Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cascade Crest 100 Sufferfest

Just a few minutes before the start
 As I write this, I feel infinitely far away from the world of racing.  I've taken some time off, done another 50k for fun (Cle Elum 50k), and taken more time off.  Most of my runs lately have been about 45 minutes long.  Since I've been in the middle of two moves, yes, TWO! I have been a little too busy to get in long runs.  The mental break from running has been helpful, and my desire to get back into the fray is growing.  Although, I have promised myself that I won't be racing until I am back in racing shape, and that may be a while from now.  I need time to get my roots in the ground here in Bellingham and finish up some important Rainshadow Running work, teach a class on Sports massage, and build my massage practice in Bellingham.  And none of these things are small tasks.

Cascade Crest was my first 100 mile race, and almost 50 miles longer than I had ever run previously, I mean really what else could I have expected than a Sufferfest?  A small miracle perhaps.  When I ran my first 50 mile race, the longest distance I'd done was 50k.  50 miles was 19 more miles than I'd ever run, yet I was really excited by the idea of challenging myself in that way and I was able to finish really strong with more energy than I knew was possible for such an undertaking.  I hoped the same would be true for CC.
At the starting line, hanging out with my crew, friends, and fellow runners

But, it was not, unfortunately.  For CC100, I wasn't as excited as I usually am for a brand new adventure.  I was in the middle of a big life change, moving to a new city and relocating my business to name a just a few of the major things that were happening all at the same time.  When I signed up for the race I didn't realize I'd be packing up all my stuff and moving just a couple days after the race, which meant that I'd be packing the week before the race as well.  I lived in the house I just moved out of for almost 10 years, so there was a bit of stuff to sift through!  I don't think I will schedule that many major things for the same week again, as the stress of the move weighed heavily on my legs.
Photo Courtesy of Chihping Fu
For the race, I had Brandon and James crewing and pacing me, some major assets!  They crewed for me at Rainier to Ruston (R2R), I race I remember as both successful and intense.  It was R2R that I realized how I can inflict immense pain and damage upon myself, without realizing how serious it can get.  I ended up with severe dehydration (peeing blood 4 miles from the finish) and the worst post-race hangover ever.  My crew almost brought me to the hospital I was in such bad shape a few hours after the race.  Yet, I was able to dig deep when it mattered and finish strong.  For CC, I wanted to dig deep without hurting myself (at least not that bad). 

For CC, I worked out some ambitious splits for each aid station, just as I had at R2R, and in general planned it out a bit too much.  My reasoning was that my crew needed to have an idea of when I'd be at each aid station and I wanted to play with the possibility of a really good run. 
Start of the race, me in the yellow shirt running with Betsy Nye.  Photo courtesy Betsy Nye.
Race day came quickly, with predictions of high temperatures in Easton.  The race started at 10am, and as we ran down the road toward our first climb, it felt hot, really hot.  The first half of the race has a lot of elevation gain, and because it starts so late in the day, it's smart to take it easy during the heat.  Although I felt like I was managing my pace well, the heat began taking a toll on me and my legs lacked the power I needed to push myself on the uphills.  I had decided to eat as consistently as possible and in hind sight I think I ate too much because I began to get really bad stomach cramps and nausea by Tacoma Pass at mile 23, the first crew aid station.

For being "only" 23 miles in, I really wasn't feeling good.  I guess I expected to have more highs during the race, but it felt like there was a major low around mile 16.  Turns out it was just the first of many lows.  I'm not going to get into the nitty gritties of why there was such a low at that point other than to say that I had what I though might be a major medical emergency.  And on top of that I realized my watch was wrong, not too big of a deal-- and I thought, a good lesson, don't worry about the clock, just take one step at a time. 

Despite trying to re-frame the situation, I entered survival mode, and thought I'd have to drop at Tacoma Pass, but I didn't want to.  I should also say that I realized during the first climb that my legs felt weak and super heavy.  Very worrying considering that the race has 20,000+ feet of gain and I usually don't feel that way until the end of a race.  What the heck is going on?  I wondered.  It's hard for me to write about this race because I don't want to sound negative.  I hope to convey my experience and to do so in an authentic way, and in this case, it's a series of lows, yet the memory of it in my mind and body is one of awe and magic. I was driving to Cle Elum this past weekend to do the last race in the WA Ultra series and as I came close to Hyak (the aid station at mile 53), all the memories of running into the night came rushing into me:

 Repelling myself down the hillside with the ropes that were set up for the steep embankment and then through the pitch black, echoing, 2.5 mile tunnel that went straight through the mountain where I emerged near I-5.  The interstate was still bustling at 11pm.  Seeing the aid station lit up next to the interstate and bustling with runners, their crew and onlookers was surreal.  I knew I was close to Hyak.  Running through those mountains connected me on a deep level with the land. 

