Sunday, November 1, 2009

Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile Endurance Run

August 29, 2009

Short: 26:40, 3rd CCC, 6th female

Long: This really is a classic race. Great race director, great course, and great volunteers. So close to home, can't really pass it up. But these are 100 challenging miles and runners who start need to be in good shape and mentally tough. It's getting to be popular and the race filled up in a week this year. It will probably be by lottery next year. I would like to become a five time finisher.

The race starts at 10am on the last Saturday of August in Easton, WA. The place is buzzing with runners, crew, pacers, volunteers, dogs, children, search and rescue, and bees. The pancake breakfast, including sausage and ham, eggs, muffins, fruit, orange juice, and coffee fuels the excitement. Drop bags are dropped off. Numbers are pinned on. Check and double check all your gear. Race briefing. Charlie's second year as race director. Good guy to have taken over. Wife Audrey two weeks from delivering their first child (now having entered the world as Lucy). Some notable accomplishments and nice framed pictures given out. One of them to Jamie Gifford going for the only 10 year finisher if he completes the run, which he does in fine fashion and gets a ten-year jacket. I need to get to 5 years first then start thinking about 10 years. Hopefully it still will be around and I will still be able to make the cut-offs. Charlie talks about not being able to go down the rope section to the John Wayne trail and throught the 2.5 mile tunnel since it is closed. The new section features extra elevation but no extra charge. No complaining allowed. There is also a test question at the top and you have to answer it to continue. We all have nervous and incredulous looks on our faces thinking that after 50 miles, we could be disqualified for being brain dead at night and not be able to answer the question.

We line up, all with fresh legs (or not for some of us-but I did actually taper for this race, that is, I didn't run a race the weekend before), realistic goals or not, but happy to make it to the start. I vow to stay on top of my eating and drinking and to start out conservatively. Ken is crewing for me, Mary Hanna will run with me from 47 miles to 53, brother-in-law Cliff Richards from 53-75, and Gwen Scott to the finish. This is a great team. I get to the first water only aid station having already emptied one bottle, refilling it, and arriving 2 minutes slower than previous years, which is what I am hoping for. The first major climb up Goat Peak taxes me, even though I started out conservative. I am sweating profusely because of what I feel is very humid conditions, but others are looking comfortable. I'm power hiking, not running up this mountain like I have in years past. Yet by the time I get to the Cole Butte aid station at about 10.8 miles, 5 minutes slower than previous years, my legs feel heavy already. But I know there is some downhill running coming up and hope to stretch out my legs. Uh-oh. The increased speed moves things along and I have to make a pit stop. I take a little detour off a side road and take care of business. But in my bathroom position, one of my inner thigh muscles decides to cramp up! I jump up immediately, thank goodness I was done, but very worried that I am having problems so early on despite eating, drinking, and taking salt early.

I continue running down the hill, not at a full clip, but taking advantage of the descent. I know the next aid station will be after another climb. I power hike this but by the time I get to Blowout Mt (Chris Ralph and Tom Ripley's 15 mile aid station), my legs are twitching and I seriously need to slow down my WALKING pace before I have a full blown cramp. I've been through this pre-cramp feeling before and know what I need to do to avoid a muscle catastrophe. I arrive about 8 minutes slower than previous years. I leave the aid station very slowly up the hill, knowing there will be some downhill in about a mile and arrival at the PCT. At this point, I'm peeing like every 15-20 minutes. I'm not understanding what I'm doing wrong. My low back is hurting and my legs have no spring in them. I am able to stumble the downhill once it comes, but certainly cannot take advantage of this nice trail and grade. Many people pass me. I get passed on the down, up, and flat. But I'm still slowly running, not walking, which does help me cover some distance. It does give me a chance to really enjoy the beauty of the PCT. I enjoy running in the clouds sweeping over the trail. Even if there is no view, the wind swept alpine trees are beautiful and strong. I am in the moment.

I arrive at Tacoma Pass at about 23 miles, manned by The Balanced Athlete, hurting pretty bad in my pelvis, low back, and legs despite the gradual downhill to that aid station. However, I'm glad to see Ken for the first time. Jess Mullen, who is crewing Allison Moore, is there also to help me. This place is a zoo, being a major aid station with crew access. Even though I'm hurting, I'm not too worried. I have had low spots before and have gotten through them. I smile at all the people cheering as runners come through. I drink a Frap and grab a dixie cup of mashed potatoes that I had cooked up the day before with cream, butter, and salt. I later learn that it is probably all the caffeine that I consume early in a race found in GU and Fraps, which affects me more since I don't drink coffee on a regular basis and dehydrates me. Too much sugar makes me pee a lot too. I have also found that uphill running and downhill running aggravate my low back, which does not bode well for mountainous runs that I love so much. I arrive at this aid station 35 minutes slower than 2007 and 17 minutes slower than 2008.

