The Cascade Crest 100 has been on my list since I started doing Ultra’s a few years ago. Even though it is fairly new (started in 1999), I consider it one of the classics. There are a few main ingredients that make a race stand out from the rest to be considered a classic and for me those are; a quality course, good organization and adequate trail marking, all of which I had heard Cascade possessed. So when Greg and I were both snubbed by the Wasatch lottery we immediately signed up.
Race day arrived with cool temperatures and a sunny sky. Right before we started I got a chance to say hi to Matt Hart who would be pacing Bill Huggins and I was able to meet Kathleen (a last minute fill-in for pacing). Greg and I took our spot near the front and broke off into a gentle jog once the gun sounded. We stayed back from the lead pack a good 30 yards or so and formed a small second group. After a mile or two we started the first significant climb of the day up to Goat Peak. Roughly 3000’ vertical in 3 to 4 miles. We were almost immediately swarmed by faster runners as we slowed down to power hike the uphill road grade. Many folks ran by us and I just watched them all go by as I thought about the plan.
The climb finally gave way to some excellent ridge running with short ups and downs as we tried in vain to stay ahead of some motorcycles. We paused a few times to take in the views to the north that included some stunning mountain ranges as well as the views to the south that included Mt. Rainier covered in a cloud. I glanced at my watch a few times and as we drew closer to the 2 hour mark I told Greg we must be close. Sure enough we hit the Cole Butte aid station at mile 11 with a group that was placed 11th through 20th in 2:02. The aid station crew had us quickly on our way with fresh bottles for a long dirt road descent followed by an equally long climb to the Blowout Mtn aid station at mile 15. It was now a little past noon and the temperature was still hovering in the mid 60’s with very few clouds in sight. We passed a few folks through this section and moved up to 11th and 12th. Again we hit the aid station right on schedule in 2:52.
I was really looking forward to this section following Blowout Mountain because we would spend the next 30 miles or so on the Pacific Crest Trail. I was growing tired of the dirt road and I was anxious to get rolling on some proper singletrack. I was told to expect the PCT to be overgrown and a bit on the technical side, but I have to say it was really quite tame compared to some of the trails we frequent in the Wasatch. It was still a mental boost to get on the trail and our pace increased on the long gradual descent to the next aid station at mile 23, Tacoma Pass, where we would see Jay and Marge (Greg’s wife) for the first time. About midway through it started to feel like we were holding back but when we arrived we were right on time in 4:18. It really felt much shorter than that and while I paused to clean out my shoes we were passed by Kim Gimenez and Jon Robinson. Jay and Marge had us out of there in a flash and told us they would see us again in 11 miles.
Not to far out of the aid station we passed Kim and traded places a few times with Jon, mostly when we were climbing. I figured if we were getting passed this early on the descents that was fine, I knew there would plenty of descending to do later in the race so long as we didn’t trash our quads to gain a minute or two here and there. If there was anywhere I felt the heat it was through this 6 mile section to Snowshoe Butte. I believe we were going through some old clear cut and the trail was quite exposed, so Greg and I adjusted our pace and just eased off the throttle a bit to keep everything in check. Despite this we passed another couple of runners including Devon Crosby-Helms (she would sadly stop at Stampede Pass) and Arthur Martineau. I was still staying faithful to the eating schedule and drinking as much as I could handle but I noticed I hadn’t peed in a while. I wasn’t deeply troubled but I did make a mental note to take a sip a little more often.
The Snowshoe Butte aid station at mile 29 is nearly a mile trek from the nearest road, so I was kind surprised when I could hear it before I could see it. Then as we crested a hill and it came into view it became clear why there was so much noise; a bunch of very enthusiastic teenagers. High school cross-country runners to be exact and they we are all running around barefoot, anxious to fill our bottles and send us on our way. Their energy was infectious and my stride felt a little quicker as we left in 9th and 10th place following the trail back into some old growth forest. It was almost 4pm and I let Greg know we were nearly done with the hottest part of the day. So far so good, the plan was working. I was starting to feel some of the general aches and pains associated with running 30 miles, mostly in my hips and knees, but otherwise I was feeling solid, especially my stomach. Greg reported the same
It seemed like no time at all when we emerged from the forest and came to the big power line clearing. This was the indication that we were within a mile or two of Stampede Pass aid station at mile 34. Stampede Pass is one of the major aid stations on course, much like Big Mountain at the Wasatch 100, so I was preparing myself for the melee associated with such stops. Something about all the noise and attention always seems to give me a little shot of adrenaline which would normally be okay, but during a 100 miler it’s usually enough to send my stomach south.
