Tuesday, August 31, 2010

2010 Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run Report

Cascade Crest 100 Mile Race 2010
Snoqualmie Pass, WA
45th overall (~125 starters)
~22,000 feet elevation gain/~22,000 feet elevation descent

The top seven reasons you need to run the CC100:
#7. The loop course. I strongly dislike courses that run multiple loops on the same short loop. Out-and-backs are also not desirable because you're seeing the same terrain twice. Point-to-points are OK but require some additional logistics. A course like the CC100 that is one big loop is great. You finish where you started and see 100 miles of new terrain.
#6. The relatively low elevation. OK, maybe it's not relatively low for many runners but for me, living at 7,500', knowing the course highpoint is ~5,800' is really nice. My lungs never hurt and I never found myself gasping for oxygen.
#5. The 10:00am start time. The 10am start time makes awesome sense. Why make runners wake up by an alarm at 3:30am to cram down breakfast at an unusual hour when they're going to be up all night anyway? The extra sleep, and less worrying about the alarm going off, makes for better rested runner and a more energetic night of running on race day.
#4. The PCT. 30 miles of beautiful, soft singletrack running along the Pacific Crest Trail early in the race is amazing. Just don't hammer too hard here if you haven't been training really hard. It's tempting!
#3. The crew-friendly aid stations. If you have crew, they'll love the ease of accessing the crew-accessible aid stations. It's recommended that crews do not go to aid stations after Lake Kachess so they'll even manage to get in some decent sleep before you finish.
#2. The huckleberries. Huckleberries abound in many places along the course. Yum! Just don't spend too much time stopping to pick them up.
#1. The super fantastic race staff. The RD, Charlie Crissman, is a genuinely nice guy with a solid ultrarunning background. He knows how to run this race and will even present finishers with an ice cold beer at the end. The volunteers at all of the aid stations are extremely helpful, friendly and experienced. There was bacon at at least once aid station! The race has maintained the feel of an old-school, genuine ultra despite the growth of ultrarunning.

Photo: Descending Thorpe Mountain at mile 84. Photo by Glenn Tachiyama.

I considered it a destiny of sorts when I accidentally got signed up for the Cascade Crest 100 2010. How does one accidentally get signed up for a tough 100 mile trail race? My good friend and frequent outdoor partner Bill really wanted to run the CC100 race again after having to drop out at mile 88 in 2008 due to a knee issue. But Bill was out of the country in February when the mail-in registration opened and needed someone to mail in his registration and I was happy to do that for him. I filled out an application with his name and then wrote a check with his name on the memo line. A week later when the list of entrants was posted on the CC100 website, both our names were on the entrants list. This posed a bit of dilemma for me. I was tentatively in a race that looked very appealing to me but one that I considered very difficult. I hadn't finished a 100 miler in three years. I wasn't sure if I could run another 100 miler. But then again, Bill had nothing but high praise for this race and he would already be going so I'd have some company for at least part of it. My sister lives in the Seattle area so I'd likely get a chance to see her and her family. After deliberating for over a month about what to do, I finally decided it was destiny for me to run this race. I emailed the race director, explained the situation and offered to send a check for my registration if he'd take me. He did and it was set.
So why did I deliberate for so long and consider this a destiny of sorts? Well...

Exactly a year ago, after a serious rappeling accident, I was limping around with a severely sprained left ankle and torn medial meniscus in my left knee and I was in so much pain I couldn't imagine ever running a trail race, especially a 100 mile trail race, again. I honestly thought my days of trail ultrarunning were over. But thanks to some great physical therapy from my PT Carl Dickson, a well-done menisectomy by Dr. Lubowitz and the amazing healing powers of the human body and mind, I was able to run a trail 50k, the Palo Duro Canyon race, two months after my accident. With my success at Palo Duro I knew I could still run trails of moderate distance and was encouraged by that thought. But I wondered just how far my healed knee and ankle could go. Then in the first half of 2010 I was able to run the Orcas Island 50k, the Jemez Mountain Trail Races 50k and the San Juan Solstice 50 miler. I was very pleased. But could I run 100 miles again as I had in Leadville in 2005 and 2007 and Hardrock in 2006 and 2007? I wanted to find out.

