Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile Endurance Run

I tried coming up with a clever title for this entry. I was going to go with "All things brutal wrapped in a bow of awesome". Or perhaps "Hallucinations, Indecision, Pain and Awesome". Perhaps just "Holy Crap what did I just do?" All seemed equal parts over the top and insufficient in conveying what occurred last weekend when I toed the line with 140 some odd other folks to run the annual Cascade Crest 100 mile endurance run. So we will just go with a self titled entry...you can draw your own conclusions on how crazy these events are. Me? I'm just writing this in an attempt to collect my thoughts and commit them to electronic signals and bits before my brain purges them in preparation for my next race.

Honestly I'm not exactly sure where to start. This was a burly race. 100 miles on it's own seems a daunting enough task, but throw in mountains, a little heat, some crazy dude shooting his firearm 50 yards off the PCT and sleep deprivation and you end up with something that is a little less of a run and a little more epic. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed it a lot. There were probably instantaneous moments where I hated it and there were definitely other points where I wanted to quit. My sub 24 hour goal will have to wait for another day as I missed it by a significant amount, finishing 40th out of 90 some odd finishers and 140 starters in 27:19:41.

Twenty Seven Hours, Nineteen Minutes and Forty-one seconds. Maybe that should have been the title of this post...

My training up to the race went well. Four weeks prior I PR'ed at the White River 50 Mile out near Mt. Rainier. A week after that I ran 62 miles of the cascade crest 100 course split across two days in near 100 degree heat. At that point I felt like somebody had shoved me in an industrial strength drier and set the timer to infinity. I was hot, beat up, tired and just wanted to rest. So rest I did....at least for a few days. Then I felt like I wanted to get out into the mountains again. For some reason I also felt like I needed to do more heat training. (Apparently the weekend double fried my brain) Work also decided to send me to boulder at the worst possible time...a week and a half before my big race. In any event...I still took it a little easy, but not in terms of elevation gain. I had planned on doing some very limited hill running in the two weeks prior to cascade. Instead I ran up granite mountain with Josh, took part in a group run in Boulder, ran solo up green mountain and did a little urban peak bagging back in Seattle for a weekly elevation total of around 10K. I'm still not sure if that helped or hurt my performance at Cascade Crest...but I don't really care. It was fun.

Fast forward to the day before the race. I was surrounded by about 8,000 calories of sugar in the forms of Gu, Cliff Shots, Shot Blocks, Honey Stingers, and other forms of Maltodextrin. The child in me thought the 24 hours of gorging myself on nothing but sugar would be great...but the adult just wanted some whole grain un-frosted mini-wheats. Packing ensued, a pre-race dinner of taco time (Probably a mistake) was had, and my wife and crew unpacked camp and settled in for the evening up at Lake Easton state park. I didn't sleep all that well. Nerves coupled with the constant drone of semis on I90 had me awake well into the night. Pippa also got a little cold so Brandi and I took turns letting her sleep with us in our sleeping bags. That dog is a little ball of heat. It felt like I was being cuddled to death by a bundle of firewood.

 Morning came, I awoke, dressed in the running clothes I would most likely be wearing for the next 24+ hours, threw my drop bags into the car and made my way with wife and dog to the starting area at the Easton Fire Department. Once there we partook in the tasty pancake breakfast that the fire department prepared along with the help of some of the race volunteers. One of the race volunteers floated over to our section and asked us how our preparation was going. I said it was going well and noticed the giant CCC100 belt buckle the dude had on. Moments of envy set in followed by a long period of satisfaction, I was comforted by the idea that I too would be able to sport an audacious belt buckle once I crossed the finish line the following morning. (Turned out to be afternoon)

A fellow runner that I met up during my Alaska Running Vacation was also set to run the CCC. He and his family actually shared a camp site with us the night before and we chatted about what we thought of the upcoming endeavor along with a handful of other non running things. One could call this the calm before the storm I suppose...if you could go so far as to describe a 12 minute mile as a "Storm".

T Minus 5 Minutes
A quick bathroom break, last minute glide application, a Canadian and American national anthem and then before I knew it the race director counted down from 10 and sent us on our way. I settled into what I thought was a fairly comfortable pace but without my GPS I wasn't exactly sure how fast I was going. My thought was that I would let the course and my body dictate my pace...but I think I got a little overzealous during the first 10-15 miles of the course and set myself up for some pain later on in the race. In any event...the start to the first aid went by fairly quick. I reached a truck on the fire road, refilled my water, ate some grapes (This would be a common thing for me for the next 24 hours as grapes always seemed appetizing) and proceeded to hike slowly up the extraordinarily steep section of trail reroute. After finally popping up onto the trail proper things settled into a bit more reasonable grade and I moved consistently at what I thought was a pretty fast hike. Too bad I was getting passed by quite a few fellow racers. It turns out I need to work on that fast hike.



