BELLINGHAM - Faint sips of air and some beading across Blake Medhaug's forehead was all anyone could see to realize the 25-year-old had just won the 46th Annual Chuckanut Foot Race.
Medhaug had the composition of someone who just walked their dog on a sunny Saturday morning, not someone who navigated the seven-mile Interurban Trail on Saturday, July 13, in 38 minutes and 17 seconds, 51 seconds faster than second-place finisher Tyler VanDooren.
"It was already within the first couple of minutes, it was just three of us," Medhaug said, referring to the pace he, VanDooren and Benjamin Shearer set early. "After that mile, I broke away from those guys and I was by myself the last six miles."
Medhaug's performance also laughed at the notion that winning anything in back-to-back fashion was overtly difficult, as his win gave him consecutive victories in the annual run.
"To be honest, that was the motivation for coming back," Medhaug said of defending his crown. "Since I won last year, I felt like I had to return... Now that I've done it two times in a row, someone will probably see that and be like, 'I need to show up next year and not let this guy win.'"
The race itself was a lonely one for Medhaug. Last year, he recalled, the lead pack moved quickly through the first three miles until he made his surge. This year, that wasn't the case.
VanDooren and Medhaug laughed early on in the race, knowing full well how it was going to play out, Medhaug said.
"Me and Tyler, we were just talking to each other, saying, 'Wow, it is already down to this? This is going to be a long race,'" Medhaug said. "At that point, we both knew exactly what was going to happen in this race. We were both going to go 1-2 and have a gap in between us."
Having never been in a race that had such little competition at the front, keeping his concentration was the most difficult of tasks, he said. And as the miles wore on, Medhaug employed the use of some less-than-successful mind tricks to try to excite a faster pace.
Vain was that venture, he said.
The winner of the women's division was coincidentally a former cross-country teammate of Medhaug's at WWU, 25-year-old Courtney Olsen.
Olsen finished the seven-mile run on the scenic Interurban Trail in 45:49.8, besting second-place finisher, Alma McMurtry, by nearly two minutes.
Though occasional running partners, Olsen and Medhaug's philosophies depart from one another once looking beyond their respective wins. Olsen took to the race with a much more light-hearted approach than the rigorous-training Medhaug, who entered with some specifics he wanted to work out for future competitions.
"To tell you the truth, I wasn't sure what I wanted to achieve today," Olsen said. "I didn't have any goals... I just wanted to see what I could do."
Olsen laughed about going out drinking the night before, clearly not being too concerned with where she would place in the community-oriented run.
"I just went out and I was free-loving it," Olsen said of her race mentality. "I'm not a very serious runner. I just like to go out and do it."
Olsen, in gesturing to the hundreds of runners swarming the open field of vendors at Larrabee State Park, held a piece of donated fruit in one hand, taking note of the community importance events like the Chuckanut Foot Race have in Bellingham.
That's why she came. Not winning; that was secondary.
"I love seeing all these people united together, working out together and sweaty together," she said. "It is a testament to the Bellingham runner, (continuing) supporting local athletics."
Kelly Kriege, the event coordinator, took to making the race even more eco-friendly than in years past. This year, similar to last, she wanted to encourage runners to forgo the bus ride back to Marine Park in Fairhaven from Larrabee in favor of running the seven-mile course back.
This year, though, she has offered an incentive - 200 medal, green water bottles with the words, "I went 14 and green," scorched on the outside.
By days end, she figured there wouldn't be a single bottle left.
"We even have a couple people doing it on stand-up paddle boards," Kriege said of those strolling back to get the award.
The race itself, though, carries a much greater meaning to her, one that isn't solely about the elite-runners who blaze the course in eye-popping fashion.
"This race is really about community, and about your everyday runner," she said.