Bill and I stayed at the Aster Inn in Cle Elum and met up with my friend and soon-to-be pacer, Jon, on Friday night for dinner in Cle Elum. After a restful and full night of sleep that night, we leisurely readied ourselves for the race and headed to the start line at the firehouse in Easton, WA. The race staff supplied a decent breakfast of pancakes, fruit, sausage and coffee. We ate there and got checked-in. My brother Dylan had flown up to Seattle a couple days earlier to visit my sister, Leigh Ann, and her family and then crew Bill and I for the race. We went over any last minute and details and got ready to run. The weather was great with a forecast for a clear sky and cool overnight temperatures to match the unseasonably cool daytime temperatures. Perfect for running.

At 9:55 am, the Canadian anthem was played while a girl held up a Canadian flag affixed to a hockey stick. After the Canadian anthem, a runner played the American national anthem on a brass instrument (I don't know instruments). We all lined up and headed out at 10:00am. The run starts out on a dirt road heading south out of Easton before heading up the long and steep climb up Goat Peak. It's notorious for being hot here but with the cool temperature this year it wasn't bad at all. And apparently the trail is frequented by motorcyclists but we only came across one during the entire climb. Near the top of the climb we were treated to an awesome view of the Cascades and, eventually, the lower glaciers of Mount Rainier (the upper portion was obscured by clouds). I was really enjoying running an ultra with Bill again and having his company for a while. I wasn't expecting it to last too long on account of my poor training, though.

Bill and I ran together and eventually settled into a nice pace with some other runners after the descent from Cole Butte aid station. Because the terrain was very runnable, Bill and I were both consciously holding back on our pace so we'd have the necessary “go juice” later in the race. We got on the PCT and really enjoyed the running on this section of the course. Soft dirt and smooth tral in some very dense tree sections with a gently downhill grade made for effortless and enjoyable cruising on into the Tacoma Pass aid station at mile 23 where we first got to see Dylan, there to crew us. Both of us were feeling good here. However, due to a severely bruised heel about a month ago, my left heel was starting to feel a bit touchy. I took the opportunity to change shoes here into some new Saucony Trail Guide 2 shoes—my favorites. I figured the newer shoes would have better cushion and I noticed the extra cushion immediately.

Bill left the aid station a couple minutes ahead of me on account of my shoes change. After leaving Tacoma Pass I was alone for a while and really fell into a zen-like state for a bit as I enjoyed smooth, in-the-trees running with a breeze in the distance filling the air with a relaxing rustling noise. I was really thankful and glad to be right there, right then. I passed a few runners on the short climbs and eventually caught up to Bill to enjoy his company again. However, once we reached more sustained downhill running, Bill cruised on ahead as I took it easy on my left heel and descended slower. I would be behind Bill by a few minutes until around the Meadown Mountain aid station at mile 40.

Bill and I reached the Stampede Pass aid station at mile 33 with him in front of me by a few minutes. It was great to see Dylan and Jon here. I had originally planned on switching from my hand bottles to a hydration pack here but the evening was warm and I'd clearly make it to the Meadow Mt. aid station (mile 40) where I'd see Dylan and Jon again before dark so I switched to my Nathan waist belt instead. This allowed me to run with just one hand bottle while still carrying ~20oz of fluid on the belt along with a headlamp. Bill left the aid station here about five minutes ahead of me and that was the last I would see of him until the finish. He just simply rocked it the rest of the way.

The running to Meadow Mt was enjoyable and nice, again. At Meadow I made the short walk down the hill to the aid station to grab some boiled potatoes and ended up chatting a short bit with a PCT thru-hiker that just happened to be there that night. I grabbed my beanie and gloves here expecting cooler temperatures going into the Olallie Meadows aid station and I'm glad I did—it did get chilly by the time I reached Olallie. I got into Olallie about 20 minutes after sunset requiring the use of my headlamp for about 3/4s of a mile before the aid station. By now I had noticed the onset of some ass-cheek chaffing and hoped the folks at the Olallie aid station would have some vaseline on hand. After eating some super delicious pirogies at Olallie, I asked one of the volunteers if they happened to have some vaseline. She looked in the first aid kit and came up empty but asked one of the other volunteers, Scott, if he knew of any. He said, “lemme check in my truck, I think I have some under the seat”. He came back with a big container of vaseline stating, “only an ultrarunner would have some vaseline under the seat of the truck.” Excellent.

