"A blank spot on the map is an invitation to encounter the natural world, where one's character will be shaped by the landscape. To enter wilderness is to court risk, and risk favors the senses, enabling one to live well.

...The time had come to protest with the heart, that to deny one's genealogy with the earth was to commit treason against one's soul."

-Terry Tempest Williams, Refuge

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Cycle Continues

A few weeks ago I ran the Capitol Peak 50 mile trail race outside of Olympia, WA in the forested (and deforested) small mountains there.  I'd been training more and feeling good being out on long runs in steep terrain although self-doubt and insecurity often set in when I compare my loose discipline and meager mileage to other ultra runners I know.  But more and more I accept the ways I am, I run when it suits me (which is still fairly often) and for the love of it.  

My girlfriend couldn't make it to the race so I lingered in the city with her after work, putting off the solo drive up (albeit only 2 hours).  We ate dinner at a bomb spot in NW Portland called Muu-Muu's and in typical fashion I didn't get on the road until well after 9, but again, no apologies anymore.  The drive went smoothly as I went gliding through the northwest night on I-5, over the great Columbia and into Washington.  To the exit and finally to the campground, I had to get out to open the long and heavy metal gate, trying to be silent as it creaked open; it was nearly midnight and I knew countless runners and loved ones were trying to rest nearby.  I already assumed it but a little drive around the campground loop confirmed no open sites; I parked at the side of the road and threw my camping pad and sleeping bag down in a nice grassy area next to it.  Ahhhh....a glorious night, not too cold, a good 4-4 1/2 hour sleep.  Never enough and not ideal before a big run.  

Wrist watch alarm at quarter till 5.  Lingering, then reluctantly up, I left the divine warmth of the sleeping bag and began to groggily face/stomach the fact that I was about to run 50 miles.  I stoked my little MSR stove, got that blue flame going and set water to boil for the mandatory cup of Stumptown.  Once done I drank the brilliant black elixir, relishing it as always.  I tried to eat some food but I always feel a little queasy in those early morning hours before a race, so not much went in.  Checked in and number pinned on my shorts, I was ready to go.  The time of departure crept up suddenly, as it always seems to do, with runners all queued up, anxious legs ready to release.  GO...drop it like it's hot.

Well, I'm not going to bore you with every detail of my race but I'll share some of it, what went well and a bit of what could have gone better.  In other races I've started off too fast, overcome with the excitement of the experience, the fresh trail, the infectious energy; so I knew I didn't want to do that.  But you don't want to start off too slow either, if your intent is to push it and really give it a good go, race it a bit more.  A fine line, a delicate balance, like so many things.  I felt like I did it right this time, or at least better than times before.  I wanted to stay near the front but not let myself be fooled into thinking I can hang with people who train way, way, way harder than me (as I naively have before.)  I managed to push myself, staying relatively consistent and strong throughout, while feeling calm and relaxed.  This is the ultimate key to all successes, athletic and otherwise, and I am an eager student.   Over-thinking, and over-running, will do no good.  I was more disciplined about eating gels/GUs/what-have-you (although I'd rather be fueling myself with only my delicious homemade concoctions I have to say that they're quite effective and convenient) and I drank more too, of some electrolyte drink mix or other, and I felt the benefits.  

I should have used the bathroom before the race.  This error slowed me down.  Enough said on that topic.  Also, some tenderness in my ankles prevented me from going as hard as I normally like to on the downhill sections.  The course overall was forgiving and fast though (even with ~7,000 ft. of +/-) and, in the end, I managed to arrive in 16th place in 8:44.  My previous two 50 mile races, the North Face 50 in the Marin Headlands and the Lake Sonoma 50 a bit farther north in California, I ran in 10:58 and 10:25 respectively, so covering the same amount of miles (although with less +/-) in almost 2 hours shorter was an enjoyable new experience for me.  Thankful to be done, of course, and pleased with it all, the beautiful day, I ate some food and got on the road, heading back for some TLC in PDX.  Good times and good training for the races and adventures to come.* 

As I mentioned before, the course travels through the Capitol State Forest which is utilized for its timber; much of the run is through gorgeous, pristine forest, while others parts traverse these relative clear-cuts.  I personally don't love gazing upon bare slopes of stumps, scattered about like open wounds (incisions I've admittedly made as a carpenter and as a citizen living in wooden structures), but as I ran along through some of these sections I was reminded a few things.  I remembered that beauty can be found everywhere; I saw again how Nature goes on, how the cycle continues, how death allows life, and life allows death and so on.  Fallen giants allow new trees to grow, makes way for new foliage to see the sun, free from a dismantled canopy.  The blinding green of the new growth among old and dead wood dazzled me, photosynthesizing feverishly, juxtaposing vividly, bursting with vibrance.  Nature never stops, never ceases, the flow is constant, a pure, staggering oneness of energy, of matter living and matter dying and everything in between, all at once.  Embrace the oneness and love the earth for we will all go back to it, sooner or later, no doubt.

Ok, ok...I'll stop with the metaphysical ranting, for now.  

One final bit of news to share.  Next week I fly to Salt Lake City to meet bad ass mountain man/ultrarunner/Alta Ski Patroller/and good friend Chris Cawley to drive up the Idaho for the Pocatello 50 (supposedly one of the harder 50 mile races in the country!)  I've only flown to one other race in my life so this is a very special treat.  New scenery, new mountains, unexplored country, fresh trail, lots of up and down, lingering snow, wildflowers, some good people, and day spent in paradise, amongst things pure and real.  Oh yes, I am excited.  Story and photos to come!  

 Thanks again for reading and enjoy this sick video! (Thanks Arlen!!!)

*Watch out folks, that's right, there's some super next level Animal Athletics mountain wilderness raging going down this summer.  EPIC.  E-P-I-C for real.  Stayed tuned.