Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run 25-26 August, 2012
or as I like to call it: Into The Heart of Darkness
Training: Training for this began in March after we returned from Tunisia. I had a rough 6 month training plan of gradually longer weeks of running mileage. I was in OK shape to start from skiing that winter but I was not in Ultra shape which was rapidly proved at the Chuckanut 50K on March 17. I finished but it was slow and not pretty. The only other race I ran during the summer was the Redmond Watershed 12 Hour Race where I covered 60 miles. That was the longest single run I had ever done before the race. Otherwise I just did a lot of local running (Discovery Park, the Issaquah Alps - Rattlesnake, Tiger, Cougar, and Squak Mountains, hill repeats on Mt Si, and trips up the Middle Fork of the Snoqualmie River. Kathleen and I mixed that in with road trips to the Columbia River Gorge and the Wasatch Range in Utah. Weekly mileages slowly increased to a max of 100-110 miles per week for a few weeks before tapering to rest up for the race. I was pretty sick of running by the end of summer. When you are trying to run 70 to 110 miles a week (and work) you don't have much time for kayaking or climbing.
Final Preparation: The race started and ended in Easton, WA so we went and spent the night before at the condo at Alpental. A friend Mindy was also running the race paced by her husband Jared so they came up and spent the night with us. Dinner was lasagne, garlic bread, a big salad, and even two beers. No sense in changing my usual routine right before the race. Drop bags were checked one last time and final plans were made. I only had two drop bags since I planned on having a crew person and my truck available at various points on the race. The morning of the race we got up at 6:30am for the 10am start. Often these races start at 5am so it was nice to be able to "sleep in". We ate breakfast, geared up, and headed for the start about 15 minutes down the road. After checking in, saying Hi to various friends, eating some sausage at the Firehouse Breakfast, and listening to the pre-race briefing it was time to get my game face on. Then 10 minutes before the start Kathleen luckily checks her phone and finds out that my crew person wasn't going to make it. In a mad panicked scramble I had to rearrange and create new drop bags. It ended up being fine but it was not a stressor I needed right before the start. They played the American and Canadian National Anthems with the Canadian flag hanging from a hockey stick. It was during this that I managed to have a zen moment of calmness as my brain centered on what was about to happen.
The First Third To Tacoma Pass: I placed myself at the back of the pack at the start. My race strategy for the first section up Goat Mountain and Cole Butte was to get stuck in traffic to slow me down as I tend to let my race nerves and adrenaline cause me to go out too fast. In the first mile we passed a house with a llama running along the fence with us along with some dogs. This llama was either young or had a haircut making it look young. It really should have been at the end of the race because there was no way you couldn't smile when you saw it.
The entire day was going to involve eating/drinking, managing my electrolytes, and metering my physical effort. I started my goal of eating every 30 minutes. Some sort of quick energy gel on the half hours and real food on the hour. During this first section I had a homemade Pastrami sandwich on a roll with avocado and cheese that made several people jealous. My strategy worked as things were bunched up at the start of the race and I would often be in a line of 5 to 15 people. When there were chances to pass and reshuffle it would occur but it had the intended effect of making me take it easy during the hottest part of the day. About 3/4 of the way up I couldn't believe how easy the climb felt compared to when I had done a training run up it. Then I remembered the training run was deep into a 100+ mile training week while now on race day I was fully tapered and rested. We had been told that the Cole Butte Aid Station (10.8 mi) would be water only this year because of bad road conditions so I just expected some jugs to be on the side of the trail. To the runners joy there was a 4x4 pick-up with volunteers filling our water bottles and a cooler full of popcicles. Awesome in the heat! The next section was down and then up 1500' on road which helped spread the runners out and shuffle everyone into their respective speed groups. It was here that I had an earlier observation confirmed that I was gaining/passing people on the ups and flats at my natural pace but I was always getting passed by these same people on the downhills. I just kept running my race and didn't worry about what other people were doing. The Blowout Mountain Aid Station (15.2 mi) at the end of this section had ice cold fruit smoothies. Delicious and I gave myself brain freeze guzzling it down....not your typical running injury. I staggered a few yards along clutching my temple and then I was fine and it was soon back onto single track and the Pacific Crest Trail. This was a an absolutely gorgeous running trail. Rolling hills, smooth soft trail, and very scenic. It was easy to make good time here and at the pace I was metering out it felt effortless. I pulled into the Tacoma Pass Aid Station (23.3 mi) at 5hr 31min which had me on track for around a 30 hour finish. Kathleen met me there as this was the first crew access point. There was a mix up with the drop bags but after a brief freak out I realized there was nothing in it that I really needed that I couldn't get at Stampede Pass in 10 miles when I would see her again. A brief rest and then off again.
