Sunday, September 2, 2012

Cascade Crest 2012

© Glenn Tachiyama
Cascade Crest holds a special place in my heart.  You could say it was love at first finish.  I started and finished my first 100 at Cascade Crest last year (2011) and I've wanted to run this race again ever since that finish. Things are never that simple - I had the "lottery" hurdle to clear for 2012.  Lottery gods weren't kind to me and I landed #30 on the wait list back in February.  Everyone was optimistic and I hoped it would all work out.  I spent many months checking the list and wishing it would move faster, but as of July 1st I was still sitting #15.  I started to lose hope that I'd actually get in.  My luck changed on August 3rd when I got the email that I'd been accepted into the race.  (And the good luck continued through August 5th when I got selected in the HURT lottery on my first entry!)

With only 3 weeks until the race, I got together with a few friends for a training run on the course.  I did a similar run last year and felt that it helped a lot on race day.  Plus, it's just good fun.  This year I paid much more attention to pace and time between landmarks to prepare for race day.  Logistics were a slight challenge with such short notice before the race.  I had no crew.  I had to find a place to stay the night before the race (2+ hours is a little too far to drive the morning before a 100).  I had a few offers from friends willing to pace me but I wanted one friend in particular and hoped he would consent now that I was in. 

Fortunately, it all came together and things seemed to click.  My friend, Josh, volunteered at the event this year and he graciously offered to help be a supplement to drop bags at two of the aid stations.  I found a hotel in Cle Elum.  My friend was ready and willing to pace and on board from Hyak to the finish. 

As with any big race, my body threw a few wrenches at me.  Taper was particularly unkind to me this time around and left me feeling like I had a head cold coming on.  I shrugged it off and thankfully it never seemed to take hold.  The day before the race my hip started giving me pain.  I hoped it wouldn't get worse during the race.  Emotionally I was great.  I made a conscious effort to not over-think the race and wear my brain out ahead of time.  My pacer and I had a general plan and beyond that he told me to just worry about running, not about logistics or pace.  Just run.  I was thrilled to have such a strong runner as a pacer, I knew he would push me and I felt ready to see what my body could do.  A little scared, but ready.

I drove to Cle Elum after dinner on Friday night.  I wanted to see my kids as long as possible and avoid traffic.  And there seemed to be no rush as I'd be sitting around alone all night after I arrived.  I felt strangely calm on the drive north.  My legs felt better than ever (minus the hip pain) and I knew I was physically ready.  The calm was a good kind of calm.  A ready calm. 

Race morning felt like a big reunion.  In the last year I've met a lot of local ultrarunners and it was awesome to see so many friendly faces at the check-in.  I paused for the traditional photo under the start banner along with touching the "foot" for good luck.  Love that blue sky!

My race plan was fairly simple.  No splits.  Just run easy the first half, eat well, and deliver myself to Hyak and my pacer with plenty of gas in the tank.  My "pie in the sky" goal was to go under 24 and I aimed to be at Hyak around 9:30pm.  I knew if I went much faster or slower than this I'd have no chance of breaking 24 so I made this my target to Hyak.  The first climb up Goat Peak is not to be taken lightly and I vowed to hike this no matter how easy it seemed. 

As we started off, I began in the back of the pack and slowly moved my way up.  I latched onto some local friends who were keeping a pace that I liked and stuck with them.  We talked about staying ahead of the "gravy train" before the climb so we didn't get stuck behind a huge line of people hiking that wouldn't allow us to hike comfortably.  We succeeded in reaching the switchbacks before the huge crowd and we talked and enjoyed ourselves up this first climb.  I could feel my hip but it wasn't painful and not getting worse, which pleased me.  By mile 10 the discomfort in my hip disappeared. 

The plan to go out slow turned out to be very easy to execute.  I had trouble getting into a groove early on and although my legs felt fine I just felt sleepy.  Like I wanted to take a nap instead of race.  It was irritating but not debilitating.  I didn't feel particularly hot (temperature in the 70's), it must have been humid.  I couldn't seem to get enough water.  I had my 2 liter bladder filled at almost every aid station because I was drinking so much.  I drank almost 12 liters of water in the first 8 hours of the race.  And I was hydrated at the start!  My stomach was feeling fine and I was taking in calories along with the water, so I didn't worry about it too much.  When thirsty, drink.

