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September 05, 2016

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cascade crest: the ultimate 100 mile adventure

Cascade Crest Glenn Tachiyama
photo by Glenn Tachiyama

When I put my name in for the Cascade Crest 100 mile Endurance Run lottery last January I had no clue what I was getting myself into. I mean, I knew I was ready to attempt the 100 mile distance, but when my friends talked me into CC little did I know that it was in fact one of the hardest 100 mile races in the US. Cascade Crest has a well deserved reputation as one of the best 100 mile parties out there. Highlights include 22,000'+ of climbing, about 32 miles on the Pacific Crest Trail, running through the 2.3 mile Snoqualmie Tunnel, lots of tall trees and tough trails!! The one thing I did know about the race was that it had the genuine old school ultra vibe and was not overly commercialized. So I knew I would dig the people putting on the event and the people running the race. 

Here is the elevation chart:

Cascade Crest 100 Elevation Chart

I thought sure, I'll sign up for the lottery. There is not a chance in hell I will get in. Never in my life has my name been chosen when it comes to raffle drawings or anything of the sorts. I went onto ultrasignup.com and signed up in January of 2016 and went on with my life and running trails per usual. Then come February 13th, a Saturday morning. I was up at 5:30am drinking coffee and checking email before I head to our Santa Barbara Running and Racing Saturday group and I get an email from ultrasignup.com that I had in fact gotten into the race. Yes, it was an oh shit moment. I get to run group and quickly find my friends, Dave and DeAnna Odell and asked if they had also gotten in. Sigh, they were on the wait list. Really!!! Luckily, they both ended up getting in the race.

So I had a good 6 months of training to plan ahead of me. I won't bore you with all of the details that went into my training....let's just say it was interesting. I have 2 little boys, own two running stores (Santa Barbara Running) with my husband and rabbit had just launched at a pace that was incredibly fast. Needless to say, there was lots of life on the plate. But thankfully, my husband Joe is my biggest supporter and I was able to have a very solid summer of training. Fast forward to August 25th.

Race weekend arrives! We board the flight to Seattle from Santa Barbara with our friends, Dave and DeAnna. First stop, hit up Portage Bay Cafe in Seattle for breakfast. Their motto is "Eat Like You Give A Damn", which we all took to heart. The amount of food we consume over the next 2 days before the race is unreal.

Joe and I waiting for the first of many meals to arrive:

Portage Bay Cafe

We then go visit Brian and Caroline at Fleet Feet Seattle. I showed Brian the rabbit holiday '16 and spring '17 product lines - he gave them both a thumbs up! I always make it a priority to visit the local running shops in every town I visit.

Fleet Feet Seattle

We then headed about 70 miles east of Seattle. The race would start in Easton, WA. I am so grateful for my friend Jen Brown's generosity. She let Joe and I stay at her condo at Suncadia Resort. It was so peaceful and beautiful. We check in and immediately go down the 1000 steps for a river soak. It was so lush and beautiful. For us Californians, to see flowing water and green trees is very special these days with our on-going drought.

Suncadia Resort

Suncadia Resort

DeAnna going in the for the soak:

On Friday we slept in and did a beautiful shakeout run on some trails around the property. I couldn't believe how fresh my legs felt. Usually the day before my races I feel terrible. So I wasn't sure if this was a good thing or not.

Shakeout Run

Suncadia Resort

We then ate more and pretty much just tried to stay off our feet and relax the rest of the day. I was feeling pretty calm. I prepped my drop bags and got everything ready for the next morning. We went to dinner and went to bed early. The race did not start until 9am on Saturday morning. I wasn't sure how I felt about such a late start. I guess it was nice to be able to sleep in a little and take your time in the morning. We had to be at the Easton Fire Station by 8am for check-in and for the briefing from the race director.

Easton, WA fires station

The race website listed all of the entrants. So before the race you could see who would be there. One of my trail idols Krissy Moehl was there (she went on to win the race in 22:22). Joe snapped this pic of her at Mile 25.

Krissy Moehl

The entire scene was surreal. I was getting a little antsy before the start. After the briefing meeting was over we still had over a half hour until start time. I used the bathroom for the millionth time and sat in the van to keep warm. We were so lucky with the weather. It had been very warm since we had been in Washington. We woke up Saturday and the high for the day called for low 70s. We could not have asked for more ideal temperatures. Finally, it's about 5 min until 9am and we head to the start.