Sure enough we could hear the station well before it came into view and once we rolled in Greg went with Marge and I went with Jay. Kathleen was there and immediately jumped in to help. She also introduced me to Justin, a friend of hers who she had found to run the last 32 miles with me. I asked him if he felt like staying up all night and I received an enthusiastic yes. Next, Jay was urging me out of the chair and I started walking toward the trail when Matt Hart asked me how I felt, while he was recording me on his iphone. Then Jay stuck his phone to my ear where I heard Betsy, my wife, on the other end. That was it. The emotional wave was taking hold and about to engulf me. I quickly told Betsy I was feeling great and not to worry, then she wished me well before I handed the phone back to Jay. I was keeping the emotional wave at bay but I needed to get out of there in a hurry. As soon as I heard Greg right behind me I took off up the steep grade leaving the aid station.
Once the noise had faded behind us I settled down and got back into a familiar climbing rhythm. Only then did I remember to look at the pace chart where I discovered we had come in 6 minutes ahead of schedule in 6:23. On the opposite side of the pace chart I had printed a profile so I would know what to expect between aid stations. I informed Greg that we had an initial climb followed by a “meat grinder”(a series of short rollers) to the next aid station. The trail was really incredible through here as it wound it’s way along the PCT and after a couple of miles I spotted another runner in front of us, Stuart Johnson. I’m not sure if he increased his pace or not when he heard us but it certainly felt like it took a little while to reel him in. We eventually caught him and he stepped aside as we exchanged pleasantries. Then a strange thing happened, instead of just letting us go he tucked in behind Greg and started matching our pace.
It wasn’t a big deal to have a third guy along in our group but it did kind of mess with the vibe we had going. I turned the screw ever so slightly on the climbs but he wouldn’t let go. Eventually we saw Jay running up the trail to greet us and I figured we must have been close to the Mountain Meadow aid station but in fact Jay had run about a mile out to escort us in and figure out what we would need for the next section. We hit the aid station in 7:41, taking another 10 minutes off our scheduled pace and Jay had us back out without missing a beat. Stuart was still along for the ride but I could tell he was laboring just a bit in his first 100 miler. I could also feel the effects of the pace and we backed off just a little bit on our way to Olallie Meadows at mile 48.
Again Jay ran out to meet us and get an idea of what we needed. I decided to take a seat for a minute and enjoy one of the perogies offered up by the aid station. Despite my stomach being a little off I was able to get one down and it really tasted good. Greg and I left after a minute or two while Stuart decided he needed a little more time. Sadly, he would end up dropping at the next aid station. We followed the PCT to for another couple of miles before turning right onto a dirt road that would take us up to the top of the ski hill we would descend to the Hyak aid station. In the pre-race meeting we had been warned to mentally prepare for this tough section going down the ski hill. I don’t know if it was because it was still light or what but it just wasn’t that hard and Greg and I rolled into Hyak nearly 25 minutes ahead of schedule. Between Jay, Jamie (Tom Remkes’ wife), Marge and Kathleen we in and out of Hyak in a hurry.
Kathleen was full of energy and ready to run but Greg and I decided to walk for a few minutes up the paved road and get everything in order for the 7.5 mile climb in front of us. Before the race we had both read how runnable this section was if you were feeling well and as Kathleen reminded us of that as we broke into a jog. The time actually seemed to pass a little faster with Kathleen along as she was able to talk while Greg and I grunted our replies back. At the top of the ridge the my watch confirmed what I already knew, we had taken even more time out of our pace schedule and we had caught Adam Lint. We were now sitting in 7th and 8th as we began the long dirt road descent to the Kachess Lake aid station. Greg’s knee started protesting a bit on the descent but I knew the next section would give it plenty of rest as there isn’t much running to do. Turns out that was theme throughout the race, as soon as we grew tired of descending there was a climb and vice versa.
We seemed to take almost everyone by surprise when we rolled into Kachess Lake at mile 68 as we were now 40 minutes ahead of schedule and sitting in 6th and 7th. Jay let me know my pace schedule was bulls**t and I just smiled back. Greg and I said goodbye to Kathleen as I picked up my new pacer Justin and Greg had his friend Ryan joining us for the final 32 miles.
Next up was a 6 mile section known as the “trail from hell”, scheduled to take us a little over two hours. I was actually kind of looking forward to it, mostly to see if it was going to live up to the myth. Almost as soon as we left the dirt road the fun started. Downed trees, steep ups followed by steep downs with no chance to get in a rhythm. Greg fell and hit his forearm pretty hard and little later on I pounded my knee on a tree I was attempting to cross. Despite the small setbacks we cleared this section faster than we had planned and arrived at Mineral Creek nearly an hour ahead of our plan. Mile 74, time to rally. At least that’s what I thought before we started the climb up No Name Ridge. I won’t lie, this long dirt road flat out sucked. The only redeeming quality about it was that it was dark and we couldn’t see how far we had to go, which was nearly 8 miles to the next aid station. Even Justin and Ryan remarked how long it seemed.
