Posted by: pointlenana | May 11, 2016

Lost Lake 50k

After a great day at the Chuckanut 50k in March, and a decent race but disappointing time (due to warm weather) at Boston, yesterday’s Lost Lake 50k was a nice comeback race.  My big series of 100M races starts in a month, so Lost Lake was intended as a training run – more hills, practice running unfamiliar trails, a good long aerobic workout, and a chance to try the shoes I’ll use for the long races.  I got all those things done, and as it turned out I had a pretty strong race.

The Lost Lake 50k used to be billed as “Chuckanut without the boring parts”. Specifically, they swap out about 11 miles of flattish rail-trail and replace it with 11 miles of anything-but-flat mostly-singletrack.  Chuckanut has about 5000 feet of climbing, Lost Lake has about 8500 feet, and the course records are approximately an hour slower as a result of the extra hills.  The course looks complicated on a map, but it’s a clever design in terms of fitting a huge run into a small space and also making use of one aid station location for 3 separate aid stops on the course.

Lost Lake Course

The Lost Lake course, just east of Bellingham Bay and the San Juan Islands.

Lost Lake Elevation

There’s not a lot of flat.

The Chuckanut 50k has something like 350 runners – Lost Lake 50k had about 60, with some overlap with a concurrent 25k that had about 50 people in it.  Someone told me afterwards that it’s how Chuckanut used to be:  small, a long day on the trails mostly by yourself, and without elites flying in to compete for prize money.

I arrived early, got a parking space about 75 feet from the finish, took care of various kinds of business, and was ready long before the race started.  About 90 seconds before the start, the race director walked us up a short hill.  I was waiting for the fast people to line up in front, but everyone wanted to be in the back, so I ended up among 15 people at the front.  And off we went.  The first quarter mile was narrow and a little tricky, and I didn’t want to hold the “fast people behind me” up, so I ran pretty hard until we reached the Interurban rail trail.  At that point I slid over to the side to be out of the way, and waited for the usual throngs to go by.  Except with only 60 racers, it turned out to be just a handful who slowly eased past me.

Here’s a Facebook video of the start of the race – you can see me in a white hat about 7 seconds in, far side of the trail, handheld water bottle.  You can also see how tiny this race is.  (Oh yeah, the dog beat me.)

After a mile on the rail trail, we turned up a dirt road for the first climb, and eventually turned off onto a singletrack that I’ve run down in the Chuckanut race.  One guy passed me on the dirt road, and three people passed me on the trail when I stopped to tie a shoe that felt loose.  That was the last time I got passed during the race.  I tucked in behind the group of three and found myself running just behind local legend Van Phan.  (She’s completed 191 ultras, another 103 marathons, and was the first person to complete the Issy Alps 100M route).  I’ve run a bit faster than her in races, and definitely slower at times, and I figured it was a good chance to watch and learn.  She’s relentlessly steady – running any short sections that are runnable, powerhiking the hills, super-efficient with aid stations or any stops.

We continued to the first pass through the Fragrance Lake aid station where I saw my friend Yvonne, and then up the Chinscraper climb to the top of Chuckanut Mountain.


Fighting my way up Chinscraper – credit to Takao Suzuki.

Then it was a quick scramble-y drop down to a parking lot where Nichole Braun was taking pictures.


I’m actually running at this point.

After a short distance down Cleator Road, we turned off onto the Chucknut Ridge trail, the best part of the Chuckanut race.  It was clear, Mt. Baker and the Cascades were visible to the east, and the San Juans were clear to the west.  However, that trail is pretty technical – lots of roots, twisty, short steep drops and climbs, and occasional slanty rock slabs to pick through.  I watched a woman ahead of me do the ultrarunner version of sightseeing – a slight slowing, a very quick glance over her shoulder at the view, and then back to business.  I did the same and kept going.  Norman Blake’s flatpicking version of “Under The Double Eagle” came on my iPod and it was pretty fun to dance through the roots and rocks.

water view

I think I used this for a Chuckanut writeup, but this is sorta the view from to the west of Chuckanut Ridge.

For the first 19 miles of the race or so, I was within about 30 seconds of Van Phan.  Somewhere along the ridge, she stepped aside and let me pass.  Being just behind her was fun, being just ahead felt like a responsibility – don’t slow her down.  When the trail was clear, I tried to run fast and create some space, but every time I looked over my shoulder she was a short ways back.  That’s how it stayed for about 10 miles.  It felt like having a shark cruise along behind me.

After leaving the ridge, we crossed onto new-to-me trails.  I knew there was a water-only aid station (unmanned, jugs of water by the side of the trail) somewhere ahead – the only aid between miles ~5 and ~17 – but I wasn’t quite sure where it was.  The maps of that area aren’t stellar and I confused myself reading the route description before the race.  Plus, with Van just behind me and twisty, rooty trails under my feet, I was focused on running.  So… it didn’t surprise me too much when I exited back out onto the familiar Lost Lake trail and realized I’d missed the chance to refill my water bottle.  I was carrying a single handheld, had maybe 4 or 5 oz left, and figured I could make it the 4 miles or so to the next aid station without problem.

That’s also around the time I took an awkward fall.  The strap on my handheld wasn’t staying cinched – I was tightening it for the 100th time and twisted somehow, and suddenly I was falling forward but with one side of my body leading.  Time slowed down, as it seems to during falls, I rotated, picked my spot, and deployed my airbag (aka handheld) to take most of the force.  I bounced up, gave an embarrassed look over my shoulder at the shark, and continued on.  My back felt slightly tweaked but as with many tripping “injuries” of that sort, it went away in a few minutes and I didn’t think of it again.

