Monday, April 27, 2009

Capitol Peaked

This year I am mostly focusing on the Oregon Trail Series Races, because they are (relatively) close to home. Also, even though there are tons of awesome ultra-runners in Oregon, the stud-women all have bigger fish to fry (like 100K World Cup and winning prestigious 100 milers) and don't pay any attention to the OTS, which means I stand a good chance of being competitive in the series. Points for the series are multiplied by the number of miles in each race, so it doesn't exactly take a genius to figure out that you need to run the long races to do well. That boils down to the PCT50 and Where's Waldo. But sometime in March I decided I should complete a 50 miler before trying to race a 50 miler and so I signed up for Capitol Peak.

I billed Capitol Peak as an "accomplishment run" and repeatedly tried to enforce the notion that I wasn't out there to race. Just get it done. It seemed simple enough.

I took the first 19 mile loop very easy and had the pleasure of running most of it with other people, which is rare for me; I always seem to be on the trail by myself. I was strong on the 5.5 mile climb up to Capitol Peak and even ran quite a bit of it. In fact I was passing people! And I made good time on the little loop up to the peak. I hit the top third for the women, behind super-star Jenny Capel, who went on to win the 50 mile, and just a couple minutes behind Alison Hank, who was out for a shorter day, winning the 55k.

As I came down from the peak, I got back on to the dirt road and there in front of me was a huge white arrow pointing to the right. That didn't seem right since I could see the parking lot straight ahead and thought the aid station must be right next to that, but how could I ignore this gigantic trail marker? I look where it is pointing and see two runners ahead and one of them is a woman! Aha - that must be the right direction and I think I can catch that girl! I run down the road, and something does NOT feel right. Where is the AS? I catch the girl and ask her where the aid station is - she says we just loop up the trail and then drop down to the AS. Sounds good so I keep running. Then I pass a sign that looks eerily familiar. "Well, they probably just made two of the same signs," I tell myself. But on the trail I cross a snow patch and now I am almost certain I am retracing my steps. A few feet farther and I see bricks that I had noted on my first time up. Now I know exactly what has happened: That big arrow was for the people coming UP the mountain; on the way down you just cross the parking lot to the Aid station. You had to be a complete dumb-ass to screw that up. So my only explanation is that I am a dumb-ass!

Normally, I would say that I am good at following directions and maps. Directions are so logical and orderly - things I thrive on. There is no room for creativity with directions, which is good because I don't have much creativity. But now I have gotten lost in two consecutive races. That just seems like poor sense of direction and poor common sense!

By the time I got back on track I had traveled an extra three miles. When the AS captain asked if I was continuing on to do the 50 mile or going with the 55k, I let my anger and frustration make a bad decision for me. "I am just going to go straight down," I told her and so opted for the 55k.
(photos by Glenn Tachiyama)

On the way down the hill, I was surprised how slowly I was going. Gravity didn't seem to have its normal pull. "I am really tired," I reasoned, "good thing I decided to call it a day." But when I got to the finish, I didn't really feel so spent after all. I stayed around the finish long enough to see 11+ hour runners coming in and I felt ashamed: even with my detour I would have been done way ahead of this. These people had true guts, and for them there was glory. I had no glory, just a mug (age group win in the 55k - blah!). If I am being honest, I have to say, I got scared. That was the heart of the matter. Not being tired, not being frustrated. At that point 23 miles seemed like a really long way to go and so I just chickened out.

The application for Western States 100 mile run says: "Running Western States hurts for a few days; getting a ride back from an aide station hurts all year." Fortunately, this wasn't as big as Western States, but it was a great illustration of the message.

Some good did come of this. I felt good after 35 miles and I know I can do 50 now. That should take away the fear factor for next time. Plus, I will be damn committed to finishing what I start from now on, because now I know how much quitting stings. It wasn't a great day of accomplishment for me, as I had hoped, but it was a great day of personal growth.

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