It’s evening when we arrive to the campground on the eve of the Capitol Peak 50, and the place is looking full. I startle the family with my fumbling proposition.
A response from the man, “Sure, we have a little kid though just so you know.”
Doesn’t register. I say, “oh, absolutely. No problem.”
Trevor and I proceed to pitch our canvassed abode about 20 feet from theirs. Was more of a formality really, as no quality R.E.M was happening when a baby screams bloody murder all…night…long. The young parents would sing lullabies and then chuckle softly in complete surrender. Nothing stopped the infant’s reign of tearful terror. Never can sleep before these races anyway, so 3 hours was par for the course.
Proper northwest day. Gray skies, cool temperatures. Can’t tell if rain is on the menu, but it certainly is a house specialty in this part of the country. I decide to keep it basic. Alpinist and Patagonia Ambassador Steve House once advised me at a book signing, “the simpler you make things, the richer the experience becomes.” Singlet. One bottle. A few salt caps. As many gels as the shorts will handle. 7 oz. Inov8 Talons for dependable footing in the 50 miles of muddy mountains that lay ahead.
3-2-1. Go. 100 runners start the 50-miler, with 55 km runners peppered into the mix. Rod Bien fires ahead to hammer the 55km and we’re smart not to follow. Dan Olmstead, Trevor and I all settle into a quick but comfortable pace. I feel really, really, really excited to be running and racing. Finally, some solid training and a proper taper put my body and mind in the right groove. Effortless are the hills and the fast are the downs.
An honest 5-mile climb gets us to Capitol Junction Aid Station (Mile 14) a few hours into the race. Dan drops back a bit and Trevor and I are leading. With a slice of forest road ahead, I decide to lean into some fast miles knowing Dan’s road gear is dangerous and not far behind. Trevor is also climbing strong and a force to be reckoned with.
I find myself running alone and hard all the way to the base of the Grunt, a steep 1,000ft climb in one mile. Technical and rocky all the way to the summit of Capitol Peak. Strong legs and loose mind team up to tackle this tough section, running every step. Glenn is at the top on rapid fire (see top photo) toggling photos and positive encouragement. Not sure what’s more enjoyable, his smile or his incredible photographic talent.
I bomb freely back to Capitol Aid #2 and make my way through perfect cushy singletrack to Wedekind Aid Station (Mile 24). Running conditions don’t get much better than this. Jason Leman is managing the aid station and provides a familiar face full of support. Holding nothing back on the downhill, I hammer all the way to the turnaround. As the course changed from my previous race here in 2010, I didn’t anticipate the length of this out-back section. I focus on resting while running hard, maintaining form and letting legs, arms and mind just float loosely. After what feels like forever, I finally hit the out-and-back aid station (Mile 35) and start the uphill grind back to Wederkind Aid again.
I have to stop to urinate badly but leverage the psychological trick of running hard and strong as far away from the turnaround as possible until Dan and Trevor pass me on their way out. The tactic is trivial but works—when they pass there’s a fair amount of space between us. We exchange encouraging words in the crossover. Two extremely solid guys, both character and athleticism.
Passing all the runners as I make my way up and out of this section provides strength to run strong, to give others genuine eye-contact and support. Support in the recognition of our sameness. To share this heightened moment of stripped-down human propulsion. A collective celebration of experiencing together a powerful dance of both suffering and bliss. It’s an incredible, incredible gift to share.
At around 5 hours of running, I return to the Wederkind Aid (Mile 35) with one gel left and 15 miles to go. Thankfully Jason supplies me with a few extras to get me safely back to the finish. Quick transitions. Maintaining the lead, I tell myself over and over to stop thinking about the end result and instead dial in the means that will set you up for a successful result. Focus. Nutrition. Form. Relaxed mind. This mantra helps tremendously.
This is a new portion of trail for me and I thrive in its rhythmic downhill sections and creek crossings. Letting the mountain take me with gently along with its slope, I follow course markings through winding forest. Joints and muscles inform me of their expiration. I hear gunshots in the distance and hope my race doesn’t encounter bullets or bigots. Fall Creek Aid (Mile 42) is a welcome site and I burn through after refilling water.
Last uphill climb. It’s nearly 6 hours into the race and I’ve run every single step. This is a first for me for this distance, and I’m inspired to not lose this streak. So on this final climb, I put my head down, dig and ascend. Ascend. Ascend. Grunts. Mantras. Monk Mind. Rinse. Repeat. A friend’s advice surfaces: “May the beast be your enlightenment.” The beast of mental and physical exhaustion is surely present and I am standing tall in resistance. I run every bit up and over the saddle. Knowing it’s 5 miles downhill to the finish, I slurp a final gel, relish in not having anymore left and power forth to the finish line.
50 Miles. 7 hours. 6 minutes. 1st Place.
Lots of great supporters greet me at the finish. This is my first proper ultra-distance win, so the moment is saturated in bliss. Race Director John Pearch and I go over the incredible amount of swag awarded for 1st overall, 1st age group and 1st to the summit. Mighty grateful.
Dan comes in 8 minutes later and Trevor 15 minutes after Dan. We all relish in the day as the sun now begins to show its face. Thirds of homemade soup and handfuls of crusty bread. Great conversations with interesting new people. This never gets old.
I think what worked for this race was the mental ease in the approach. I was rested with a proper taper (yes, including bocce ball.) Training was of higher quality than previous races. I was just genuinely excited to be there, to race, to experience the course, to be out there with friends and to be given another opportunity to explore new chambers into what’s possible. Races don’t always tend to go this way, but when it is, it sure tastes good.
Up next? Mac Forest 50K and Trail Factor 50K as sharpeners for the biggest race of my life. It’s about to get real. Just got some incredible Ultraspire gear to assist in this journey. Putting the Nerve waist belt to good use so far. Loving it.
All Photos: the venerable Gtach.