Friday, January 14, 2011

Cut-Off Confusion at the Cascade Crest 100 Mile (Pacific Northwest race #2)

Depending on how you count (here not counting timed races or that 150 mile ordeal), tomorrow's H.U.R.T. 100 will be my 18th 100-mile run.  If I finish (see previous short post-- I would normally assume I could), it will be only my third time finishing the distance over 24 hours.  Here was my second time missing the one-day cutoff.

Cascade Crest 100 mile, last weekend of August, 2009


This was my first race to which I flew myself for no other reason than to run the race. Felt a little guilty and ungreen. But I got over it. I got a view of Seattle and the Cascades to the east, where I would be running.


I drove my rental out to Easton and checked into the Silver Ridge Ranch, probably the closest lodging to the race start.

The guy who checked me in is the husband of the woman I had made the reservation with months ago. He had gone blind a few years ago, after a really fulminant, severe Staph infection, he explained to me when I asked. Orbital cellulitis, I figured, a relatively rare problem that I must rule out with every patient who comes to the emergency department complaining of pink eye or atraumatic eye pain (99.9% of the time it's not, but I can't miss it once.)

My room was called the Duke room. If I had never heard before that John Wayne was called the Duke, well it became obvious.

I finished the dinner I took out from Trader Joe's on the way. I started having the runs. Or rather, I continued having the runs, but they got pretty frequent. I sat on the toilet about seven times by the next morning. I had been having messed up bowel movements for the past few weeks, since getting sick at mile 76 of Headlands 100 three weeks earlier. It then occurred to me that maybe I picked up Giardia during the swim portion of Vineman the week before Headlands.

I hid this fact from Bay Area runner Sean Lang, here with his family. He had barely missed finishing under 24 hours the year before (in 2008). At Headlands he ran the 50 mile race with a heart rate monitor, while I got to the 50-mile mark before he did. He obviously was taking Cascade Crest more seriously, and I knew his times this year at many races was faster, so I felt he would do really well (and he did, finishing 5th overall).

Perhaps I had cleared everything out of my system, because my bowels didn't bother me during the entire race.

The 10 a.m. start works well for people who live in Seattle.  They can get up at a normal hour and drive out  to the race relaxedly. For people like me already staying nearby, it was just a painfully late start. But at least there was time to hang out, eat breakfast (freshly made pancakes), and even attend to my personal hygiene, which is so often neglected at these long events. Really wanted to start my race with clean teeth. Oral-B / Braun should sponsor me.


Map of the course, a big clockwise loop:

First half:

Race started up. Lots of guys darted ahead. I could tell quickly that I was still recovering from Headlands, because even holding back, I felt that lingering fatigue that normal mortals still feel three weeks after a 100-miler.

I met Trey Barnes, who had entered the race with a bunch of his ultrarunning buddies from North Carolina, although he had just moved to the South Bay (of San Francisco). Goat Rock (mile 3.7) came sooner than we expected; passing it was marked by Glenn Tachiyama shooting a picture of every runner. Here's me, with Trey right behind.

On the descent to the 2nd aid station, Cole Butte (mile 10.8), I managed to trip forward, scraping both my knees and muddying my hands and bottle, but fortunately no serious injury.  Hours later I would put duct tape over the right knee after repeatedly irritating it passing through stretches of tall grass.

At mile 16, the course was supposed to go onto the Pacific Crest Trail. I had stashed a copy of the course directions from the runner's manual available online for each section in all my drop bags. The directions said that we would get on the trail in one mile after the Blowout Mountain (mile 15) aid station.

So naturally, running alone, I was really nervous when after more than 1.5 miles, I still hadn't gotten to the described junction. It turned out that point is almost two miles after the aid station. This would not be the last time the directions confused or misled me.

During miles 20's and 30's, a pattern emerged. Runner caught up up with me, we talked for a variable amount of time, then the runner left me behind.