© Glenn Tachiyama
In true ultrarunner fashion, my legs finally felt warmed up around mile 28.  There was a nice rolling section coming into Stampede Pass and I felt like I was flying through here.  Although I was pleased to get to Stampede Pass aid station at mile 33, I wished this section went on longer as the aid station broke my momentum.  I saw Josh at this aid station, swapped out my pack for a new one and grabbed a lot of food to go.  I'm not sure what I'm doing below, I seem to be stuffing my face and contemplating the meaning of life...

The section after Stampede felt long to me last year and I turned on some music for the first time to help pass the section more quickly.  John Pearch, Heidi Perry and Herb Reeves were working the Meadow Mountain aid station at mile 41 and I couldn't wait to see them.  I kept smelling bacon or something cooking for what seemed like miles before I actually arrived at the Meadow Mountain aid station.  They were all smiles and encouragement - which I greatly appreciated.  They told me I was looking great and that the leading women weren't too far ahead. 

Last year I made it to Mirror Lake before needing my lights.  This year I hoped to make it to Ollalie and the greatest perogies ever before needing my lights.  I really enjoyed running this section and seeing the beautiful scenery that I missed last year in the dark.  I "almost" made it to Scott's perogies before turning on lights but the wooded sections were too dark and I feared tripping over something.  I came into Ollalie and Scott and his crew were prepared to do whatever I needed.  I replied "I need perogies!"  Scott tried to plate me up a few but I insisted on carrying them away, remarking that I was late to meet my pacer at Hyak and needed to keep going. 

The next section went faster than I remember, except for the tunnel.  I aimed to get to Hyak at 9:30 pm and I knew at the ropes section that I wasn't going to make it.  I ran through the tunnel hoping the end was near and it never seemed to be.  I probably used a bit too much energy trying to move quickly along this section because I needed time to recover after leaving Hyak... but a time bogey is a time bogey.  I rolled into Hyak just after 9:40, feeling a little deflated.  I was in 5th place woman at this point. 

My pacer, Mike, and Gwen Scott greeted me with smiles and hugs.  They took care of filling my pack while I took ages to go through my bag and decide what I needed.  I took some warm soup to go and Mike and I set off down the road.  I'd been running alone for hours and it was really nice to have someone to talk to again.  Mike was ready to run but I felt tired from the section leading into Hyak and also felt quite cold, so we hiked.  The climb here is mostly runnable but I think I wimped out and hiked more than I should on this section.  When we reached the summit, Mike insisted that we run down the 5 mile descent.  My legs screamed in disapproval but I stuck with it.  It took a while, but after about a mile or so I finally felt my mojo again.  Mike even remarked about me having my running legs back.  We cruised this downhill and along this section caught up with several runners.  Everyone was very friendly and we had a quick conversation with each person before continuing our pace.  We came up to Hannah, who was leading the women's race.  Mike knew her from previous races and they started catching up about old times.  She has a great energy and I was happy to listen to all their adventures.  We chatted about the HURT race and I already couldn't wait to see her again sometime. 

I came into the Kachess Lake aid station in the lead for the women, only by a few minutes.  My friend Josh was here again and he was so excited to see me in first place.  It gave me a huge boost and got me excited about the next section, the Trail from Hell.  I again switched out my packs and loaded up with a grilled cheese sandwich and hit the trail.  The trail from hell is about 6 miles long and it's very slow.  For the most part it's not runnable.  We started the section down to the river as I finished my sandwich.  At the bottom we missed the river crossing and had to double back.  Hannah was back up with us now and we all made the river crossing together.  The logs were tough on unstable legs but thankfully Mike had a steady hand which helped a lot.  I tried to run every step I could on this section, but I was bettered by Hannah and Missy on this trail.  I was moving as fast as I was comfortable doing so I just had to let them go. 

