New Adventures in the Old Cascades
This blog was written by rabbitELITEtrail athlete, Yvonne Naughton as she recaps her incredible and breathtaking experience running the Old Cascadia 100 Miler. We are so excited and proud of Yvonne!
Old Cascadia 100 caught my eye for several reasons. Firstly, it is set in the beautiful westerly "Old Cascades" with their lush rainforests and brilliant meadows. The winding trails take you up and down steep mountain sides, through crystal clear creeks, all the while tantalizing you with sweeping views of the highest peaks in Oregon from Mt. Hood in the North to the Three Sisters in the South. Secondly, Old Cascadia 100 is a true mountain race with a challenging course. It boasts 25,000 feet of both gain and loss with most of the course between 3,500 and 5,500 feet. Roughly 90% of the course is single track with a mix of long, winding switchbacks, short, steep sections and a few fun, technical rocky descents. Lastly, with its June schedule, the race provides another early summer race option. The timing means there are less extremes of temperature and very favorable running weather. The wildflowers are blooming in abundance and runners are treated to the mesmerizing sights and intoxicating scents of rhododendrons, lupines, bear grass and columbines just to name a few. While wildfires have caused a lot of problems for PNW trail races in the past few years, the timing of Old Cascadia has eliminated that problem.
My decision to take part in the race was a selfish one. I like to run two to three 100 mile races each year and I'd had my eye on this one since its inaugural running the previous year. I was attracted to the difficult mountain terrain and the beautiful and remote location. However, I was in the middle of planning and training for a huge summer adventure as a member of a female group attempting the Rainier Infinity Loop. This challenge would involve two summits of Rainier and one circumnavigation on the Wonderland trail, a trek covering over 135 miles and 45,000 feet of elevation gain. Eventually I convinced myself that the race would be a good 'training run'! So, after climbing Mount Baker the weekend prior with the two other members of our crazy ladies’ rope team, I packed up my Ford truck and headed south with Minda. She had decided to use the second loop of the race pacing me as her own training run for our upcoming challenge. We quickly got the discussion about race logistics out of the way and then spent the rest of the road trip brainstorming about the Rainier adventure.
I woke on race morning to my alarm playing the theme tune from La Vita E Bella. I'd slept well and felt pretty good. However, after completing fifteen 100 mile or farther events I've learned that a lot can change in the course of a 100 mile journey. Regardless of how I feel before the start, I'm always prepared for that to change. The inaugural Old Cascadia 100 took place in September and the runners experienced bad weather with cold temperatures and snow overnight. The finish times in both the 50 mile and 100 mile distances seemed slower than what I imagined those athletes could achieve so it was difficult to estimate a finish time of my own. I played it safe and planned drop bags for a thirty hour finish. So, as we set off from Lava Lake Sno Park my goal was to take it easy, enjoy the trails and not leave myself overspent before even starting the second loop.
Honestly, the first loop went by in a bit of a daze and I spent most of my time just trying to pick my jaw up off the ground as I stared absolutely mesmerized by the surroundings! On the steep uphills I fell into a good power hiking rhythm and on the tantalizing downhills I cruised carefully, not wanting to thrash my legs before setting out on the second loop. My stomach felt great, I was eating and drinking well and was more than pleasantly surprised to find that I was well ahead of thirty hour pace. However, as I came into the start/finish area I was struck by a wave of guilt for signing up for the 100 mile distance. Having paced and been paced in many ultra races I knew that Minda might have a dark, tedious trek in store. If we'd both signed up for the 50 mile distance we'd have had great training runs and would spend the evening enjoying a few beers. And of course, there was always the risk of me picking up an injury or not recovering quickly. However, as I neared the aid station, Minda greeted me squealing excitedly and my conscience brushed the guilty feelings aside. I'd arrived about three hours ahead of time, right on the heels of the second female and about twenty minutes behind first. I blabbered my guilty concerns to Minda while stuffing food and night gear in my already heavy pack. Of course, she brushed them off and we headed out in a wave of excitement.
