Would it be possible to finish a 100-miler with only about three weeks of training in the past six months? That is a crazy question and I knew the answer was no. After six months of long recovery from a serious stress fracture that almost broke my tibia in half, I had only been able to start doing some sort of careful running for three weeks. My longest run was 15 miles. I had spent many long weeks limping around and laying on the couch for hours.
I had entered Cascade Crest 100 six months ago when I thought my injury wasn’t serious. Should I go? I decided to back out twice but then changed my mind and decided to just go have some fun and expect to DNF (not finish). I had a string of 30 100-mile finishes without a DNF but I decided that it would be OK to end that streak. I just wanted to get out on the Cascade trails again. Last year I finished CCC100 in 27:40.
I arrived at Seattle the day before, drove through the town I grew up in, and then went to visit an old high school friend who I had not seen in more than 30 years. I arrived early so decided to hike down a trail to Puget Sound. The leg pain was bad on the downhill and I became discouraged and worried that I was doing the wrong thing to even attempt this race.
I camped for the night at Lake Kachess, high up in the Cascade Mountain only 15 minutes from the start. I hiked around and calmed my nerves, convincing myself that it would be all be alright.
I drove to the course and previewed a section of the “trail from hell”, a crazy rugged trail that goes along Lake Kachess. Last year I went through that section in the dark. I wanted to see what it looked like in the light. I just kept laughing at how crazy it was, going under and over huge logs. But I had a sad feeling, because I knew this spot was mile 69, and I had very little hope of making it that far. I was glad that I had at least hiked on it a little distance.
After a great night’s sleep camping, I made my way to the small town of Easton, Washington for breakfast at the firehouse and to prepare for the 10 a.m. start. I renewed friendships and told the sad story of my time off running over and over again. My friends lifted my spirits. It was nice to even just pretend that I was still a runner.
It was so great to be at the start line again. I took it very easy and did not push it. There is a massive initial climb that wore my out last year. I took it easy and at the top I took video of a large group passing me at the top. (video didn’t turn out). I was just having a good time.
The leg pain was minor, but on the descent, it wasn’t good, so I took out the trekking poles that I had bungie corded to my cammelback. Depending on the pace or the steepness, I used one or both poles for many miles.
At mile 11, I was in 126th place out of 144 starters, 20 minutes behind my last year’s pace. Talk about “back of the pack!” My pace strategy was simple. Run the uphills and flats and walk the downhills. This is totally backwards from what everyone else was doing, but it kept my leg pain down.
On a long downhill dirt road run, two very kind runners, one from Vancouver and the other from Boston, ran a couple miles with me. We talked and talked. This is something I rarely do in races because I’m so out of breath. It was great fun and they totally took my mind off the leg pain. It seemed to magically go down. Other pains were worse.
Glenn Tachiyama photo
I arrived at Tacoma Pass aid station (mile 23) at the 5:55 mark, in 125th place. I overheard the aid station volunteers mention that there were only 16 more runners to come through. I was shocked! I am instead used to being in 16th place overall at that point. Wow, I was going seriously slow. I tried to work on my pace, but made very little progress passing people. But soon it felt like I was finally warming up and my effort seemed to be easier.
Once I arrived at the Pacific Coast Trail, my spirits rose. I loved running through the forest on this rolling trail and I was able to pass a few people. I arrived at Snowshoe Butte (mile 29) at 7:49 in 111th place. I was now 41 minutes behind last year’s pace.
At 8:55, mile 34.5, I arrived at the Stampede Pass aid station. There, the only drop bags laid out were for those runners who were still coming. There were only about 8 bags in the small pile. That got my attention. I was only 1.5 hours ahead of the cutoff. I convinced myself that there were only about 10 runners behind me. (There were actually 23 runners behind me, but only 5 of those would go on to finish.)
I decided that if I had any hope to finish, that I needed to try picking up the pace. The trekking poles were put away and I truly ran. I was shocked that within two miles all the leg pain was gone. My theory is that the fracture has indeed healed and the remaining pain is from soft tissue, getting used to the callus bumps that have grown around the bone. Or my body just remembered that I run crazy distances and decided to just live with it.
Over the next 18 miles it felt like I was flying. (My pace for that section was about the same as last year when I was healthy). I reached Meadow Mountain (mile 42) at 10:54 in 104th place. It was now dark and I made the blunder of leaving my camera behind.
I passed 20-25 runners and came into Hyak in 86th place. The run through the Snoqualmie Tunnel was crazy fun. I must of been running at about a 9:00 pace for those two miles, coming up on runners in the dark and blasting by them. I was in high spirits at Hyak. Buddy, Karl Jensen from Canada was there and we left together. He was starting to struggle and would indeed DNF at mile 68.
The night continued to go well. When I reached the “trail from hell” that goes by Kachese Lake, I was stunned that I was still running. I ran that crazy rugged “trail” in record time for me, passing another bunch of runners, arriving at the next aid station in 69th place. Wow, I had passed about 60 runners since I was bringing up the rear. I was only 1:10 behind my pace for last year and if things continued well, I would finish in about 28:30.
However, during the next massive climb, I ran out of gas. I could indeed detect that due to my lack of training, that I just couldn’t push it hard. But with my experience, I knew what to do in order to continue. I took some key rests, and continued to eat pretty well. The “cardiac needles” were brutal. These are 6-7 steep climbs during a 7-mile stretch. Each climbs up and over a ridge and half of them don’t use switch-backs. On one of them I yelled out to the trail that it was “nasty.” The runners ahead heard me.
Glenn Tachiyama photo
With about 12 miles to go, I felt some sharp pains in my leg near the fracture line. I knew I could easily break 30 hours, but it wasn’t worth it. I shut down the pace for good, took Ibuprofen, and the pain soon disappeared, but I continued to go pretty slowly. I had plenty of time, about 2.5 hours ahead of the cutoff.
The final miles includes a massive descent. I got my feet wet and with all the braking I was doing, developed some fore-foot blisters. Other than that, the Hoka Stinson Evos performed flawlessly.
At the bottom of the canyon, with 3.6 miles to go back to town, it was hot, approaching 80. I was pretty delirious. Ben Blessing was doing the aid station. They gave me a popsicle that started to bring me back to life, but I didn’t answer their questions right. They asked if I needed my camelback filled. I said no. But less than a half mile later, I discovered that I was almost totally out of water and my body temperature was on the rise. This was bad. I knew I couldn’t finish without more fluid. I decided to leave the course and hike to the stream nearby. This was an emergency so I didn’t worry about non-filtered water. I filled up my camelback, soaked my shirt in the cool water, and used a paper towel the rest of the way to cool my face and neck. I also drank like crazy. I avoided heat stroke and started to feel fine again.
After another three miles, the finish line came into view and Charlie the race director said some nice things about me over the loud speaker as I finished. He handed me the buckle. This one seemed extra special. I really didn’t think I would finish, but there it was in my hand. It probably is valued as much as that very first one. Five months ago I feared that I would never run again, and for sure never finish 100 miles again. But there I was at the finish line. I’m glad that I didn’t burst out in tears. All I could think about was getting into the air-conditioned car.
Victory!!! I finished my 49th career 100-miler and continued my streak of 31 finishes without a DNF.