A Trail Run To Remember

I don’t write as much about my athletic exploits as I once did. Probably, as I fast approach my sixth decade, because I’m not competing anymore. I should probably stop referring to myself as a triathlete. Rest assured though, I’m still swimming, cycling, and running. And now that I’m healthier than a year ago, hitting it a little harder.

Take yesterday’s Capitol Forest run for example. Mid-day I started to think about doing the 13ish mile Mima Falls loop. The weather was ideal, 50 degrees, sunny, still. So I texted The Good Wife my route—Mima East, Mima West, McKenny, Campground—and probable timeline just in case I was mauled by a bear or something—and headed to the trailhead.

Cap Forest is LARGE and apart from my loop, I don’t know it well. I was never a Boy Scout, so I began the run with shit preparation. I suppose I get a few points for alerting the The Gal Pal of my plans, but I headed out at 2:45p without calories, phone, jacket, or a map of the forest. I was carrying 4 ounces of Gatorade.

After Mima Falls (mile 2), there’s a sign that says, “Steep, remote trails from this point.” It was a mix of slow running and hiking to the high point around mile 5+. I saw a fair number of people on the way to the falls, but afterwards NO ONE. I felt like I was the only person in the forest. Not even any animal life, no birds, no rodents, no nuthin’.

I was trying to keep my average pace under 10 minutes/mile and didn’t appreciate it when Siri would announce via my 🍎 watch , “Mile 6, total time 63 minutes, last mile, 10:21.” I was looking forward to the second half being much flatter and even losing the hard-earned earlier elevation.

At mile 8, I was feeling fatigued, walking every riser, but confident I could grind out the last 5. When suddenly I came to a supe-depressing sign, “Trail Closed—Falling Trees.” SHIT. I climbed over the signed fence wondering just how bad could it be. Only to find out 100 meters later that it couldn’t have been worse. I was met by several giant pines whose downed branches rose about 30 feet above like a green tsunami.

Wut do I do now? Travis would’ve known which fire trails to take back as a shortcut, keeping the distance to the planned 13, but I was without my wingman. The safest and only option I could think of was to back track the whole way.

I didn’t want to run 8.4 more miles, but that’s what I did. We’ll, kinda ran. More of a hike-run or run-hike. I didn’t enjoy the return because I was too busy calculating things. “Okay, at this pace, I get back right after sunset. If I slow too much, it will be dark, meaning cold and because the trail is muddy and rocky in places, footing will be dicey.” I had already rolled my ankle twice. I would’ve been in trouble if I had broken my ankle or gone down on some of the muddy descents. Needless to say I was solely focused on my pace and footing, pretty much blanking on the beautiful surroundings and sunset.

I survived the return, arriving at the car a little past sunset. Weirdly, in the last few miles I came across two different pairs of mountain bikers and one young female runner heading outbound into the dark. She smiled and waved at me like it was no big deal, “I trail run in the forest, in the dark, by myself, all the time.”

Adventurers often say a good plan should make you nervous about whether you can pull it off or not. My plan didn’t make me nervous, but the unexpected tweak most definitely did. I felt vulnerable in the middle of the forest, by myself, very late in the day, far from civilization.

Thankfully though I survived to swim, cycle, and run another day, or God willing, decade.

For those keeping score at home, 16.8 miles, average pace 10:38, total elevation, 1,975’.

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