Trail & Ultra Running.
My son is currently working on a documentary about mental health and running. Here is a link to the trailer.
It’s been said that you experience a “life in a day” while conquering the 100 mile distance. I imagine that this is due to the fact that you undergo many extreme highs and lows during your time on the trails. There are moments when every single part of you wants nothing more than to curl up into a tiny ball, close your eyes, and fall asleep…anywhere…in a patch of moss, on a rock, an embankment. It does not matter. Then, there are periods of absolute transcendence that you are not able to put into words or ever clearly explain to anyone. These moments are solely for yourself. Ultimately, these indescribable times are the reasons many of us take on this distance in the first place.
I had my own life in a day in August 2019 at the Cascade Crest Classic 100 Mile Endurance Event. It was my fifth time attempting this distance. The course began in Easton, Washington and traveled primarily through the Wenatchee and Snoqualmie-Mt. Baker National Forests; with about 30 miles of this being on the Pacific Crest Trail. The race included some very steep climbs, rocky/technical trails, ropes that went straight down the side of a mountain, and a 2 ½ mile abandoned railroad tunnel in the middle of the night. It also had some absolutely magnificent scenery and some of the best aid stations/volunteers I have ever encountered. Many of these people have been coming back year after year and their experience in dealing with ultra runners was quite apparent.
My journey for this event actually began the evening before as I stubbed one of my toes pretty severely. I was unable to move it the next morning without pain and worried about how this was going to affect my race. In addition to my toe mishap, my monthly cycle decided to come a few days early. Oh joy! Of course, I’ve had this happen before but it is never a fun thing to have to deal with during a race, especially one of this magnitude. I tried to stay positive though. The period of time before the start was rather nice. Several of my friends were at the race; a couple of them running as well, and many familiar faces. The volunteers served up a nice breakfast too.
Once the race began and I got moving, it was instantly apparent that my toe was going to be an issue. Every single step hurt. The climbing was actually the least painful and fortunately for me, we began this race with two large ascents. The flats were “ok” but the downhill sections (which are usually my stronger bits) were somewhat excruciating, occasionally sending cringing jolts straight up through my body. I tried turning my foot to one side, then the other, and then attempted to run on the heel. Nothing really worked. I kept thinking, “Really? My biggest race of the year and all of this happens.” Pretty much everyone was passing me and I started worrying I that I would be able to make the cutoffs. Then all of a sudden, I got a bit senile or something; I burst out in laughter, realizing that all of this was completely out of my control. I accepted that whatever was going to happen would happen and decided to enjoy this opportunity I had been given. “I’m running the freaking Cascade Crest 100!” after all.
Just before mile 20, something slightly miraculous occurred; my toe basically went numb. I could no longer feel any pain! I was able to run somewhat normally. Oh, what a relief that was! From thereon out, I felt so grateful. My goal was just to keep moving forward at a steady pace until I made it to mile 54. This is where my first pacer, Tommy, would be waiting. Unfortunately, I ended up experiencing my sleepy period a bit earlier than I had expected. I started taking caffeine gels and even stopped on the side of the trail to rest my eyes a bit for a few moments. The sleep deprivation element of these races is the hardest part for me. It was a nice surprise to come across my friend Kerstin volunteering at an aid station during this time. It’s amazing how just seeing a familiar face in a weak moment can help lift you up.
It was at about this point in the race when I began catching up to a few people I had seen earlier and many of them were really struggling. We would latch on together for a few miles to keep each other going. I think that quite a few people I encountered though ended up missing cutoffs or dropping from race; it was just that place I was at the entire second half. Chasing cutoffs myself was adding a bit of stress and worry. Every time I made it to an aid station with some time to spare, I was very relieved. I was even more reassured when I met up with Tommy at Hyak. It was after 2 am and the cutoff was 3 am.
Tommy is a great pacer to run with in the night. He made a playlist specifically for this event and had an external speaker. Hopefully, it wasn’t bothering anyone else but it lifted my spirits tremendously. He brought Hi-Chews and would take them out of the wrapper for me before handing them off. He told stories. He picked wild berries for us to enjoy. He kept a positive attitude. Towards the end of the 15 miles I ran with him, the sun came up and we were both struck by the beauty around us. My body was feeling fine overall but I started experiencing light-headedness and had to stop occasionally to catch my bearings. I was really looking forward to seeing my friends at Lake Kachess (I had volunteered at this aid station both 2 years prior), picking up my next pacer Tim, and getting some much-earned bacon.
We got to Lake Kachess only about 30 minutes before the cut-off. These time constraints were getting tighter and tighter and I was worried that eventually I wouldn’t be able to make one of them. I was still feeling light-headed so I fueled up quite a bit. (avocado, bacon!!) I also switched out my socks and shoes for the third time. Much of the trail was covered in a light sand (aka: moon dust) and this is my least favorite type of terrain. I made the mistake of only bringing short socks and opting out of wearing gators. Eventually, the sand filled up my shoes and rubbed my feet pretty raw, also causing some blisters. The good news is my toe still wasn’t bothering me. The volunteers at this aid station were 100% there for me and all about getting me back on the trails as soon as possible. I don’t think I’ve ever felt as taken care of as I did at that particular spot. Thank you Jeff, Greg, Paul, Tim, and Tommy!
