Here is Jeff's amazing CCC100 report. THIS is how you run 100 miles!
That Cascade Crest Classic (CCC) 100 mile race was my goal race of 2014. I and my cross country team have staffed an aid station for the race for several years. I had planned to run in 2010, but I tore my calf playing capture the flag with the team a month before the event. (We don’t play capture the flag anymore.)
In 2013 I raced short races- for spring and summer I didn’t race longer than 5k, and in the fall I raced one 10k. I knew I needed to get my body in shape for the 100 mile race, so I signed up for a gauntlet of events in March-April: Chuckanut 50k, Yakima Canyon Marathon, and Yakima Skyline 50k - all within 5 weeks. In all these races I faded badly at the end and struggled with cramping. I ran a 50 miler in May and that went better - my training was getting better. Still, it wasn’t particularly hilly, and 100 miles is a lot farther. With summer vacation came more time to train, and my overall running volume and long runs improved. My culminating long run set was the Wonderland Trail in 2 days. Taking the Spray/Seattle Park variation, it was 94 miles and 21,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. Of course, Cascade Crest would involve all that in one day. I ran about 10:30 each day on the wonderland and my body cooperated well. It was time to rest up for the big event.
In looking at the field, I figured I could have a great day and finish 6th. Seth Swanson, who was 2nd at Western States this year in one of the fastest times ever was the clear favorite. Gary Robbins, from Vancouver, has won several 100 milers, including several wins in Hawaii including the course record. A slew of other fast ultrarunners made this look like the strongest field ever for this race. I looked at the race as an adventure- what will my body do after 15+ hours of running? Will it still work? I also judged the night running to be critical- I tried to think of the event as a 10 hour warmup for 10 hours of night running- and then possibly some more daytime running thrown in afterwards.
The day before CCC, I woke up with some severe intestinal issues. I had a headache all day and felt slightly feverish. I was afraid my race would be ruined by a poorly timed bug! I spent most of the morning in bed, and finally felt a bit better in the afternoon. There wasn’t much to do but go to bed and hope for the best.
I woke Saturday morning feeling much better. Debbie Kolp had come over Friday evening to crew for me. Ultrarunners say that CREW stands for “Crabby Runner, Endless Waiting.” Debbie’s relentlessly positive attitude and organization were essential to a good day. I knew I could count on her. And I knew I would have no excuse to be crabby to her.
The race starts and finishes at the Easton Fire Station. At the pre-race briefing, race director Rich White said two things that stuck with me: “Your family and friends don’t actually care about your running as much as you do- they just want to you come home safe,” and “It doesn’t matter whether you win or drop out at 20 miles- you are all equal participants.” About 20 Ellensburg High School Cross Country runners had showed up to man the aid station and to cheer me on.
The race started and a lead pack of 7 separated themselves on the initial tough 4000 foot climb up Goat Peak. They were laughing and talking…and pulling away from me with ease. I just didn’t feel right- I took my heartrate and it was 150- too high for this early in a long day and way higher than normal for the pace I was going. Plus my right calf was tight- it felt like it would cramp up soon. I moderated my pace and fell in with a second group of about 6 runners. I kept being surprised as more runners would catch up to me. I talked a bit with Phil Shaw who was doing his 10th straight Cascade Crest- I figured he knew what he was doing. He said that he has gained respect for the difficulty of the first 15 miles. After 15 miles the course joins the Pacific Crest Trail. Phil said to take the first part easy and that you can make it all up on the PCT. I continued running near Phil through the Tacoma Pass aid station at mile 23. At this point Phil and I were the 7th and 8th.
From Tacoma Pass it’s a 1500 ft climb over the next several miles. Uhuru and I had backpacked this stretch of the PCT last week. I enjoyed passing landmarks- our campsite by a small creek, and then the amazing huckleberries of Bearpaw Butte. I had caught a straggler from the lead pack, and I pointed out the berries to him- we both took a quick stop and stripped a small bush. I figured Uhuru would be disappointed in me if I left these epic huckleberries untasted.