As an example, I chatted a few miles with James Varner, of Rainshadow Running, which holds several ultras in the Washington state.  He demonstrated to me that the ubiquitous plant on the trail that I initially thought might be poison oak (I saw very little of it during the race, in contrast the races in California)-- mulberries.  I wasn't as adept as he in picking the berries without breaking my stride.

James pre-race. He had to drop at 80 miles, but showed a great positive attitude post-race.

Another Glenn Tachiyama photo, me coming into Stampede Pass (mile 33)

At Stampede Pass there were lots of people, with a big cheer for each runner as s/he came in-- it felt like a big party. I stupidly had left needed batteries into my drop bag there, and didn't want to carry them almost 30 miles until I would need them later. Luckily, as I left the aid station I found Catra Corbett and Jessica Devine, crewing for Andy Kumeda, and they told me they could stash the batteries into my drop bag at Hyak (mile 53). Thanks!

Another runner to catch up with me, talk a while and then leave me behind, was 100-mile rookie Samantha Sigle from Boulder. She would maintain her lead in the women's race to win in 23:18, 18th overall).

photo maybe after she won Steamboat 50.
I talked to her briefly post-race, but was too disorganized and whacked out to take my own.

Unfortunately, the section from Olallie Meadows (mile 47) to Hyak (mile 53) involving ropes and the the long Snoqualmie Tunnel had to be rerouted this year.  No more tunnel-- I just missed it, my only view would be on my finisher's buckle.

RD Charlie Crissman replaced it with a climb to the top of a ski lift, followed by a harrowing, technical descent, a black diamond run ("most difficult" for those that don't ski or snowboard), largely along the lines of another lift. On the ascent I was talking with a guy who knew the founding race director well, but this was his first time doing the race himself. We must have been enough into our conversation, that we forgot to read some question left near the ski lift to verify we had done the route that we were supposed to report to a volunteer at the next aid station.

On the descent, several guys whizzed past me--I couldn't attack these very fast partly because I still felt beat up from Headlands, and partly because I'm not that good at steep descents. On the descent I turned on my headlamp for the first time.
Hitting the roads at the bottom, cheers from people living in some of the vacation houses, and several rounds of big and loud fireworks-- way cool!

Third quarter:

Ready to head out, I asked someone to show me which way to go-- and it turned out to be Charlie Crissman, the race director, who walks me out of the tents and points the direction. However, I was mildly out of it and didn't really hear or register what he said. Had I listened better, or simply read the printed directions I was carrying, I would have known that it was a straight shot with no turns, first flat and then up a long hill to the next aid station Keechelus Ridge (mile 60.5). But I didn't, so when I saw a ribboned gate at the entrance of a fireroad to the left, I took it. After going up almost a quarter mile, I came to a house. There were ribbons tied to a gate, so even though it looks like someone's house, I figured I must be on course. After fumbling around someone's property, I finally pulled out the directions and figured out that I screwed up.  Fortunately no one home with a shotgun.

After climbing, it was all downhill to Kachess Lake (mile 68). Then the 5.5 mile stretch nicknamed the "Trail From Hell" that goes along the lake.   On the elevation profile for the course, it appears like a welcome break (the flat part on the right).

After literally bushwhacking through a non-trail stretch of dense forest, I soon encountered a trail completely washed out in places, littered with roots and fallen logs, and quickly learned I had to be very careful if I wanted to prevent injury and finish the race. This didn't stop one guy, apparently familiar with the "trail", and quite coordinated and fearless, who flew by, commenting "God, I LOVE this trail!"

At a more runnable part, I got nervous due to lack of ribbons, and so turned around and went back a quarter to half a mile, until I saw a light approaching. It was Shawn McTaggart, from Renton, whom I had briefly talked to in my last lap or two of McNaughton 150 mile in April. We ended up running a while together for a while until she dropped off, and I had to slog through the trail alone. Luckily two guys came from behind, but weren't going so fast I couldn't keep up. Roch Horton and his pacer armed with this humongous, bright light. I do believe pacing often IS light-muling, but had no qualms about using their lights (ahead of me) to pick up the pace and probably save 10-15 minutes. In the end, it took me 2 hours and 20 minutes to move less than six miles!

