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Marathon Mountain Bike Racing Hits Capitol Forest

By Darren Dencklau

A little running around, Lemans-style, before hitting the trails for miles and miles of spectacular mountain bike racing.  Photo by Christine Chacharon Photo by Christine Chacharon

A little running around, Lemans-style, before hitting the trails for miles and miles of spectacular mountain bike racing.

For the past two years I have been regularly making the journey from Seattle to Capitol Forest to ride my mountain bike. Located just south of Olympia, Wash., the singletrack in the area is spectacular — both buttery smooth and fast. There’s plenty of it too, as the area boasts more than 90,000 acres of open space. Managed by the Washington State Department of Natural Resources, it’s a well-maintained multi-use playground.

When I first read about the Capitol Forest 50/100 Mile Race in 2010, I was instantly attracted to the idea of an endurance mountain biking race taking place on such a great trail system. I had to give it a go. A few weeks prior to the 2011 event, held on August 27, I signed up, figuring it would be a blast and that I would discover some new terrain — I was correct on both accounts.

The final race of the 2011 NW Epic Series, the CF 50/100 features the longest distances of the three-event program, consisting of the Stottlemeyer 30/60, and the Echo Valley 30/60.

Roger Michel, the organizer of the series and owner of 4th Dimension Racing, is primarily a runner. He was introduced to endurance racing in 1999, when he was “tricked” by a friend into doing a two-day trail run event while he still lived in his native country of Switzerland. At the time, Michel was a heavy smoker, and admits he suffered throughout the ordeal. Upon completing the race he quit cigarettes and began training.

“It was very memorable, I wanted to quit several times but at the end I could not think of anything but [to] sign up for another one!” he remarks.

Shortly after moving to Seattle in 2004, he participated in the Ron Herzog 50km, a run benefiting the ALS Association. Upon completion, the event director asked him if he wanted to take over, as he was retiring from the race organization. On the spot, Michel committed to it, giving himself one year to put it all together. That led to the creation of 4th Dimension Racing.

Most of the trails run under tree cover. Photo by Christine Chacharon Photo by Christine Chacharon

Most of the trails run under tree cover.

Referring to that first event, Michel says, “It was very tough, there were floods and four inches of snow. It was a miserable race but people were so appreciative at the end.”

He soon noticed that there was a shortage of endurance racing events in the area, particularly for mountain bikers. There were plenty of century road rides and multi-sport adventure races, but nothing close by for the city’s numerous off-road riders. After researching Northwest Washington’s trails, he decided Capitol Forest was close enough to Seattle to entice riders from the city, and it offered enough singletrack to host an epic.

In 2010, Michel put on the inaugural CF 50/100. He was “completely blown away by the racer numbers and the enthusiasm for the event.” Motivated, he partnered with Kevin Reinkensmeyer in 2011 to create the NW Epic Series.

Michel’s past experience participating in and organizing races gave him insight into what he feels works best. He uses this knowledge to extract the best elements of each event, omits the worst, and then incorporates them into the series.

“It’s a work in progress, but I hope that we are continuously improving,” he states.

Gathering firsthand information from riders who are intimately familiar with the trails helps him feature the treasures each area has to offer, providing participants with a top-notch experience.

“Especially with the bike races, I think it’s important to contact local riders that know the trails best. It’s not just about making sure the courses are well measured to get the accurate distances, but thinking of the course flow, and maximizing the fun factor!” he says, adding, “Jim Graham, who maintains was super to work with in designing the course, and Friends of Capitol Forest, the local non-profit organization that maintains the trails all helped with feedback.”

NW Epic Series also works with trail steward organizations, and in 2011 they were able to donate $3,500 to the Friends of Capitol Forest.

The NW Epic Series brought marathon mountain bike racing to Capitol Forest on August 27. Participants of all ages and abilities challenged themselves while discovering new trails. This is KC Butler, a retired prison guard and the oldest rider in 2011. He also volunteered 25 hours, weed whacking the trails to make them what they were. Photo by Steve Sanders Photo by Steve Sanders

The NW Epic Series brought marathon mountain bike racing to Capitol Forest on August 27. Participants of all ages and abilities challenged themselves while discovering new trails. This is KC Butler, a retired prison guard and the oldest rider in 2011. He also volunteered 25 hours, weed whacking the trails to make them what they were.