But I leave still in a good mood, happy to be on the PCT. There is quite a bit of uphill after leaving the aid station and I welcome this chance to eat and take my time. More people pass me. I get encouragement and advice from some who probably thinks I'm new to this. I slowly start to feel better. I'm able to run the flat and slight ups now along with the downhill, almost being able to keep up with those who catch up with me. But I'm smart and try not to force myself to stay with them. I need to run my own race. The PCT foliage changes from bushes right next to you creating a funnel with twists and turns to more open areas with bigger trees. I can hear a constant buzzing as if bees are all around me, but I don't actually encounter any, even when I step off trail to pee.

It takes me about the same amount of time to get to the next aid station as last year, but still 37 minutes slower than 2007 (where I went out too fast). I'm still about 1hr10minutes slower in total time than 2007 and 18 minutes slower than 2008 by the time I get to Snowshoe aid station at mile 29. But things continue to improve as my next 4 miles pace is the same as 2007 and faster than 2008 by 10 minutes. I arrive at Stampede Pass, another major aid station teeming with crew and volunteers, at about mile 33, still behind 2007 and 2008 pace, but gaining back some time. I'm feeling better and greet Ken and Jess with a smile. More Frap and mashed potatoes. I leave with an extra shirt, gloves, hat, and headlamp, required at this aid station. I give Ken a quick kiss goodbye and start hiking uphill and eating my potatoes.

I cover this section in decent time and others who see me leaving the next aid station at Meadow Mt at about mile 40/41 tell me I look strong. The trail becomes much more technical at this point and Gwen had told me that if I could run this part of the race with still some light, it would be much easier. Unfortunately, I'm less further along than I had been in previous years by the time it gets dark and I have to accept that I will run this next very rocky section with the aid of my headlamp. Yet it does not take me much longer than in previous years and I'm am starting to catch some of the people that passed me earlier. I'm still peeing a lot, needing to refuel with gels that have caffeine. Even with darkness now here, I'm still warm and don't require any extra clothing as long as I'm moving along. About a quarter mile before Ollalie Meadows at 47 miles, manned by Seattle Running Company, I hear Ken's voice, "Van, is that you?" "Ken? What are you doing here?" I am not aware that I am close to the aid station. He wants to warn me that they are not allowing any pacers from Ollalie like they had in previous years unless you arrive after 10pm. He is worried that I would be very disappointed and affect my race. I am totally okay with it but am sorry that Mary would not be able to run with me. He runs with me back to the aid station where Mary and Cliff have my night gear. Jess had already taken off with Allison, who had a great first 100. I cover this stretch before Ollalie in similar time as years passed.

I take some perogies with me and head down the rocky trail. I chat with David Bliss for a little bit until he loses me when we reach the road going up to the Alpental Ski Area. This is the re-route, which is not as fun as going down the rope and running in the tunnel. It definitely adds on about 20 minutes. I climb for what seems like forever, but of course, not knowing where the trail will go next and especially at night is very disorienting. I constantly search for that next flag or glow stick. I'm moving along strong however. I get to the top after a few false summits and get to the test question that I worried about so much at the beginning. There is no gatekeeper there to DQ me if I get it wrong. The question is, "Who is buried in Grant's Tomb?" I think back and remember this question being asked before, somewhere, I think at one of the other CCC races. I smirk and move on. Unfortunately, the next part is a steep descent on barely a trail strewn with rocks everywhere! I trip and curse but somehow stay upright. I don't see any blood on the rocks from previous runners although fully expect it. After what seems like an eternity, I'm running down a steep slope of grass and dirt, hardly able to control my speed. I pass someone but am even more surprised to be passed by another guy. He is screaming down the slope. Maybe he skis this slope during the winter. At the bottom we have quite a bit more of trail, some techinical, some runnable, but defintely a gradual climb before hitting pavement that head downhill. I'm able to run this well and stride into the next aid station after going under I-90 to Hyak, mile 53 and grand station central. I've lost some time here because of the re-route but don't stress about it. I'm approached by volunteers in costume and cheered on by spectators, including RD Charlie. Ken and Mary load me up on food and Cliff joins me for the next 23 miles.