It was great finally to get to Mineral Creek aid station (mile 73.9), where this guy, among others, helped me regain my bearings.

Ben Blessing, RD of the Wild Idaho ultras

Last quarter:

At No Name Ridge (mile 81.5), I laid down for several minutes. Just had to sleep. Though not a drop-bag station (the last was Mineral Creek), they said they would deliver anything I left by 1pm, so I left my pack, which was killing my shoulders and neck by making by trapezius muscles increasingly tight. Unfortunately, I decided to keep my jacket tied around my waist, scared it would get cold at the higher elevations, but which I never used. I also brought my headlamp, which I kept on maybe 10 minutes.  I ran a little with Trey Barnes, whom I hadn't seen in almost 65 miles. He had caught up with me while I laid down at No Name.

Trey soaking post-race

The penultimate decade (miles 80-90) included the Needles, these steep hills.  I think there were supposedly four of them, but I lost count. A deemphasis on switchbacks-- it felt like I was running straight up and down them. This late in a race, they were brutal. At some places, slipping could result in sliding down the side of a mountain.

This awesome couple hiked in (hiked up) to man the Thorpe Mountain aid station (mile 84). They told me I then had to go up and down a summit, remembering to grab some sort of ticket to give them as proof I went all the way up.

At first I wasn't too excited about this, but the views of Mount Rainier and other peaks, popping out of the clouds, like island in a white sea, as the sun came up, were stunning.

And Glenn Tachiyama was there, shooting amazing photos of all of us (including the two above and below). Well worth all the running we'd done.

Perhaps one of the only places on the course (a big non-repeating loop) where you could see runners going in opposite directions.

There were probably two more Needles to climb before the next aid station, French Cabin (mile 89) before a long, sustained 6.5 mile descent the last aid station. During this time, I was looking at my watch and noticed that I could finish under 24 hours, but should probably push the pace. It's always hard to tell how hard you need to push to make some time goal on these trail races you've never run before. I started hammering it and felt pretty good, coming into the last aid station with an hour to run less than five flat miles, which I enthusiastically told the volunteers there. Only after I leave did I switch my watch from the stopwatch mode to time of day, and noticed that it was past 9:35 a.m. giving me 25 minutes to run 5 miles.  Oops (those volunteers must have thought I was crazy).  Apparently I accidentally stopped my stopwatch for at least half an hour.

Having lost any hope of finishing under an hour, and figuring I was in 20-somethingth place, it then became difficult to try to sustain any sort of extra painful pace. It was even getting warm. I figured it was better to save what was left of my legs so I could get up and down the stairs when I returned home-- my kids' preschool was closed the week leading to Labor Day, and my parents were in town, so this was a real concern. A legitimate excuse to be a little lazy, relatively speaking.

I finished in 24th overall, 24:28:08.

Garmin Forerunner map of the last 20 miles of the race (minus the last mile or two after the batteries ran out)


My flight didn't leave until that evening, so plenty of time to socialize and eat. I even drove back to the river to soak a bit, got a massage, and tried to nap on a cot.

An Unexpected Race After the Race

Fellow Bay Area runner Chihping Fu finished shortly after 3pm and I start talking to him and Hao Liu. Soon, I figured I should go-- "guys I've gotta leave soon, and make it back to the airport." Hao tells me  "I hope you can make it back on time with the large traffic backup."

What?  Traffic backup?!  Bye, guys!  I bolted. As fast as possible. As it turned out there was a huge accident pile-up on I-90 about 8 miles to the west, so the highway was barely moving. It took me about an hour to get past the accident, which was being cleared by then, during which I told my very unhappy wife that I might not make my flight and be back home that night, and could you get the exact policy on Virgin Airlines for missed flight? Aided by my portable Garmin Nüvi, which showed my estimated time of arrival at the Enterprise Rental Car, I drove an unspecified velocity faster than I legally should and would have, until I knew that not only could I make my flight, but avoid the car return late fee, and even, get this, fill up the gas tank to save even a few more hard-earned bucks.  So though I missed the 24 hour cutoff, I made all the rest, which was more important to maintain domestic tranquility.

