The Fierce Female Field of the 2018 Chuckanut 50K

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Krissy Moehl, recent winner of the Mount Gaoligong Ultramarathon in China, came home with about a week to finish setting up the Chuckanut 50K in Bellingham, Washington, which she race directs. The Chuckanut, which took place March 17, has become a springtime classic because of the rugged Pacific Northwestern trails, the robust trail community of Bellingham and no doubt Krissy’s elite status.

“The run is really well supported by the whole Bellingham community,” she says. “We had 20 states represented, 100 people from Canada and lots of locals as well. Our local brewery, Wander Brewing, hosted an after party.”

The entrant list increased this year from 300 to 500, stacking the field for both men and women, but the women’s competition has become especially competitive over the years at the Chuckanut. 

Several previous top female contenders were back for this year’s race: Anne-Marie Madden, who placed fourth in 2015 and second in 2016; Maria Dalzot, who took fifth in 2017 and the dominant Ellie Greenwood who has won Chuckanut five times: 2009, 2011, 2012, 2014, 2016. A couple of new arrivals stirred the pot as well: Gina Slaby has tagged the podiums at 11 of her 12 most recent races and Keely Henninger won the Black Canyon 60K, Beginner’s Luck 55K, the Mount Hood 50-Miler and placed fourth at UTMB.

“The depth of the women’s field gets deeper every year,” says Dalzot, 29, of Bellingham, Washington, who has won the female title at 12 of the last 18 trail races she’s entered. “A good [Chuckanut] race for me could mean barely breaking the top 10.”

While the women’s race took the headlines, the men’s race also featured a super-strong field. In the end, Cole Watson, 26, of Ashland, Oregon, finished in 3:36, followed by Patrick Smyth, 31, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 3:40, Paddy O’Leary, 30, of San Francisco, California, in 3:47 and David Laney, 29, of Ashland, Oregon, in 3:48.

In a nod to the increasingly competitive women’s race, says Watson, “What stands out to me after looking over previous years’ results is the growing number of women finishing higher up in the overall standings.”

2018 Chuckanut 50k
Maria Dalzot was among the deep women’s field at the Chuckanut 50. Photo by Tad Davis

See Ya, Sister!

Excited for the race, Dalzot was happy to see clear skies, remembering last year’s mud fest. However, only three miles in, she was bogged down with a leg-injury flare-up, making the remaining 29-ish miles of the race a veritable slog.

“Because the women’s field was so deep, I was constantly trading places with some of the top women, especially Kathryn Drew, whom I leapfrogged with multiple times.” Drew would eventually finish fifth in 4:32.

At the start of the final, three-mile descent, somebody yelled out, “Great job, Ellie!” Dalzot thought she had been mistaken for Ellie Greenwood, one of her trail heroes. She quickly realized that Greenwood, 39, of Vancouver, British Columbia, was actually hot on her tail. “She soon screamed by me in classic Ellie fashion. I never had so much fun getting passed by somebody in a race.” Greenwood placed fourth in 4:28 and Dalzot placed sixth in 4:35.

Slaby Slays

Gina Slaby, 36, of Seabeck, Washington, describes the course as “very runnable, with a few miles of technical terrain and steep climbs. It plays well to the speedy marathon runners that have put in some time on the mountains.”

Her explanation would be cogent, except that it’s like Wonder Woman illustrating the ease of lifting a stranded ocean liner. In addition to her recent wins, Slaby held the 100-Mile World Record in 2017 until usurped by Camille Herron last November.

“What makes it tough,” she says, “is the speed that it can be run at. You should be running most of the climbs—Chinscraper [a particularly grueling climb] might be the exception—and hammering the downs. After some marathon and track adventures at the start of 2018, a lot of my preparation for Chuckanut included long runs in the mountains and hill workouts each week in order to get my legs fine tuned.” Her execution went well, despite major cramping toward the end. She was able to hang on and finish third in 4:28.

Keely Henninger on a fast section of the 2018 Chuckanut 50K. Photo by Pat Werhane

This Girl Is on Fire

Stumpy’s Marathon, in the hills of Delaware, was Keely Henninger’s first trail race. It was shortly after she had graduated college, in 2014, and she had very little running base. Her boyfriend at the time convinced her to sign up for the race, telling her it was a half-marathon, and little else. When she arrived, she learned it was a full marathon and that no water would be provided. She used her Dunkin’ Donuts mug from the morning to carry water. Then she won outright.

Since then, Henninger, 25, of Portland, Oregon, has gone full speed ahead into trail racing. Being a basketball player in college, she has maintained her ultra-competitive spirit. She had a goal to break the course record for the Chuckanut, but figured she could settle with winning. She kept her eyes on the strong women with whom she was toeing the line, particularly Madden, 37, of Vancouver, British Columbia. Madden is a Northwestern powerhouse; all of her finishes listed on Ultrasignup are sixth place or better. Henninger logged 6:30s for the first six miles and picked off runners one by one until she knew she was in the lead.

Just before “Chinscraper, I was running with some guys,” says Henninger, “and noticed one of them ahead hiking the climb. I decided to make myself run it and put about two and a half minutes between me and Madden.”

Henninger broke the rest of the race into 10-minute tempos and kept it up until she claimed the win with a final of 4:07. Madden finished eight minutes later, meeting her paramount goal for the day: a personal best.

Next up for Henninger is the Lake Sonoma 50 on Saturday, April 14th. Lake Sonoma is a Golden Ticket race on challenging, dry California terrain, 86 percent of which is singletrack.

In her last attempt at the race, she dislocated her shoulder in a fall. She simply put the shoulder back in place and carried on for nearly 17 miles before she became delirious and had to drop.

—Megan Janssen is the Assistant Editor at Trail Runner, and hopes to be mistaken for Ellie Greenwood one day.

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