This past weekend’s Cascade Crest 100 was a fantastic adventure and a weekend full of classic, beautiful Pac NW running in the Cascades. A huge thank you to Charlie Crissman and the army of amazing volunteers that worked incalculable hours putting on a flawless jaunt through the mountains for all of us crazies out there on the course.
Well, I went into this race feeling pretty good and with high expectations of a strong finish, hoping my 3rd time out here would indeed be the charm. I’d say I succeeded in that regard on all counts. Sure, I didn’t run quite the time I was hoping for, but I had a wonderful time out there, saw some spectacular scenery, and couldn’t have asked for more. In ultrarunning, regardless of your preparation, when race day comes, you never know for sure what you’re going to get. Throughout the race, I felt generally ok all day long, but never reached the level of feeling great and really cruising strong. I kept the Prefontaine spirit alive once again, shaving a nice solid mustache the morning of the race. Reactions were mixed as always- ranging from friends who loved it, to strangers who were a little uneasy, to my wife who is definitely not a fan.
After catching up with some friends at the starting area on race morning, the gun went off right at 10am. I felt good, and couldn’t hold down Pre’s spirit, so I took off immediately at an unreasonable pace. I didn’t look back, so I’m not actually sure how fast I was going relative to everyone else, but it felt fast, it felt good, and I owed it to Pre. (I definitely got many comments post-race wondering if I’d gotten stung by a bee at the start or something though.) I heard foot steps behind me right around mile 3, and was really surprised to turn and see Phil Shaw beside me. This was his 7th time to run this course and he has always been known to run very conservatively (aka, smart) the first half of the course, and then steadily pick people off as he cruised the last half. So seeing him going this fast this early was definitely a big surprise. We had a nice chat for a while going up Goat Peak, but he soon pulled away and that we be the last I’d see of him! Over the next sections, I met a few new folks, and also caught up with friend Rod Bien a bit, who ran a super strong race as well. Then I ran alone for the rest of the day, which actually suits me just fine. The weather was pretty ideal- overcast and cool, but not really rainy. Not being able to see the spectacular views made for less distractions too I suppose. However, my biggest mental distraction presented itself rather early on and didn’t cease until nightfall, and that was the wild mountain blueberries. They were everywhere, and I had to force myself not to just sit down in any given patch of berries and take a lengthy break of gobbling them down. I stayed strong though and managed to avoid the constant temptation. With everyone else running so fast, I came through Tacoma Pass a good bit ahead of schedule so I managed to miss my crew there, which was just fine, but I did miss giving my wife a kiss. I loaded up on food at the aid station and was off again. I just kept going fairly steadily, was happy to see my wife and crew at Stampede Pass, then moved on. Some of the aid stations seemed much farther apart during these sections than I remembered, but I eventually reached them. I was also picturing one upcoming aid station that I could vividly remember for many miles, but it never came. I’m not sure what race the aid station I was picturing was from, but it certainly wasn’t this one. I reloaded again at Olallie, was tempted by Scott McCoubrey and the SRC’s pirogues, then pushed on to explore the new reroute section. I was a bit apprehensive, knowing that this was exactly where I got so lost 2 years ago, but was sure it would be overly well marked since it was a totally new section. I was definitely correct on that. It was incredibly well marked, and it was a super fun new section. I love the cruising section right out of Olallie, and then we turned up and over to Snoqualmie Pass, where we then turned down a ski run that made for a nice gnarly steep descent down to the forest. This was followed by a short road section in to Hyak, where I could see the Christmas lights glowing. The reroute was really fun and I hope it sticks around. I know the section through the tunnel is much easier, but the miles of dark tunnel really creep me out whenever I go through it, so I was a big fan of the change.
It was great, as always to reach Hyak and see my wife, pacer, and friends. It was also really nice to finally reach Hyak with it still being light outside. After a shoe change, eating a lot, my first of many coffees to come in the night, grabbing my hydration pack, and BD poles, I was off on the road with Carl. Carl was raring to go and felt good. Brock joined us for the first stretch of road, jogging backwards and pumping us up bigtime as I walked briskly and stuffed sandwiches and cookies in my face. Once I was done eating, Brock headed back to Hyak and Carl and I settled into a nice quick pace cruising through the road section. The next dirt road climb up and down was fairly uneventful. My poles gave me great power and a nice partial rest to my legs on the long climb, and then the trip down was pretty quick. We stocked back up at the next aid station, and entered into the “Trail from Hell.” I actually really like this section, and we got to the other end at Mineral Creek eventually. Carl had a tough tumble and hurt his ankle pretty bad, but pushed on strong. We then began the long climb out of Mineral Creek, and soon someone (not sure who) ran by us going up the hill- really impressive push. We saw Kirsten and Carl’s girlfriend one more quick time after a short bit, then settled in for the long climb up to No Name. No Name was hopping as usual and they had an incredible system set up. They had a menu posted a ways out with a walkie talkie attached to it. You just radioed in whatever you wanted, and they had a delicious grilled ham and cheese ready to roll for me when we arrived. Awesome. We were pretty quick there, saw a few folks, then carried on to the cardiac needles. There are definitely some significant climbs in this section but it overall wasn’t nearly as bad as I remembered it. Carl motivated me by yelling “yop” several times at full force a la Dead Poets Society. I was amazed at how quickly we arrived at Thorpe Mt. With that aid station, you reach the aid station, then have to do a short up and back to the top of Thorpe. Carl and I both dropped our hydration packs while we did the out and back, which was a really nice short breather. Then we were off again, and I assured Carl it was all downhill basically from here (that’s how I remembered it…). Well of course between Thorpe and French Cabin we still found a couple fairly significant climbs, but soon enough the sun was rising and we were coming into French Cabin. Tim Stroh cruised past us like a gazelle and looked awesome. I ate quickly at this station, had some of the best bacon of my life, and we were back on our way. One more teeny climb, and we were for real on our way mostly downhill to the end (this time I was actually right, though Carl was rightfully reluctant to believe me). I love those last 12 miles and we smoked them pretty hard, which felt great. The views coming down were great, and before we knew it we rolled into Silver Creek. I warned Carl that I’d just be dropping my poles, my pack, my jacket, and then I just wanted to cruise really quick. I think he underestimated my quickness in the aid station though, as I was taking off down the trail while he was still trying to suck down some Mt. Dew. It didn’t take him long to catch me though. After getting lost on this last section also 2 years ago, with the course so well marked this year, it was very easy to stay on track and kind of fun to be on some more new territory for me this year these last miles. Once we hit the pavement, our legs weren’t too happy with how they felt, but we bounced back and cruised on strong to the end. 21:47 and good for 8th place this year. What a day. I was beat. Carl was beat. Kirsten was beat. But we were all happy. And I was so hopped up on caffeine I was certain I wouldn’t sleep for a week.