Bellingham Trail Marathon / 2nd / 3:37 /+5000′
I have a suspicion Bellingham, Washington has the worst weather in the lower 48. It certainly gets among the least sunlight — both as a function of its northerly latitude and the prevailing gloom of the north Pacific coast. And if it were much colder, it would get consistent winter snow, much preferable in my mind to typical PNW permadrizzle, but it’s not. However, foul weather doesn’t seem to bother me much, and the town is otherwise such a nice place that I jumped on the chance to run the inaugural Bellingham Trail Marathon if only for the visit (proper training be damned!) I bussed up from Portland on Saturday without solid plans, and enjoyed the old sensation of traveling somewhere with only my backpack and the general weight of anxiety over where I was going to sleep that night (the race director’s floor, as it turned out). Walking through hilly Sehome to Candice’s house under clear skies, the mercury registering solidly below freezing, I was once again wishing I lived somewhere with a real winter.
The race itself was one of those hard lessons about pacing you need to relearn every once in a while. Connecting urban Lake Padden with the Chuckanuts, the lone finger of the Cascades to reach the Pacific, the marathon course is rugged and scenic, with about 5000’ of climbing in its 26.2 miles. Grand delusions of a sub-three hour race dancing in my head, I played rabbit for the first eight miles after blasting a touch hot out of the gates, ignoring Candice’s sage advice not to underestimate the (steep, steep) hills behind Lake Padden. The low volume of my recent training manifested in somewhat rubbery-feeling legs, but adrenaline had hold of me and the trails were distractingly beautiful. This brief moment of glory came to an end when I blew up and was caught and summarily passed by Tyler Mitchell, who pulled away on a not-particularly-steep climb that left me walking, and entertaining thoughts of dropping.
For the next hour or so I hiked almost all of the uphills, winding along the first of two major ridges before gradually dropping to the base of ‘Chinscraper’, a notorious near-thousand foot climb in under a mile. It was a turning point of sorts in attitude if not speed, as there was no point in even trying to run the thing, and so my demoralized power hike morphed into something “appropriate” and “efficient.” After topping out, there were three very technical miles along the high ridge of Chuckanut mountain, reminiscent of the northern Appalachians in its uneven grades, roots, and exposed bedrock. There was even an honest-to-goodness drop to cautiously jump. There were periodic views of surrounding ridges, the ocean and the San Juans, and presumably Mt. Baker, though it began spitting snow from the low cloud ceiling and its lofty summit was obscured.
And then, spiking like heat lighting through a midsummer’s day haze of low level pain, I started to cramp on nearly every small climb. I suffered through to mile 21, where I was surprised to learn Tyler was “about a minute ahead” and “cramping.” But damn it, so was I. So was I. I bottled as much electrolyte stuff as I could and unsuccessfully chased after him. I ran along the road and up the sidewalk and under the overpass and rounding Lake Padden I could see his bright-green shell curving away, ever out of reach, but I was feeling okay about it all (why does the pain always let up when you can taste the finish?) I crossed the line in 3:37:05, about three and a half minutes behind him.
It was 38 degrees, raining, and worsening every minute, a fine time to retreat to the unearthly glow of heat-lamps in the picnic shelter and drink salty soup to soothe involuntarily twitching legs.
Later, at Boundary Bay Brewery (“Inside Passage Ale” is both cleverly named and delicious) I snagged a ride back to PDX with a couple who had spent a few summers in South Royalton (“SoRo”) Vermont. Coincidences abound.