Saturday, September 3, 2011

Cascade Crest 100

What follows is a recap of my first 100 mile race. It is wordy and rambles on... I know this. This is a weekend I will remember forever and I want to remember all the details. Read on, at your own risk...

August 27, 2011 was a day I'd anticipated for months. To be exact, I signed up for Cascade Crest on February 12, 2011 and it had been on my mind ever since. I've been a runner for over 22 years... and dreamed of someday running a 100 miler. When I moved to the Pacific Northwest I told my boss that I wanted to run Cascade Crest ONE DAY since it was the premier event in the area. He said to me "what are you waiting for?" I rambled on about how I'd never run an ultra, was new to trails... that maybe 2012 would be a good year to run it after I get some experience under my belt. He looked at me again and said "what are you waiting for?" The seed was planted. I signed up on February 12th knowing I'd give it all I had this year to be ready for it. For those of you who know me a little less than others, I am someone who does things 120% or not at all. Once I make up my mind it's a done deal. I'm in.

Maybe as an omen I was assigned number 42. I didn't have any aversion to this number so I felt it was a good one. My husband noted immediately the reference to the Hitchiker's Guide to the Galaxy and how 42 is the answer to all questions in the universe. For me this race would certainly reveal a lot about my soul and tolerance for pain... so bring it on! I also looked back and I'd worn number 24 in my first ultra ever, the Capitol Peak 50 in 2011.

I felt confident as the race approached that I could cover the distance. My body handled high miles well (I typically run high miles even in the off season, but this was more than I'd done before) and I never felt burnt out this whole summer. In fact, I had trouble sleeping on Friday nights because I knew I was hitting the trails on Saturday for a long run. Yup, I was that excited. I was worried about the elevation gains in Cascade Crest. 20,500 up and 20,500 down is nothing to take lightly. But as the race approached I worked on my frame of mind... got ready to do it my way. I felt confident. A little scared. But READY. And EXCITED!

As I started packing my gear, I was amazed at how much "stuff" seems to be required to run 100 miles. I have run several 50's and I never used a drop bag and got by with my hydration pack and aid stations the whole run. The 100 left me feeling like I was packing for an expedition. Planning for the unknown was hard. Who knows what I'd want to eat at mile 80? I covered all my bases and brought plenty of everything. I was amused by the volume of gear, so I snapped a photo.

(Is this much gear really needed? Not really, I would learn)

I live a little more than 2 hours from the start of the race in Easton, WA. I decided this was too far to drive the morning of the race and opted to stay in a hotel in Cle Elum the night before. This worked well and my amazing crewmaster Paul met me at the hotel. We looked over the gear, packed and repacked stuff. And I was left to my own thoughts for about 12 hours before we needed to leave for the race. I watched some pathetic TV show with brides fussing over their dresses and this was enough to put me to sleep. I was amazed, but I actually slept the night before the race. (this is unusual for me)

Race morning went off without a hitch. I got lots of text messages and emails from friends far and wide wishing me good luck. I think every one of them made me cry. I really felt like all those people were there with me. When faced with a daunting and unknown task ahead I often get emotional and feel so blessed to have great friends support me in any form. Thanks to my smartphone I was connected to everyone and it felt awesome!

Just a little word about my crew and my pacer. My crewmaster is Paul. To say that he is a friend doesn't do this man justice. I work with him and he's taken a very special interest in my ultra running adventures. He works tirelessly to plan what to give me and when, how long it will take me to get to different aid stations, what I might want as a contingency plan, etc. He is so good he should be a professional crew. He isn't a runner and although I know he is amused by how "crazy" we all are, he does his part with such pride and flawlessness I don't know how crazy runners could carry him through. I call him my angel. I don't know what possesses him to want to help me like he does... but there are things in life you don't question. You just hope you don't do anything to screw it up and lose the good graces. That's how I feel about Paul.

My pacer was my best friend, Keri Wheeler. An accomplished ultra runner herself (she holds the course record at Grand Teton 50) and also my best friend. We met on our first day of college at Kenyon and have been best friends ever since. She lives in Jackson, WY now but we share a bond that distance cannot break. She offered to come help pace me even though she was running TransRockies the week before. Yes, you read that right. Keri finished TransRockies on Friday the 26th in Colorado. And not just finished... she and her husband took 7th place in the mixed/open division, which had some pretty steep competition. They finished alongside professional runners. She's that good. She flew to Seattle on Saturday morning and arrived at the course mid-afternoon. Words cannot describe my gratitude for what she gave me. Having her with me and having her company meant more to me than words can ever describe. She ran close to 170 miles that week and laid it on the line for me. Friends like that come around once in a lifetime. And I know how lucky I am.

