There are Trail Runs and then there are Trail Runs

Event Stats:
Name Capitol Peak 50
Date 04/28/2007
Location Capitol Forest, WA, USA
Event Ultra Marathon (50 mi)
Finish Time 11:55:18

I am not a trail-runner.

In fact, I have run on trails exactly 2 times in my life. Last Sunday and the Sunday before that.

But how different can it really be. A City marathon you run on a street, a trail run, you run on - say a bike path. Boy, was I wrong.

I should have seen the warning signs when I registered. 'Please print out this form and send with a check for x $ to the following address'. What's this, no online registration, no credit card payment, no instant confirmation?

The registration form offered an Early start option for runners expecting to need more than 13 hours. Uh wait a sec, 13 hours for 50 miles, that's pretty long, must be for those d#$%ed walkers. Anyhow, play it safe, start early; if something happens, there's one hour more until dusk. This was definitely a bit more low-profile than your average city marathon.


The race is set in the rather beautiful Capitol Forest, Washington, which is pretty much in the middle of nowhere, about 2.5 hours from Portland, OR, my current base camp. My early start at 05:00 basically meant that I had to get up at 1:30. And of course that whole plan of 'just go to bed at 19:00 and you can still get in a solid eight hours of shut-eye' did not really work. I fell asleep at 10:30 and was rather not feeling well when my alarm woke me up in the middle of the night. Anyhow, a couple of cokes later I was awake, nervousness beat tiredness and by the time I arrived at the race-site - which was perfectly marked - I was feeling pretty pumped up and ready to go.

The race-briefing lasted about a minute (the trail is marked with orange ribbons, there are aid-stations at mile x, y and z and good luck) and off we go at 05:02!

So this was it: The big one. The one I was afraid of. 50 Miles. Almost 2 full marathons.

And it didn't start too well: After about 200m we left the - what I would have called a - trail and began running on a path that was almost, but not quite a wide as my 2 feet next to each other. And it was muddy, with roots and puddles mixes in. 'Not good', I thought to my self. It quickly dawned on me that this is what is generally meant by a 'trail', because that sort of underground, with varying degrees of muddiness and width stayed with me during the whole day.

Right away I was the second-to-last runner in the field with no way to go any faster; right in front of me there was a congestion. It came in the form of a runner who walked slowly, because apparently he didn't deem it necessary to bring a flashlight to a run in the woods at night. So he politely asked him to stay with him until it dawned. What can you do? I basically wasted the first hour (so much for my early start), completing about 3 miles feeling pretty angry. As soon as it got light I said my goodbyes and made sure I put some distance between me and that gentleman.

As soon as the sun came out I instantly started feeling better, running through the mud became a lot easier, and I could enjoy me and the race for a while. That gradually changed after about 15 miles when my feet slowly started blistering. And I still had about 10 miles to go to the aid-station where I had my spare-shoes. It hurt. Mile 22 or so brought one of the big highlights of the race: The summit of capitol peak, overlooking the capitol forest and due to the great weather - sunny, warm, but not overly so, and clear - offered a view almost to Olympia.

Changing shoes improved the blister situation, at least for a while and for the next couple of hours I just kept running and walking, happy and grateful for every aid-station, the treats (M&Ms, Chips, even Noodle Soup!!! ) and water they provided and best of all a short break and little talk with the wonderful volunteers there.

After running the last 4 miles in a sub 9 minute/mile pace , I crossed the finish line in just a little under 12 hours.

The race was definitely a lot more challenging than I had expected, especially due to the trail conditions. I would even say it took more out of me than last years Ironman in Brazil.

But no matter what. I did it. I have the 50 Miles under my belt. And I guess I am a trail-runner now.

A big thank you to Race Director John Pearch and his team of wonderful volunteers for organizing a fantastic race. Lessons learned:

  • A trail is not a trail
  • f you go running at night in a forest, it might be dark; bring a flashlight
  • 1/2 inch of semi-dried mud severely affects the breathability of Gore XCR
  • there just might be a reason elephants live in the flats
  • Apple can't count to 10 (But that's a topic for a separate posting)