We hit 2.5 miles of pavement, gradual uphill but runnable. Every year I force myself to run this section because there will be a lot of walking when we hit the gravel road, that climbs a little steeper for the next 4.5 miles. At the start of a shorter race, this can be run, but not after 55 miles. I imagine the front runners can run it though. I continue to drink despite peeing a lot. I eat. I'm feeling good so continue what I had being doing all day. We see few runners on this stretch. Unlike last year when there were rowdy and troublesome kids, we have no encounters this year. Cliff has been injured but felt he could pace me after I had run 53 miles. He also wanted to be a part of what a mountain 100 mile race is all about. He is in for a treat! We make good time to Keechelus Ridge at mile 60-61. We don't dawdle too long. I think I have some soup and Cliff does as well. We leave with more road a little up then a long down before it levels out to Kachess Lake station at mile 68. In 2007, I ran down the road too fast and think I developed a bone bruise that hurt during the next stretch and after the race for several weeks. I grab some things from my drop bag, eat some food, and leave quickly again. We head up the last bit of road and make a sharp right turn smackninto the side of the hill with buried skeletons.

The next section starts with a bush back, which is the beginning of the Trail from Hell. We head in the opposite direction from the final direction that we will be heading once we reach the main trail. There are a lot of downed trees on this trail, some large enough that I can't reach my leg over to touch the ground on the other side. Many of these trees head straight down, so you are fighting gravity to scale them. Cliff provids me with a foot support as I try to slither over one without pulling a muscle. We follow the glow sticks through terrain with no trail at times, careful not to get our eyes poked out by branches. We finally reach the main trail but almost immediately have to cross the creek on the remnants of what used to be a major foot bridge that has been washed away. We continue on a very technical trail that has some significant drop offs down ledges and rocks, steep lung busting climbs, up and down creek gullies, a short section that was washed away into the lake way way down below with a narrow ledge left, and of course more downed trees. Karl Jenson said he counted over 90 downed trees. I guess that's a good way to pass time. I run in front. We catch a runner or two with their pacers. Again, after what seemed like an eternity, we make a right turn down to the Mineral Creek crossing. In past years, I have gotten my feet wet, but this year, there are perfectly placed logs where I scooch on one and have my feet on the other. I am careful not to get splinters in my but though. A short section and we are at the aid station at 73 miles. Some potatoe soup before we head uphill again for another section of gravel road.

I continue to feel strong. Cliff is stiffening up. His injury usually felt better at a certain pace, which we are not able to keep. This short section before getting to Ken at the intersection in the road takes forever. During this time, it gets light. Gwen is ready to go when we arrive. She and Ken had been waiting for a while, but Ken is used to this now, me not showing up as planned. If I don't have pacers, he worries more. It's amazing to me that my crew and pacers give up their time to come support me in my long races. At least the pacers get something out of it. They get some exercise and to run on amazing trails. But Ken seemingly does not get anything out of it. His thing is rock climbing, so he "gets it" when I push myself or come back for more. But he doesn't have similar running experiences to compare. He does enjoy seeing runners come through. He gets joy if I am having a good race. He comments later after I finish that he has never seen me looking so strong and happy in any of the 100 or plus mile races that he has crewed for me and this makes it worth it for him. But in the past, I have had tough races and snapping comes out. I have lightened up and make a real effort to remember that this is something that should be fun.

I get some butternut squash soup and take a Frap with me. I am glad to get rid of my headlamp. This is about the only time I put on my red shell, which I take off after about 15 minutes. Gwen paced me this section in 2007, and I wasn't very pleasant to be around. I was having a lot of trouble breathing that year and really struggled. This year, I am feeling strong and breathing is fine. We run and walk, joking and laughing. Gwen was really stressed out the days leading up to the race because her dog Scout was dealing with some health issues. She had just found out some good news and relaxed for her pacing duties with me. I get tired of stopping and peeing so much and stop hydrating as much as I had been. I run more of this section this year and Gwen is impressed. We are both impressed with the views from the road across the valley towards the Leavenworth area and the Enchantments. With the sun rising, it is gorgeous. I'm glad to share it with Gwen, such a good person.

We arrive at No Name Ridge aid station at 80 miles and I've made up some time. We continue mostly running, some walking. There is a steep section that I remember coming up but Gwen does not. I am right. It is a long one. We get through it. Having run CCC 100 and Bighorn 100 (2nd female in both!), Gwen knows what I need to get through these last 25 miles. She constantly tells me how strong I look, compliments me profusely when I run a section, and reminds me to eat and drink. We amble along up and down until we reach the aid station before Thorpe Mt. I drop my pack and ask them to fill it while we hike up to the top to retrieve a chip that indicates we went to the top. Glenn Tachiyama takes our picture. We have spectacular views of the lake below us and Mt. Rainier in the distance sitting above the clouds. We see runners come down as we head up and runners head up as we run down. I show the aid station workers my chip and get back my pack. One of them tells me that she didn't have to fill it, it was pretty full. Gwen gives me a disappointed motherly look. "Busted!" she says.

