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Trail Champs Converge at Chuckanut

The Chuckanut 50K is quickly approaching. As Adam Chase detailed in his recent Running Times article entitled “The Ultra Harbinger,” the “small Washington race” that started 20 years ago has now become “one of North America’s premier trail races.” In commemoration of the 20th anniversary and in response to growing demand for the limited 200 entries race director Krissy Moehl decided to do something special – she opened the race up to 1000 participants.

In itself, this move responds to Brian Meltzer’s appraisal of the sport in last year’s Running Times article "Trail Running at a Cross Roads " where he expressed concern over limited field sizes and such small purses that the sport, in itself, fails to regularly assemble the best of the best. This year’s Chuckanut 50K may just fill that void. Based on the list of registered entrantsthe 2012 Chuckanut 50K could end up being the most star-studded field of any trail race in North America.

Both course record holders and last year’s champions, Ellie Greenwood and Geoff Roes, are registered to return and defend their respective titles and chase the the Udo’s Oil Course Record Bonus of $200 and $2500 prize purseto be distributed to the top three men and women and the top masters male and female. Others who were either in the mix last year or who want their shot at the CR and their share of the purse this year have registered en masse. What could make the 50K race even most interesting is the fact that the group assembling represents a diversity of athletes with specialties that range from the track and roads to really long Ultras.

While Roes is still registered to compete in this year's race, he just won the six-day staged Iditarod Trail Invitational and may not quite be recovered enough to defend his course record. In addition to several of the guys that started with Roes last year (including Chuckanut #6 and #9 all-time Aaron Heidt and Adam Campbell), a competitive contingent of potential course record holders will converge on March 17 in Bellingahm, Washington.

World Mtn. Running Champion, 4xXTERRA Trail Running National & World Champion, USATF Trail Half Marathon, Marathon, & 50K Champion, Olympic Trials Steeplechaser, and many time World Cross Country team member, Max King, who is coming off a 2:14 road marathon PR at the U.S. Olympic Trials has thrown his hat in the ring. Max will be joined by another Oregonian and Cornell graduate, 2:16 marathoner, blogger, author, videographer, and social media master, Sage Canaday. Sage recently returned to the northwest after a couple years in Michigan with the Hanson's Brooks Distance Project and will make his debut on the trails and at the 50K distance. See his preparationshere and here.

Despite their impressive track, road, and trail PRs, the Oregonians could be greatly tested by other equally qualified Ultra Runners. 2011's Ultra Runner of the Year, Dave Mackey, is coming off two solid performance as the Golden Gate Trail Run 50K and Bandera 100K this year and could certainly make things interesting for Max and Sage. Jason Loutit is coming off a win at the HURT 100M and boasts a nearly impeccable race record at distances ranging from 13M to 100M. Dane Mitchell , who most recently won the North Face Endurance Challenge - Bear Mountain 50K also has an impressive resume.Jason Schlarb, another formidable 50 miler, also plans to be in the mix.

I wish that Tim Tollefson, whose scathing critique of the Ultrarunning community enraged and inspired several of the FloTrack faithful, could join us on the trails. I think he might find what I found at last year's event: 1) trail 50Ks are no stroll in the park, 2) those who do them well are accomplished athletes who deserve every bit of what little recognition they get, 3) very few of the very best in the sport are looking for the spotlight except to appease and garner sponsors and even then, many still shy away and 4) the ascetic lifestyle of many elite ulatrarunners makes most rather amiable folks.

When I was foolishly trying to hang with the leaders last year, I was clueless as to who I was running with. It wasn't until after the fact that I realized that all of the nice guys who cheered me on as they passed and offered sage advice and assistance as I was struggling through the most arduous ordeal of my life were none other than some of the best in the sport. A few of them even came up to me afterwards to check up on me and make sure I was alright. Not a single one introduced themselves by telling me what race or races they had recently won (which could have been quite a list) and for the short time we were running together any time a camera was seen they hid behind the newbie - which is how I somehow ended up in a lot of publications I had no business being in other than the fact that the other guys knew it was way too early to try to steal the limelight.

I'm looking forward to improving my fueling this year with a more comprehensive nutrition plan and running a far more conservative/consistent race (though I doubt that some of the roadies are going to let the pace dawdle for long). I hope to actually be able to finish this one the way I had hoped to last year with a little more than fumes by the time I begin the descent back into town.

As a very strong advocate of equal coverage for both genders I should do a better job of writing and researching the women's field. But let's just say that Ellie Greenwood, with two wins, a dominant course record, and a wire-to-wire runner up finish to her name is the definite favorite this year. However, she should have some company with the likes of Nichole Sellon of Washington and Joelle Vaught of Boise, Idaho.

If I don't get off the computer soon, though, my much faster wife, who is also a strong advocate of equal time, may not be as enthusiastic about supporting my new hobby/habit!

March 17 should be a great day, in a great venue, with many of the sport's best mixing it up. So sign up or stay tuned for some potentially record setting performances on the men's and women's side.

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