Tim and I left Lake Kachess just before 8 am. The next hard cut off was at 12:30 at No Name Ridge. We only had to go about 12 miles and we had 4 ½ hours to do it. At first, it sounded quite doable until I realized what was up ahead. The “Trail from Hell.” Normally, I would consider this a fun one. But at mile 70+, it was quite slow. There were lots of steep ups/downs, water crossings, roots and rocks, and a very narrow path; breathtaking views of the lake though. Tim was very encouraging and kept me moving at a steady pace. We passed quite a few people going through here.
Once we got tot the Mineral Creek Aid Station at mile 75, it was after 10:00 am. The next cut-off was 6.6 miles away with over 3000 feet of climbing. I thought for sure I wasn’t going to make this one. Climbing is not really my strength. But something happened. I thought about everything that I’d been through this year; the races, the traveling, things that have happened within my family, things that have happened within my friends’ lives, personal shit, life changes that have occurred and those to come, all the work it took to be to this point I was at, and all the people that were there for me during this weekend. Somehow, all this accumulated together and made me a stronger version of myself for those 6.6 miles. I passed more people on that climb than I may ever have before or at least it felt like it. We got to the next aid station with over 30 minutes to spare. Life was good. REAL good! (more bacon!)
After reaching this aid station, there were only a couple more cut offs to go. I’d like to say it got easy from that point on but unfortunately my light-headedness came back full fledge accompanied by some bouts of nausea here and there. I dealt with this for the rest of the race. I got a bit down and more negative than my normal self from this point on but I could not have asked for a better pacer! Tim would turn anything I said around and make me feel just a bit better. He stayed on top of my nutritional needs; continuously asking how I was feeling and evaluating the situation. When I would ask questions about the upcoming sections of the course, he would only focus on what I could take in before telling me about the next thing…usually some insane climb up ahead. That last 50k of the race was definitely a challenge and I honestly do not think I could have made it through without him. Lots of views along the way as well! Tim was also very good at getting in and out of aid stations PRONTO! Again…I really don’t think I could have finished this race on my own. Not. At. All.
We finally made it to the “easy” last 10 downhill miles that in my head I had imagined being all runnable. The only problem is that they actually weren’t. My feet were pretty much like raw hamburger meat by then and every step felt as though I was stepping on 1000 tiny nails. I did my best and he did his best to keep encouraging me and keep us moving forward at a pace that would get us to the finish. We arrived at mile 96 with about an hour to run in the 3.8 miles to the finish line. My friend Paul was waiting there with my dog Summit. SUMMIT!! At this point, I knew we would finish. It was an extreme feeling of relief.
Summit was a bit tough to handle at first as she was just starting her run and full of energy. Eventually, she settled down. We were still running on the moon dust and I wanted nothing but to be off of this. Careful what you wish for though! Those last several miles are basically just the most logical way that you can be directed back to the fire station in Easton where the race began. Some of it was alongside a landing strip, then you were running on an overpass, and continuing on the shoulder of a road. This part was not fun at all and I was just ready to be done. I jogged, walked, jogged, walked. Tim and I joked that we could basically choose a cool finish time and I could just run in at whatever number I wanted. I said, “Oh 33:33 would be cool.” He said, “well you better start running 8 minute miles then” I said, “hmmm, maybe 33:43 since it’s the 43 ultra this year.” We both agreed that sounded good. But then I started walking again. Eventually a bunch of people started catching up to me, anxious to get to the finish line. I really didn’t care. I knew I would finish and place just wasn’t that important. Tim said, “ I don’t think you’re going to get that time you wanted.” I said, “Oh. Yeah, I don’t really care about the time anymore.” A few more people passed. I saw the red building. It was close but still seemed so far. We were running by train tracks now. My feet were on fire! Finally! We ran through the finish line; Summit by my side. All I said to the race director was “That was so hard!” as he handed me the buckle and a sweatshirt and I collapsed into a chair as quickly as I could. I was brought a bucket of water to soak my feet, a hamburger to eat. It felt so good to be done! I was the final finisher of the Cascade Crest 2019 100 Miler...also known as "DFL." Hey, I'll take it!
After returning home and taking a much MUCH needed shower and popping a bunch of blisters, I crashed hard. I slept for over 12 hours straight. If we had robbers breaking-in in the middle of the night, I wouldn’t have known it. The next morning, Tim sent me pictures that he had taken during the race. The very first one was of the finish times. I zoomed in. No way! My finish time was 33:53:33. I couldn’t have planned it any better if I’d have tried. Five 100 milers completed thus far; each a challenge; each unique in it’s own way. I’m not sure how many more I will be able to do but there is absolutely nothing that compares to it.
Ultra runner in Washington state with dreams of setting a Guiness World Record in 2019.