Most of the early parts of the race went by without too much of a hitch. I moved forward at a consistent clip, hiking most of the steeper hill sections, breaking into a jog on some of the more gradual grades and flats and took the downhills at a conservative run. I could tell during that first big climb and descent that this wasn't going to be my best day. My legs didn't have much pop and surprisingly the downhills didn't feel all that great. I say that surprised me because I consider myself a halfway decent downhill runner. Not super fast by any means but I can usually move at a nice clip without feeling any discomfort or fatigue. Not so on this day, which got in my head a bit as I kept focusing on how much further I had to go. This was not a good state to be in...100 miles is a long way and I needed to concentrate on getting to the next aid station. Lesson learned I suppose.

Tacoma Pass


Still feeling decent at Tacoma Pass
After 22 miles I finally reached my crew at Tacoma Pass. (There were other aid stations along the way but they were not crew accessible) I saw Josh, one of my buddies and pacers, at the previous aid station Blowout mountain. He asked how I was doing and handed me a smoothie. Man that thing tasted good. At Tacoma pass none of the food really stood out but the volunteers were helpful and again seeing my wife and friends was a big bonus. They helped me refill my bottles, grab some additional gels and told me to say "Hi" to my other pacer Danny who was also volunteering before heading out towards the next Crew accessible aid station Stampede Pass, which was approximately 12 miles away.

Stampede Pass

Already tired at Stampede
This section was full of ups and downs...both literally and figuratively. I couldn't find a running groove. The uphills felt like way more work than they should have and the downs, though okay didn't feel all the great either. That left the flats...and they didn't feel all that great either. It was at this point that I seriously started to think about whether or not I had what it took on this day to finish the race. I continued to move forward but negativity had already crept in and I felt at this point that a drop at Hyak was inevitable. These thoughts are poison in these types of endeavors. I should have been focused on problem solving but a handful of things had thrown me off my game and I wasn't sure what I could do to set myself on track again. After crossing the third of a section of fairly sun exposed sections I started to see some stuff on the side of the trail that seemed to indicate stampede pass was approaching. Thankfully it came at the right time. I had reached another pretty serious low and needed to see some friendly faces to pull me out of my funk. My wife and crew greeted me along with some aid station volunteers. I perked up a bit, got some food in me, let my crew know that I was not having a good day and sped off again down the trail. My wife repeated what the race director had said in his briefing, that there was no shame in a DNF, but I wasn't prepared to drop yet. I wanted to see what was left in the tank. I was surprised to find out there was a lot left...and I was going to drop to all new lows before I turned this thing around.

Pippa Napping


Pippa was trying to get me to keep going

Ollalie Meadows

The section of the course that follows Stampede pass is gorgeous. I had ran it a few weeks prior and was really looking forward to traveling over it again during the race. You start by meandering your way up through a pretty dense forest, but eventually pop up into a more open area that grants some pretty awesome views into a lake basin. At this point you descend to the basin and then work your way up to Mirror Lake. I was doing okay through all of this, but was still rapidly alternating between wanting to quit and wanting to push on. I was still focused on the enormity of what was to come. To feel bad at mile 35 of a 100 mile race is a pretty daunting thing. Couple that with the fact that I hadn't really seen anybody in an hour and some crazy dude was firing off rounds 50 yards off the trail and you can perhaps see why I wasn't in the greatest state of mind. The sun started to set so I dug through my hydration pack and found my Petzl Nao headlamp. This thing worked like a champ, lighting up the trail like it was midday. (If midday looked like light thrown by some powerful LED's) I finally ran into another runner...or rather they ran into me, coming up and passing me as I relieved myself on the side of the trail. He asked me how I was doing and I explained that I was not doing well and was thinking of dropping. He gave me a pretty nice pep talk and told me to try to keep up with him, to hop on the train so to speak and see if I could perk myself up by running with a fellow racer. I tried, but he was moving better than I was at that point so I resigned myself to falling off the back and slowly made myself through the Meadow Mountain aid to the Ollalie meadows station. Thankfully it was here that my spirits started to perk up.

I think I owe a big part of my finish to Scott McCoubrey's aid station. This was the first station where the volunteers really seemed like they knew what was going on in the racers minds. I was encouraged to sit, eat some awesome peirogi's and was able to vent a little bit about how my body didn't seem to be behaving. The food was great and the conversation helped focus me on the task at hand, get to Hyak and worry about the rest of the race once I got there.



Revitalized and reinvigorated I cranked my headlamp to high and bounded down the rocky trail to the Snoqualmie tunnel. I passed a lot of people on this section as most of the racers seemed to be cautiously picking their way down the technical trail. I just trusted in my Mountain Masochists and bombed down, tracking down the reflective strips of light that appeared down the trail whenever I saw another runner. Eventually I reached the rope section that leads down to the Snoqualmie Tunnel. This was a fun section, but there was a bit of a traffic jam as it requires some careful navigation down a steep (probably 40+ degree) slope. I wish I had gotten onto the front of our train as I'm pretty sure I could've descended a good 2-3 minutes faster.