Tacoma Pass to Stampede Pass: This section I ran with Jill from Reno who I had met in the Port-O-Potty line before the race. This was the late afternoon section and again it was a beautiful rolling piece of trail with great views on a perfect weather day. Couldn't have asked for nicer conditions.
Stamped Pass to Hyak: This was my Molly Rose section. At Stampede Pass (34.5 mi) where I picked up my headlamp I heard that my friend Molly wasn't that far ahead which I found surprising. She is a far more talented runner then I am and has the added benefit of youth (she ended up being the youngest female finisher in the history of the race) but she had had some nausea and other issues earlier in the day. When I reached the Meadow Mountain Aid Station (42 mi) there she was. She got a big hug and then she was on her way out of the station as I rolled in. It was here that I started noticing that there were some people around me looking really rough - moaning and shivering with the 10,000 yard stare. The Olallie Meadows Aid Station (47.7 mi) was reached right before it got completely dark. Molly was there and together we recharged ourselves by eating a bunch of pirogues with yogurt. We decided to run the next section to Hyak together. This may have been my favorite part of the race. Molly is a great Montana mountain girl that is focused and an excellent runner. When I was her age I was busy partying and on the fast track to nowhere. It rapidly got dark after leaving the aid station and we switched on headlamps. 2 lights is better then 1 so it was nice to have someone to run with. Along here we passed Mirror Lake where there were a bunch of people camping. People were partying and there was one tent set up next to the trail where out of the dark a voice would urge the runners on. Eventually it was time to split off the PCT and drop down a steep road with lots of loose rocks. It was in here that Molly and I had a runners endorphin overload telling each other how we couldn't imagine doing anything else, anywhere else, and that we were really glad that we were able to share this experience. Shortly after there was a section through the woods to get down to the Iron Horse Trail and the Snoqualmie Tunnel. This bushwhack was so steep that there were fixed rope lines to help people down it. These ropes came in useful as I slipped toward the bottom and would have gone ass over teakettle backwards without them. I also dropped a water bottle in here but fortunately was able to recover it. This section reminded me that all race directors have a little sadistic bastard in them. The last section before Hyak was a 2.5+ mile run through an old railway tunnel with an icy wind blowing through it and mice in places. We caught up with another acquaintance, Sofia during this section before she pulled ahead again.
Hyak to "The Trail From Hell": Hyak was were we picked up pacers. Kathleen with me, Dan Sears with Molly. When we got there it was shortly after midnight. The first 53 miles had gone great but at Hyak was the first signs that the wheels were starting to wobble. Once it had become dark it got chilly (high 40s, low 50s) which was fine if I was moving but since I was damp from running for 14 hours I quickly started to shiver violently when I stopped. I think it was mostly because I was so cold that as I started to drink some chicken noodle soup the first two swallows were instantly puked back up. I wasn't nauseous at all. My stomach just rejected it. I shrugged it off and then finished the soup with no further problems. I grabbed my fleece and because I was so cold took off fairly quickly ahead of Molly. The next section was a long road up and over Kecheelus Ridge. It got surreal in here. There were people camping nearby so at 3am we could hear gun shots which didn't bother me that much but the Roman Candle going off annoyed me since not 2 weeks before not that far away there had been a major forest fire where over 70 houses burned in Cle Elum. The aid station at the top of the ridge (60.5 mi) was a small affair where I had more soup - my aid station food of choice deep into these runs. The entire time we were there a guy sat unmoving on a chair completely buried in a teepee of blankets. On the way down the ridge we were passed by an old white hair guy with big bushy beard and flamboyantly colored shorts screaming down the hill at breakneck speed. I asked out loud where in the hell he had come from and one of the other runners said he was the guy under the blankets. I ran this downhill and by the time I reached the Lake Kachess Aid Station (67.9 mi) I needed to be put back together. It was also on this downhill that I really started to feel that there was something going on in my right ankle. I hadn't done anything traumatic to my foot so I figured it was tendonitis. I was now 2/3 done with the hardest 1/3 ahead.
