Saturday, May 4, 2013

Capitol Peak 50-miler

This post is going to be a bit disappointing, because Gary Robbins has already written the definitive race report for the Capitol Peak 50-miler. You can read it here. It's brilliant. You might not want to come back after reading that, because there's no way I can live up to it. That, coupled with the fact that I made relatively few calamitous mistakes in this race, is going to make this report a bit boring. Still, I'll do what I can. Let's go.

The Capitol Peak 50 mile race is run annually in Washington's Capitol State Forest, just outside of Olympia. I drove down the afternoon before the race with Nick, who was running the 55 km option. We timed the drive perfectly to hit the rush hour traffic in Seattle at its peak, so we ended up arriving in Olypmia a little later than we'd intended. In fact, only eight hours before we were due to have breakfast the following morning.

So you'd think it'd make sense just to have a light snack, but no, I'd already researched the dining options and was fixed on the Fish Tale Brewpub. I'd been salivating at the tales of their home-made sausages, so, as stereotypical Englishmen, it was inevitable that we both ordered the bangers and mash, washed down with a couple of Fish Tale beers. The meal lived up to its billing, the delicious meaty girthiness of the sausages proving a tough challenge that we were only just equal to. Still, we'd both spotted the chocolate porter cheesecake on the board, and our fate was sealed. The dessert was equally impressive, being incredibly dense and yes, supremely chocolatey. After quaffing another beer apiece, we waddled out of the establishment thoroughly satisfied and more than adequately fuelled for the next day's exertions.

Neither of us felt particularly hungry when we awoke in darkness at 4 am on Saturday morning, but we forced down a hasty breakfast and drove out to the campground that was hosting the race. We arrived just at the early starters were heading out, headlamps bobbing in the pre-dawn darkness.

Lining up at the start, I considered my goals for this race. While not exactly an "A" race, I was keen to put in a solid performance. I'd rested quite a bit in the days leading up to the race, which seemd like a good idea considering that the previous weekend I'd followed up my 67 km hilly training run by racing the Vancouver Sun Run - a road 10k - the next day. Predictably, it hurt.

I felt that my two previous attempts at 50-mile races had been lacking a little. The key issues I wanted to address were pacing - being able to maintain a fairly constant rhythm throughout the race - and nutrition: actually eating a reasonable amount of food over the ensuing hours. I felt that a sub-8 hour race was within my grasp, so there was also that. I'd spent some time poring over the elevation profile and decided that apart from one steep section - "The Grunt" - I should be able to run all the uphill sections. So that was also on my to-do list.

And then we were off. There was a short road section which spread the field a little, before we hit the single-track. I was in about fifth position, which seemed a little too far ahead, particularly considering there were some speedy guys running the 55 km option. Over the next couple of kilometres I eased up a little and let a few people past. Before long we emerged from the trees and were treated to a quite stunning view of Mount Rainier, majestically lit up by the rising sun.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama.

The course gradually climbed over the next few kilometres and I found myself running with a friendly guy who casually mentioned that he'd run a couple of 100-mile races in the past month and was running a 100 km race on Wednesday. Uh-huh. The company was pleasant, but I figured he must be a little tired, and gradually pulled ahead. After dropping down some fun switchbacks, I hit the first aid station (which would also double as the final aid station, some hours later). There was a tequila bar here. Right. After briefly considering how this might benefit my race, I declined the offer of an early morning shot and carried on.

The next section I knew was essentially one big climb to the eponymous Capitol Peak. I stuck to my plan, and kept running, even through the steeper sections where walking would probably have been just as fast. But I was nervous that as soon as I started walking, then I'd find it difficult to get my running rhythm back, so I just plugged away. After reaching the major aid station at the peak, there was a short section along an irritatingly stony road. The desigeners of this thoroughfare seemed to have picked just the right size and sharpness of pebble to maximally impede progress. There followed a few kilometres of gradually descending single-track, before we hit "The Grunt".

Around this point, I fell in with Jon, who I'd enjoyed a little bit of back-and-forth with over the opening sections of the race. We were both grateful for some conversation as we power-hiked up the steep rocky slope. Nearing the summit we spotted the familiar face of the legendary Glenn Tachiyama and tried to look like we were enjoying ourselves.

Photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiayam.

After a steep downhill road section, we'd arrived back at the previous aid station. This is where the 50-mile and 55 km courses diverged so I bid farewell to Jon, who was running the shorter distance. From this point on I was to run the remaining 50 km of the race essentially solo.

After about 7 km of rolling single-track, I came to another aid station that marked the start of an out-and-back section. I'd been looking forward to this, partly because it should give me an idea of my overall position in the race, but also just because it would be nice to see some people. I'd been gradually passing the early starters and seemed to have finally exhausted that supply. After initally climbing a little, the trail dropped down gradually over 10 km to an aid station. On the way I encountered eight other racers ahead of me, and felt that I was in about the right place. The return from this section was, sadly, mostly a climb and at this point, maybe 50 km into the race, yeah, I was starting to feel it a bit. But I just shoved those negative thoughts out of my head and pushed on. Encountering most of the other 50-milers who were on the outbound section proved a pleasant distraction.

I'd been occupying myself for a considerable portion of the run with thoughts of timing and splits. I knew that to run 50 miles (80 km) in 8 hours, I'd essentially need to average a pace of 6 min/km. My Garmin had been hovering around that figure and it provided some kind of incentive to keep pushing. Nevertheless, I was aware that this value was dependent on the course being exactly 80 km in length, and my Garmin being entirely accurate - both fairly unlikely. But the final aid station seemed to be further away than it should be and I started to resign myself to an 8+ hour finish. When I finally did roll into the tequila bar aid station, I checked that there were nine miles to go, as I thought was the case, but no - "a little over seven". Some tortuously slow arithmetic and I realised sub-8 was still on. It provided a nice little boost as, again declining the offer of Mexican hard liquor, I pushed into the final section.Although my legs were really not too happy at all at this point, I forced them to run every last climb.

Somewhere around 65 km. Photo courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama.
Finally, I noticed a sign saying that the campground was only half a mile away. Twice around the track! Although I was hardly running track speeds at this point. A dip and a final climb, and then suddenly, I was back out on the road with the finish line in sight. I even manged a little sprint for the last... ooh, 20 metres? I crossed the line in 7:48 for seventh overall, and felt very, very pleased. I honestly don't think I could have run that race any faster and it felt like I'd finally nailed the 50-mile distance. I quickly downed three cans of some kind of sweet fruit beverage, while Nick tucked into his second beer. He'd been back for a couple of hours and was also pretty pleased with his race, having exorcised the ghost of the Orcas Island 50k where he'd been forced to drop about 2/3 of the way into the race.

This was a really enjoyable race. The trails were fun, the volunteers top-notch and the course was impeccably marked. I'd recommend it. Thanks to my sponsor, FITS Sock Co., for supporting me on this race - once again their Performance Trail Socks looked after my feet perfectly. Seriously, I don't have any black toenails right now.

Nutritional Information

I had a running-food epiphany. Jelly beans. Bryon Powell mentioned this source of fuel while interviewing a runner who'd be struggling to eat enough on the run, so I thought I'd give it a try. They were perfect. Tasty enough that I was happy to keep popping them for nearly the entire run, small enough to easily consume on the run (so long as you don't try to eat an entire handful in one go), but without the sicklinesss of gels. I paid $3.99 for a 1 kg bag, which was about double what I needed for the race.

Capitol Peak Ultras web site
Official results on
My Strava entry for the race