I was straining to see anything through the darkness when I noticed a light up ahead. Greg didn’t believe me at first but as we continued our power hike we were reeling in the runner ahead. As we came up next to him we asked if everything was okay or if he needed anything before I asked his name. It was Lon Freeman. I remarked that I’ve been impressed with his fast times and to keep plugging away, you’re bound to come around I said. Once we were out of earshot I turned to Greg, “That was Lon Freeman, we’re not just having a good race, we’re having a great race!”. Admittedly, I’m sure Lon was not on one of his best days, but passing someone of his caliber at mile 80 is a good sign in my book. Finally that God forsaken road came to an end and right as we were leaving the aid station Lon pulled in. The aid station told us the next guy was about 30 minutes in front of us. Looks like we have a race on our hands I remarked to Greg as we set off toward the Cardiac Needles, a series of short 500’ to 1000’ climbs, about 5 in all.
Back on to the single track and I was feeling good. This was another section we had heard was really hard and to be prepared for some tough climbing. We were heading up the second climb when I stopped to take a leak. Justin and I had pulled ahead of Greg by a couple of minutes and as he caught up he told me it was time for me to go on without him. I protested immediately. We were 83 miles into this thing and the thought of finishing separately hadn’t even entered my mind. It was really a hard thing to get my head around, we were a team and I really wanted to finish together. I gave in and turned my focus back to the race and the runner 30 minutes ahead of me.
Not long after parting ways with Greg a cloud moved in on the mountain and visibility was reduced to 5 feet or so making the descents a little slower than I would have preferred. The Thorpe Mountain aid station was our next objective at mile 85. But just before the aid station the we had to climb a short out and back to the top of the mountain, retrieving a little card to prove we made it. As Justin and I picked our way down the descent we found Greg starting up, only 10 minutes or so back. I was still hopeful of Greg joining me but he encouraged me to press on. We hit the aid station somewhere around 4am, topped off bottles and found out the next runner was about 20 minutes in front of us.
I ran as fast as I could manage through the thick fog, anxious to catch the guy in front of me. French Cabin was the next aid station, only 4 miles away. It seemed like no time at all when I heard a loud cheer through the fog. I looked at my watch to note the time. The runner in front had just gone through the aid station and if I could hear them I knew I was close. 5 minutes was the gap as I came into view and the aid station cheered. I appreciated the enthusiasm but I knew the runner in front would also realize I was close with the noise. To my surprise Jay was there to greet me. I let him know what happened with Greg and he told me the guy in front of me was only a few minutes up but he was looking good.
There were only 11 miles left so I didn’t bother holding back. As we descended out of the cloud I was sure I would spot a light in front of us but there was nothing. I picked up the pace even more and skipped my eating schedule, but still there was no one in sight. The 3000’+ descent over 6 miles was starting to take it’s toll on my worn out body and I relented. I slowed my pace and just concentrated on picking a clean line down the rock infested descent. Justin did a good job of encouraging me but I only had one gear left.
The Silver Creek aid station finally appeared and I saw Marge waiting there for Greg. We barely stopped as I wanted to just be done at this point. I walked a good half mile over some torn up dirt road that would have required more energy than I had to run. Once we hit the smooth stuff I started jogging, realizing I would be close to breaking 21 hours. I’m usually a pretty fast finisher, but not on this day, I had left it all out there. I glanced at my watch as it passed the 21 hour mark and almost that same moment the finish line came into view. I crossed the line in 21:03.33, good enough for 5th place and my PR for 100 miles. Jay and Matt were there to congratulate me as well as RD Charlie Crissman. Jeff Browning was also there, kicked back in a chair after cruising to 1st place and a new course record in 18:31.
Marge arrived a short time later and let us know Greg had come through the last aid station. Not long after I spotted Greg and Ryan approaching the finish. Then I noticed another runner behind him by only 30 seconds or so, it was Lon Freeman chasing down Greg. We all started yelling for Greg as they both pushed to finish line. Greg ended up holding off Lon by 32 seconds to finish in 6th at 21:43!
For once I exceeded my expectations in a 100 miler and it feels really good. If you’ve never done Cascade you should definitely consider it, Charlie does an incredible job organizing a great group of volunteers. Thanks to the Easton Fire Fighters and all the other volunteers who did an great job marking the course and fueling us along the way. Our pacers, all untested, performed flawlessly and made the journey much more pleasant. Thank you Kathleen, Justin and Ryan, it was fun to have you along for the ride. Jay and Marge did an excellent job keeping us from getting to comfortable at the aid stations and always having everything we needed. Thank you. And thanks to my wonderful family who not only allow me to pursue these adventures, but encourage me along the way. Happy trails :)