I left Olallie after about 10 minutes of enjoying the station. It was nearly completely dark by now but once I hit the service road that would take us to the top of the Hyak ski area, I was able to turn off my headlamp and enjoy the ambient light. Until the top of the climb up the ski area, I had been feeling great. My legs were strong, my stomach had been easy all day and my IT band was not bugging me at all. For fueling, I had been drinking a 50/50 mix of water and First Endurance EFS “gel”. It was working miracles—keeping me fueled while keeping my stomach smooth. But as I reached the top of the ski area climb and looked straight down the ski run we'd descend into Hyak, I knew my quads were done. And I was right. It was a slow and tough descent down the ski run and into the Hyak aid station at mile 53. I was a bit diappointed by this fact because the ski run itself looked very much like the ski run I run hill repeats on at Pajarito ski area at home for training. But with the darkness and the condition of my legs, it was a tedious descent.

I was psyched to get into the Hyak aid station around 10:30pm. Knowing this would be the start of a long night, I took my time at Hyak and ate a few cups of soup, downed some boiled potato chunks and drank a cup of coffee. I got my hydration pack here so I'd have a rain jacket and extra light along as well as be able to give my hands a break from carrying bottles. I left the aid station around 10:50pm bidding the staff a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (they had a Christmas theme going on). The next 2.5 miles were on flat pavement paralleling the I-90 interstate and, for once, I actually looked forward to pavement running. My quads felt like they had very little left so it was nice just cruise pavement for a while. Eventually the road turned to dirt before the long ascent up to the Keechelus Ridge aid station. By now the bright, waning moon had come up so I switched off my headlamp and enjoyed the light of the moon for the ascent. I think I startled the Keechelus aid station folks when I stumbled in in the dark, unannounced around 12:45am. I ate some more soup, some potato chunks and a rice krispy treat before heading out.

The descent from Keechelaus down to Kachess Lake went OK. It was very runnable along a dirt road and I did my best to run as much as I could but was still getting passed by a good number of runners. The wheels were coming off the axles, so to speak, but I knew I'd soon have the company of my pacer, Jon, for the rest of the night.

I got into the Kachess Lake aid station at mile 68 around 2:30am, I think. It was dark and cold, I know that for sure. Apparently there was a chocolate fondue inside the Hawaii-themed aid station tent but I hardly noticed any of this and certainly didn't feel up to making the extra ten steps to the tent to see this fondue for myself. I sat in a chair next to a propane heater and ate as much soup as was handed to me. I stayed in this aid station for about 20 minutes, I'm guessing.

Jon and I left the aid station anxious to see the famed “trail from hell” that takes runners along Kachess Lake. The trail is aptly named for sure. The first part, just getting to near the lake, doesn't resemble a trail really. Lots of log hopping and one big tree that had “hug me” painted on it where hugging the tree was actually the best way to get over it. Beyond that, more log hopping, sketchy side-hilling above precarious slabs and a high log crossing over a side stream stick out the most in my mind. In a few spots a fall would result in about 60 feet of bouncing followed by an abrupt finish into the lake. On the bright side, the trail was so mentally engaging that I did not fall asleep on my feet as I've been known to do on occasion in other 100s. Jon told some great stories about climbing and skiing with the likes of Henry Barber, Lynn Hill and Alex Lowe along this section and hearing his stories was a great distraction for the sleep deprivation and pain in quads and feet.. For his first time pacing in a 100, he did an awesome job. A natural.

We rolled into the Mineral Creek aid station at mile 73 just as the sky was starting to get light around 5:30am. Then came the climb from Mineral Creek to No Name Ridge. A long, seemingly never-ending dirt road ascent that had me wondering if we'd strayed off-course somewhere. A climb couldn't be this long, could it? Yes, it was. Maybe it wasn't really that bad but at this stage in the race with legs that didn't want to work anymore, it felt interminable. But, as with all things, the end came and we were there, at the No Name aid station at mile 80. And, as a bonus, my friend James was there working the aid station. It was good to see him again and enjoy some of his homemade chocolate chip pancakes before we headed into the “needles” section to Thorp Mountain.

It's funny how, at mile 80 with 20 miles to go, I think, “OK, almost done with this.” Not quite really. And on this course, not even close. Jon and I enjoyed the start of the ridge trail heading to Thorp Mountain but steep climb after steep climb, I started to wear down mentally now. Until now, I had just been worn down physically but I was still positive and strong mentally. But the steep climbs, including a ½ mile total out-and-back up Thorpe Mountain were really taking a toll on my mind. I found myself apologizing to Jon a few times for my colorful language as I cursed the trail and each successive climb that seemed totally unnecessary. But nothing else to do but carry on so carry on we did until we reached the French Cabin aid station at mile 88. Upon nearing the aid station, a volunteer yelled the magic word, “Bacon! We got bacon!”. Bacon. I was a hurting unit but found temporary relief from my physical and mental anguish as I savored a handful of tasty, warm strips of bacon. The volunteers at French Cabin were very friendly with a great sense of humor which helped to perk me up. As I left the station, one of the women said, “OK, see you next year?” I looked back with her with a wink and a laugh which I'm sure she understood to mean, “hell no.” But in a nice way.