With a crew like Paul and a pacer like Keri... one thing was for sure - I was going to have FUN!

(me with my awesome crew master Paul before the race)

I met a guy named Josh earlier in the year who was also doing Cascade Crest as his first 100. We scouted the course together a few weeks before and have had a lot of fun talking shop about running in general. Here we are before the race... and yes, we both look nervous as anything!

(me and Josh feeling as ready as we'll ever be for the challenge ahead)

I spent some time before the race sitting in the car, staying off my feet. When I was finally ready for the race, Paul took a few pictures of me near the start. Apparently there is good luck if you put your foot on the wooden foot at the start. I decided two feet were better than one, I needed all the luck I could get. :)

(me under the awesome start banner a few minutes before the start)

(two feet on the foot for good luck!)

At long last, the race was underway. I'd read a lot about the course and the first climb up to Goat Peak. Since the race weekend was going to be so hot (temps approaching 90 both Saturday and Sunday), I knew taking it easy on these early climbs was going to be key to saving my energy for later on. I started the race with Herb Reeves, a fellow Olympia area ultra runner who has run CCC before. I know rookie 100 mile runners always go out too fast and I wanted to avoid making this mistake. Herb was great company and kept me under a good reign so I didn't expend too much energy early on.

(We're off! The road was dusty and we all got to eat a lot of dirt in the early miles)

The climb up to Goat Peak was hot and dusty with a lot of trail dirt being kicked around with so many runners bunched close together. I kept it steady on the climb with Herb and kept a nice tempo hiking it. I was frustrated several times by another runner who had trekking poles. I got jabbed in the head and face at least twice on this climb. Not a good way to start a long day on the trails! We cruised into the Cole Butte aid station at mile 10.8, grabbed a refill on my pack and a boiled potato and was on my way. I was doing a good job with maintaining a steady stream of calories and electrolytes and was happy how that was going.

On the dirt road section after Cole Butte I encountered my first and only stomach discomfort of the whole race. And I wouldn't even call it my stomach, exactly. It was a side stitch. It was pretty painful and acute but in my experience those types of stitches tend to pass quickly and this held true to form. I was running with Herb and another guy who were "discussing" whether we were on 26 hour pace or 28 hour pace. I fell back a bit on the downhill to allow my stitch to subside but caught up by the end and was on my way. By the Blowout aid station, mile 15.2, I was back to climbing well and feeling strong. I was excited to get to the PCT so I moved through this aid station fairly quickly. It was also exposed to the sun and quite hot and knew the PCT meant some much-needed shade.

The PCT (Pacific Crest Trail) was glorious. I enjoyed this section tremendously and even had thoughts during the race of how I should run the entire PCT someday. The crowd of runners had thinned and I was getting into a nice groove along the PCT. I honestly got goosebumps when I saw a PCT sign for the first time. I couldn't believe I was actually doing the race I'd waited so long for!

Rolling into Tacoma pass, 23.3 miles, gave me my first chance to see my crew Paul. He had a chair set up and all the fixings laid out for me to choose between. I grabbed a PB&J, some chips and chugged a bottle of Banana Nuun (my favorite!) while he filled my pack. It was so awesome to see a friendly face and I don't even want to know how long he was waiting there for me to arrive.
(Tacoma Pass aid station, meeting Paul for the first time)

I hiked out of Tacoma Pass aid station, as became my habit. I would leave with a few handfuls of food and eat along the trail as I continued on. I think just about every aid station in CCC is followed by an uphill climb immediately after. This gives good opportunity to eat and to digest a little as you hike. The strategy seemed to work pretty well for me throughout the race. The next aid station came at 29 miles, Snowshoe Butte. This was the aid station manned by cross country runners who'd hiked all the water and food uphill. Kudos to them, I imagined as I was running along how hard it must be to hike up a hillside with a 5 or 10 gallon water jug fastened to you. They were very helpful and got me on my way with a full bladder of water in the heat of the day.

The section from Snowshoe to Stampede Pass, 34.5, passed very quickly for me. I was feeling great and just flying along this section. I met up with a few other runners and 4 of us ran together along here. There was something in the race packet about how you'll pass under a series of power lines and the last one has a sharp turn in the field and you know that's the last clearing before the aid station. The guys I was running with knew how far we had, but honestly I felt so good I was just ready to cruise. Stampede Pass was another aid station where Paul was waiting for me, so I broke my rhythm to get a refill on my pack and some food. I also had to pick up my headlamp here for nighttime running. Paul scolded me for not drinking very much and sent me on my way with more PB&J. I got a mile or so up the trail and realized I had been drinking water, just that Paul didn't know I'd gotten a full refill from the cross country runners at Snowshoe Butte. It was still a good lesson... drink more.