Thanks, Hao, you saved me (barely)!

Next time I bug out earlier...

An epic race, that I'll have to retry with fresher legs.  I missed 2010, since Angeles Crest was held the same last weekend of August.  This is a maybe for 2011 depending on the results of at least one lottery.

Thanks to the RD and all the volunteers for helping to put on such an amazing experience!


Gretchen said...

Awesome! I want to run that one some day.

Good luck at HURT. I hope you are feeling better!!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Thanks, Gretchen. I wasn't that much better physically. And now post-HURT physically more beat up than any race I've done in my life. However, despite this, and the fact my need to hydrate and eat woke me up early in the middle of the night, I feel much better!

trailturtle said...

Nice report, incredibly detailed. Thanks for putting in the effort to post this stuff, even late. Sorry I missed you at the PCTR awards dinner last Sunday. I won my age group (Trail distance) but could not arrange to be there--I am in PA. I have been following your blog for quite awhile now, commenting now and then (I did put a comment somewhere that my husband is an ER Doc, too and we both have medical degrees, so we find it amazing that you do what you do). I made the previous year's awards in WC, but you weren't there --:(. One of these days we'll meet if I keep doing enough of these trail races. I recently started a blog after admiring all of the effort you and others put into this and realizing the value of recording one's efforts in life (I also have yours listed/linked). Anyway, I enjoy trail running but have not yet made it to the ultra distance; don't know if my body will let me...but I am keeping the possibility open. For now, I can only run ultra's vicariously through people like you, so...keep writing---even late!
I visit CA 3-5 times per yr now and try to get in 1-2 events each time. Anyway, good luck with all of your mega-mileage. Run well, Ann

Anonymous said...

Nice race report! GI issues are always a fear of mine during/before a race. That's a nice buckle!

Ben Lauer said...


I'm no super runner like you guys, but thanks for the blog. It makes great inspiration!

Suzanad said...

Hi, I'm a new reader. I came across your blog looking into what 100mile race buckles look like!

I LOVED this race report! You are AWESOME, and I am super impressed you could recall the race in such detail :)

Keep being awesome! :D

Frank Lieberman said...

Sounds great we just did Jed smith two weeks ago what great weather. You might want to look at Franks Blog not much there yet but we are trying. We put your link on our site. We are from northern Cal also it Pilot Hill right on the Western States Trail.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

THANKS everyone for all the nice comments! It's also good to know that people will read my reports even if I'm way late posting them. Will add reciprocal links to your blogs (if you told me about them).

Hope to meet some of you out there!

CookRunBeer said...

hey there ultra doc. I haven't read this post yet but not to worry I will have time tonight. I had a question and I remembered you run quite a few races a year and thought of you for advice. on the 19th of feb I ran a 50k PR of 6:20 last year was 8:03 at same race. Now I have registered for one on march 26th and i am experienceing a different feeling during training. I am thinking it's all mental due to the fact i have been running faster than before sylamore in feb, so it couldn't be that i am not getting the same quality work outs. So my ?, should I be focusing less on the standard format of a build and long runs, and just keep a balance of logging hours per week and taking care to heel rather than force the long runs? I feel confident in my ability for the
26th. I just havent ran races so close together but it is a goal of mine so i figured i am in way getter shape now so, no time like the present. I want to get the most out of my self on race day.
thank you in advance and sorry for the long comment.

Thomas Bussiere said...

Great report and buckle. Love the pics.

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Sorry I didn't respond to you in time-- I think maybe I didn't understand it fully when I first read it, then got busy and distracted. I'm going to try to respond to comments more promptly-- a New Year's resolution, half a year late.

I hope your run in March went well.

I think once you have the ultra distance down, you don't have to build up so much, just allow recovery and maintain. I'm not a high-mileage kind of guy, but I run enough year round that I don't fully decondition.