The next aid station at Snowshoe Butte is the one manned by my team. I was excited to get there, and this marked a turning point in my race. I ran the gradual climb to the aid station strongly and relaxed- I felt like I had perhaps kicked the bug I’d struggled with the day before- and my calf loosened up. As I approached the aid station I hollered “ELLENS-BURG!” A roar of reply filled the air and I ran into the clearing filled with cheering teenagers. It was fantastic! It was the high point of my day- but I realized it’s pretty early in the day to have a high point- there are 70 miles to go! I savored the moment and figured I would save the memory for later in the day when I needed more encouragement.
From Snowshoe to Stampede Pass is a long descent punctuated with one short climb. I passed Gary on this climb- he was moving slowly. “Great job,” he told me. “Oh, it’s a little early for that,” I replied. Stampede Pass at mile 34 was my first meeting with Debbie. She gave me a light and food, I refilled bottles, and I was off. I left the station with another runner- but I didn’t know if he’d arrived before or after me. It turned out I was pretty efficient at the aid stations and this happened several times. So for a large part of the race I thought I was in 5th or 6th but was 3rd or 4th.
I had difficulties after Stampede Pass. I got a blister on my big toe and worse, my stomach started cramping so each time I landed on my left foot I felt a sharp pain. The pain got worse as I approached the Meadow Mountain aid station at mile 42. I decided the sports drink was upsetting my stomach so I switched to water and took a couple tums. Mercifully, there was a climb after the aid station, so I didn’t have to land hard on my foot. I ran and walked the climb, trying to calm my stomach. It worked, and I proceeded on to Mirror Lake, where Uhuru and I had camped. There was beautiful evening light as I made the traverse to Ollalie Meadows at mile 48. A film crew was documenting the race and had several cameras along the course. I arrived at Ollalie feeling cheerful and got a hot Pirogie, along with some potatoes and watermelon.
From Ollalie to Hyak is an interesting section. First it’s a couple miles on the crest trail, then a very steep very rocky descent down an old powerline access road, followed by an even steeper descent through the woods. This descent is so steep that the race organizers put several hundred feet of ropes so the runners don’t fall. I worked my way down the ropes, glad for lots of experience on steep ground during my years as a climber. I arrived at the bottom on the John Wayne Trail just west of the Hyak tunnel. I saw a runner in the distance and then lost him as we entered the tunnel. The tunnel was relaxing- there was easy and solid footing and it was nice and cool. I’d never been in the tunnel in the evening, and it seemed lighter than normal with the sunlight shining deeper into the west door. I arrived at Hyak and met Debbie to arrange lights, food, and electrolytes. And the aid station introduced my to the food that would get me through the night- hot squash soup.
I ran out of the aid station with two other runners and their pacers. Pacers are allowed from Hyak on, but I had decided not to use one. We ran around the Hyak interchange and I mentioned to one runner, Andy Reed, that this was the way to the Brooks cabin- of Holly fame. It turns out that he is the physician for the Canadian National Ski Team and knows Holly and works with Justin Wadsworth. We chatted for a couple minutes, and then I moved ahead. The next section is a long climb up Kecheelus Ridge on roads. I had made a bit of a gap on the Canadian, but as we climbed I heard voices approaching. Darn! I thought I’d gotten ahead. It turns out this Canadian is one fast walker! We climbed together, but everytime we walked he would gap me. When we ran I would catch up to him. We turned on our lights just before we entered the Keechelus Ridge aid station (mile 60) together, along with a revived Gary Robbins. From Keechelus ridge it is a long descent to Lake Kachess. I had run this road a few weeks ago and it was nice to know where I was- but in the dark it’s easy to get confused. I thought I had about a mile to go when I arrived at the aid station. I had left the others behind, and Debbie, Carey and Uhuru were there and told me I was in 2nd. I said “really, I thought I was 4th or 5th?”
