Oh how I wish this headline referred to my age-but alas time keeps marching on! And boy has it! It was January 1990 when I entered and ran my first Nookachamps Winter Run race. And I have run in this race every year since. Yesterday marked my 25th consecutive Nookachamps! It is my longest running streak. There is no other race that I am even close to matching this, with my second longest streak being 10 years-and interesting enough at a race held on the other side of the country in New Hampshire!
For many of you in the Northwest running community, the Nookachamps Winter Runs in Mount Vernon has long been a running tradition for you. This year’s race was its 35th annual. I have run in every one since moving to the Northwest in the summer of 1989. Interesting enough-I live practically on the course now-not by design mind you-just a crazy coincidence making my longest running streak even more meaningful to me!
The series consists of three distances; a 5K, 10K and half marathon. I mostly ran the 10K through the 90s and now primarily run the half marathon. The 10K is one of the toughest in the state. The half is a nice course starting at the Skagit Valley Community College in Mount Vernon and heading out to the community of Clear Lake and back on a rolling and flat loop course across the Nookachamps Basin farmlands. The race’s “mascot,” wintering swans, are always seen along the course. When the weather is clear-Mount Baker can be seen hovering over the forested hills surrounding the valley.
The weather was brutal this year on my silver anniversary run. Rain was torrential and the winds were gusting over 30 mph. There was lots of debris from trees in the road and lots of horizontal rain to contend with. Never-the-less, I had a good run and finished strong! This has not always been the case for me however. Twice fate tempted me to break my streak. Back in the late 90s a few weeks before the race I had a back injury after falling on ice-a fall that sent me to the emergency room. A diagnosis of a compressed vertebrae had me contemplating not doing the run that was coming up. I opted however for the short distance-a 4 mile back then and jogged the course to keep my streak going. Last year I was signed up to do the half, but I caught the flu on a trip back east and spent the week before the race bedridden. I was however able to run (slowly) in the 5K and once again able to keep my streak going!
I have run this race in all kinds of weather! Sunny and 50. In the 20s with ice on the course. Light rain. Heavy rain. Wind and calm. But most of the time the weather is perfect for running- in the 40s and overcast. This year it was a challenge! I have many great memories of this race and have made many great friends and acquaintances on the course and afterward at the post race refreshments and awards ceremony. The 1997 Nookachamps was the very first road race my wife-to-be Heather signed up for and participated in. And while her streak has been interrupted-she has participated in this race more times than any other.
Perhaps one of my fondest memories of this race was from 2001 when a large work horse jumped its fence and ran about three miles of the race with us! Horses, swans, Mount Baker, great friends–something always to look forward. Bring on next year’s race. The odds are good that I’ll be there competing in my 26th annual Nookachamps! I hope to see YOU there!