The trail finally ended and yielded to a climb up a gravel road to No Name Ridge.  Miles 73-80 are all uphill on this road.  I initially tried to run parts of this climb but couldn't get into a good rhythm on the climb, so I settled on power hiking.  I felt like I was hiking at a decent clip and we caught several people on this climb.  Near the top we came up to Hannah and Missy, who were hiking together.  I was happy I had caught such good climbers on a climb and we were all in good spirits.  I came into the No Name aid station at mile 80 in first place again, but only by seconds.  We all headed off to the needles together around 5am. 

I started running the trail along the needles whenever possible, and again it took my legs ages to feel like they had their mojo back.  Hannah was moving well and forged on ahead almost immediately.  Missy was behind, but not by far.  I tackled the needles one-by-one, and soon the sky started changing color with the sunrise.  Mike and I made it to Thorp as the sun was rising and it was a sight to behold.  The sun crested the top of Rainier to make it look like it was on fire.  Magnificent. 

© Glenn Tachiyama
And the view to our left where the sun was rising looked amazing as well.  It truly was a breathtaking sunrise that morning.  It bolstered my spirits that I had only 15 or so miles to go in the race. 

© Glenn Tachiyama
The climb up Thorp gave me a chance to see the leaders again.  Hannah looked great and Missy seemed to be on the hunt.  I felt strong but I think mentally I gave up a little at that point.  I typically struggle with downhill and these ladies were bounding down them much faster than I usually do.  I stayed within myself and hoped I could hold on for 3rd. Even on the Thorp descent I still managed a smile. 

© Glenn Tachiyama
The rest of the needles seemed to go on forever and I kept thinking "this must be the last one."  I started having trouble recovering from each one before the next one hit and I started really wishing for the race to be over.  The descent into French Cabin was slow for me and I found myself starting to calculate what my finish time would be.  Mike and I talked about it and I knew I would be under 25, we just didn't know by how much.  I decided to run as much as possible from here on out no matter how tired I felt.  I think I ran just about everything after the climb past French Cabin, except my run was very slow in spots, including the steep downhill.  I felt better than I ever had at the end of a 100 and was pleased my legs continued to run. 

We came through Silver Creek (mile 95-96) around 9:30am.  At this point I really wanted to be done.  I ran this section to the finish, slowing for a few episodes where it was hard to catch my breath.  I finished in 24:16, 3rd place female. 

Conclusions from this race... there are many.  I want to pay huge respect and thanks to my competitors and other runners.  The camaraderie among the women was just amazing and I feel so honored to know such wonderful people.  The ultra world never ceases to impress me.  Charlie and all the volunteers put on a stellar event and one that has won my heart for sure.  I might just have to go over that 5 year in a row buckle...

As far as my own lessons... it's hard to know where to start.  Criticism of myself comes easily and especially when I finished a stone's throw from my pie-in-the-sky goal.  I should have run more of the road sections.  I know from previous races that I can do this and it doesn't expend any more energy, it just seemed like it did.  I also felt like I gave up on my sub-24 potential early on and I shouldn't have done that.  Positives are easy to come by too.  I PR'd by 3:35 on this course over last year.  (27:51 last year)  I ran almost even splits for the two halves of the course, which I never imagined possible on such a tough course.  I recovered very quickly after the race.  All good signs for the future. 

I did not do this alone and the experience wouldn't have been the same without Mike.  It takes a special person to pace during a 100 and Mike is simply outstanding.  He was a perfect compliment to my personality during races - seemingly filling gaps for all my weaknesses.  He was meticulous and reminded me to eat like clockwork.  I know this paid huge dividends at the end.  He was firm but not pushy, which made it hard to argue. (something I can do quite well)  He took unspoken cues from me and reacted on the fly to support me.  In a long race we all hope for our better half to shine and in this race Mike was that half and I know it's what allowed me to have such a good day and a solid finish.  I joke that I want to get him under exclusive contract to pace me (I am an attorney so this could be done with ease), and he doesn't realize that I'm actually quite serious.  Amazing person, phenomenal pacer and I'm super glad he's my friend. 

**Many thanks to Glenn Tachiyama, Josh and Eric for the great photos!


  1. Another great read...another even more amazing accomplishment...congratulations, again, Jen! You are remarkable.

  2. Incredible! You're such a strong runner!