“trust the mud” – northwest trail series half marathon at squak mountain


Eric Bone, local orienteering wiz, and the guy in charge of Meridian Geographics organizes a nice trail running series east of Seattle each year.  Armed with some ill-founded confidence after completing last week’s Yakima River Canyon Marathon, I decided to give the Northwest Trail Series Squak Mountain Half Marathon a try.

Squak is the most sedate of the famous “Issaquah Alps”.  I’d run this mountain a handful of times in the past several years, but never enough to get to know it.  This morning, I was able to spend nearly three hours of quality time with her, and it was a lot of fun.

Nearly three hours?  You might point out that this is a good bit longer than I usually take doing a half marathon run.  And you’d be correct.  But then half marathons don’t usually include about 3300’ of ascent either.

I found myself with several dozen others parked askance at the trailhead this morning just before ten.  I was pleased to see my new friend Insane Jane who had also run Yakima the previous weekend.  Jane is also headed back to Lawrence Kansas for one of the Free State Trail Series runs in a couple of weeks, so we exchanged well-wishes about this great event.  I ran the wimpy event (the marathon) last year and really enjoyed it.

We left the trailhead in a steady drizzle, with the temperature a chilly-feeling 49 degrees.  After a few twists and turns, we headed up the fire road for a long steady ascent.  I started out walking it, because I wanted to make sure I had enough in the tank, and mixed in some slow running along the way. 

It began to occur to me that 3300’ is a lot more than I’ve climbed in any recent run.  Perhaps this adventure wasn’t the wisest just one week post-marathon.  The reason I’d come out though – beyond this being a nice organized trail run – was to bolster my strength in the late miles though.  There’s no better way of doing that than running uphill a bunch.

After finally reaching the summit about 4.6 km into the race, we marked the end of the first round of “chinscraper” hills by careening down some very hairy, muddy hills.  There were some fairly alarming downhill grades, especially given the soup we were relying on.  Patrick, my cohort for the second half of the race coined our motto there : “trust the mud”.  You really had to trust it too.  If you leaned into a turn at the wrong time you’d skid off the trail, perhaps completing the downhill a bit faster than you’d anticipated.

Patrick and I turned off for the extra goodness that formed the half marathon route, and settled into conversation.  He’d taken to distance running fairly recently, and had done the Seattle Marathon last year for the first time, following a pretty ambitious rampup to the distance.  He teaches Environmental Studies and Sociology at the University of Washington – which definitely made for more interesting conversation that the ins and outs of Software Engineering.

We spoke a bit about how it feels when people come back to you, saying thanks.  I shared my story about visiting the Harborview Neuro ICU.  He told me how it feels when students from previous years come back and share their reflections with him.  Given that many of these folks are working on Peace Corps projects in developing countries, it has to feel great to have that kind of positive impact.

Having great conversation like this made the miles fly by, even the harder uphill ones.  We did a second loop around the chinscrapers, and passed a guy bringing fresh water to the aid station at the summit.  It would have been good to have asked him for some too, since the aid station had run out by the time we reached it, but that’s why I like to pack my own stuff.

After reaching the summit again, we started weaving (a bit more slowly) down the steep muddy hills.  Trust the mud indeed. 

By the time we rejoined the trail, we had about two miles to go.  By now my legs were pretty finished, but we still made good time.  The half marathon route added a small little foray around a side trail (to round the distance out to 13.1 miles I guess), and by then we were both ready to be done.

We clicked in to the finish at about 2:43:29.  I’d suspected I’d be closer to three hours than two, but you never really know until you get out there.  This was a challenging course, but owing to the magic of running on nice soft dirt, I suspect I won’t hurt as much as I would have after running for less time on asphalt.  I figure this was roughly equivalent to running 17 or 18 on the road, timewise.  Amazing to do this and feel so good, a week post-marathon!

All in all, a great way to spend the morning.


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