Back to mile 23.....My crew of James and Brandon were there to meet me at Tacoma Pass.  It was so uplifting to see them.  They had set up a chair and I remember Brandon putting a water soaked shirt over my shoulders to cool me off, both of them commenting on how sweaty I was.  I had them get my compression socks which were a beast to put on, but they felt good.  I asked James to look up my medical issue, and all thoughts of dropping were gone.  How did that happen? I told them that we'll see how it goes to Stampede Pass, mile 33, and reassess.
Coming into Tacoma Pass, mile 23.  Pic by Brandon Williams
It was shortly after leaving Tacoma Pass that an acquaintance from White River 50 mile caught up to me.  We chatted and I told  him what was going on.  Something strange happened at that point.  It was a trip for sure.  After I spoke to him about my issue, he explained that he is an emergency room physician.  He could have said he was an angel at that point and I would've believed him.  He reassured me that I was most likely okay, gave me some signs to watch for, some words of encouragement, and went on his way.  I felt so much better after talking to him.  It was the boost I needed to keep pushing through the race.  It was during this time that I had some of the most enjoyable miles of the race.  I relaxed and absorbed the incredible scenery.

The Cascade Crest course is amazing.  With clear skies, we had magnificent views from the mountain passes.  The adventure had begun and I was starting to feel like I was making some progress toward the finish line.  The next aid station I met my crew at was Stampede Pass, and I was pretty surprised to see James, cute cute James, waiting for me there--- in my running skirt and tank top!  Dang, I think he looked better in it than I do!
That was my first reaction to his outfit! Pic by Brandon Williams
I don't look too happy here though, like I said, there were some lows. 
After fueling up at Stampede Pass, mile 33, I was ready to tackle the section to Meadow Mountain, mile 42.  From there I would run to Olallie, mile 47.  I was looking forward to Olallie where I might get to see my crew.  After Olallie was Hyak, the unofficial halfway mark at mile 53.  At Hyak I would have Brandon to pace me to Kachess Lake, mile 67.9.  James was to meet us at Kachess Lake where he would pace me until the finish.

To put it in short, I had a lovely time running from Stampede to Meadow Mountain.  After Meadow Mountain, it was another story.  The tummy ache came back with a VENGEANCE.  A brutal fucking vengeance!  I didn't realize it could hurt that bad.  I walked, I bent over and thought I'd puke.  Close, but nothing.  It was getting dark and I turned on my headlamp.  It was awkward trying to run (ouch, ouch, ouch) and see the sometimes rocky sometimes rooty technical terrain.  It was pure relief to see the lights of Olallie Aid Station!  I couldn't believe that no one had caught up with me on that stretch.  With my tummy hurting so bad, the dark upon us, and my pace suffering with the pain it was a small miracle.

My crew was there at Olallie and I was relieved to see them!  They kindly fetched me water, soup and a jacket.  It was cooling off.  My tummy was only slightly better, but my fear of stomach pain held me back from really eating the calories I so needed.  I couldn't handle getting that pain again.  Or I didn't think I could handle it.  Apparently I could handle any damn thing this course threw at me, as I was later to discover.

I left my crew at Olallie (mile 47), with some trepidation and some excitement at experiencing the famous ropes and tunnel.  The next section of the race had two very memorable parts: repelling down a 200 meter steep (really steep) section on ropes and a 2.5 mile tunnel through a mountain to emerge at the Hyak Aid station, mile 53.  About the ropes section I had thought that perhaps SOME people need them, but that I probably wouldn't.  After all, I wasn't afraid of some steep slope... okay they were pretty nice to have on that rocky and slippery slope.  The tunnel was just plain craziness.  I didn't even know that people had build perfectly flat tunnels through mountains that I might someday get to run through on my quest to finish a hundred mile race.  Yes, crazy and I loved every minute of it.

Hyak, sweet Hyak.  More soup.  More crew.  A change of shoes (bad idea in retrospect as I had blisters 20 miles later).  And I picked up my pacer Brandon.  I'd have a pacer from here to the finish.  Brandon paced me up the next climb and down the descent to Kachess Lake (15 miles) where James paced me the remaining 32 miles to the finish.  Poor Brandon.  He was so pumped to pace me and here I was all achy and tender and cranky.  His headlamp was too bright, then it was not bright enough.  We walked and jogged and walked that horrible 7 miles uphill.  I had to keep bending over, trying to traction my neck to alleviate the intense neck pain I had.  I knew it wasn't serious but it was taking a serious toll on my mental/emotional state.  On the downhill we picked up the pace and with it the conversation and miles began to flow.

James was wrapped in blankets or that's how I remember him at Kachess Lake in the dark at about 3 in the morning.  Maybe it was earlier.  He looked a little tired and after I got more soup and a rather lovely Redbull (my first ever and quite nice for the next section).  James and I donned our head lamps and began the part of the race runners call the "Trail from Hell".  Aptly named because it was overgrown, narrow, steep, relentless, with many downed trees.  It requires its runners to slow down and navigate the terrain unlike any other part of the course.  I enjoyed the easier pace and James' company, we laughed and grunted and climbed through the trail.  We passed a number of people on this section despite our slower pace.  Apparently other people were actually going slower than us.  I was in 4th place woman at this point.

