Monday, September 10, 2012
Wow.. This was a weekend I hope to never forget! My third 100 mile race, and the most difficult as far as terrain and elevation. Why?
This is a good opportunity to bring some of you up to speed on how 'Ultra' running started in the first place, how it keeps going, and why people like me keep subjecting ourselves to the punishment.
Well, of course, running messangers ran distances up to hundreds of miles for thousands of years. Life has gotten a lot easier in the last couple of centuries, and gradually a few paper pushing office workers have just gotten fed up with the lack of physical punishment dealt by modern life. And so it happened: A few decades ago, a group of friends were looking for ways to stay healthy and started jogging. Complete with super tiny shorts and striped tube socks they started pounding the pavement. 5k races led to 10k races, then eventually the impossible... full marathons! Typical conversation involved the most risky place to take care of the inevitable gastrointestinal distress, and areas of the body most suceptible to severe chaffing. But still they yearned for more! One evening, after several too many 'refreshments' one friend we'll call ' Bob' mentioned that he'd like to see if he was even capable of running after not sleeping all night, 'Mike' excitedly added that he'd always wondered if it was possible to run after his big toes had blistered and were the size of golf balls. 'Joe' explained that regular running was just too much fun, and he wanted to see how he liked it after everything in his body ached and screamed for him to stop. 'Kevin' opined that women loved a sweaty, exhausted, delerious guy, and the scent of a man after running for hours was like a pheremone that would attract hundreds. A plan was put in place: To run 100 miles on country roads. All the discomfort and much more was properly enjoyed, and the concept was added to. If 100 miles on roads was so awesome, why not do it on trails? 10,000' of climbing not enough? Let's try 20,000! A normal mountain trail not keeping your blood pressure up? Let's run that trail right on the edge of a massive cliff.. you know, the one that any hiker straight out of REI would think twice about?! Now let's do that at night, after legs are wobbly from 80 miles of toiling hopelessly. Sound like a plan? That's basically what a 100 mile race is. It's an absurd distance, difficult to imagine doing, even if you've done it before. Challenges are guaranteed, and that's part of the attraction. Life these days is sometimes too easy, and some of us look for serious physical challenges, just to 'see if we can'. That explains doing one of these things. Why do we keep coming back for more? Fame and glory of course! But mostly because our memories are so short. Those five hours spent stumbling around the mountains at night swearing you'd never do one of these things again? Forgotten. The fact the feet were so wrecked that shoes barely slipped on, and walking was a painful process for a week? Covered up by dreams of hitting it rich as Americas New Ultra Sensation!
Cascade Crest 100 is a tough race. You can see that on paper. 100 miles, 20,400' of climbing, and trails that have earned nicknames like 'Trail From Hell'. Training was slightly substandard due to a recently tweaked knee, confidence was a little low due to a not-so-smooth White River 50mile run, but I figured I could give this one a good shot. Typical times were about two hours slower than those at the San Diego 100 I ran in June, so I figured a top 10, and time of about 22 hours was probably a good bet. I built a 'pace chart' based on some faster runners time at the various aid stations, and when I added up it came to 20:15 for a really best case scenario (6:15am finish). I figured I'd run smoothly but not necessarily slowly, accept the parts that were slow by necessity, and hit it hard in several key areas. Hey, what better way to spend a four day weekend than being nervous, packing, and driving on Friday, running all day Saturday, all night, and into Sunday morning, and then spending the rest of the time curled into the fetal position whimpering in agony! Can you believe my wife puts up with this nonsense? Game on!
Even though we stayed in a really nice condo, the fact it was my kids first time in a bunk bed conspired to guarantee a night that lacked restfull sleep. Who needs it anyway? Saturday dawned beautiful and warm, and I thanked the Race Director for the 10am start, even if that guaranteed I would run all night. An hour or so of nervous hanging around near the start, the national anthems of the US and Canada, and all of a sudden we were off. An adventure had begun!
I put myself in a small chase group that held positions 6-9, and we worked together during the first big climbs up Goat Peak and beyond. As you can imagine, the views were absolutely spectacular, and I paused a few times to take in the panoramas. Eventually I pulled ahead of our group and firmed up a grip on sixth place. After about 20 miles of steep climbs and descents we entered an amazing forrest with smooth cushy downhill single track. I was riding a high and running fast as I heard the clicking of Glenn's camera:
Many more miles of amazing single track followed (Pacific Crest Trail from mile 17 to mile 40-something). A lot of this was slow going, and I fell about 15 minutes behind my split chart. I did pass the fifth place runner at mile 28. He was complaining of stomach problems, and he quickly disappeared behind me. After a tough descent that included a section of ropes going straight down the side of the mountain the course popped out on a smooth gravel road, that led into a 2-3 mile old train tunnel. This section was flat, and it was one of my pre-planned 'go fast' parts. I hammered down. A flicker of light ahead in the tunnel. And again.. I was catching up to fourth place! A tiny figure exiting the tunnel 1/4 mile ahead. I passed Josh Arthur soon after, and he was complaining of achilles pain. Fourth into the 53 mile aid. I grabbed my powerful lights and my night time mountain ultra gear (jacket shell, hat, gloves), and Shawna Tompkins (who had dropped due to lack of interest and to crew for her husband, Joe, who was running his fifth CCC) helped me out with some good advice on the next section.
