A few weeks ago, I signed up to run next March’s Chuckanut 50K. It’s a 31-mile race that has some 300-plus runners chasing each other up and down and down and up the spine of Chuckanut Mountain.
For me, it’s a roller coaster ride of doom, a journey of self-discovery (and self-destruction) that usually ends with me uttering those two words known to long-distance racers everywhere: Never Again.
But that never lasts. Next spring’s Chuckanut 50K will be my sixth.
I have a love-hate with this race. I love that I’m able to run it (thankful as hell, too) and I love the race-day excitement with its enthusiastic gathering of similarly tweaked people.
But I hate that I’m unable to run it faster. And that in the race’s final hour, I’ll inevitably turn into a slimy, sweaty, slow-moving old man shuffling along the Interurban Trail mumbling “How much further? How much further?” to trees, light posts, mailboxes and anything and anybody else along the way.
So why sign up for the race if I’m going to be such a crabby-pants about it?
Because I don’t want to miss out on the Sunday morning 8 o’clock group runs. Spending a few hours every week with friends running through the muck, mud, and mire of the dark forests around Bellingham brings light and energy to my winter, and makes its rain and clouds disappear.
For I don’t know many years (10? 15?) runners have been meeting up at the same time each week near the Vet Hospital in Fairhaven to run down the Interurban and up into the Chuckanuts. It’s nothing organized; it just happens on its own.
It’s like some popular, long-running Broadway show that you just take for granted is always playing at such-and-such a house on Theater Row. The cast rarely stays the same, but the show always goes on. Come 8 o’clock Sunday morning, the curtain goes up, and 12 to 15 runners hit the trail. Anyone can join in. Just show up ready to run.
I usually join the cast every December and run through late spring. For the next three months the focus will be the Chuckanut 50K. From the Vet Hospital, we’ll head up toward Lost Lake or Pine and Cedar lakes or sometimes even Lily and Lizard lakes down on Blanchard Mountain. Two-, three-, sometimes five-hours worth.
Sure, the training is great but I join the cast for the laughs, the friendship, and the fun. To throw snowballs at others and have tree limbs, heavy with snow, dumped down upon me. To skip rocks across the ice on a frozen Fragrance Lake.
To hear about movies I’m sure I’ll never see, and about home projects that are far too ambitious for me. To hear other people’s stories, and be inspired by their courage and ability to handle things. And to wonder, if it got right down to it, do I have that kind of courage in me? I’d hope so.
Race day Saturday is three months away. And truth be told, I’m kind of dreading it.
But that’s OK. To me, the next three months of Sundays are the best show in town.