My first experience at Cascade Crest was volunteering to work at the Mineral Creek Aid Station at mile 73 in 2008. That was also my first exposure to a 100 mile race. I must say that I didn't leave the event thinking I needed to enter the race. Quite the contrary! People arrived at our aid station pretty beat and they faced an 8 mile uphill climb on gravel roads at that point. Watching them climbing up the road out of the aid station as we told them 'only a marathon left' looked painful. Too painful. The best part of volunteering at the aid station was meeting Rich, Scotty, Linda and Terry all of whom returned to Cascade Crest in 2010--Rich and Scotty volunteering, Linda pacing and Terry racing. I'm still not sure why I decided to try first one and then ultimately two 100 mile races this year. I guess the struggle to finish the Where's Waldo 100km last August convinced me to step my training up a notch.
Cascade Crest is a loop course that starts and ends in Easton, WA just east of Snoqualmie Pass as you can see on the map from my Garmin recording below (we ran the loop in the clockwise direction):
My pre-race thinking about the course was dominated by two words. Sustainable pace. Trying to figure out how to target a sustainable pace in a 100 mile race has been driving me crazy! And then, even if you figure out a reasonable target, how do you try to achieve/maintain it in the event knowing that your pace will vary all over the place due to mountain climbs, downhills, technical terrain, aid stations, etc? Now that I have been recording and logging my runs for over a year using Garmin devices, I decided to review some of the data to try to look at "sustainable" paces.
Here are the average paces I ran in a variety of races over the last year:
Where's Waldo 100km (2009): 14 min/mile (~10K vertical)
Coyote 2 moon 100km (2010): 15:46 min/mile (~19K vertical)
Massanutten 100 miler (2010): 16:30 min/mile (~16K vertical)
White River 50 miler (2010): 11: 55 min/mile (~9K vertical)
It was clear at White River that the pace I ran was not sustainable for the entire 50 miles, much less longer. So looking these data over it seemed reasonable to pick a target pace of 15-16 min/mile for Cascade Crest. That still left me with the problem of how to decide during the race if I was on track or not. Unfortunately I still don't have an answer for that. The initial section of the race has two substantial climbs, so I decided to hike these climbs without attempting any uphill running and then see how I felt. You can see the elevation profile for the beginning of the course below:
The weather for the race turned out to be pretty much perfect. Highs around 60 and lows around 40. The cool temperatures made some of the exposed climbs much nicer than they sometimes are. Here is a picture of me at the starting line about an hour before the start. Unlike most 100s, this one starts at the highly civilized hour of 10am! And they even feed you pancakes before you start. Charlie (the race director) gave an excellent pre-race briefing recognizing all the people who helped put the race on and reassuring all the runners that we were there to run in a supported event. If it didn't turn out to be our day, we should stop rather than push too hard. My favorite line was "by the time you need course markings, you will know what they look like". That probably saved 20 minutes compared to the typical detailed explanation of the course that you immediately forget anyway!
We started off on a couple of miles of dirt roads leading to the first climb up Goat's Peak. You can see where we were headed below--Goat's Peak is the mountain with the rock formations at the top:
After hiking for an hour or so up the narrow switchbacks leading to Goat's Peak, we were rewarded with gorgeous views like the one below:
By the end of the race, we had to make it to the far side of the big lake and then loop back along the mountain ridges on the other side. I had hiked up most of Goat's Peak chatting with BJ and we stayed together through Cole's Butte before I lost him somewhere on the way to Blowout Mountain. Shortly after Blowout Mountain, we turned onto the Pacific Crest trail (PCT) which we would run on for the next 30 miles. What sweet single track! On a clear day, there would be some nice views of my favorite mountain (Rainier), but during the race it was playing hide and seek behind the clouds. Below is a typical trail view from this section:
I made it to Stampede Pass (mile 33) and my first drop bag around 5:15pm and took a quick break to change socks due to a slight hot spot on my left heel. I picked up my headlamp and a jacket for the coming nightfall and expected cool temperatures. So far everything had been going extremely well--I was eating regularly every 30 minutes or so and staying well hydrated with water and Nuun. I continued on the PCT and eventually climbed up a wall to arrive at Mirror Lake at sunset. Despite a lot of tents/campers, the sunset over the lake was a beautiful way to end the day. I turned on my headlamp around 8:15pm just after I had passed the lake.
My all time favorite food at an aid station came next. I had never heard of pirogi before and have to admit to some hesitation when the crew at the Olallie Meadows aid station offered some. They are a homemade pasta or dumpling with (in this case) a potato filling. Piping hot and served with a cool yogurt sauce on the side, they were a miracle. I had two helpings and then set off for one of the nastier sections of the course. There was a climb up gravel roads to the top of one of the Snoqualmie Pass ski areas at which point the nearly full moon emerged above the mountains across I-90 and made for a beautiful moment to set off bushwhacking down one of the ski runs which was extremely steep with very poor footing. Fortunately we had been forewarned about this section and I just took my time and tried (successfully) not to add to my record number of face plants for the season. After a short road section to cross the highway, I arrived at Hyak aid station (mile 53) about 11 pm. Scotty and Rich were at Hyak and it was great to get their encouragement and be waited on (that was some good hot chocolate Rich!) while changing into a warmer shirt and picking up my gloves and re-stocking gels/food from my drop bag. I had done the first 53 miles in 13 hours for a pace of 14.7 min/mile which was just slightly faster than my goal of 15-16 min/mile.
