Monday, September 10, 2012

Capitol Forest 50... or, new ways to experience suffering.

The Capitol Forest 50 mile endurance race has been on my "to conquer" list since college.  Somehow, I've never gotten around to it.  This year, with a few long mountain bike rides under my belt, I signed up.

However, the day before the race, I came down with a nasty cold.  I'd been feeling it creeping up all week, but around 1pm on Friday afternoon, as I sat at my desk, my heart sank as my throat started to hurt.  As my nose grew stuffy and the lymph nodes in my neck got sore, I debated whether it would be smart to spend 6+ hours suffering on my bike the next day.  Actually, I knew it wouldn't be smart, but I didn't want to miss out again, and I sure didn't want the $100 + entry fee to go to waste. 

My alarm went off Saturday morning at 5:30.  I laid in bed staring at the ceiling, feeling  shitty, but I drug myself out of bed anyhow.  I choked down some Umcka, and took some homeopathic "feel better instantly" tablets.  Bleary eyed, I threw together some breakfast, packed the truck, and stumbled out the door.  The sun rising, I headed south and started to feel better as the day brightened. 

Photo credit to NW Epic Series.
Jill and I lined up at the start, towards the back (because it is hella intimidating lining up with all the super pro women as well as all of the men in this race. I  did not want to be flattened by testosterone filled maniacs!). My fears were unbased, however. We took off like a herd of geriatric turtles, all 250 of us hitting the singletrack at the same time.  The first few miles were a conga line, but it spread out quickly as we hit the first hot, steep, loose climb.  My heart rate quickly shot up to the mid 180's, where it stayed for the entire first 60 minutes of the race.  I tried to pass the time by talking to Jill, but that wasn't working for either of us, so I shut up and suffered.

We rolled into aid station #1 and I felt slightly recovered from that first climb, but needed a quick break.  Jill was feeling great so she rode through.  Right after the aid station, we started to descend- yes!  Nice-- or at least I thought it would be nice.  It was a brand new section of trail, and it was hellaciously rocky,rooty, and loose. Quite possibly the least-fun trail I've ever ridden.  Choppy ups and downs, with no where to gain any real momentum or rhythm.  Water bottles were everywhere.  "What idiots were trying to drink on the way down?" I thought to myself, just as I slammed into a big bump and watched mine go flying out of its cage.  Sigh.  I turned around and hiked back up a section of trail to retrieve it, narrowly avoiding the rubber side of other bikes.

I bumped and busted my way to the last uphill part, cursing my rim brakes and wishing my bike would magically transform into a full suspension. I caught up with Jill, who was similarly cursing her steed, and also battling with a power ball (home made energy snack) that was not being kind to her tummy.  Luckily, we were just a few km from aid station #2.  I grabbed a pb/ j sam and a banana, as well as some coke, thinking that might calm my tummy, which was also a little mixed up from the descent.

Things started to smooth out (both in my tummy and on the trail) between aid stations 2 and 3. There was more climbing, but it was not as steep or hot or loose as the first climb, and I settled into a good rhythm and just relaxed (and apparently grinned on the descents, evidence below).

Steve Sanders' Photography: 2012 Capitol Forest 50/100 Mountain Bike Race
Great shot courtesy of Steve Sanders Photography.
I rolled in to aid station #3 and kept to my pbj/ banana diet, with a little Clif Bar and Gu mixed in.  I also kept hydrating with plenty of Nuun.  Just as I was leaving, Jill rolled in, and she looked like she was doing serious battle with her tummy demons.  I sent my strongest strong-tummy vibes and rolled out.

The longest ascent of the ride began, a long gradual fire road climb.  As per usual for these long slow climbs, it turned out to be much more pleasant than I had imagined.  It was shady and cool, smooth, and I was able to find a good gear and just cruise along at a comfortable pace.  At some point I caught up with two women and a guy who turned out to be from Spokane.  We got to chatting and found out that we knew all kinds of people in common.  In fact, one of them, Cassandra, is a veterinarian in Deer Park and has treated my sister's horses!  Small world.  

