Guerrilla Running’s Hillbilly Half in the Capitol Forest, located outside Olympia, Washington, was my first race and I fell in love with it. This year, I returned to Rock Candy Mountain to prove myself by doubling the distance. This year, instead of the “easy” 13.1 miles, I decided to run the Mountain Marathon. This race is a full marathon distance of 26miles (42km), but gains 5,500 ft. of elevation. The Mountain Marathon is no run-of-the-mill marathon.
Am I crazy? Yes, I am.
I still feel the need to apologize as I wax poetically about my running adventures. I wish I could be silent and humble, but I can’t pretend to be above that anymore. I ran a mountain marathon and I am proud. Because of this race, I’m now full addicted to trail races. I am enthralled by mud, rocks and dirt, enamored by single track trails winding themselves through forests up hills, and am finding myself thinking “the steeper the better.”
I have indeed turned into one of those people. There’s no hiding it, I’m hooked. I found my groove. I found my drug. Trail races intoxicate me and if my legs could handle it, I’d run a lot more of them.
The weather forecast called for some rain, pretty cold but not horrible weather. Very different from the year before, where it was sunny, warm and awesome.
I joined about 50 other runners that made it to the starting line on this cold, winter morning. It became clear quickly that the people who run this distance didn’t sign up for some ‘color run’. This was serious business. Smiles were on faces, but the gathering crowd had a seriousness in their eyes not found in races along city streets.
It was messy in early March, with winter still at our doorsteps. We were on the tail end of the wettest winter on record, and the forests showed it.
There were huge puddles everywhere, some so deep you didn’t dare run through them for fear of not touching bottom. The trail was single track, winding its way over the mountain and through the drenched forests, leaving everyone dirty, exhausted and yet incredibly exhilarated. It was perfect trail running bliss.
My goal was to start off slow. Once I would reach the halfway point, I’d have a feel of the entire course and could plan my move.
The course is an out-and-back trail, giving you a good feel for what you can expect on the second half of the race. This is excellent as your brain doesn’t work as well when you’re undoubtedly getting tired.
On my last two races, I bombed pretty badly during the last quarter of the run. I cramped up and barely dragged myself into the finish. This time, it was supposed to be different.
It was. I felt terrific during the first half of the race, kept my pace and never really felt tired or exhausted.
I didn’t run fast, and I was happy with that. I briskly hiked the steep hills and really enjoyed the course. Since I did the Half Marathon last year, the second half of the course was completely new to me and I was happy I had held back. The second part is tougher than the first section.
I made brief stops at most of the aid stations and allowed my body to take a short break, as well as remembering to eat and drink.
Here I should interject a huge THANK YOU to all the volunteers. You play such an important part in offering not just nutrients, but encouragement and support. Your friendly faces and kind words help so much. On the long distances, where a runner is often alone on the trail, buried in their own thoughts and pain, that brief interaction means the world.
Then, at around kilometer 28, things went off the rails for a bit. I hadn’t seen any runners for quite some time, the trail was deep in the forest and I mentally tried to prepare myself for the big steep switchback section I was about to hit. My legs were starting to cramp up and I knew I had to manage my body better. Gauging all my options, slowing down my pace, while focusing on eating, drinking and relaxing, I took a wrong turn and went of the course. I sort of immediately recognized it, but it took me awhile to take action. I followed the trail checking for footprints and anything I could remember. Eventually, or after about 10min heading the wrong direction I stopped. I pulled my phone out, was happy to find some cell coverage, and checked my Strava tracking. Yes, that confirmed it, I had taken a wrong turn and needed to head back. Of course, I was pissed. This mistake sort killed all hopes at a late surge in trying to gain a few minutes of the runners ahead of me. Before I headed back to the trail intersection I had missed, I made sure I was fully with it again. Finished another granola bar, I drank several sips of water out of my hydration pack and shook out my legs.
Getting lost sort of helped my leg cramps ease up (well, it probably was a break I took). I flew down the track and once again, I connected back to the trail route, heading back into the most brutal section of the race. The steep switchbacks through a clear cut section awaited me. I caught one runner and zoomed past him. I knew that I had lost several place and really wanted to make up for it, but I first had to climb that hill.
The wind was howling and my legs just wanted to quit. I found a couple of tree stumps to sit for a brief break, but hammered on. This, in my mind, was the last really really tough section. I actually made it up to the top feeling ok. On the top, an aid station awaited me and from there it was mainly downhill. Not easy downhill, but terrain I am mostly familiar with. That aid station on top of that hill was the most welcoming site I had ever encountered.
I actually asked to sit in one of the volunteers camping chairs. They had a little propane heater and put a blanket around me while I recovered from taking a wrong turn and then having to climb those insane switchbacks.
I ate and drank something and began to feel better. A couple runners approached the aid station, so I got up and headed down the hill, hoping to not get passed again.
The change in elevation and running posture helped with the cramps. Going uphill my quads were shot, but downhill I was doing fine.
Overtaking a couple more runners fueled me with energy and I attacked the last technical downhill section with a big smile on my face. Yes, it sort of sucked that I had gotten lost, but 5+hrs into a race and on the final stretch, I really enjoyed myself and felt like I was able to finish the race strong.
My official time was 6:15 and I came in 33rd place (full race results can be found here).
Like it is with trail races, any preconceived idea of how one would do on a track you had never encountered will turn out wrong.
Aside from me getting lost, I was very happy with the execution of my race. I managed myself well and didn’t bomb, which means I was able to enjoy most of the trail all the way to the end.
The marathon distance of 42km is the longest trail race distance before the race calls itself an ‘ultra’. I added almost 3km due to me getting lost, which means I ran a little ‘ultra marathon’. I guess I am almost ready for Squamish50 in August.
A huge thank you to the Guerrilla Running team for putting on such an incredible event, yet again. The Hillbilly Half and Mountain Marathon is early on in the race calendar and the weather always plays a huge part. With being just a few minutes outside of Olympia, it’s easy to get to and offers an incredible trail experience. You need to sign up for next year!