We emerged after what seemed like freaking forever.  There were these taunting signs oin the trail.  Damn signs kept saying, "You're 1/2 mile from Heaven" (the next aid station) then like 30 minutes later, we emerged.  OK, whatever... we were there despite the poor signage.  Heaven offered me soup and I obliged.  Soup was the only thing I could stomach.  This was quite unfortunate because I suffered greatly on the next 7 mile uphill section as my hungry, achy body protested.  I felt like a shell.  There was nothing left and putting one foot in front of the other was a great effort.  People began to pass me and I fought away tears.  I was so  frustrated.  We were going up a road and it was uphill, but not too steep for me to keep a good pace if I was feeling good.  This is where I lost the most time during the race.  Again I was stopping to relieve the pain in my back and neck.  Every 10 steps sometimes.  Poor James watched with compassion and gentle support.  I think the only way I made it up that relentless hill was through shame.  I couldn't stand being passed by so many people.

At some point I realized that the hill would end and that I was just about there.  Daylight was in full force and we had reached No Name Aid Station.  More soup and lots of friends manning the aid station.  Wish I'd had more energy to talk to them, but it was soon time to move on.  We tackled the needles, a series of something like 4-7 sharp climbs and descents over the next 7 miles to Thorp Mountain.  I was still having a lot of trouble climbing and feeling sore on the descents.  Additionally I had developed some painful blisters on the balls of my feet, that only got worse until the finish.  This section of the race was beautiful with sunshine, views, and some really nice legs to follow (thanks James).

We arrived at Thorp Mountain and were told that now we needed to climb up to the top, about 1/2 mile steep climb, grab a ticket at the top and come back down.  Damn!  Yet... I was in better spirits.  I knew I'd finish and although I just wanted to be done with it, I was relieved.  We climbed up Thorp and were happy to see our friend Glenn photographing us and other runners as we climbed up the mountain.
James climbing Thorp.  Photo by Glenn Tachiyama
From the top, the run was mostly downhill until the finish, a relief to my downhill loving legs, but severe-feeling pain on the blisters.  Heat was building as the day was in full swing.  It may have been close to 10am, damned if I know anymore, but suffice to say that it was only going to get hotter until the finish.

James and I had some really nice bacon quesadillas at French cabin aid station.  Too had my mouth was sore and I had no saliva and it hurt to swallow or they would've been really good.  All we had to do was power through the last 12 miles.  Only 12 miles!! And a lot of it downhill and flat.  This section of the race was through some really nice meadows with small streams and some bigger river crossings until we descended sharply 7 miles from the finish.  On the descent we were hit by the hottest breeze I have ever felt.  It felt like it was 90 degrees out, but the breeze felt like 100 degrees.  I was out of water and luckily it was only a mile or two until the aid station at Silver Creek.  When we arrived we were greeted by Brandon, who no doubt had wondered what the hell was taking us so long.  But we were here. Only 5 more miles....
Coming into Silver Creek, picture courtesy Brandon Williams
James and I ran almost the entire last 5 miles to the finish, passing about 10 people in the process.  It was a really glorious feeling to reach that finish running strong with James.  After the race some really kind volunteers set me up with ice water for my legs some great burritos, more water for drinking, and a chair.  Oh god, a chair.  I wanted to sit for so long.  So very long.

James and me just 100 meters from the finish
Hugging fellow racer Heather Anderson at the finish
James had a little more energy than I did

A big thank you to my wonderful crew, James Varner and Brandon Williams.   Thank you to my coach and partner, James for designing a training plan and helping me carry it out and for the all the adventures we had this past summer that kept me in shape without me even realizing I was getting stronger.  More thank yous to race director Charlie Crissman and all the volunteers before, during and after the race who gave their time and compassion to the runners.  Thanks to Brandon, James, Chihping Fu, Betsy Nye and Glenn Tachiyama for taking photos during the race! 

Last note: I do actually plan to run more of these 100 milers.  And I think I have plenty of room for improvement. 


  1. Thanks for the race report on what sounded like a tough race. Too bad it was a sufferfest, but kudos to you for sticking it out.

  2. Really great race report. Well written. Huge congrats to you. I am beyond impressed... and can also say running 100 miles is NOT on my life list! But maybe you've inspired me to do another 50K!

  3. Candice, Congratulations on training for and finishing such a huge race! What an amazing accomplishment! I always love reading your race reports! Welcome to Bellingham, I hope you love living here as much as I do. See you on the trails, Kristal

  4. Congrats on completing the race! Your story is very inspiring and I look forward to one day competing the the Cascade Crest myself! Good luck in your future 100's!

  5. Great Job! They aren't all peaches and cream. Someday I'll do CCC I promise!


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