The next section of the course was probably one of the faster ones for me as it was mostly dirt roads with a moderate uphill for 5-6 miles followed by 6 miles of fast dirt road downhill. I just felt like I was floating down the hill and apparently passed some people I knew without realizing/acknowledging it (sorry Matthew!) I quickly paid the price for a 'easy' section when I started on the next section which is also known as the 'Trail from Hell'. I have to admit I had assumed the difficulties of this section were exaggerated. Well I can now say for certain that they are not exaggerated and in fact for me, are probably understated. I did not just walk all of this section. I literally inched along the route. I can't call it a trail because it wasn't. It started as a bushwhack, but even after there was supposed to be a trail, it was so narrow, washed out, and covered with fallen logs that I can't call it a trail. I mentally fell apart on this section and was passed repeatedly by other runners--all of whom were walking. It definitely didn't help that the course guide said to go 4.6 miles and then turn right onto a real trail. In reality (at least Garmin reality), it was 7 miles until the junction with a real trail. I took advantage of this slow section to use a neat trick that Brandon clued me into--I had brought along a Duracell USB battery which allowed me to re-charge my Garmin 310XT while it was recording the route, thus enabling me to record the entire 100 miler, rather than just the first 18 hours or so that a full charge would cover.
About halfway through the Trail from Hell came one of the harder tests of the course for me. I have to admit that I have a significant case of acrophobia. I discovered this as an adult when I tried to go up the ladder to the roof over the 2nd floor of our house. I made it to the 1st floor roof at which point I became catatonic and could not go up or down for over half an hour. I learned that the acrophobia wasn't limited to ladders when visiting Moran State park on Orcas Island and foolishly trying to walk across a fallen log. I made it halfway across before lying down in the middle as my friends tried to coax me back. Laying in wait for me in my own personal Trail from Hell was a deep gorge with a sheer rock wall on the far side. The route was clearly marked to cross by walking over a conveniently placed fallen log. I'm sure to most people this was perfectly reasonable, but to me this seemed too much to ask. I scouted around on both sides of the log and thought I could cross the gorge/creek, but couldn't see a way to climb up the wall on the far side. I seemed to be stuck with walking across the log. I thought about sitting down and essentially crawling over but there was a large protrusion 2/3 of the way across where a branch had been that was going to be harder to crawl over than walk. I knew that the more hesitant I was in walking across it, the more likely that I was to slip, but rational thought didn't really help. In much less time than it took to prepare to do it, or than to write about it, I walked over and continued on the Trail from Hell.
I had thought that I would reach the Mineral Creek aid station (mile 73) with dread of the 8 mile uphill gravel road section that awaited, but after clambering over and through 7 miles of fallen logs and washed out 'trail', the prospect of smooth gravel road seemed positively delightful! After a quick refueling at the aid station, I headed up. The road was not as steep as I remembered, and after some bouts of sleepiness, I started to alternate running with the walking to stay awake. Sooner than it seemed possible, the moon began to glow much more brightly and before long the sun was coming up. This definitely gave me a new boost of energy and it was a delight to reach the No Name Ridge aid station and see Laura and her crew. I think this is the aid station where they had peach slices which were so ripe and juicy I just couldn't stop eating them. I felt bad for the volunteers here who had clearly frozen in the night as you could still see frost scattered all around the aid station. Next up was a section of repeated steep climbs as you can see in the elevation profile below:
The 5 small peaks at the top don't look that bad on the elevation profile, but believe me they don't call them the cardiac needles for nothing! This section of trail was beautiful and is supposed to have some of the best views along the course, but there was significant fog Sunday morning. Watching the views peep in and out of the fog was made for pretty scenery, but not so much for pictures. I took one shot near sunrise:
The food treat for me upon reaching the French Cabin aid station was bacon. Yum! They say everything goes better with bacon, but in this case the bacon alone was perfect. One more short climb and then it was downhill/flat for the remaining 10 or so miles. The downhill was more technical than I had hoped so I couldn't make particularly good time on this section but I was still running. I made a brief stop at Silver Spring aid station after telling them how happy I was to see them (they were the LAST aid station), and then it was 5 more miles of flat dirt/paved road to the finish. At some point on the dirt road I looked at my watch and realized it might be possible to finish in 25 hours. Why didn't I check this sooner? It was amazing how much motivation this gave me and I went from trotting along at 10-11 min/mile pace to running the last two miles in 8:14 and 7:37 respectively. I finally crossed the line in 25 hours and 37 seconds. Close enough to call it 25 hours, right? I did the final 47 miles in an average pace of 15.3 min/mile compared to 14.7 min/mile for the first 53 miles. So I still don't know how, but I managed to maintain a fairly even pace for the entire course. Rich and Scott were there to congratulate me at the finish and Francine arrived shortly thereafter to take care of me and get me home safely. I was all smiles at the finish as you can see in the photos below:
Finish line photos by Scott Railton. From left to right: with Rich, moments after finishing at the finish line, and soaking my feet in cold water.
Yes, I really ran all night for a belt buckle. I am so skinny now I really need one!