain. 2) My body was fine, and actually held up better than I expected for a 30 km race length. I believe I could have gone further, and am already contemplating an Ultra. 3) IF I do an Ultra, I want to do it with someone. Or do an Ultra with a huge field of runners. Running for 4 hours is a long time on it’s own, and the sections where I was completely alone were a bit boring, and I started to question my decision to run 30 kms. So, KneeKnacker next July Cathy?? hah 4) I didn’t fuel myself enough, but managed to not feel too ill by getting in lots of fuel immediately after finishing. 5) I love my Salomon hydration vest, and it worked fantastic, and was filled with about 1 L of water.
That’s all for now folks!