We all rode in to aid station #4 together, which was 2/3 of the way up the climb.  I had the routine down at this point- more food and drink, a quick stretch, then more riding.  The four of us crested the climb together, then started on the most fun descent of all time (or at least in this race).  It had great rhythm, swoopy switchbacks, and just the right amount of technicality.  I was probably catching lots of bugs in that huge grin of mine.

Switchback smile.  Photo courtesy of Full Suspension Studios
I hollered back at the others to see if they were having as much fun as me, but no one was behind me- I had moved ahead of them and was descending alone in the forest, absolutely loving life and feeling great.  The descent went on, and on, and on.... 40 minutes of down.  Amazing. I love the solitude descending through a forest brings.

I hit the bottom, mile 40-ish, at just about 6 hours.  10 miles to go- could I do it in an hour and be under 7 hours for the entire thing?  I was feeling cautiously optimistic.  But then.... I hit the last big climb.  And it sucked.  I slowed to the pace of a snake in a snowstorm, winding up that climb at the slowest pace possible.  I ate a magical Honey Stinger Stroop waffle, and while that helped, it did not result in a final burst of energy I was so desperately craving.  45 painful minutes later, I reached the top.  This relatively short 2-mile climb took longer than the 5 mile descent I had just sailed down.  Ouch.

The trail grade turned negative once more, but that swoopy feeling of descending never really came back. It was definitely a little choppy, but the bigger issue was that at 43.8 miles into this race, the fun was over and my body started to rebel.  I had a giant knot in my neck, my hands hurt, my lady parts were stinging, and I began to hallucinate that each stump along the trail was a bear.  Or maybe a sasquatch.

A mile from the end, Cassandra passed me, going at break neck speed.  "I'm just ready for this to be OVER," she breathed as she pedaled by.  I agreed with her.  But in a few more minutes, it was- I came across the finish line smiling, Brian Tucker cheering me on from.  My total time was about 7:20 (and about 6:40 of riding time, my GPS told me.  I had forgotten to factor in the 40 minutes' worth of stopping at aid stations).  I hopped off my bike and went straight to the display of free pint glasses, filling mine up with beer and collapsing in the shade next to Brian as we waited for Jill to come in.  It didn't take long- she came across the line at 7:26, sprinting and smiling ear to ear.  I later learned that she defeated her belly and enjoyed a fantastic race, which I was really happy to hear.  We all hung out for awhile swapping stories, then headed home to hot showers and comfy couches, the perfect post-race regime.

The days following the race were infinitely more painful than I expected.  Peeing became a tortuous act for the first 48 hours, and my hands, shoulders and forearms ached from all of that breaking.  My cold came back with a vengeance, and the lymph nodes in my neck swelled, right on top of a gigantic and painful muscle knot from tilting my head at a weird angle for the entire race. Desperate for relief, I called a massage therapist, but they wouldn't see me until I didn't have cold symptoms anymore.  I was in a tortuous catch-22- I needed a massage to make the swelling go down, but I couldn't go get a massage until the lymph nodes stopped swelling.  My neck was such a disaster that I couldn't sleep on it, so I managed to sleep upright for the first 2-3 days, self medicating with Advil and applying Tiger Balm so much that mint almost started to grow out of my neck.  Finally, on the Thursday after the race, I went in for a massage.  It was simultaneously the most painful and freeing experience in recent memory, and I felt much better from that point on.

In hindsight, I probably should not have raced being sick, and a bit more conditioning would have gone a long ways towards my enjoyment.  Nevertheless, I'm super happy to have checked this off my bucket list, and I might actually consider doing it again some time, although on a bike with disc brakes and full suspension, preferably. Actually, the whole experience has me jonzing after a new steed....  any more adventures of this magnitude will require disc brakes.

Oh yeah- here's my Strava file.  I'm super proud of this one!

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