I cover the last section to Thorp faster than in previous years. I know the next 3 hills are part of the Cardiac Needles (there are 5 and we already did one before Thorp). We pass two runners who are "re-grouping" in the shade. The sun beats down hard and Gwen gives me her hat so I don't overheat. It saves me. I start drinking again, but backing off earlier is catching up with me. My legs start to get tight and there is a little twitching. My breathing is more labored as well, not just from the Needles. I am downing GUs every 10-15 minutes and they simply evaporate. But I cannot eat regular food anymore. I am able to complete this section before French Cabin (88 miles) a little faster also than previous years. Last year I had no pacer for the last 25 miles. Mary had paced me up to the point where Ken met me last on No Name Road.

I get to French Cabin and grab a pancake, hoping I can eat it. I took two bites and handed it to Gwen after we get back on the trail saying I just can't eat it. She had grabbed a Frap for me but I never drink it before finishing. I just keep eating GU. I start peeing again and running is possible, but breathing continues to slowly get worse from dehydration. But we are moving along really well and I am catching people. After leaving French Cabin, there is one last climb, the last of the Needles. I grunt up this thing. Thereafter, the trail rolls up and down, but mostly down. There are some technical sections that slow me down, but I run most of this 6+ mile stretch. There are several short creek crossings and it feels pretty good on my legs as the day gets hotter and hotter. We finally reach the long, steep, and rocky downhill before the last aid station. I am able to run this pretty well and pass 4-5 runners that I remember passed me earlier in the race when I was struggling. I am glad I made the decision to slow down then so that I could recover for the rest of the race.

I arrive at Silver Creek (95 miles) ready to finish this. But it is very warm and we are told even hotter when we reach the road. I fortunately have a hat in my drop bag and am able to give Gwen hers so that she can get some protection from the sun. Ken has my water bottle ready and a couple more GUs. He and everyone else there clap and cheer us on for the final stretch. I am able to run most of this but grunt a lot of the way. Gwen does a good job of ignoring all the noise I make. We make the last turn and run along the train tracks. The fire station looks so small in the distance. Every year it seems further away. I run as hard as I can. I don't understand it when someone walks the finish or show little joy of finishing. I have seen people in agony right before the finish and still sprint in as fast as they can. I have experienced pain and fatigue in the end but somehow the adrenaline rush of finishing masks the pain and I am able to run hard across the finish line. I want to give the people who have stuck around to see me finish something to cheer about. There is a surprising number of people still there and a decent roar as I finish. I don't run another step after passing under the finish banner. I give Gwen a hug (I think) and Charlie gives me a hug, my third belt buckle in three CCCs, and a beautiful print made by Leah (formerly Jurek).

Ken helps me to a chair under a tent shelter. I had been trying to fuel as much as I could in the final miles, but now nausea overcomes me because of my calorie deficit. I don't feel sick enough to need to lay down or hurl, but it is uncomfortable. I am able to eat something but it only fills part of the deficit. I clean my feet in a bucket of water. I watch with everyone else as more runners come in. I scream as loud as I can for each runner. I was only passed by one runner in the second half, a 19-year-old who looked so strong passing me in the stretch from French Cabin to Silver Creek. I know I passed at least half a dozen, I think more. My three CCC times are all within 30 minutes of each other: 2007 26:22 (5th woman, 19th overall), 2008 26:48 (5th woman, 23rd OA), and 2009 26:40 (6th woman, 43rd OA). But 2009 was the one I felt the best (after my rough start). The second half from Hyak to the finish really tells the story: 2007 14:05, 2008 13:54, and 2009 13:10.

I want to stay longer but had to work the next day. Ken helps me get my drop bags and into the car. We see some runners coming in as we hit the freeway. Ken asks me if I want to head to Cle Elum to get something to eat but it is in the other direction. I just want to get home as soon as possible. Unfortunately, we are not aware that there is a big back up ahead because of a motor home that had pretty much burned down to it's frame. We are now stuck. I am starving and eat the last of Ken's sandwich. We are both exhausted. I nod in and out of consciousness. Somehow Ken gets us both home safe. It takes us two hours to get home, twice as long. We had fixings leftover and I make each of us a substantial hamburger. It feeds us well. I take a shower without slipping. We retire early and in contrast to my other 100 mile runs, I am actually able to get some sleep. Usually, I cannot find a comfortable position and am kept awake by constant shifting. I get enough rest to be able to be on my feet for 10 hours of ortho surgery the next day. I ran again 7.4 miles for the first time the following Wednesday with a fast group and was worried that I was going to run the 2nd half alone. But I felt great and did several miles in the low 7s pace. It was nice to get some leg turnover.

A sincere thanks to Ken, Mary, Cliff, Gwen, Jess, and everyone else who made this my best CCC experience (so far).

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