On Saturday August 29th, I headed out to Easton to attempt my first 100 mile trail run. I decided early this year to choose the local 100 mile race, Cascade Crest, as I would know a lot of the other runners in the race and I could pre-run the course. The race filled up the day after registration opened in February. Luckily, I was in.
It started to rain Friday evening, and continued to rain as I drove out to Easton Saturday morning, finally clearing up as I reached Hyak. The rain never materialized on the east side of the crest, making for perfect weather in the 50s and 60s. It easily could have been 20 degrees warmer.
The race started at 10am, and I settled in to an easy pace, trying to stay behind James Varner and Jamie Gifford, who I knew had enough experience to run the race wisely (Jamie completed his 10th Cascade Crest race this year). We climbed about 3000' steeply to Goat Peak, then on to Cole Butte. I got ahead of both James and Jamie, and I remember thinking that I might be going too fast, so I tried to slow down even more. Another 1500' descent and climb led us to Blowout Mountain.
I had given Andrew (my pacer) a timeline that had me finishing in 23 hours 15 minutes, and I came into Cole Butte and Blowout Mountain right according to that schedule. I suddenly had severe cramping and GI issues, however, and visions of DNF'ing flashed through my head. How could I be having problems at only 14 miles in? Was I going to blow out at Blowout? I was almost doubled over at one point, but after some ginger ale at the aid station a couple minutes break, I felt better. I did not have any more problems like that for the rest of the race, thankfully.
After Blowout, a long sweeping downhill led us to Tacoma Pass. James Varner passed by me like a blur. Adam Hewey caught up with me as well, and we ran together for a while through Tacoma Pass. Adam had high aspirations for his finish time, and so in short time he also moved on. Mist and clouds enveloped the ridge beyond Tacoma Pass, making the afternoon almost but not quite too cold. The weather was perfect for running.
I came into Stampede Pass (mile 34) at 4:15pm, 45 minutes ahead of my timeline. I was developing some hotspots, however, so I spent 10 minutes playing with my feet while I ate a pasta lunch I had packed in my dropbag and some soup from the aid station volunteers. Johnathan Bernard pulled just as I was leaving. He seemed to be having a reasonable race.
I grabbed my iPod from my dropbag at Stampede Pass and listened to tunes on my way to Hyak. I knew this part of the course as I had run most of it on a rainy day the previous month. Luckily, the rain did not arrive today and I stayed dry through the bushy parts. Although I was mostly alone, I did start meeting and passing people who were struggling a little more than I was.
Oddly, I did not feel like I was racing a race against the other people on the course. We were all fighting our own battles, and some of us had harder battles to fight than others. My job was to find the easy battle to fight, so I kept listening to my body and not trying to push it too hard.
As the tunnel was closed, the course was rerouted this year to go over the ski slope at Hyak and down. The RD (on advice from James Varner?) chose a challenging rock strewn gully-like path for us to come down. I was happy that there was still just enough light by which to navigate it.
I pulled into Hyak just after dusk at 8:15pm (an hour ahead of my timeline for a 23:15 finish). Andrew and Kathy were both waiting for me with a chair set up for my and all my gear spread out. I enjoyed more pasta and soup while they looked at a blister that had developed and patched it up. I switched shoes and socks as well, and the blister did not bother me for the rest of the race. I spent about 20 minutes in the aid station; I was not really in a speed racing mindset. I gave Kathy and hug, and Andrew and I headed out for the second half of the race.
Andrew and I ran the frontage road for a couple miles before it became unpaved and headed upwards. Jamie Gifford and his pacer, Jim Kerby, caught up with us, and we traded spots back and forth all the way up to Keechelus Ridge aid station. Kerby is extremely friendly and enthusiastic, and while trying to give me a pat on the back and wish me luck at the aid station, managed to get me to spill potato soup all down my shirt. I looked like I had vomited, but that is all part of the image, I thought.
We sped down the other side of Keechelus Ridge with only slight twinges from my legs. I felt great. Andrew and I pulled into Kachess Lake aid station (which had a Halloween theme) and got ready for the Evil Forest. I spent more time than I should have, once again, rummaging through drop bags and deciding what food to bring; I vowed to be quicker at Mineral Creek. As I checked out, I found out that I was in 12th place. If we could pass a couple more people, I'd be in the top 10... We headed up the road a short bit to where a skeleton beckoned us to climb a dirt slope and enter the Evil Forest.
