Cascade Crest 100-mile Endurance Run is held in the Cascade Mountains near Snoqualmie Summit, just an hour from Seattle Washington. This was my fifth 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 (22,000 climbing feet total), 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.
For my last visit here, In 2014, I didn’t finish the race. I became sick during the night, and while I recovered after sitting for an hour, I lost interest and decided to quit. I was determined to not let that happen again and wanted to finish this race for the 4th time.
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 2.3 mile flat run through a former railway tunnel under the mountain. Later the course presents 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 they added about three miles to bring the total miles closer to 100 miles. My GPS measures the new course in at about 99 miles. Because of the added miles, they started the race an hour earlier, at 9:00 a.m. For me, the earlier the better. The weather this year was perfect, cool, overcast, and breezy.
I’ve never run this race very speedy, my best time has been 27:40, and my slowest time, 30:37. I hoped for about 27 hours this year, but I knew the added miles would slow things down. I’ve always been rather frustrated that it takes me seven hours to run the first 50K, but considering there is nearly 10,000 feet of climbing in that first 50K, I felt good about it this year.
I started with an 8:30 mile pace on the warmup dirt road and then settled into the first 3,000 foot climb up to the Pacific Crest Trail. At age 58, I can no longer start very fast in these races, nor keep up with the youngsters on steep climbs, but things went well. I now concentrate on running a steady pace. I knew that many of these youngsters would run out of gas by mile 50, but I would still be jogging up the hills toward the end. I reached the Cole Butte (mile 9.4), the first aid station in 2:23, just two minutes off my best time. There is a nice long downhill starting at mile 10 and I was able to clock miles of 8:12, and 7:58, feeling well. I arrived at Blowout Mt (mile 14.2) at 3:20, just three minutes off my best time.
I constructed a pace chart to try to keep me from going slowly and target me toward a 27-hour finish. It became eerie how close I could come to my split-time goals. At about mile 18 we arrived on the nice smooth Pacific Crest Trail. We would run on the PCT for the next 32 miles. It is a beautiful trail and this year we came upon the most PCT thru-hikers that I could remember seeing. Just a few weeks ago my nephew came by this section on his PCT hike. I wished I could stop and talk a while with the hikers, but I was in a bit of a rush.
I settled in well on the PCT and saw the same group of runners for miles. One was a very strong woman who would help motivate me for speed on the downhills. She would always catch up on the downhills and I would push far ahead on the uphills. She never wanted to pass because she said I was stronger going uphill. She did very well and I saw her on and off for hours.
My pace was perfect to the plan for the first half of the race. Despite the added three miles this year, I was able to make up that time compared to past years and ran a solid pace into the evening. PCT hikers were making camps as dusk arrived and I felt bad for them, knowing that they would have many runners passing by with bright flash lights for the hours to come.
Leaving the PCT, we are faced with the very steep bushwhack descent that involves using ropes to not tumble down the hill. I never enjoy this section but I got through it and then ran the very level and fast road to and through Snoqualmie Tunnel. I love running through the 2.3 mile tunnel during the night. I’m sure my green handheld light and red headlamp looked pretty spooky to runners ahead who kept looking back. I kept a good strong pace through the straight spooky tunnel and arrived at Hyak (mile 54.3) ahead of schedule, before 11:00 p.m.
I stayed at Hyak for about 20 minutes, eating well, and preparing to take things with me for the long night. The aid station was full of life, many runners, and many crews. At 11:00 p.m. I was ready to go and ran solid 11-12-minute miles on a three-mile paved section, passing many runners.
Next up was a long five-mile climb, going up nearly 2,000 feet. In past years, I’ve been able to charge up this hill well. Things started out well and I later received a nice complement from a runner behind who watched me initially fly up the hill. But, again my night stomach issues arrived. This time I knew the cause: chest congestion reducing oxygen intake. I did my best to clear up the lungs to breath better. But when I reached the aid station at the top, I was in sad shape. I stayed for 15 minutes, warming up, drinking hot chocolate and coughing up junk. I pushed ahead on the next long seven mile downhill and after a few miles totally recovered and started running fast again. Many runners had passed me during my problem time, but I knew I was now on their heels.
I arrived at Kachess Lake (mile 69.2) at 18:11, now about 45 minutes behind my goal time. This is the place where I quit two years ago. There would be no quitting this year. I felt fantastic as I arrived and only stayed four minutes.
Next up was the section coined as “the trail from hell.” This rough trail rolls up and down roughly and involves many climbs over and under deadfall. It is slow going for six miles and requires intense concentration and effort to get through it fast. It usually takes me about 2.5 hours, but this year was my best, two hours! I had great fun charging through those woods above the lake. This year I had both a handheld light and a head lamp. That really helped because hands are needed. I think I passed about 15 runners in that section, moving much faster than most of them. A bunch of them used trekking poles, clearly the wrong thing to use in this section. They moved very slowly. They would see me coming, trying to increase their speed, but I would catch up and pass them.
I arrived at Mineral Creek (mile 75) at 20:15. I was in high spirits. Dawn had not arrived yet. Arriving at this point before dawn is a good solid pace. I stayed for seven minutes preparing for the day ahead. At the last minute I decided to drop off both my lights, trusting that I could run up the dirt road section in the faint light.
All went well on the very long seven-mile dirt road climb up 2,500 feet. I charged past runners and enjoyed the morning views of the North Cascades. The sunrise was spectacular. I arrived at No Name Ridge (mile 81.6) at 22:30. I was now an hour behind my goal pace but I knew with the extra three miles that I was close to a personal best pace.
Next up was the difficult Cardiac Needles, a series of about nine steep climbs up and down. For some reason this year they were no big deal and I enjoyed them. I did detect that I had a pretty tight hamstring, so I was careful to not run the downhills very fast. I arrived at Thorp Mountain at the 24-hour mark. From there we did an out-and-back steep climb to the summit. I loved it. I joked with a pacer for another runner who skipped the out-and-back. I called him the “loser pacer.” (We would see each other until close to the finish and I joked that he could call a taxi to avoid that last couple miles.)
There were just twelve miles left. The morning was beautiful high in the Cascade Mountains. There were three rough Cardiac Needle climbs to get up and over but they were finally done and I caught up with some more runners at the French Cabin Mt (mile 89.2) aid station.
I was ready to get thing finished. The 3,400 foot descent to the valley floor can be a real chore at this stage of the race but I knew what to expect and concentrated on a good steady pace. Thankfully this year the weather was cool and I never became dehydrated. The last four miles were a run in and out of the forest into town. The finish came into sight and I was pleased to cross the finish line for the 4th time in 28:23, a good time for this course. I felt great at the finish, with just a couple minor blisters and no sore muscles. But as usual, I was ready for rest and sleep.
My 9th 100-mile finish for the year was in the books, my 83rd lifetime. Cascade Crest 100 remains one of my favorite 100-mile races. This was also my 12th consecutive 100-mile finish without a DNF. I finished in 53rd place out of 164 starters. 37 didn’t finish. Everyone who finished ahead of me was younger by at least six years. That is always nice to see.