I knew that once we started down a long steep hill, it meant 2 miles to go.  I ran, rationed the water I had left and was happy when the downhill began.  Because this part was an out-and-back, it meant I could see the leaders on their way back.  I counted as I went down, and when I hit the aid station I figured I was roughly in 15th place, maybe a bit lower if someone was so far out in front that they exited the “back” before I started the “out”.

Van showed up in the aid station shortly after I did.  I ate a little, drank a half bottle of water to take care of my deficit, filled the bottle back up again, and as Van fiddled with a drop bag I headed up the steep hill trying to create space between us.  After a few minutes I looked over my shoulder and there was Van again, just a short ways behind.  Great.  I felt pretty good though, so when the grade eased I would run, and towards the top of the hill Van finally disappeared.

lost lake

Pushing uphill

With about 11 miles left, all on familiar trails, it was just a matter of moving along and being smart about food.  On a downhill before the aid station I passed a woman, and then had a nice chat again with Yvonne while I stuffed myself with watermelon, oranges, Coke, and probably cookies.  The woman I passed came in and left before me – I let her get a short ways up the road and then passed her quickly.  After that it was a long 5 miles before I saw anyone else.  I pushed along as quickly as I could, thinking I wasn’t far out of the top 10, and ran hard back down the Cleator Road section and on the rail trail.  My persistence was eventually rewarded when I saw a runner way ahead.  I chased him, and knew I had him when he took a walk break.  I passed him just before turning onto the Fragrance Lake trail – 2 miles up about 1000 feet, and then 2 miles back down the Fragrance Lake dirt road to the finish.

My pushing paid off big-time in those last 4 miles.  On the way up I passed two, maybe three more people, and just as I crested the hill I saw a guy in an orange shirt ahead of me.  I chased after him down the road and hoped he’d take a long break at the final pass through the Fragrance Lake aid station.  He did turn in and get something, but he was out in a few seconds.  I downed a small cup of Coke, said goodbye to Yvonne, and chased after Mr. Orange.  I closed the gap pretty quickly in a quarter mile, but then he heard me coming and took off.  We both ran hard for about a half mile – sub-7 pace on a 10% downgrade after about 30 miles of running – and I hadn’t really gained much.  I wasn’t sure if I could sustain the effort for a lot longer, so I decided to go a little harder hoping that if I passed him he’d give up and ease back, so I could ease back.  Success – I passed him, ran harder to open a gap, and then managed to push hard up a steep-but-short climb that I think he walked.

I kept going, a little bit easier but still fast.  My heart rate shows that I was working pretty hard to get past the guy, and then recovered some.  I kept glancing over my shoulder, thinking that Van would reappear.  About 1/3 of a mile from the finish I spotted another runner ahead of me and took off as fast as I could go, since I didn’t have much race left to pass him.  The guy seemed surprised when I flew by him.  I rounded the final corner corner, managed not to trip on the shady narrow trail next to a chain link fence on the way to the finish chute, and was done.


There are two spikes at the end.  For the first, my HR (red) goes up and plateaus as I keep pace with the guy.  Then it spikes as I pass.  Then I recover.  Then it spikes as I try to catch the last person before the race ends.

At the finish, I talked to a woman named Gwen Scott who is also signed up for the Tahoe 200 run in September.  She was 2nd woman and 7th overall, and really nice.  It was great to connect with another person who has taken the plunge on that adventure – there will be at least one familiar face when we start on Sept 9.  I also talked with Van Phan briefly when she finished- she said I was going too fast for her so she eased back a bit.  I wanted to talk to the two guys I passed on the downhill, but I only really saw their backs and clothing, and they changed into dry clothes while I was talking to someone who is doing Western States this year.

Two things worked for me in this race.  First, this was the week that my hill legs finally returned, after a layoff last fall and gradually re-training them in recent months.  I did repeats at Tiger Mountain – 8000 feet worth – on Wed and although my legs still felt tired on Friday, they didn’t hurt in spite of setting personal bests on the downhills at Tiger.  Second, I’ve been heat training for a few weeks.  It wasn’t enough to turn Boston into a great race, but Lost Lake had similar temperatures to Boston and I never really felt hot.  In fact, it’s possible that the heat training made the difference between the missed water stop being a non-issue vs. a disaster.  Hopefully both things will help me again during the San Diego race in a month (and when I pace Janet at Sun Mountain in two weeks).

My results:  6:31:13, 9th place overall.  Everyone who finished ahead of me was younger (although not by much in some cases) which is increasingly important to me these days.  Ages for the first 20 finishers:  32, 26, 42, 39, 41, 50 (Mary Geddes, 1st woman, she’s badass), 49 (Gwen Scott, also badass), 40, 54 (that would be me), 38, 29 (those are the two I passed on the downhill), 30, 33, 28, 28, 45, 38, 42, 29, 33.  For a training run, I’m pretty happy with the results.  57 finishers (plus a dog), and 7 DNFs.  The DFL took 10:47:56 to finish – that’s a looonnnngggg time to be out there.



  1. Congrats on the top 10 finish and the oldest in the top 20! Quite an accomplishment, and a strong finishing kick!

  2. great race Mark! thanks for the detail!

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