(fastening my pack at Stampede Pass - this task become more difficult as the race progressed!)

Now that I've had a chance to look back at the mileage between aid stations I still cannot see why the run between Stampede Pass and Meadow Mountain seemed to take forever. It was 7.5 miles but it seemed to last for 17.5. I was feeling great and really cruising through the wooded sections, but it seemed to just take forever to get there. Maybe it was the darkness beginning to fall or maybe it was just my anticipation of meeting my pacer in a few hours - but I really felt like this section took a long time. I was in good spirits and met up with a guy who ran behind me most of the way. He wouldn't go by me and insisted that I was setting a great pace so he was happy to be behind. As I came down the hill into the Meadow Mountain aid station I got the surprise of the day. My best friend and pacer was waiting for me! Paul picked her up and they had time to come to this aid station. I didn't expect to see them until Olallie, so this was quite the surprise. The photo before was taken of me just before I realized who was standing there waiting for me!

(coming into Meadow Mountain - Mile 42)

The next section into Olallie went by pretty quickly. I played a little game with myself to see how far I could make it before I needed to switch on my headlamp. I ended up making it to Mirror Lake before needing to switch it on and I think that was mainly because of the entry into a heavily wooded area made the darkness disappear. I did feel bad for a camper right at the Lake. His campsite was directly in front of where we all came up to the Lake and made a right hand turn. So I imagine he didn't have a very nice night with headlamps from runners shining right into his tent all night long.

Olallie was a fun aid station. I got some perogies from Scott (and OMG they were the BEST. THING. EVER.) I loved them so much I wanted to turn around and head back to the aid station for more. (remember, I was eating on the trail as I hiked away from aid stations) I got my arm bands on for warmth and headed out to get the last solo section done before I picked up Keri for the rest of the race. The section between Olallie and Hyak for me was easy and tough. The sections that were easy were easy and I just rolled right through. The downhills with rocks and roots and the ropes section was tough for me. Running in the dark on technical trails is not my forte (yet, anyway). I struggled to maintain my rhythm on the steep downhill that led to the ropes section. And the ropes section... well, I have never seen anything so steep. And I guess I never really saw this either since I did it in the dark. About half way down I heard a guy yell "watch out - ROCK!" and I ducked to one side. Thankfully I picked the right way to go - this huge rock came sailing down the hill right at head level. I would have been seriously hurt had that rock hit me. I was very happy to leave the ropes behind and head into the tunnel. People say it's spooky but I thought it was fun. I passed 2 or 3 people in the tunnel and a few more coming into Hyak. I was feeling good. The Hyak aid station (mile 53) has a Christmas theme and I was stoked to be picking up my friend Keri.

(it's always Christmas at Hyak - and we leave with gifts... pacers and food!)

I was so excited to see Keri and start running together that I left Hyak without my flashlight. I still had my headlamp but I liked having 2 sources of light. Keri had a flashlight and convinced me it would be OK until we saw Paul again at Kachess Lake. We headed off down the dirt road and got so busy talking and catching up that I realized we hadn't seen a marker for a while. I got us both pretty worried... but alas, we found the markers and were going the right way. It was a long climb out of Hyak on a gravel road - but the footing was easy and we had so much fun catching up the time passed in a flash. We reached Keechelus Ridge (60.5) in no time and I enjoyed grabbing a snickers, filling my pack and loading up on some other food. I couldn't believe how frozen the snickers tasted... but we looked around to see frost on all the plants and shrubs. It must have been cold, although I didn't feel it. The stars were just INCREDIBLE along this ridge. We turned off our lights for a look several times and it was amazing!

I was able to run most of the downhill into Kachess Lake, which was fun. We kept seeing little rodents cross the road - voles and mice. I'm happy to say those were the only wildlife I ever saw during CCC. The rodents were kind of cool - almost like they were playing tricks on our eyes at night.

We rolled into Kachess Lake (67.9) right around 2:45am. Paul was waiting with a smile and my extra light! I was greeted by an awesome volunteer making grilled cheese. I had some, and then some more and then some more. I kept asking her for so much she eventually gave me a whole sandwich! I drank some Coke and ate more candy and we were on our way. The Evil Forest awaits.

This is a picture of the "Evil Forest" in daylight. It's not fun. It's dangerous, actually. There are downed trees, dropoffs, holes, rocks, roots and technical trail. I ran this section in a training run and it was not easy but it was manageable. At 3am on tired legs it's another story. One tree we encountered was so big you had to literally climb on and hug the tree. Hence the "HUG ME" that was carved into the side of the tree. It was also at such an angle that you felt like you were going to slide down into the abyss. There were so many trees down we lost count - and we tried to keep our spirits up although this section took forever. It says it's 5 miles, but it had to have been more like 7. And just when we thought we were almost there we came to a sign saying "Heaven 2 Miles." It was demoralizing. Then you go for a while longer and see "Heaven 1.5 Miles" It was awful. I felt like we got passed by a lot of people even though we were hiking it as fast as we could. Even Keri admitted it was the toughest section of trail she's ever seen.