We still had a couple of hours of daylight ahead of us which made me happy knowing that Minda would get to see many of the stunning views. We ran along the trail greeting the other racers on the out and back section with big smiles and cheering. Suddenly, the infamous Van Phan appeared around a turn in the trail and we skipped towards each other squealing and giggling before wrapping each other up in a big sweaty embrace. After grabbing a few photos and learning that the first female was about twelve minutes ahead we wished Van well and took off. Trisha Steidl would soon be joining Van as her pacer and Minda excitedly started filling me in on all the Mt. Rainier climbing information that Trisha had shared with her earlier in the day. So, for another while our conversation centered again around our big summer adventure. Over the next thirty miles we shared some trail time with Utah runner, Kenzie Barlow. She'd spent a year living in Ireland and had explored the trails there with friends of mine and I'd run her local race the Bear, so it was nice to share running stories. Eventually the steep climbs took their toll and the conversation became thin.
Minda noticed that I hadn't eaten in a while and encouraged me to do so but I stubbornly refused until we got to the next aid station. Nothing I was carrying appealed to me at that point and I was hoping there'd be some pancakes. Well, when we got to Quarry aid station, I was sorely disappointed. My options included a cold hot dog or quesadilla which was in the process of being cooked. I'd thrown up quesadilla in a previous race so grabbed a hot dog and forced myself to start chowing down as I rummaged through my drop bag for more appetizing snacks. I found some salty pasta so alternated some mouthfuls of that with the hotdog. Then, as I pulled on my capri leggings, I thought that some warm, black tea and a ginger snap cookie would be a great idea. I always carry my own teabags and cookies as this beverage and snack combo has revived me in the middle of the night during many ultras. A few minutes later, Kenzie headed out of the aid station as I stood up to put on my pack and do the same. But I was interrupted by an unwelcome familiar feeling. I scurried over to the bushes so as not to leave a mess in the middle of the aid station just before everything that I'd worked so hard to get down just moments before came right back up! I really should've known better than eating something new at mile eighty in a race and attempting to shovel down so much in one go. But as the retching passed, I also knew enough that this wouldn't be a major setback. As we headed down the trail, I was already feeling better.
However, as one issue seemed to resolve itself, another one progressed. Before reaching Quarry, I'd noticed a niggle in my right shin. It wasn't too bothersome, but I'd made a mental note to at least rub it out a little when I reached the aid station. However, with all the drama I'd forgotten. So now, as we headed downhill towards Pyramid at mile 85.8, what had been just an intermittent niggle became shooting, sharp pain with every stride. Of course, my brain darted to the darkest conclusion-this must be a stress fracture and now I've ruined the summer adventure for everyone who was counting on me! As we came into the aid station, I knew I had to address the problem, so I owned up to Minda about what was going on. My lower shin was red and tender to touch but the aid station volunteers were quick to gather any medical supplies they had. We applied some topical analgesia and wrapped it up with kinesio tape. With less than fifteen miles to go I figured that I could at least walk it into the finish. My ability to chase Kenzie for the second female spot was gone but maybe I could hold on to third place. But most importantly, I didn't want to put myself in a situation that I couldn't run for the next few months and had to cancel our Infinity Loop attempt.
As the sun rose, I found that I could still hike uphill well and if I adjusted my gait, I could manage a sort of one-sided canter downhill. It was so frustrating not to be able to free fall down these last steep descents but, in a way, we were grateful for the slower pace which allowed us to enjoy the beautiful surroundings and relish the achievement of conquering this difficult course. Before long we emerged from under the tree canopy and onto the gravel downhill. My quads were ready to go but my shin just wouldn't allow it, so we continued to shuffle. On to the paved uphill. The hard surface produced an immediate sharp pain, so the shuffle became a walk. Only about half a mile to go. I was still in third place put kept glancing nervously over my shoulder. Not that I could've responded if anyone had appeared anyway! Then as the uphill subsided, I mustered up a final shuffle into the finish line. Hugs, a chair, a beer and an ice pack. Suddenly I had everything I needed and wanted. Had we opted for the 50 mile event, Minda and I could've been tucking into breakfast at Cedars restaurant in Detroit at that moment, having enjoyed a full night’s sleep but then we'd have only had half the adventure! I finished as third female in 28:12, preceded by the amazingly strong Kenzie Barlow from Utah in 28:01 and Alyson Kirk from Colorado in 25:58, each of us finishing under the previous course record.