The next section is the infamous “Trail from Hell.” I love this trail. It has lots of climbing and roots and rocks. I’ve run it a lot, and feel like I’ve got pretty good flow on it. But, when I was about 1 mile from the end of the trail, I heard voices- I was being caught on MY trail. It turns out it was Gary Robbins. I think running fast on roots is his specialty- it comes with racing in Hawaii so much. He was being paced by Max Fergusson, who I had met at the 50 miler last spring. I re-introduced myself, and he remembered me, paused, and said “Wow- you are having a great race!” And I certainly was, far better than any of the races I had last spring. We entered the next aid station, Mineral Creek, together.
From Mineral Creek to No Name Ridge is 7 miles with 3000 feet of elevation gain on logging roads. A friend of mine told me he thought the key to running fast at Cascade Crest was to run the uphills on roads. I was feeling pretty good, so I ran. Gary and Max were walking. I passed them, we chatted briefly, and then Max commented “Wow, you are strong as s***.” I took that as a compliment. Midway up the climb I met Debbie and got a fresh headlamp and some warm clothes that I didn’t end up using. I pretty much ran all the way up the hill. I took occasional 40-step walking breaks.
The No Name Ridge aid station is at the top of the road, but the trail keeps climbing. These are the “Cardiac Needles,” a series of 5 steep climbs. I ran the moderate climbs and hiked the steeps. I was feeling great- I kept wondering- why do I feel so good, and when will it end? I said before that I looked at this run as an adventure- and my body was still going.
I arrived at Thorp Mountain- here I passed an aid station, and then did the out and back to the top of the mountain. I had hoped to arrive back at the aid station before Gary got there, but I met him about 100 feet from the station. We gave each other a high-five.
From Thorp Mountain I was running scared- I knew how good Gary was at the technical descents, so I tried my best to move quickly. A steep climb took me up the penultimate Cardiac Needle, followed by a brushy descent to the French Cabin Aid Station. I had another cup of soup and moved on, seeing Gary’s lights on the mountainside behind me. The last climb is short and steep to the head of Silver Creek, then it’s a long descent. Much of the descent is smooth, but there are some rocky, rooty parts. The end is very steep. I had run this section in the dark in July. At the time I had felt really alone- like if I got hurt there wouldn’t be help for a long time. Now I didn’t feel alone at all!
I arrived at the final aid station at the base of the climb. I figured I could motor of the flats and knew I had 2nd place locked up. I wanted to turn in a good final 4.8 miles, but for whatever reason, I didn’t leave my pack with Debbie. The final bit has some washboards and is a maze of ATV and horse trails. I really didn’t want to get off route, as happened to the leader of the 2012 race when someone removed the markings. Fortunately all the markings were in place. I ran into Easton and up to the railroad tracks and gave a whoop. Carey and Uhuru were there, and they ran the last 200 meters in with me.
When I got to the finish I learned that the winner, Seth Swanson, had broken the course record by 29 minutes. I finished in 18:44:45, one second off last year’s winning time, and they moved the start line this year so it was about 40 meters longer! I guess I should have dropped my pack! Still, I broke the masters course record by 21 minutes. An emotional Gary Robbins finished 10 minutes later- he said during his bad patch he almost dropped, and had never felt so bad and persevered. The Canadian Ski Team physician Andy finished 15 minutes after Gary. With 4 runners under 19:10 and a course record, it was the most competitive mens’s race ever.
We said goodbye and thanks to Debbie and drove home. I took a shower, inspected my blistered feet, and lay down to sleep. After about an hour, my legs hurt too much for me to sleep more. When I held them still they got achy. I got up and checked the live results- after all- there were still runners out there. I have a lot of respect for the back of the packers- it takes real endurance to be out there for 32 hours.
It sounds strange, but it was just plain fun. The support of the Ellensburg runners, my family, and of course Debbie were the highlight. Feeling like I was running well and appreciating the aid station support were great. And I enjoyed the scenery, the stars, and the other racers. In life there are days where everything falls into place. It’s great to savor a day like that.