Cascade Crest 100-mile Endurance Run is held in the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie Summit just an hour from Seattle Washington. This was my third visit and I’ve always had an enjoyable time running this beautiful forest course. The theme for the run is “Tall Trees, Tough Trails.” The trees are amazing, there are long climbs, but the trails aren’t too technical. The race directors do a superb job with the race, keeping it relatively small with a family feel.
Last year, this was my first 100-miler since busting my leg and I took it slow and easy but still finished well. This year I had set my sights on a personal best for the course however I knew that I really didn’t put in the training needed. This summer, I’ve just been enjoying running, not getting up each morning to train out of obligation. But with the multitude of very long runs I have accomplished since April, I knew I would be fine. (20 runs in the past five months more than 26 miles.)
The course is a giant loop, starting and ending in the small town of Easton, Washington. I compare the difficulty to Bighorn 100 in Wyoming. The similarities are many. Both start late morning with a dirt road run and then present a monster climb to get things really going. Then rolling single track, with some good climbs along the way. Unique to Cascade Crest is the 2.5 mile flat run through the former railway tunnel under the mountain and later on a crazy bushwhack trail for six miles along a lake. Both courses end up with a very long descent and a hot dirt road run to the finish. My finish times for both races have been similar.
This year temperatures were on the cool side which was greatly appreciated. I started quick on the flat dirt road to get the legs going but so many others were also taking the first couple miles quick. As we hit the climb, I fell in with a train for runners, pushed pretty hard and held on. But after a while, the leaders of the train weren’t going fast enough as we wound our way up the forest switch-backs. Other trains caught up and I could see a very long stream of runners behind. Finally I just found my way around the train and was able to go ahead and complete the main part of the climb at my own pace.
Photos by Chihping Fu
I arrived at Cole Butte (mile 10.8) in 69th place. Despite how hard I was pushing, I was now back in mid-pack. I could hear two women runners chatting non-stop like they were out for an easy stroll in their neighborhood. I was amazed that they could chat like that as I was pushing hard and trying just to breath. It went on non-stop and finally I had to let the train go on past. I really couldn’t keep up this pace and had to watch others go by. My thought was, “Let’s see if they can push the uphills this hard at mile 55.” Typically so many of these younger runners blow up their uphill legs during long morning climbs like this and can only walk the uphills later in the race. I like to be able to run up hills throughout the entire race.
The next section was a rough long downhill dirt road run. As I recovered from the tough uphills, my legs started to enjoy the downhill. I decided to push it up several notches and blast down faster. I passed several runners but as happens too often, tripped and went down hard. Nothing was broken but my left arm was a bloody mess. I picked myself up, washed off the blood streaming down the arm and kept going. This set my pace back, but I knew I could continue. Soon I discovered that I had badly bruised the side of my leg, a quad muscle. As I continued it would stiffen up and become a real problem. But as the next long uphill came, I was doing fine.
I arrived at Blowout Mountain (mile 15.2) at 3:26 in 74th place. I was exactly on my 2011 pace and 31 minutes ahead of last year. The volunteers helped patch up my arm although it kept leaking blood for the next several hours.
We soon reached the Pacific Coast Trail. It is a wonderful forest smooth rolling trail. I was able to pick up the pace well but for long stretches over the next several hours I would not see any runners as the mid pack was getting spread out and keeping the same pace. I arrived at Tacoma Pass (mile 23.3) at 5:22 in 88th place. My leg was really bothering me, but I was starting to feel better and was able to run faster, trying to improve my position.
The weather was fantastic, cool with a cloud cover. With runners so spread out, I put on my tunes and sang away as I ran down the trails. I arrived at Snowshoe Butte (mile 29) at 7:10 in 85th place, but 8 minutes ahead of my personal best. Each time I arrived at an aid station, I would find a runner or two resting or taking their time. My stops were fast and I looked forward to the next segments.
At Stampede Pass (mile 34.5) there were plenty of crews and kind people cheering. I reached there at 8:03, now in 82nd place, six minutes ahead of my best time to this point. I was pretty amazed at how closely I was tracking to my best time. Last year I was nearly an hour behind bringing up the rear of the race. At this point I picked up my lights for the night, but I was still a couple hours from dark. I arrived at Meadow Mt. (mile 42) at the 9:54 mark in 80th place.
As it became darker near Yakima Pass, I turned on my light and it became easy to detect where the runners were ahead of me or behind as they also turned on lights. But the gaps were huge on both sides. No one would pass me for the next 30 miles. It became truly dark about a mile after Mirror Lake and the trail is much more rugged as it passes through rock falls. I could look back and see runners gaining but I was able to push it on ahead. I arrived at Olallie Meadows (mile 47.7) at 11:43 in 79th place, exactly on my best time. All the volunteers at the aid stations were so kind and helpful. I traveled very light, during the day just with two water bottles and food stuffed in the pockets. During the night I went with just one water bottle and my flashlight in my other hand.