"The Trail From Hell": Another friend Justin Jablonowski was at the Lake Kachess Aid Station and he helped get me recharged. It was 4am and this was mentally the low point. I ate well, sat under a blanket, and got ready. However, every time I tried to cinch the waist belt on my running vest I would come close to puking. I finally got it together and felt good the first mile or two of the Trail From Hell. This section is really rough with logs and rocks to scramble over and across, lots of short steep ups and downs, and big drop offs on the side of the trail. It is very hard to get any kind of rhythm in here and the 6 miles took me just under 3 hours. Halfway through it is when my ankle officially started to hurt from the rough terrain. At the beginning of the trail I was catching up with people but did not have the energy to pass. Right around the time my ankle started to hurt I got nauseous again and decided to let myself puke. A quick retch of 1/2 a Gu packet and I felt better. Not long after the sun came up. When we reached Mineral Creek I expected to have to wade across the water but someone had built a log bridge so my feet happily stayed dry. When I pulled into the Mineral Creek Aid Station (73.9 mi) I was in ugly shape again and had my other low spot.
Mineral Creek to Thorpe Mountain: The 7 mile road climb from Mineral Creek to No Name Aid Station was a long hike with brief moments of running when I could. We chatted the first part with two college kids from Vermont (Williston and Middlebury) - a runner and his pacer with his parents as crew. He said that his parents kept telling him what a good job he was doing and that he really should stop. Typical parental mixed messages. By the time I reached No Name Aid Station (81.5 mi) I felt much better then I had at the bottom of the hill. Laura Houston and her band of merry volunteers fed me chocolate chip pancakes. Usually it was Kathleen urging me down the trail but at this aid station I had to tell Kathleen that the social hour was over and it was time to move on. Back into the single track we went with extra pancakes in my pockets for later on. My ankle all during this time was becoming progressively more sore but we made it over to Mt Thorpe, dropped our packs for the short up and down, and I even managed to smile from Glenn as he took photographs near the summit. On the way down Thorpe I felt a blister pop up on my left foot that was bad enough that I had to take my shoe off and lance it. I knew I couldn't have two painful feet. On the way up Thorpe I had thought (but did not want to say out loud) that I was worried that Molly had dropped. At certain locations we had been able to see far behind us down the trail and there was no sight of her. Then as we were coming down Thorpe there she was going up, bubbly as ever. When she caught up with (and passed) me at the Thorpe Mountain Aid Station (84 mi) she asked me what we were going to do......."Slay the Dragon!" at which point I jokingly threatened to throw a rock at her.