The five miles along Kachess Lake are the most technical section, and required us to scramble up/down difficult sections, climb over logs, and crawl through the branches of downed trees. It certainly did feel spooky at night time. Andrew brought his mega-powered mountain biking light which really helped (it also helped on the logging roads, too, so that we could see the grade of the road for the next few hundred yards and know when to run vs. hike). We moved along quite well, and I only fell on my face once, with no injuries. We passed Chris Twardzik here, who described himself as being in "a difficult spot". He looked like a ghost. We pressed on.
Andrew and I quickly moved through the Mineral Creek aid station at mile 74 and hit the road. I started to feel like racing now - only a marathon to go. That marathon included a 3000' climb up to Thorpe Mountain, however. We headed up the logging road at a fast walk, and caught up with another runner at the crew stop a couple miles up the road. I was feeling better and better.
As we were approaching the Noname Ridge aid station, we saw a sign at the side of the road. It had a walkie-talkie attached to it and a menu. Apparently, you could call in a food order and they would prepare it for you while you hiked the next five minutes to the aid station. All the items had cheese in them though, but I was not in a cheese mood, so we did not order anything.
I was shocked at Noname aid station to see James sitting in a chair. "What are you doing here?" I blurted out. Another runner was also there saying that he had had enough and was going to drop. It seemed like there was a lot of carnage going on in the front part of the field. Andrew and I quickly moved on, and Laura Houston (one of the volunteers) wished me luck from afar as we were already headed up the trail.
The climb to Thorpe was not as difficult as I had remembered from my practice run the other month, and Andrew and I ran a lot of the flat to slightly rolling parts. We passed by Arthur Martineau, who was looking a bit peaked. The climb from the aid station to the lookout and back down certainly was hard and steep, though. As Andrew and I started up the climb, another runner and pacer came down, looking strong-tacular. We timed our out and back as being 15 minutes long, so they would be incredibly hard to catch up with, looking as good as they did. As Andrew and I came down, we saw another runner heading up. Chris Twardzik? Apparently he had come back from the land of the dead and was now 10 minutes behind us. I had visions of him passing me at the last few minutes of White River the other month, and vowed not to let that happen again. We picked up our pace some more.
The Cardiac Needles after Thorpe were quite steep, and definitely got our hearts racing. As we topped out on the last of them, we found the strong-tacular runners sitting by the side of the trail. They said "this is where runners come to die". I guess looks are deceiving. Our climbing for the race mostly over, Andrew and I descended towards the lights of French Cabin aid station.
I had been looking forward to the bacon at French Cabin for the whole race. As we arrived to the aroma of bacon cooking, however, I became worried that trying something new (meat and grease) might cause my stomach problems. I had come to a gentleman's agreement with my stomach on how we would work together, and I decided not to upset the balance, so I had a PBJ instead. The aid station volunteer said the bacon was not ready in any case. Maybe he was just being nice.
After a final short climb out of the basin, it was all downhill, and we picked up our speed. We dropped down into Silver Creek basin and started to motor along. My legs and body were feeling great, and a steady flow of endorphins kept me feeling electric. I told Andrew once or twice to pick up the pace, and when he started to walk up on of the hills (which had been our MO through the night), I chided him. Now is the time to run with the wind. Or like the wind, or whatever.
As we dropped down to Silver Creek aid station, I ate three Gus (which was more than I had eaten during the rest of the race combined) for quick energy, and we motored right through the aid station and onto the roads/paths that would lead us back into Easton. I caught myself glancing behind us, nervous that someone would catch up with us at the last second. Once we were entering Easton, however, I saw there was nobody close (the next finisher was 20 minutes behind us) and I relaxed enough to pick up aluminum cans along the way to recycle when we finished. Andrew and I crossed the finish line in 21:23:20 in 6th place. Kathy arrived 10 minutes after we finished, and while she did not get to see us finish, I'm glad she was there.
We all hung out at the finish line for a couple hours, chatting with other runners, pacers and volunteers and enjoying the camaraderie of the sport. Special thanks to Charlie Crissman, the race director, for all of his efforts to make this race happen, as well as to the numerous volunteers who spent the whole night out on the course and made sure that we runners were healthy and happy. I was definitely happy.