Fueling up at Hyak - Photo by Joram Cosning
The tunnel came and went. I actually caught one of my other running buddies Adam Gaston during this section. He was having some stomach issues and was wisely taking a bit of a walking break. He did happen to tell me how to count down the miles to the end of the tunnel, which I was less than thrilled about. (Kidding...it was amusing in a slightly depressing way) I made a point of avoiding looking at any of the numbers on the tunnel walls and just settled into a groove. After what seemed like a long two miles we popped out of the tunnel, jumped onto some pavement for a mile or so and then made our way into the christmas themed aid station. My crew saw me looking pretty up beat and immediately went into helper mode. I should mention at this point that about two hours prior I took out my phone and sent an ominous text to them, mentioning that I was feeling horrible and might drop at Hyak. They were rightly expecting the worse at this point but were hoping that if I hadn't yet turned it around that they would be able to motivate me to keep going.

Lake Kachess


Josh hopped in and paced me for the 15 miles between Hyak and Lake Kachess. Along the way we climbed to Kechelus ridge, descended to the lake and had a pretty good time doing it. Josh pushed me to run when it made sense (on the flats and downhills) and even managed to get me to run some of the short gradual uphills. We even managed to pass a few people on the long up and long down. Though not the most interesting section in terms of terrain as we were on fire roads pretty much the entire time, the moon was out and the stars were bright. At one point we turned off our headlamps and were shocked at the fact that we were immediately plunged into darkness. The stars immediately leaped out as our view of the road receded. We couldn't keep the lamps off for long, as navigation on the road was impossible without them, but it definitely put things in perspective. Almost 60 miles into a race I was able to forget about how tired I was because I was pretty much right where I wanted to be. Out in a semi-remote area of the wilderness with a running buddy helping me a long, taking in the sites while slowly marching towards the end game.

We actually popped out of the fire road and ran into the Lake Kachess aid station quite unexpectedly. I was anticipating arriving at 2:30 AM and instead we popped in around 2:00. Danny, my second pacer, had not yet awakened from his catnap. I rudely called him on my phone and woke him up and told him it was time to pace and then sat down and ate a bowl of ramen noodles. Danny showed up jokingly mentioning how it was rude to call a guy up at 2:00 in the morning to go for a run. Well that is what we did...taking off for what would be an exceptionally slow 6 miles to the Mineral Creek aid station.

Trail from Hell


Yeah...this next section was actually called the Trail from Hell. I had navigated it during the daylight  on a training run and noted that even with the sun out it took us around an hour and twenty minutes to navigate the 4-5 mile section of the trail. (There is a 1 mile section prior to the official trail from hell that is a bit of a bushwhack...so in some ways it's worse) I figured if we got through it in two hours we would be flying. I won't do a play by play on this but suffice it to say I had some more low points though Danny managed to keep me from flying off the handle. We also ran into a pacer who was watching over his runner while she caught a nap on the side of the trail under a space blanket. After what was an eternity we got to the mineral creek crossing, rock hopped our was across and I sat down at the aid in good spirits but secretly dreading what was to come...a 7 mile climb up to no name ridge followed by the nasty cardiac needles.

Thorp Mountain

Climbing up Thorp - Photo Glen Tachiyama
After taking care of a blister, getting some coffee and eating some cheese quesadillas we set off for the long hike up to no name. About halfway up the sun started rises and pretty much set the sky on fire. Danny reminded me to look up every so often so I could take in the views. Suffice it to say it was probably one of the most fantastic sunrises I've ever seen and I was happy to have a buddy there to share it with. That was just one of the many moments along the course that made the entire trip worthwhile. Sure I was in a fair amount of discomfort at that point, but the positives were still far outweighing the negatives associated with being on your feet for 20 hours. Eventually we reached the No Name aid station at the top of the climb, ate some pancakes, I drank a little hot chocolate and then we said our goodbyes to the aid station volunteers and went on our way.

Photo by Glen Tachiyama
The next section is again a beautiful part of the course and under normal circumstances is a blast to run. It rolls a bit up top, gives you a few descents and then takes you up the first of the Cardiac needles. These are fairly brutal climbs, steep in grade but blessedly short in duration. I think the longest one took us only about 20 minutes to climb...though at times those 20 minutes felt like agony. After each needle I was forced to walk for about 5 minutes in order to get my heart rate back under control, at which point I would attempt to break into what was probably the slowest run imaginable. Eventually we made our way to the thorp aid station, at which point we were instructed to head up to the lookout to get a golden ticket that they basically use to prove that you made the ascent. Glen Tachiyama was waiting for us near the top and snapped off a couple of pretty stellar photos of the quick ascent and descent. After we got back to the aid station I was informed that we had around 3 climbs to go before french cabin aid, and then one final push until the long descent to Silver Springs. The finish was within view...only a half marathon to go....

