Monday, September 5, 2011

Cascade Crest 100 - Tall Trees, Tough Trails

It’s been over a week since I ran Cascade Crest and I’ve had plenty of time to think about the race while wandering around Washington.  I really had no clue what to expect… I set out to enjoy the day and take the challenges as they came.  Part of me was convinced I was in over my head and not cut out for this.  And another part of me knew I trained hard -- and in this sport, you usually get what you train for.

Goal #1 was to finish no matter how long it took. Goal #2 was to try to break 20 hours if the stars aligned and I had a perfect day. Knowing that perfect days in a 100 miler are hard to come by, Goal #3 was to stay positive, be flexible to the plan, keep it steady through the low points, and finish strong.

I crossed the finish line in 21:08:25 and in 4th place. Even though it took me a bit longer than I hoped, for some reason I am just as happy.  I usually measure success in a race based on how fast I ran, but this race is a little different. The time in a 100 miler says nothing about what you went through to get it. Sure it says a lot about how well you did overall, but at least for me, this race was more about the full experience and working through the highs and lows on a tough day.

The Crew
I don’t know how well I would have been able to keep my head together through the rough spots without Tony and Brian out there to crew and pace for me. There’s nothing like knowing a couple really good friends believe in you, even in those moments when you don’t believe much in yourself. There were many miles that I completely stopped caring about my time or how many more people were about to pass me, but those guys thankfully had very little sympathy and kept me moving through the night regardless. They traveled across the country and didn’t sleep for 30+ hours to help me do something I worked really hard for, and for that I will always be very thankful.

The Course
I knew this course was really hard, but I also had heard that it should be a faster course than my only other 100 mile experience at Superior Sawtooth. I think for some reason I interpreted that to mean it would be a little bit easier. I have since realized two big problems with that logic:
  1. I think I totally forgot how hard Sawtooth was.
  2. Faster doesn’t mean easier – it just means you have to run more.
I was mentally prepared for the several big climbs – 3,000 foot and 1,500 foot climbs in the first 17 miles, the 2,500 foot climb to mile 60, and the 3,000 foot climb to mile 81. Where I went wrong was that only adds up to 10,000 feet, which is less than half of the total climbing on the course! It was those “short” steep suckers that I didn’t see coming that really did a number on me. And I learned pretty quickly that “short” in the Cascades is all relative and still way longer than anything we have here in Minnesota.

To be honest, most of the race was sort of a blur…I think running a hundred miles forces you to sort of shut down the mind and just roll with it as the miles pass by one section at a time. I recall most of the course being nice smooth trail or dirt road, but it offered up a little of everything. There were beautiful views of the Cascades and Rainier, there were gradual climbs, steep climbs, roads, singletrack, smooth trail, and technical trail…the list goes on.
It looks hard...and it's harder than it looks.
The Lows
I think the section I lost the most time was unfortunately one of the most runnable – the PCT from mile 17 - 47.  I was just not feeling it.  I got passed by probably 4 or so people and was having a really hard time getting the stomach settled. Some would probably say I went out too fast on the first climbs, but I have no regrets...I felt good and was working the plan. I think it was mostly the heat of the day, having 30+ miles on the legs, and knowing in the back of my mind how far there was to go.

I’d also have to say the “Trail from Hell” definitely lived up to its name.  This was from mile 68 – 73 and Tony and I were doing 20 minute miles here.  It’s hard to describe, but was sort of like a really hard section of the Superior Trail with a lot of blow-downs.  Then the 7 mile, 3,000 foot climb that followed was even worse.  Don’t get me wrong, it was very runnable…I just was not running. It hurt more to run than walk, and Tony was walking faster than I was running anyway, so we hiked almost all of this. This is when I really started doing the math on whether I could break 24 hours if I had to walk the whole way to the finish.

The Highs
The first 17 miles were hard, but I felt good on the climbs and enjoyed having a bit of company. I ran the first mile or so with the winner and new course record-holder Rod Bien, and then I did a good chunk of the early climbing with Phil Shaw. He’s done this race 8 times, has won it a couple times, and gave me some good advice about the course.

The tunnel – at about mile 50 the course went under Snoqualmie Pass through a 2.3 mile long tunnel!  It used to be an old railroad bed so it was flat as a pancake and quite the unique experience. They even tossed a few skeletons in there hanging on the walls for added effect. I felt good here, was glad to cool off and be over halfway, and had moved back into fifth place on the section before. Getting to the Hyak aid station right after was also a great milestone, since I had Soller pacing me there and would have company the whole rest of the way.

And I must have done so much walking from mile 68 – 88 that I fully recovered or something, because I mustered up some energy to finish strong…

The Finish
The last two sections (mile 88 - 96, and from there to the finish), were run on pure adrenaline.  I didn’t even really eat anything this whole stretch, other than a few cups of coke and some M&Ms at the last aid station. We got progressively faster on the long descent from mile 88 to the last aid station as the sun came back up. Then we hit the last aid station, downed that coke, and kicked it to the finish.  We did the last section (over 4 miles) in 27:57 and passed two people. Based on how I felt from mile 68-85, I never would have dreamed that the fastest section of my race would be the last one. I’ve only done two hundred milers now, but in both of them and especially in this one, once I finally got to the end I wished I could have kept going.

Friends ask me once in a while, “Are these crazy races you do actually fun?”  Well, I can’t say that it’s everyone’s definition of fun or that there aren’t times that are nobody’s definition of fun…but I can honestly say I was having the time of my life as I cruised into the finish line back at the Easton Fire Department.

An Excuse to Make Some Popcorn
Soller got some good footage to capture a few of the moments at the aid stations and at the finish.  There's also finish line video at the end of David Reese who finished right behind me in 5th (after getting in some extra miles from getting lost), and the women's winner Shawna Tompkins.

Up Next
I am very much looking forward to just running for fun this fall, and a little break from racing.  I’m now most looking forward to crewing, volunteering, and watching some friends suffer through the Superior races this weekend and making sure they keep on moving until they get to Lutsen.


  1. Brian, great job! I did this race a few years back and your report brought back some fond memories. I remember doing the climb up to Goat Peak in the first few miles and thinking about how that was the longest climb I had ever done in my life, and I was still only a handful of miles into the race!

    Congrats again on a great race on a really hard course.

  2. Congrats Brian and whew-weeee what a kick at the finish!

  3. Great report Brian! Always good to hear what races are like from someone at the front. See you this weekend - you have the right to keep me moving if you see me, but not if I am eating. I like to eat.