I finished my finals week for school and I hardly know what to do with myself. I work full time so I suppose my life has fallen into a normal routine. But who works normal hours these days anyway? We live in an over-worked society that glorifies being busy.
I recently decided to race Angels Staircase in August, and although it's a couple months away, it's a beastly race that has lingered in my nightmares. It is part of the Sky Running Series, which is notable in itself. The course starts at 2,000 ft and climbs to 8,000 ft in one steady 11-mile ascent. After the summit, racers flip a U and race another 11 miles to the finish. Once I made the decision to attempt this course my entire focus on trail running shifted toward this endeavor. Not because I'm trying to make some sort of an elite marking, but because I simply want to do it. It's a humbling feeling being a competitive runner of twelve years and suddenly realizing I might not be able to run a race I'm signed up for. The key here is that I want to run this race - I don't want to show up, climb 2,000 ft, stumble into a walk with shot quads, and hike my way to the top. This might happen anyway, which is no shame in the face of trail running, but I am doing everything in my power to prepare my body to run this race. The goal for the next two months: Run up.
I had a free morning mid-week and took advantage of the east side trails, knowing I could avoid the weekend crowds. I was looking for something with a good climb (duh) where I could combine running downhill on tired legs with steady, unfaltering uphill. Squak Mountain was a good pick because there is a fire road on the south side that rises ~1,800ft in 2.5 miles. I decided to do hill repeats which would give me a chance to switch muscle groups and adjust my legs to running downhill intermittently. I wasn't sure how many repeats I could do, but I decided once my legs gave out and I felt the need to break into a walk then I would turn around and head back to the car.
Justin and I had recently ran together on a nearby trail, climbing around 2,000 ft, so I knew I had at least one hill in me before busting my quads and walking. I did a little bit of a warm up down the road so I could loosen up before jutting directly up hill. I wasn't out to run this as a workout, or even a long run, I suppose I was just testing the waters with no other intentions in mind. Once I started climbing up the fire road I felt great. My breathing was mellow and I soaked up the hovering Evergreens. It was amazing to think back to February when I could barely run past 1,500 ft before breaking into a walk. I was with some former Portland teammates and I dogged in the back of the pack with screaming quads and ended up reaching the top with a painfully slow run/walk combination. I was the solid caboose that day, but that's what happens when flat-running city girl meets mountain trail.
I hit the top of Squak, turned around, and cruised to the bottom. During my second attempt I got swooped by a Western Screech-Owl whose talons barely nicked my head. It was a great distraction from the hell hole I was climbing. I turned around for a third ascent and reached the top in a steady climb. I think the surprising ease of this run was due to the intermittent recovery down hill, which I will obviously have to adjust to as time goes by but I had to start somewhere. Baby steps right?
I had a couple GUs through this run that I conveniently stashed at the bottom of the hill. However, I reached the car with the hunger of a cave woman. I stretched a bit and then drove to PCC where I ransacked the hot food section and chugged three coconut waters before reaching the check stand.
I Recommend parking off May Valley Road. There are lots of options beyond the fire road, but if you're looking for a steady climb or hill repeats right through Seattle's backdoor, this is it.
Squak Mountain: 21430 S.E. May Valley Road, Issaquah WA
Distance: 16 miles
Elevation Gain: 5,400 ft
I am an outdoor and travel junkie who is currently completing my doctorate in occupational therapy overseas in rural Fiji. On Sweet World Travels you will find stories of my life with my husband, the communities we serve, and the many adventures we take.