Descending Thorp - Photo by Glen Tachiyama


I really wish I had been able to run this section at a decent clip. Prior to the race I had visualized completing the last 13 miles in somewhere between 2 and 3 hours. Unfortunately it ended up taking me somewhere between 3 and 4 hours to finish. The uphills were abysmally slow, the flats weren't much better, and the downhills hurt. I did run...slowly...during sections though Danny my pacer probably has a better idea of how slowly we were moving over this last section. That being said, I did enjoy it. Getting to the top of the last needle, which in this case was the saddle after the french cabin on the Kachess ridge trail was awesome. Even the downhill into the Cabin was nice, especially since we could see the aid station from about a mile out and could track our progress. Another cup of coffee at the cabin, a climb up the saddle, a momentary lapse of reason up top where I didn't think i could finish it out and an excruciatingly awesome downhill on the Kachess ridge trail and we rolled into the silver creek aid station.

Almost there
Joram, Josh and Marc had run out from the finish and were waiting for me there. I unfortunately filled my handheld up with GuBrew, not anticipating how hot it would be. After eating a bit too much we took off from the aid, moving at a pace that I felt I could sustain until the end...probably averaging about 10 minute miles. I was pretty surprised that I was able to run halfway decently on the flats at this point. Here we were 97 miles into a 100 mile race and I was actually able to run.

Holy Crap it's the finish line
Unfortunately I didn't realize how hot it was outside and was completely fried once we hit the exposed power line roads..which then dumped us on the hot asphalt. At this point I was pretty much relegated a walk until the last hundred meters or so to the finish. Brandi walked out a little way with our dog Pippa to say Hi and strolled in along with us. This was okay by me though...I walked the sucker in...jogged across the finish and immediately hunched over with a huge smile on my face. Charlie Crissman, the race director came over, congratulated me and handed me my awesome belt buckle. Post race I moved into the fire station, soaked my feet in a bucket of cold water and chatted with my wife, friends and several other finishers. My friend Bryan, who had finished a little over 5 hours before me, was there as well and we chatted for a bit before he took off in search of a burger, beer and a nap. Shortly thereafter we packed up the dog, drop bags, and my slightly sore body and drove back to Seattle.

Is it over?

Happy Pippa...and look at that belt buckle!

Much needed Soak
Post race was quite interesting. I took a nap, ate some burgers and rested. The night after the race my muscles, joints and tendons protested pretty heavily and didn't let me get a very restful sleep. I was shocked however as my muscles didn't feel like they had been put through a meat grinder. Some tendons in my right foot were a little strained and as such I made it a point to take a week completely off from running. One week later though and I'm ready to go.

I think there were quite a few lessons learned in this endeavor that I will be sure to apply to my next 100 mile adventure. So in true interwebs fashion I've created this handy dandy list...because there just aren't enough lists out there.

  • Run the race that you are capable of on that day. I went out a little too fast thinking that my body would start behaving later on in the race. That was dumb. 
  • If your stomach is okay keep forcing yourself to eat. I became apathetic towards eating later in the race. My stomach was fine...I was just sick of eating. I didn't think it was possible...but apparently 6,000 calories of Maltodextrin, Potato Chips, Fruit, GuBrew, Quesadillas, Pierogis, Coffee and various other foods can make you a little sick of eating. 
  • Ratchet back on the training a bit in the week or two prior to the race. I had a bit too much fun the weeks prior. 
  • Hike more during training. I just couldn't hike as fast as a lot of the other folks out there. I'm pretty sure I could shave a couple hours on my time by just becoming a bit better at efficiently moving up mountains.
  • Don't underestimate how much is left in the tank late in the race. I was pretty paranoid that I would blow up before I reached the finish...and as such I think I held back a little to much. Towards the end I should have just let it rip...especially in the last 13 miles. Mentally I just wasn't there this time...next time though I think I'll be able to push it a lot harder.
  • Last but not least...keep a hold of a positive attitude. My low points coincided with a slow decline in my mental state. By that I mean that my mood took a nose dive before my body did. I think I can manage these lows a lot better in the future.

A big thanks again to everybody that helped get me to the finish. My friends that helped crew and pace and my wife for not only helping while out on the course, but also encouraging me at home during the last 8 months of training. (First for the 50k season, then Miwok, and then this) I'm already looking forward to next years Hundred mile adventure! Now it's time to go for a run.

People eat and drink a lot over 100 miles

Pippa and a new friend

My B taking pictures of Bee's

This picture does not do the sunrise justice

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