The sun was out, the weather was warmer, the trails were in decent shape and the puddles were almost dried out. This was shaping up to be perfect day for a spring time trail race.
Q: What’s the most dangerous time to sign up for race?
A: When you’re on an emotional high from the last race.
In March, the week after my Mountain Marathon, I immediately decided that trail races are now my thing and I signed up for another one. It was scheduled just a month after running for over six hours. The course would be the same, but in January I ran over rocks and through puddles.
A month seems like no big deal for recovery and although the rest of my body wanted to hit the trails just a couple of days after, my left knee wasn’t having it. A sharp pain sidelined me for most of the month. As the race date for the next run approached, I became increasingly worried if I’d be able to actually complete the course.
I sort of had an open invoice with the Capital Peak course. I ran it earlier in the year for the 25K Mega Fat Ass. In that race, I did everything wrong: I didn’t check the course map, wore the wrong clothes, didn’t eat the right stuff and bombed pretty badly on the final 5-7 kilometers.
I had learned my lesson. When I ran the Mountain Marathon, I was able to correct every single one of those issues. Despite that, I still felt like I wanted to revisit the course and see if I could do better.
This time around, the weather was sunny, there were a few aid stations spread throughout the route and Doug ran it with me. It promised to be an amazing Saturday in April and I couldn’t wait.
One the day of the race, my knee was still worrying me. Doug was dealing with a broken toe from a run a few weeks earlier, so it is fair to say we were pretty banged up. I suppose that just a sign we’re getting older – sigh.
The race started at Falls Creek Campground is on the south side of the Capitol Forest. Coming from Olympia, it feels like it is in the middle of nowhere. The drive seems to take forever and parking was limited, so we carpooled to the trail head.
Luckily, the starting time was 9am, which is very comfortable and reasonable time for a trail race to start. The main event that day was a 50-miler, which had started much earlier in the morning. The leaders came through our starting area just before our race was schedule to start, quickly vanishing into the woods. We cheered, and as they left our sight, we all focused on the task at hand.
Doug and I started off slow, which suited both of us well. We chatted and enjoyed the early stages of the race, knowing we had a few hours left of running. The trail winds itself through the campground, slowly making its way up the mountain known as Capitol Peak. On this course, almost all of the climbing you do in the first 7-10 kilometers until you reach cell towers and panoramic views at the peak.
Doug and I snapped a few pictures and only at one of the last switchbacks just before the first aid station did I push on at a faster pace. The pain in my knee, though present, felt manageable. As I power-hiked up the gravel road to the top of Capitol Peak, I decided that the race was on.
Back in January when I ran this course, I foolishly thought the peak was the halfway point. I wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Although most of the climbing was over, the rolling, slow downhill for the remainder of the course feels really long. The course stretches itself for miles through beautiful forest, dotted with the occasional bridge and pretty waterfall.
After the last aid station, with just over 10km to go, the trail falls into a strange monotony that makes it incredible hard to predict how far from the finish you are.
Running around the Capitol Forest, the GPS gets completely thrown for a loop and is no help either. There are no real landmarks, just a beautiful single track trail through dense forest. Turn after turn, the forest never ends. I picked up a few other runners on the downhill due to the fact that I had started off slow, and I also knew that there were Pringles at the aid stations (yum!). I felt strong all the way to the finish. It’s a lot more fun overtaking people on the trail than being overtaking by faster runners, especially on the last 2-3 kilometers.
My official race time was only a few minutes faster than the on the Fat Ass in January, but back at the campground, reaching the finish, I felt that I ran a decent race.
Trail races in April, in the sun, feel very different compared to running in the cold and wet weather of late winter.
You’re not completely soaked through and dirty, making the finishing area much more enjoyable. After the race, it was fun to linger and connect with a few other runners sitting in the sun.
Race three for the year is now complete. I have two more are scheduled for later in the summer and can’t wait.
Now, it’s time to hit the climbing gym while waiting for the snow to melt on the peaks. Once the snow is gone, we can revisit some higher elevation trails, take in some awesome views and run at elevation. There are mountains to be climbed.