As I ran on, I really wished I could see lights of runners ahead, but there were none to be seen. I could hear the roar of I-90 getting louder as I approached the downhill to the tunnel. Toward the bottom, is a crazy steep section with ropes. I had my bottle and light in one hand, and hung onto a rope for dear life in the other hand. Crazy fun. I made it down through the crazy ropes section just fine, with still no runners to be seen ahead or behind.
Finally I was on the flat tunnel road and once in the dark tunnel could see a runner about a quarter mile ahead. I tried to push the pace but my left achilles tendon started to burn if I pushed it faster than 8:00 pace, so I backed off and never caught those ahead. It was funny to see their headlamps keep looking behind to see if I was catching up. But soon I started to do the same and could see lights behind me. They were probably a mile behind but it was really hard to tell in that dark, straight tunnel. I must say, that I do really enjoy running through there at night. It truly is a highlight of the entire race.
Once out, I ran the road to the Hyak aid station (mile 52.7) by the freeway, arriving there at 13:20 (11:20 p.m.) in 77th place. I was still climbing the standings. I arrived 13 minutes ahead of my best time. I knew I was doing well, so I tried to make a quick stop, putting on a jacket, filling my pockets, and getting ready to attack the rest of the long night.
After a couple miles of easy pavement, the road turns up for a long runnable 5 miles or so to Keechelus Ridge. I knew it was time to race. My goal was to truly run most of this uphill section. My uphill strength was great. I put on some running tunes and pushed it very hard, catching and surprising several runners along the way who were just walking up the road. I was having a blast and was really encouraged by the strength I still had after 55 miles. As I made the turn into Keechelus Ridge aid station (mile 60.5), a guy who observed me coming said something like, “Boy are you moving fast!” I felt great and was in very high spirits.
Next up was a similar dirt road run, but this time down the other side, all fast downhill. I kicked it into gear although started to run out of gas toward the bottom. I arrived at Kachess Lake (mile 67.9) at 16:55, in 67th place. I had passed 10 runners since Hyak and still going strong. I was now 16 minutes ahead of my best time.
But the next section is fondly referred to as “the trail from hell.” It is mostly a rough bushwack-type trail with only short runnable sections. The key is to keep pushing the pace hard to make it through this rough six-mile section. The trail rolls up and down along the lake shore like an obstacle course. I passed one runner struggling and couldn’t quite catch another I could see ahead. But soon the dawn light started to appear as I finally ran into Mineral Creek aid station (mile 73.9) at 19:27, in 63rd place, four minutes ahead of my best time.
I attacked the first mile of the next long uphill well. I was reeling in some runners ahead and then things came apart. As happens a lot recently, my stomach experienced too much stress and just wouldn’t let me push the pace hard anymore. My breathing was too fast, and my energy level went down. I had dropped off my jacket at the last aid station because morning was arriving, but as I climbed it got colder and colder. I was soon chilled and I think my body takes blood supply away from my stomach to help warm me. My pace slowed and I now struggled on every hill.
This was disappointing. I did my best and still caught some runners but I knew my quest for a personal best on the course was fading away. I reached No Name Ridge (mile 81.5) at 21:51 in 61st place, now nine minutes behind my best pace.
The morning was beautiful as I attacked what is called the first of the Cardiac Needles, a series of five long tough climbs over the next ten miles. It was rough, but I maintained my position. the highest climb is to the top of Thorpe Mountain giving an amazing view of Mount Rainier. From this point at mile 87, you can mentally focus on the finish to come. I struggled up another tough three climbs to get up and over ridges and ran down into French Cabin aid station (mile 88.7), arriving there at 25:06, 40 minutes behind my best time, but I was feeling better and ready for another 100-mile finish.
At the top of the last big climb I stopped for ten minutes to clean my feet because it felt like they would really get thrashed on the next long downhill section. The course description reads, “There are basically three sections: steep downhill, moderate downhill, steep downhill.” Yep, and more downhill. I was feeling pretty good but the leg was stiff and the feet sore, so I just kept a steady jog going all the way to the finish. I was passed by a couple guys running fast who for some reason saved it all for the end, but I came into the finish at 28:12:31, still in 61st place (out of 158 starters), and just 32 minutes slower than my best time here. I was pleased with my third Cascade Crest 100 finish and my 57th career 100-mile finish.