I learned a few important lessons from this race, the first one being not to give in to FOMO (fear of missing out). As I write this, I consider myself extremely lucky that what was likely a tibialis anterior tear healed quickly without further issues. But I could've very easily put myself out of our Infinity Loop attempt as well as other races later in the year just by cramming too much into such a short period of time. So, always remember to be realistic about the work load you undertake and to pace yourself. Races will always be there. Pick your top priority and don't risk injuring yourself and undermining your ability to perform at your best by committing to too much at one time. The next general ultra-running lesson which I was gently reminded about is to respect the GI commandments! Refrain from trying new foods in the middle of an ultra race and consume small amounts at frequent intervals rather than trying to stockpile calories in one sitting.
As for race specific knowledge, I think it's important to understand that this is a remote, mountainous race and entrants need to prepare accordingly. Train for long steep climbs with a significant amount of hiking and possibly the need to use poles. Also prepare for steep descents, some of which are slightly technical. Make sure you've adequate supplies in your pack and drop bags for sudden changes in weather. Pack waterproof layers along with a warm hat and gloves. Be prepared for at least two water crossings with spare socks and appropriate first aid for potential hot spots and blisters. Finally, consider carrying an extra bottle for fluid between Horse Camp and Scar Mountain as this section is an eleven mile uphill that you'll cover during the heat of the morning on the first loop.
The event is well organized and run. We received frequent updates prior to the race and reminders to complete the required trail work. Packet pickup and sign in on race morning was quick and easy and restrooms, coffee and light breakfast snacks were provided for the runners. There were six aid stations on each fifty mile loop. Crew access and drop bags are available at the start/finish area, mile fifty and at Quarry aid station, mile thirty one and eighty one. Each aid station was well stocked with the usual real food options as well as Tailwind and Muir gels. There was also plenty of sunscreen, bug spray and as I found out when I developed shin pain, lots of athletic tape and even KT tape. Overnight, several aid stations had fires burning, one had a heated tent and there appeared to be cots and the option to nap at a several locations. A couple of the aid stations were manned by teenagers from local sports teams which was fantastic to see. These stations did require a little more self-service, but that was a small price to pay for seeing kids in the outdoors all weekend and I'm sure with a little more experience they'll be running NASCAR style pitstops! At the finish line tents and chairs were provided for the runners, burritos, snacks and beers were available and medical staff were on sight to take care of any needs.
With this being only its second year, Old Cascadia is still in its infancy. However, this year saw an increased number of entrants and several new course records in the different race distances. Andrew Miller won the 50 mile race and set a new CR, while the women's 100 mile field became increasingly competitive in the last few weeks before race day, likely after Hardrock 100 was cancelled. This event has the potential to be a popular race and will continue to become more competitive as it grows. Both the 50 mile and 100 mile distances are UTMB qualifiers and the 100 mile could certainly be a Western States and possibly even a Hardrock qualifier in the future.
Registration for the race is on ultrasignup.com and runners are required to do six hours of trail work. As a newer race it did not sell out this year. Camping was available at the start at Lava Lake Sno Park, but this was quite limited. There are other camping options locally in the Willamette National Forest and there's also hotel options in the two closest towns, Detroit and Sisters which are about forty minutes away. The race swag for entrants is great. The finishers buckle depicts a wonderful mountain scene and is classic and timeless. Each finisher also receives a hoodie and there's great prizes such as running packs, shoes and hats for the top three male and female finishers. There's also an option to purchase Patagonia shirts and Boco Gear hats with the race logo.
I would absolutely recommend this event to others and would love to take part again myself.
Photos: Kyle Meek Photography, Van Phan and Minda Paul
Leave a comment
Comments will be approved before showing up.