After a long gravel road climb I topped out at 60 miles. On the way up some campers asked how far I had come. I think the fact I was smiling and in good spirits as I yelled back '60 miles!' was dumbfounding to them as they immediately went back to their cigarettes and Ranier Light. The third place runner was shivering in a chair at the aid station just around the next corner. Nothing I could say could convince him to get up, so I was outta there after a cup of delicious vegan soup made by Adam Hewey! Now for eight miles downhill. Another key section. I cranked the tunes and cruised downhill. At one point I was sure I saw a light behind me and I hammered down the hill. Later I figured it was the moon shining through the trees, but the result was I got back on my splits and ran an amazing eight miles in one hour (ok, it was downhill, but I couldn't believe how my body responded). Coke (the drink) and more soup at mile 68 and it was off to the 'Trail From Hell'! Apparently this part has been cleaned up some, and is a bit faster than in years past, but it is a five mile section of difficult and sometimes dangerous trail, and I took Jeff Brownings plan from a couple of years ago, and vowed to run everything I could. Best case through this section was 1:30. I happened to hit that exactly. It was fun running, and this trail was marked exceptionally well with reflective tape. People had gotten imaginative and stapled reflective tape in the shape of smiley faces and other things. Doesn't take much to keep a runner interested after 14 hours and 70 miles! I finally saw a light ahead and quickly caught and passed Phil Shaw (a previous winner on this course, and on his ninth running). Second place into Mineral Creek Aid at 73 miles. Terry Sentinella and crew were surprised to see me so soon (12:15am), but we got refuelled and Terry (who had agreed to run with me as a pacer) and I pushed out for the final 'marathon'. I knew this last part would probably take me seven hours, and I knew it would be the hardest part of the course. Terry helped to keep me on point, even after my stomach finally 'rejected' Gu after I tried to cram my 50th down the hatch. We even took a minute to turn our lights off and gaze at the amazing stars in a night sky devoid of light pollution. You gotta take moments to appreciate the amazing places you're moving through.. otherwise what's the point!?
Steep climbs followed by steep descents, and then finally up Thorpe Mountain for a little 'out and back'. At the bottom of the 'back' section we passed a pair of runners going up and figured we had a 15 minute lead on third. They looked motivated though, and I tried to put a bit more pep in the step. More climbs, and then we began a long descent. I had hoped that I might be able to make time on this section, but it just seemed so difficult, and I couldn't get much momentum going. We began crossing little streams, and the trail remained hazardous in parts. Terry kept crashing to the ground behind me, his legs tired from a good effort at Trans Rockies the week before. What a crew! Suddenly Josh (from earlier) came zooming by with his pacer. Apparently the achilles was fixed, and there was no keeping up with them. Bummer! The final flat miles went by quickly, and pretty soon we were on roads leading through Easton to the finish. My family drove up at the exact time as I approached the finish line.. talk about icing on the cake! Third place in 20:13:54. Tenth fastest time ever run at Cascade Crest (in 14 years). One minute faster than my predicted 'best possible' finish.
Props go to Jeremy Humphrey, who won in 18:31. He was well ahead of course record pace all day, but someone took course markings down near the end and he ended up getting a little lost, missing CR by five minutes. Amazing run from a guy who has nothing in his record to suggest he could do it, and who had never set foot on the course (the previous and current course record holders had extensive experience on course). Also great work to Josh Arthur, who credits Vitimin I for taking his achilles pain away and allowing him to pull ahead of me by just under six minutes and claim second place.
I couldn't have done this without the support of my family. Huge thanks go to my amazing and beautiful wife! There is NOTHING better than seeing them at the finish line! Although I do my best to minimize the negative impact running has on our family time, there are certainly times that I have to do a long run on a weekend, and she is left with the kids (again). That's the harder job no doubt about it. I do hope that this crazy stuff teaches my kids something about the value hard work and determination (although I never expect them to run Ultras).
What's next? I have to run the 3:15 pace group for the Skagit Flats Marathon... update... that's done. Then take a bit of time off, and head into a couple of Fall/Winter 50k type races. No more 100's until next year. I sure would like to crack 20 at Cascade Crest though, and I believe I can do that now!