Thorpe Mountain to Silver Creek: These last 16 miles I was not moving fast and it got progressively slower as my ankle was officially jacked. Otherwise I felt ok for a person that had just run 84 miles. I never had a doubt that I wasn't going to finish. However this was where Kathleen had a freaky occurrence. She had felt totally fine and I was definitely not pushing her effort. My jog was a fast walk for her. Acutely at about the 86 mile mark she got violently ill - projectile vomiting, the sweats, and feeling faint. This first attack I didn't see as I had crested over a hill in front of her. After I waited a couple of minutes she came along and told me what was going on. We both limped into the French Cabin Aid Station (88 mi). For some reason I had it in my head that I would have 11 miles to go. When I heard it was 12 I felt crushed. For some reason 1 mile made a huge difference at that time even though it meant nothing in the grand scheme of things. After eating some bacon, soup, and quesadillas and getting some Ginger Ale into Kathleen we thought we were good but we only made it 100 yards out of the aid station before Kathleen started to violently get sick again. There was a LOT of fluid coming shooting out of her and again she felt faint. Thinking about it later we guessed she had gotten food poisoning just from how fast it came on, how violent it was while it lasted, and then it was over fairly quickly though she felt drained for days afterwards. She thinks it might have been a salad she ate earlier in the day that probably sat outside the cooler too long. She was obviously really sick and at that point potentially a liability. I told her that if she came with me and got faint on the trail that I was not going to leave her. She did not want to rely on a guy who had been running for over 24 hours to rescue her. There was an aid station 100 yards away with friends of hers who could help her. I was "ok" and could make it without her. She was in tears because she really wanted to run me home but she realized what I said was true. She went back to the aid station and eventually got a ride back to Easton though she got sick several more times on the car ride down. I started the long descent along Silver Creek. Now that I was alone I found myself wishing I had my I-Pod again which I had ditched in the car at Hyak. At this point I didn't care about time or place in the race. Whether I finished in 29 or 31 hours made no difference as long as I beat the 32 hour cutoff time and earned my belt buckle (the prize you win for running these crazy races). In the Silver Creek section I calculated that while I didn't need to run fast I couldn't just hike it in. I made a conscious decision to stop the pain in my ankle and start running and somehow it worked. I must have had enough endorphins going through my body that while I could still feel the throb it wasn't pain. The steep switchbacks at the bottom never seemed to end but eventually it spit me out at the bottom of the hill.
The Homestretch: I found Rich White and Mindy volunteering at the Silver Creek Aid Station (96 mi). "You can run 4 miles". I had a popsicle and grabbed two Roctanes before Mindy told me that I needed to be on my way. Down in the valley in the sun it was really hot, even at 4pm. I half ran, half walked the first bit but once I reached the pavement I knew that I had time and that I could walk the last two miles. I was visibly limping at this point. Here I caught up with Sofia who I had last seen in the Snoqualmie Tunnel which meant she was struggling also. Michelle Maislen Pichard was pacing her and graciously asked me if I wanted to use her trekking poles which I gladly did to take a little pressure off of my ankle. Lots of people passed me these last 2 miles but all that mattered was finishing and getting my belt buckle. As I walked the last stretch of railroad tracks Glenn came out to take some finishing pictures of me. I didn't find out until later that he had fallen hiking out from Thorpe, split his chin open, and broke his hand. Kathleen was also there and came out to accompany me the last couple hundred yards. I was happy to find her there since I wasn't sure where she was going to be or how I would find her. As I reached the last 15 yards the realization of success and having done such an incredibly hard thing overwhelmed me and I started to cry. What an awesome feeling to finish and finally be able to stop moving. 100 miles. 31 hours, 14 minutes, 54 seconds.
The Aftermath: There was a chair right at the finish line that I plopped into. Shoes came off and I was horrified by the size of my ankle. I am glad I had never looked at it until the end or I would have been really freaked out. I hobbled over to the race director Charlie Crissman, shook his hand, and got my buckle. Then I sat down. Dan Sears brought me a bucket of ice water but I couldn't handle leaving my feet in it for very long. Glenn gave us a ride back to the truck and then we spent the night at the Alpental condo again. For the first 48 hours I could slowly walk as long as I had a chair, table, countertop, or wall to help support me. It was worst when I had been laying down or sitting for awhile. If I used it a little bit it would start to loosen up. An ACE wrap, lots of ice, and a compression sock helped with the swelling. Besides my right ankle I was in pretty good shape. A little joint soreness in my knees but not much muscle soreness. I guess I was better trained for it then I had thought going into it. I had to work 4 days after the race. My ankle still didn't want to bend so I was limping pretty hard until that afternoon when suddenly I could feel the tendon start to move in the tendon sheath again. It felt sticky inside my foot which felt weird but not painful. My limp improved greatly as soon as this happened. 10 days later I am running and biking again.
In hindsight I would agree with all those people who told me that running a 100 miles was stupid. It is a pretty dumb thing to do. It is also a pretty incredible thing to do. I have (understandably) never had a runners high that big. Everyone I came into contact with during the experience (volunteers, fellow racers, friends, and most specially Kathleen) I had a huge sense of appreciation and kinship with. While I have no plans in the future or a specific race in mind I would not be opposed to doing this again. It was an incredible journey.
(Most photos courtesy of Glenn Tachiyama)