Cascade Crest 100 start

As DeAnna and I make our way up to our starting position we look next to us and there is a girl head to toe in rabbit. I thought to myself, this is gonna be an epic day. 164 people racing and there is a rabbit fan standing right next to me out of everyone there. The girl's name was Jade Belzberg. And her fiancée is Nick Hollon. He is a pro-ultra runner. We ran with Jade about the first 15 miles of the race. She went on to get 9th female.  Here is a pic Nick took at the start of the race. Jade is wearing the women's tee amo and legs.

Nickademus Hollon

The race starts exactly at 9am. We start flat for about 2 miles. I was so happy to finally be running. DeAnna and I started talking and laughing and just doing our thing. We start very slow and conservative.

 

Then the climbing starts. They say the first half of this race is "easier" than the second half. We power hike all the steep ups, conserving as much as possible. I will admit, I was already a little shocked at the intensity of the climbs so early on. I felt fine, but I knew this would get interesting very early in the race for my glutes and back. Around mile 9 we are able to finally run some. Then at mile 19 we get on the Pacific Crest Trail, where we will be for the next 30 miles. WOW. It was spectacular. DeAnna and I get in a great groove. The trails were just beautiful, so soft and lush.

Cascade Crest 100

photo by Glenn Tachiyama 

So far throughout the race I have been sipping tailwind and eating a few skratch fruit drops. I'm looking forward to the next aid station at mile 25 (Tacoma Pass). This is the first aid station that allows crew access. Joe, my hubby, would be there waiting for us.

 Tacoma Pass

We arrive at the aid station in about 5.5 hours and the first person I see is the Ginger Runner (Ethan Newberry) wearing a rabbit trucker hat! I was beaming! Joe had met him at the aid station and offered a hat to Ethan and his wife, Kim. If you don't follow the Ginger Runner you are missing out. He is seriously just RAD. I truly enjoy his coverage on trail running and the trail running community in general. He ran CC last year and is so supportive of this race.

Because this aid station was the first station where you could have your crew available, it was full of energy. I grabbed a turkey and avocado wrap and a few chips, filled my water bottles and threw my rabbit visor and sunglasses to Joe (I didn't really need either all day, so I trimmed the accessories) and we headed up the climb. We felt really good and relaxed heading out of Tacoma Pass.

We continue on the PCT and we feel good just cruising...the miles start clicking and before you know it we are at Stampede Pass aid station (mile 36). The aid station had an 80s theme...it was rocking. We have our first drop bags here because you were required to grab your headlamp at this aid station. I had also packed a change of socks, a fresh tee amo, and a rabbit prototype long sleeve (sleevie wonder). I didn't need any of it. I just grabbed the sleevie wonder and stashed it in my pack in case it got cold once the sun went down. I also had some more tailwind packed away so I refilled my bottles. I grabbed some watermelon, chips and a turkey and cheese sandwich and DeAnna and I continued on.

We continue to feel good and just keep cruising along the PCT. The sun was starting to go down. We finally caved and stopped and put on our headlamps.

We arrive at mile 49 at Olallie Meadows and Scott McCoubry is there serving up perogies and soup. The Ginger Runner, Ethan, and his wife Kim are there too. I was able to introduce myself to them this time. Everyone at the aid stations were so incredibly nice and supportive. I ate some potato soup and had a few pretzels. We were anticipating the next section.....it has the infamous rope climb down and then through the 2.3 mile snoqualmie tunnel (an abandoned railroad tunnel). We run through 50 miles in about 11.5 hours. We were still feeling really controlled and smooth.

We head down the trail and we come to the rope. It was sooooo sketch! It was about 500-600 feet straight down. DeAnna goes first and immediately slides down the rocks and gets rope burn on her hands. It went forever! We step sideways and are probably being overly cautious...there was so much slack on the rope. I had to wait for DeAnna to finish a section before I could grab the next section of the rope, otherwise, I would slide down the side of the mountain. We finally get to the bottom. We run about a 1/4 mile flat and then we enter the tunnel.

Snoqualmie Tunnel

I had been a little nervous about the tunnel. I tend to get clastrophobic. I also knew we would be running this section at night, which I was not totally thrilled about. We make it into the tunnel and start running. What the heck?! I thought this was going to be completely flat. It was totally a false flat. It was uphill the entire tunnel. Our headlamps would shine ahead and all we could see was the uphill grade. The tunnel was wet and the slope of the road was funky. There were also a lot of potholes so we had to continue to manuever left and right to avoid the holes and the puddles. It felt like we were in the tunnel forever. I knew when we were out we would get to the next aid station, Hyak, and Joe would be waiting there ready to pace us.