But as all good things come to an end, so do bad things. We crossed a creek and into Mineral Creek, 73.9, right after 5:30am. I grabbed some food and we started the climb up to No Name. We expected to see Paul along this section but opted to fill our packs with water at the aid station just to save time when we saw him. It was a good decision because Paul wasn't there as we'd thought and figured he'd gone ahead since the last section took so much time. We were able to switch the headlamps off as we got going on the climb and that felt good. Really good. I was tired of the tunnel vision.

By No Name we were feeling the countdown to the end begin. No Name is a great aid station with a few people I knew, so my spirits were lifted by this awesome group. I had a great chocolate pancake and ditched my jacket since the heat of the day was already on us. Onto the NEEDLES!

I knew the climbs to come from my training run and I tried to attack them with a positive attitude and as much strength as I had left. I think I did a good job powering through and Keri liked my climbing. I just kept focusing on what I was doing and trying not to think about what we had left. That became harder as I went on - but the miles ticked by. Thorpe (85.5) offered the most amazing views of the race. I had to do an extra climb to the top to pick up a piece of paper and bring it back down to prove I'd gone to the top. Keri stayed at the base of the climb and filled our packs so we could take off as soon as I got back.

(the extra climb up Thorpe - amazing views!)

From this point on I just had to try and keep the negatives out and keep moving. I was feeling tired, and my quads were sore. But I tried to keep running whenever possible and walk when I had to. My downhill skills aren't so good and I was demoralized when I got passed by a few people going down after French Cabin (88.7). Keri did an amazing job keeping me on track and ready to go. I kept having to revise my anticipated finish time and this wasn't an easy thing to do for someone as competitive as me.

I told Keri I was just going to run through the Silver Creek aid station at mile 95.2. I told her I didn't want to use my time at an aid station and I wanted to get this thing done. She totally understood and said she'd stop and pick up a handheld bottle and we could ditch our packs. Ditching my pack felt great - and I literally just tossed it at Paul as I ran through the aid station.
(coming into Silver Creek)
Keri caught up to me and said there were 3.7 miles to go. If I kept running I could definitely make it under 28 hours! I was stoked... and poured my heart out at the end. It was SOOO hot once we hit the roads in Easton and my mouth never felt so dry. But I forced myself to keep going and Keri was an awesome coach keeping me going too. As we rounded the bend by the railroad tracks and the finish was in close sight I realized that I was there. I had done it. I actually started to cry. Then I saw my husband and my two boys. I didn't expect them to come to the finish at all and it meant so much to me to see them there.

(coming to the finish line)
In the end, I finished in 27:51:15. I was the 7th woman. Under hot conditions I think I ran a good race. I did a good job with fueling myself and climbing and keeping a positive attitude. There are things I will change and do differently, but for my first 100 I am happy. I certainly couldn't have asked for better friends and better support.

(getting my belt buckle from RD Charlie)

(yes, I think I just kissed my buckle)

(hugs all around - sorry that I was so sweaty and smelly everyone!)

This picture pretty much sums up my experience. A great achievement but an even better time shared by the best of friends.

There are moments in life that you feel more alive than ever. This was one of those moments. I realized my accomplishment and appreciated the people who helped me get there. Sure, I did a lot of running... but so many people supported me and loved me that it wouldn't have been possible without them. My husband, who gives me moral support as well as help with the boys so I can run my heart out, is a huge inspiration. My boys are my pride and joy and I carry them in my heart always. I hope someday they will be proud of their mommy. To Keri and Paul - they made the weekend real and made it happen for me. I couldn't have done it without them. My training buddies and my friends who sent me good luck wishes, you were with me the whole way in spirit. Thanks to all of you. And thanks to Charlie and all the volunteers for a Class Act Race. I'll be back.

(Below you can see me seated at last. I didn't sit down the entire race and that strategy worked well. By the time I got home and showered I'd been awake for 41 hours and hadn't sat down for 28 hours straight. My sleep that night was more like a coma. )


  1. Super, awesome, HUGE congrats Jen!! Your first 100 - that is so exciting! It sounds like you ran a very smart race, and I think that experience will serve you well in the future. Plus, you had FUN!

    I'm thinking you have many more ultras ahead of you. So, what's next?

  2. Yeah! What an adventure and accomplishment. I'm jealous!