Chuckanut 50K Cheat Sheet

Everything you need to know about ultrarunning's ultimate gateway drug

Feb 26, 2016
Outside
Outside Magazine
Chuckanut 50K Cheat Sheet

Some of the best in the sport count the Chuckanut 50K as their first ultramarathon.    Photo: Glenn Tachiyama

Beware: the Chuckanut 50K is the ultimate gateway drug to an ultrarunning addiction. Just ask 2015 Ultrarunner of the Year David Laney, who lost his ultra virginity at Chuckanut in 2013. Or Krissy Moehl, who ran it as her first ultra in 2000, then went on to set course records at the world’s most prestigious races, including the Hardrock 100, and the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. She loved it so much, she took over as race director in 2002 and recently bought a condo three blocks from the race start in Fairhaven, Washington.

“The community up there, they own it,” Moehl says of their support for the race. Expect to see volunteers all over the course, often in costume. “One year the race was on St. Patty’s Day so they all dressed as leprechauns,” Moehl says. “Another year they were all in bathrobes up on the ridge.”

And then, of course, there’s the course. “It is unbelievably beautiful, looking over Chuckanut Bay and Puget Sound,” Laney says. “It’s still one of my favorite races ever.”  

Convinced to give it a try? Below, Laney and Moehl give the inside scoop on all things Chuckanut so you’ll show up ready to run.

Course Recon

“It’s sweet because the course is pancake flat for the first 10K, then gets really hilly and pretty technical”—you’ll climb a total of 5,000 feet—“then it gets pancake flat again for the last 10K,” Laney says. It’s somewhat like a lollipop, starting and ending on that 10K section around Chuckanut Bay. (It’s actually 6.7 miles, Moehl says.)

At about the half marathon point, you’ll hit an eight-mile loop called the ridge. “There are roots, mud, rocks, random drop-offs, granite slabs covered in moss. It’s a little bit of everything,” Laney says. So watch your footing. But also take a moment to check out the views of Mt. Baker and the Canadian Rockies if it’s clear. If it’s not, look for the sign picturing the views you’re missing, courtesy of the race’s first director who comes out every year to mark the ridge.

After the ridge, you’ll have a short, steep climb, then a fast descent—with better footing—back down to the final 6.7 miles.

Expect five aid stations out on the course with products from Clif Bar and 1st Endurance. And a Wander Brewing food truck at the end, serving up $2 pints for runners.

Strategize

“When you’re running up something and you’re out of breath or you’re working hard, think to yourself, ‘Will I be able to run this later?’” Moehl says. “If you can’t honestly say yeah, then you should probably walk it now.” Sage advice for any ultra course.

If you do have it in you to run the whole thing, Laney suggests taking it easy until mile 20, then pushing it from there. “I tell runners to stay relaxed through Chuckanut Ridge,” Laney says. “Then start running hard through the rollers, the big downhill, and that last 10K.”

Most people finish between five and 6.5 hours, Moehl says. If you’re aiming to impress, “a good time is sub-five,” she says. If you’d just like to finish, which is also a noble goal, the cutoff is eight hours.

Training Tips

“There’s a lot of up and down, and your legs are kind of shot by the last 10K,” Laney says. Fix it by training yourself to run well on beat up legs. “Do some hard hill workouts and finish with a flat tempo run,” he says. He makes sure to do a workout like that a few weeks out from the race.

Want more detailed training help? Both Laney and Moehl coach athletes, and there are no better qualified Chuckanut coaches. Contact Laney here, and Moehl here.

Gear Up

“We’ve had everything,” Moehl says about race-day weather. Snow, rain, sun, snow that turned into sun, super high winds that destroyed sponsor tents. “So prepare for all.” Here’s how.

“Always have a lightweight rain jacket, and a light wool base layer.” Moehl says. “You can endure a lot of different temperature ranges with that combo.” She likes Patagonia’s merino wool base layers, which stay warm even when wet. 

You’ll also want a pair of gloves, a beanie, shorts and capris, and tights. “You want to have all of your options covered,” Moehl says.

Laney recommends a good trail shoe—you’ll appreciate the extra grip on technical sections. And dry clothes, “because everyone hangs out afterwards, and it’s nice to have something that’s not wet.” 

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