We finally arrive at Hyak, mile 53.8. It was decked out in Christmas decorations.

Hyak aid station

Joe finds us and I couldn't believe how bundled up he was. He said it was freezing outside. I was still in my bunny hop tank and was hot and sweaty when I got to the aid station. I was excited to get my drop bag. I had a fresh pair of HOKA speedgoats to change into and I also put on my long sleeve, sleevie wonder. I started to argue with Joe about bringing my jacket. I was adamant about leaving it there and he insisted I would need it. I couldn't fathom how I would need a jacket when I was so hot and sweaty. So I cave and take it (little did I know I would be shivering and freezing an hour later and needed it all through the night. I'm pretty sure if I had not listened to Joe and brought my jacket I would have been in big big trouble).

I get changed and walk to the food table. I try to eat some more soup. As Joe and I are standing there waiting for DeAnna, all the sudden said she feels like she going to puke. She walks behind the aid station tent and starts hurling. I couldn't believe it. She was fine 5 mins ago. After she finishes she says she feels much better and we make our way out of the aid station. At this point it's about 9:30pm.

We are on the road next to the highway for a while. We run the road and it did not feel very good after being on trail for the last 54 miles. We finally hit the gravel fire road and start climbing. This is the first big climb we have with Joe. We climb for about 5 to 6 miles. All of the sudden I can see my breathe and I start shivering. We stop so DeAnna and I can put on our jackets. There are a few flat sections so we jog when we can. All of the sudden DeAnna is barfing again. We stop and wait for her. She finishes and again says she feels ok so we keep moving on. I was having a little bit of a low point. I couldn't believe how cold it was and I was starting to get sleepy. We are power hiking as fast as we can up this dark fire road. Then all of a sudden DeAnna's light goes out. What?! Luckily, Joe had my extra headlamp in his pack so she could use that. We finally get to the aid station. We make DeAnna drink some ginger ale. I drink some coke and eat a little chocolate donut and some more chips. And we leave. The next 6.5 miles are down the fire road. We start running and then stop for DeAnna again...poor girl. I was starting to get worried for her. She couldn't hold a thing in. We couldn't figure out what went wrong, she didn't do anything differently than any other race or training, so it was very frustrating. We would wait, she would puke and then we would keep going. I think she was starting to get a little worried herself. We get passed by Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie on the downhill.  We make it to the Kachess Lake aid station where we would then start the Trail From Hell.

Mile 68-74 is infamously named the Trail From Hell. If you want to get a better understanding of it watch this video from The Ginger Runner here. For me, I couldn't agree more on its name. It is over 6 miles of roots, fallen trees, steep rollers. Just a bunch of ACK. We pretty much hiked this entire thing. I was tired and I completely sucked on this part. I was frustrated with the amount of fallen trees and climbing over and under tree trunks we had to do. These were massive tree trunks I might add. DeAnna continued to be sick. I was starting to really get worried about her getting dehydrated and then just her loss of energy. We made her stop and I gave her one of my Skratch electrolyte packs to put in her water. This section seemed like forever, it was never ending and I could not wait to get off of it. I think it had to have taken us 2.5-3 hours just for this section. We finally get to the aid station.

DeAnna is concerned if she should keep going and one of the guys at the aid station convinced her that she should. Joe kept reassuring her that in ultras you have 9 lives and she still had 7 left. We left the aid station and started up another 6.5 mile climb. Pretty soon after we leave the aid station Joe's freakin head lamp dies. You have to be kidding me. It's about 3am, so we still have a long time before it gets light.

As we are hiking up the hill, some guys pass us and I ask them if they have an extra headlamp. One of the guys gives us a handheld. It was so nice of him (thank you so much if you are reading this!). DeAnna is still having major issues. Joe and I feel so bad. We are not really sure what to do. She keeps telling us to go, but there was no way we were going to leave her, especially while it was still dark.

We keep power hiking up and I couldn't believe how tired I was. I was literally nodding off and hiking sideways. That was a first. I have nodded off plenty of times in my life sitting down, but never while in motion. This went on for a couple of hours. I knew we had really slowed. At this point we still have under 25 miles but some of the hardest sections were ahead. We keep moving and then all of a sudden my light flickers and goes out. Luckily, the sky was already starting to brighten up. We keep moving and then the sun is rising over the Cascades and it was one of the most gorgeous sights I have ever seen.

Cascade Crest sunrise

 photo by Glenn Tachiyama

It finally gets light. DeAnna is still really struggling. Joe and I keep powering forward. We start climbing a ridge and could see DeAnna below...she was still moving. I felt really bad leaving her, but it was light and I knew we were close to the next aid station, No Name. We finally get there and they were making pancakes. I had a chocolate chip pancake and some coffee. I started to get some energy back.

