Our sport is evolving, growing younger and brasher before our very eyes. Before I write on, I need to make it clear that this isn’t a bad thing at all. The daring and the dreaming of our young ultra runners helps fuel the untold possibilities of tomorrow.
Yet as I think about 2017, and the upcoming Silver State 50/50 Endurance Runs and trail half-marathon, it’s hard for me not to thank those who made Silver State what it is today – at 32 years old, we’re the oldest ultra in northern Nevada and one of the oldest ultras on the West Coast.
There are a number of people who have been central to Silver State’s long and rich history. But I doubt there is anyone who has a deeper, more personal attachment to our race than Jenny Capel.
Jenny has been a top ultra runner for more than 15 years now. She’s finished in the top 10 at the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, was the women’s record holder of the FKT for the Tahoe Rim Trail, won the San Diego 100 three different times on three different courses, and over the years, has run with distinction at Silver State.
But this only scratches the surface of what Jenny does. This is only my humble opinion, but the Reno-Tahoe area has three “godmothers” of our sport. Tahoe can lay claim to the legendary Kathy D’Onfrio and Betsy Nye. Kathy, a talented artist, won the Western States 100-miler in 1986 and 1988, and continues to this day to run ultras throughout our region. Betsy has won Wasatch and Hardrock and remains one of the sport’s most enduring and consistent performers. Her participation in Hardrock, in particular, remains the stuff of legend. No July, it seems, is complete until Betsy travels to Silverton, Colorado, and successfully completes the world’s most challenging 100-miler. Until Betsy “kisses the rock” at the finish in Silverton, Hardrock feels like it doesn’t actually exist.
Here in Reno, we have our own ultra “godmother,” Jenny, who is in her early 40s, is a mother of two, and runs with a rare type of passion.
Jenny’s roots in our local running scene run especially deep. Her father, Roland Martin, is one of the co-founders who created Silver State in 1986. Roland, who is in his late 60s, was one of the pioneers of our sport. He is known for blazing many of the trails in and around Peavine Mountain, and, back in the early 1980s, he created many of the training runs in the rugged Carson Range that were then spliced together during the first two decades of Silver State and used as our original race course.
Roland was, and is, a unique man. He often ran shirtless – and even when the snow would begin to fly, he would only grudgingly wear a T-shirt. I don’t know if he ever wore tights. Like many first-generation ultra runners, Roland would hold onto gear and water bottles long after their expiration date. He had hand bottles that were literally held together with duct tape, and he wore 1980’s-style holstered fanny packs well into the 2000’s. He’s a quiet man, one who isn’t moved to chat idly. Because of this, when he speaks, you listen intently.
And that’s the thing about Roland. His words have always mattered, because he’s lived by a code that has always been about others. He was always willing to help, always willing to pace, or to run off on a threatening weather day if no one else was willing to go with you. He understood the psychology of the sport and always encouraged you. No distance, no course, no race date, was too imposing. Just one example: He and two friends, Robert Sobsey and Joe Braninburg, were the first ultra runners to take on the 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail in one outing, setting the FKT in 2000.
I’ll always remember my first 100-miler, in 1997 at Western States. I was in my early 30s and intimidated by the distance. I told Roland this. He smiled and said, “The distance needs to be intimidated by you. You’ve done everything you need to do to go the distance.”
Reassured, I successfully finished Western States that year.
Roland’s daughter is similar to her father in many ways. He can be a stubborn competitor. During his running days, most particularly during the 1980s and early 1990s when he raced all of the major 100’s in the country, he often did so with everything he had. Jenny is a tough competitor as well. Her focus can be razor-like. As a race tactician, there are few others who are as sharp or as adept at making crucial decisions than Jenny. She trains diligently and always races with everything she has. Nowhere was this more apparent than her victory at last year’s San Diego 100. Temperatures soared into the 100’s on the picturesque, yet exposed course that hugs the PCT and the Anzo-Borrego Desert. Jenny never faltered, and in fact grew stronger, not only winning the women’s race but finishing sixth place overall.
Jenny, like her father, is also an incredibly loyal person. We see this every year at Silver State. Over the past few years she has chosen not to race. Instead, she exuberantly has handled our night-before and race-day registration and runner check-in. She doesn’t have to do this. But she does. And, a couple of years ago, after waking up before dawn, and working our check-in table, Jenny jumped in to pace and help her friend, Nikki Kimball, to a women’s victory. And this year she has encouraged another friend, Angela Shartel, from southern California whose 21-hour and fourth-place overall finish at the Angeles Crest 100 in 2013 remains one of our sport’s truly extraordinary performances, to come give Silver State a try on May 20.
We owe a lot to these “godmothers” of our sport. I know Betsy has helped with the great success of the Castle Peak 100k. And with Silver State, we are exceedingly lucky to have our own godmother, Jenny Capel, helping out in the days leading up to, and during, our race.
Whether we want to admit it or not, we are often products of our upbringing. Our mothers and our fathers influence us in ways that often takes years to fully realize. In Jenny’s case, I can’t help but think her loyalty to Silver State is a direct reflection of how she was raised. Her father has always been a man who would literally give his shirt off his back (he actually did this for me, during a springtime run when I became hypothermic) to someone in need. Jenny’s sense of service, of giving back, runs just as deeply as her father’s.
It’s my sincere hope that our 32nd annual event, which will be held on Saturday, May 20, at Rancho San Rafael Park, reflects this sense of generational connection. Our race is many things, but I think at its core there is a common directive to serve and to honor those who have come before us. With all due respect to our youngsters, who I love to watch run and who in their own way are writing an exciting history of their own, it’s our godmother, whose actions honor what was taught to her by her father, which truly inhabits the soul of our area’s oldest ultra.