Michel also believes that the overall vibe at endurance events is much different than more typical, sanctioned races, where competitiveness often overshadows the fun.

When I decided to sign up, the first question that came to mind was, “How much do I really want to suffer?” I originally intended on riding the entire 100-mile option, but soon came to the conclusion that 50 miles would be the perfect distance. I put in some longer rides previously, including several that were more than a century’s length, however, these were all ridden on the asphalt or on gravel roads atop a ‘cross bike, not on singletrack with a singlespeed mountain bike.

On race day, the 9 a.m. start time welcomed participants with a thick marine layer of fog, and as everyone gathered to listen to the pre-race briefing, the temperature was quite cool. It began with a Lemans-style send off, forcing all riders to run a 100-yard half-circle around a field strewn with the remains of skeet targets, mostly orange clay pieces blown away by shotgun blasts.

Did I mention that Capitol Forest also has a shooting range? While riding the eastern trails of the area it’s not uncommon to hear the booms of various caliber rifles and pistols. At times the area sounds like a war zone, adding to the excitement and intensity of blazing down pristine singletrack.

Once the bottlenecking of the first couple of miles subsided, everyone settled into their pace. I rode with a guy sporting an Audi kit for quite some time, and we exchanged positions numerous times over the smooth and rolling terrain.

Pushing the limit with a smile. Photo by Steve Sanders Photo by Steve Sanders

Pushing the limit with a smile.

The cooler temperatures didn’t last long, as the sun peaked out and warmed things up significantly about an hour in. However, most of the trails in Capitol Forest are under thick canopy, so the majority of the race was spent in the shade.

The organizers’ attention to detail was very noticeable, and volunteers played a crucial role in keeping things fluid. The aid stations were set up at just the right locations throughout the course, ensuring that everyone stayed hydrated, fed and had access to mechanical assistance if needed. At mile 25, a bike mechanic crew from Ballard’s Second Ascent offered their services to anyone having problems with their steeds.

When I reached that point I was feeling wonderful and stopped briefly to exchange water bottles, eat a few cookies and slide a few gels into my jersey pocket.

Newer sections of trail awaited next and it was super fast and fun — I even hooted a few times, it was unavoidable.

Soon after, a seven-mile climb up a fire service road stood before us. It was a slog, and a few people passed me. At first I tried hard to hold onto the wheels of a faster-paced group, but thought better of it after a couple of minutes and settled into my own race. This worked well, as I had time to hydrate and refuel.

The next section was almost all downhill, about seven glorious miles of it. I managed to overtake many of those who passed me on the uphill and was feeling really confident.

At mile 43 the course steeply climbs out of Pine Creek. That is where I completely lost my legs to the most severe case of cramps I’ve ever experienced and was forced off the bike to hydrate and stretch, subsequently getting passed by some of the racers I had just picked off.

Eventually feeling better, I made my way out of the valley to then descend Green Line #6, one of the most fun sections of the whole race. Giving it everything I had, I passed a few more racers, kept my head down, and completely buried myself, confident that my computer was spot on and indicating that I was close to the finish.

 Photo by Steve Sanders Photo by Steve Sanders

Soon I reached the bottom of the hill and heard the familiar sound of gunfire. The finish line was a welcome sight, with plenty of shade and the smell of barbecue wafting in the air.

After being greeted by my wife and congratulating other racers, I proceeded to eat — in no particular order — one cheeseburger, one bratwurst, one hot dog, potato chips, a slice of pizza, cookies, and a chocolate milk. I then washed it all down with a couple of pints served from three kegs of Georgetown Brewery beer. Now that’s race support.

I ended up taking 5th place in the singlespeed division, 45th overall, impressed with myself for bucking up and not getting complacent in my newfound age bracket of forty-something. It was a magnificent day and I spent it with like-minded folks.

When I later asked Michel how the overall series went, he was more than pleased. “[It was] beyond our wildest dreams. We had between 200-300 riders at each event, got really good feedback, we learned a lot and are excited for 2012.”

He and Reinkensmeyer are so positive about this year’s series that they plan to add another race to next season’s schedule.

If you are aching to ride your mountain bike, looking for a nice challenge, and want to explore some of the best trails close to Seattle, Portland, and beyond, take a peak at what the NW Epic Series has to offer. You will make new friends and push your limits in a welcoming and fun environment. Personally, I am already looking forward to the next one.

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