We keep going and it really was a blur for me at this point. We get to the next aid station around mile 85 at Thorp Mtn. The guys say we have to go about 2/3 up the mountain to the park ranger hut, punch a hole in our bib and then come back to the aid station. What the hell!!!! It was so steep. But it was spectacular. You could see Mt. Rainer and the Cascade range in the distance. 

Cascade Crest Mt. Thorpe

 photo by Glenn Tachiyama

We see Dave (DeAnna's husband) coming up when we were coming down... He looked amazing! He passed us on the way down and we never saw Dave again until the finish. He crushed the race in 26:48. Then I couldn't believe it, DeAnna was powering up the mountain. You could tell she wasn't feeling good and was weak, but at that point I knew she would finish the race.

We keep going and we hit the Cardiac Needles. For me this was probably the hardest part of the race. Intense technical ups and downs for over 6 miles. My back was so incredibly tight and my right glute was on fire. I just kept moving. Joe said we were moving at a good pace.

We finally hit the downhill section at mile 90. I was so frustrated with myself that I could not take advantage of all of this downhill and make up some time. My legs simply would not lift. I had to power hike so much. It seemed like an eternity to Silver Creek, which was the last aid station at mile 96. We passed a guy and I thought for sure the aid station would appear at any moment and he says we still have 2.5 miles. I almost started crying. At this point I was really ready to be finished. I needed to get my pack off my back. We keep going, I try to run and we finally make it to the last aid station. We just cruise thru the station. We had 4 miles left of flat! Joe said we could break 28 hours. I run as hard as I could for the last 4 miles. I was surprised with how much I had left in the tank. The last long stretch of road went on forever. It was gonna be sooooo close for me to break the 28 hours. Finally, I see the fire station and the finish line. I run as hard as a I could and I did it! I ran 27:59 with about 40 seconds to spare and was the 10th female finisher.

What a course! What a journey! I truly did love every minute of it. I'm so grateful for my friends and family for pushing me and for the gift of my body to conquer these adventures. It's really hard to put it all into words. The physical, emotional and spiritual journey I had during this race is something I will hold dear in my heart for a life time.

Thank you to all of you RADrabbitFANS for embracing this journey with me and for all of your positivity and support. I felt it out there for that 27 hours and 59 minutes. I also felt it big the days after the race.

If you are interested, you can see my strava here before my watch died: https://www.strava.com/activities/694518514

After my watch died: https://www.strava.com/activities/694543520

I wore my Santa Barbara Running Mountain Racing Team bunny hop tank, the hopper in black/ snorkel blue. I did not have one issue at all with chafing, rubbing, irritation. I wore the HOKA Challenger ATR 2 for the first 53 miles and then the HOKA Speedgoats for the second half. I wore injinji socks (I didn't get one blister). I tried out this new RunGoo for my feet and it was amazing! No blisters, no hot spots! I wore the Ultimate Direction Ultra Hydration Vest. I wore the Petzl REACTIK headlamp.

I used Tailwind for my hydration. I took Skratch Labs fruit drops and I ate regular food at the aid stations.

If you were wondering how my dear friend and running buddy DeAnna did, she went on to finish in 28:21 and was 11th female. It blows my mind what her mind and body overcame to finish this race. I am so grateful for her friendship on and off the trails.

Thank you to my hubby, Joe for the support and being the best pacer ever...especially after just running and crushing his 100 mile race at Angeles Crest three weeks earlier. PS- if you need more reading on 100 mile races you can read his blog here.

I also have so much gratitude for my mom, who flew to Santa Barbara from Oklahoma and took care of my two little munchkins so we could travel and race.

A big thanks to my coach, Mike Swan. What a blessing to have someone know your body so well and what you can and can't handle. 

I don't have enough thanks for the race director and staff, the Easton fire dept. and all of the volunteers. The course was so well marked, the aid stations were stocked, the volunteers were so helpful. I loved this race so much. If you ever have the urge to experience the 100 mile journey I highly recommend spending it in the Cascades.

Ready? Let's run,

Monica

 photo by Glenn Tachiyama

1 Response

Ann Marek
Ann Marek

September 06, 2016

I’m in tears…
You should be so damn proud of yourself.
I watch your videos and look at your pictures and see that little girl who ran at Bishop McGuinnes. You make it look effortless and I know how much work you have to put into it! Love you?

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