Last Saturday I ran my first trail race of the New Year.
The Capitol Peak Mega Fat Ass takes place just outside Olympia, Washington, in Capitol Forest every January. The weather was, as always, cold, wet, muddy, a bit miserable and a lot of fun. The race crew tried to convince us that we had good trail conditions this year. We naively sort of believed them.
In true ‘Fat Ass’-style, this race is gritty and low-key. It is a 26km loop that serves both races. The single loop is for the shorter distance and the ones wanting to 50k+ will be running the course twice. There are no frills, no prizes- just a couple of aid stations with water. You bring your own supplies, and your own determination if you want to run this race. In 2016, around one hundred others runners were crazy enough to wake up early on this rainy weekend and drive in the dark to Fall Creek campground deep in the Capitol Forest.
To be honest, I didn’t really have this race on my agenda, but it was close by and low-cost. It seemed like a great training for my Mountain Marathon attempt this coming March, so I figured I would do it. What’s not to love about a run in the woods?
The Capitol Forest is close to my home, but I hardly ever spend any time there. I’m spoiled, I suppose. With so many other cool places just a short drive away, Capitol Forest is a place I overlook. I don’t really know what to make of it. It’s a cool destination for all sort of recreation activities, and it’s outside my doorstep. Yet, I ignore it most of the time. Ok, I really ignore it all the time, unless I am running a race there.
Early-season races in January are usually gnarly, unless they are taking place in a warm climate somewhere.
I don’t want to dive too deep into the muddy single tracks we had to climb toward Capitol Peak, but know we were greeted by small remaining patches of snow. I also don’t want to dive into how we navigated around and through endless puddles, until we just gave up and ran straight through them. Along the trail, there were gorgeous water falls to glance at as the moss-covered trees helped make you feel you were in some remote wilderness area of a National Park. The trail followed a few forest roads, that had it been sunny days, we would have shared with horses, mountain bikes or even logging trucks.
As I was running along the trail, I kept wondering why I am so crazy to be out here? I wasn’t alone.
There were others who felt compelled to leave the comfort of their warm, weekend blankets and explore trails in the rain. They substituted Saturday morning brunch and the extra cup of coffee with hydration packs and nutrition bars.
We spent hours running in the mist and rain, navigating through a forest. We then headed up and down a mountain, and we all had a great time.
In this craziness lies the brilliance of trail running as a modern day hobby. Long distance trail running is exhausting, insanely so. The marathon distance had been, for centuries, the pinnacle of long distance sport. For most sane people, that’s a distance that’s so beyond anything one can imagine, that it’s usually brushed aside as, well, insanity. Ultra trail running only begins at a point beyond those 42 kilometers. A 50k is considered the entry ticket. 100km, and 100miles are the new ‘real’ long distances. Those are the crown jewels of running achievement and more than a handful of crazies are doing it. Trail running is a sport that is becoming more and more main stream.
So, the human race, in it’s constant effort to push the limits of what we’re capable of, has found a new yard stick.
But there’s another way of looking this phenomena ‘trail running’: It’s a pretty safe sport.
What’s the worst that could happen? You could twist an ankle. You could fall. You could get a little hurt.
The activity is out in nature; it’s unique, it’s exhausting and it requires a certain amount of crazy. At the end of the day it is still a safe sport. There is no concern that you won’t be able to show up at the office on Monday morning. Sure, the quads may hurt a bit and you might walk funny for a few days, but overall the sport doesn’t affect your normal life. Outside from missing a few brunch dates on the weekend, of course.
It’s also a universal sport. The entry level is low. All you need is a pair of running shoes and some nearby woods with a few trails. No expensive equipment, no serious skill is needed. You don’t have to live in a certain part of the world, or have been fortunate enough to have been born into a certain lifestyle.
Increasingly our brains are focused on our daily work, requiring us to find a ‘safe crazy’ to work off the stress. That is why we look to the trails and run. We might sit all day at a desk staring at a computer screen, but once we feel the dirt under our bright-colored running shoes, we are a different person. We are who we want to be. We are wild and crazy, but we are still safe and home in time for dinner.
This past race, I was exhausted after one loop and started cramping up, feeling depleted. The cold and wet weather wore my body down and I did not enjoy the last 4-6 kilometers. I probably should’ve studied the course better beforehand, but I made it to the finish line and after warming up recovered quickly.
I didn’t write about it right away. I had to let the dust settle and needed to clean off the mud from my shoes to gain some perspective.
The Capitol Peak Mega Fat Ass is exactly what I signed up for, and my next race is already on the horizon. The next one is going to be equally wet and muddy, but longer, and harder. I needed this last race to embrace my inner crazy and fully commit to the next puddle.
I got this. Come be crazy with me.