You see, the master plan of which I hadn't shared with many people, was to run and finish the Cascade Crest 100 as my final 100. I've really enjoyed the experiences of all the 100 milers I've run. I've learned a lot about myself and have a deeper appreciation for the human body and mind as a result of my experiences in 100 mile runs. But I've never been very good at 100 milers. And after having surgeries in each knee, I don't want to over do things now so I can enjoy running for many years to come.

So I was in no way being disrespectful to the aid station personnel or the Cascade Crest 100 race director when I gave my non-verbal reply to her question about seeing me here again next year. I had a brutal 12 miles ahead of me and that would be that for me and 100s despite just how awesome the Cascade Crest 100 race is.

Motivated by this thought, we left French Cabin and made the last real climb of the course up to a saddle before encountering some very runnable trail along a scenic canyon and stream towards the last aid station, Silver Creek, at mile 96. This section, while very runnable, felt endless. I cursed the trail on many occasions and stopped a few times to take off my shoes and rub my aching feet and quads. I was shot. But I was close. As the saying goes, I could smell the barn. Jon could sense my deteriorating mental fortitude and dug into his joke bag and came up with some good ones that got me laughing. Again, he was making my tough situation more bearable. I knew I signed up for this and this was to be expected, I just needed to be reminded about that fact every now and then.

We then passed a couple of hikers heading up the trail and asked how far. I was sure we were at most a half mile from the aid station so when the woman replied, “we’ve been hiking for 35 minutes to this point” I was floored. Really? That meant at least another mile and half to the aid station. So I grinned and grunted and kept on moving. I’d try to run, or, rather, shuffle, a bit here and there but mostly just walked. Big drops in the trail posed the biggest difficulties requiring me to turn sideways and steady myself with a hand on the ground or nearby tree to step down. Yep, the quads were goners.

And then, finally, we could see the aid station at mile 96 down one final short hill. I refilled my water bladder with some Gu2o drink and ate a full Heath bar and half a Payday bar. Chocolate, toffee and nuts always taste great. The volunteers had to be able to see how spent I was and were very positive and encouraging. That helped a lot. I didn’t sit down nor did I linger. Four miles and change to go and I wanted nothing more than to take off my shoes and sit down. We left the aid station after about five minutes and I had to make one last bathroom stop in the trees. I also took the opportunity to sit on a log, take of my shoes one last time and massage my feet. It felt so good I didn’t want to put my shoes back on! But I did and we got going.

We followed a new pipeline that felt and looked like motorcycle track whoops. We then got onto a dusty dirt road for a bit before making a hard left turn and getting on a light use trail paralleling the frontage road along I-90 towards Easton. Once we hit the overpass over I-90 I stopped once more to take off my shoes and rub my feet. Jon had sent a text message to my brother letting him know we were in the final mile or two. It was flat paved road but I couldn’t really muster any running so we walked. Finally, we entered the town of Easton and rounded a corner between two buildings and the finish line was in sight!

Here, another runner came from behind me to pass by while giving me the encouraging words, “there it is, we’ve done it!” Indeed we had. It had been a long, tough one for sure but we had done it. Bill, Dylan, Jon and I had done it. I saw Dylan and he trotted up to meet Jon and I. I thanked Jon and then Dylan for their work in helping me reach this point and finish this amazing race. I then saw my sister, Leigh Ann, along with her husband and three kids near the finish line and nearly cried. They were all here to support and cheer me on for the finish of this crazy, selfish-yet-transcendent experience. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw another runner sprinting up fast. We had just run 100 miles and while I was going to finish in 45th place in a race with no glory at all, my competitive instinct kicked in and I broke into a sprint. I wasn’t going to be passed by anyone in the final 50 yards of race if I could help it. I was really sprinting and caught myself wondering just where in the hell did this come from? Ten minutes ago I felt like I barely had the energy to walk. And from this I learned that even when we think we’re totally depleted and running on empty, there’s always something more there if we want it bad enough.

I sprinted across the finish line and immediately got hugs from all of my family. It felt great and I was elated to be surrounded by so many people I love. It was special. Very special. I found that even with minimal training (~25 miles per week) and an unplanned five week taper, I still have what it takes to finish a 100. And with that, I finish 100s. Bittersweet.