Cascade Crest 100 Report from Judy Carluccio

Cascade Crest 100 Mile Endurance Run
Easton, WA 8.23.08

Soon after returning from running the HURT 100K in January, I started thinking about running a 100 miler this summer.  Western States was my first 100 miler in 2007 and I was itching to do another.  There are so many beautiful mountain races that I would love to complete, but I decided on the Cascade Crest Classic (CCC).  It was a “local” race for me, with the start a 225 mile drive from my home in Eastern Washington. The course looking challenging and beautiful and I mailed my entry as soon as it was available February 1.  I’m glad I made the decision early as the race filled up within 2 weeks.  My husband Rob agreed to pace me for the last 32 miles.

I felt very fortunate to just get to the starting line on August 23.  At the end of March, I was in a car accident and luckily walked away with a few broken ribs, a broken index finger and some facial lacerations.  My car didn’t survive, but there was no damage to my legs and I just had to deal with a couple of weeks of discomfort.  Three weeks later, I gingerly ran a local 50K and then ran the Miwok 100K the first weekend of May.  I was very happy with my time at Miwok and it is always so good to meet up with my HURT friends – Cheryl, Gil, Steve and Marian.

Soon after returning from Miwok, I learned that my good friend Don was diagnosed with cancer and would be unable to run the Sulphur Springs 100 at the end of May.   

Then Western States got canceled and Marian from Hawaii and Robert from Spokane could not race. Debbie competes in the Coeur d’Alene Ironman every June, but was unable to this year because her daughter was hit by a car, which required her to undergo multiple surgeries. I knew that I would finish my race given the chance just to start.

I had met some other Spokane area ultra runners during a 37 mile winter road race here in early March. I was excited, as it is always easier to have people to do long runs with. I started training heavily in June. I did some long runs back to back on weekends.  My highest mileage week was maybe 70 miles once, but I also cross-trained at the gym taking spin classes, climbing on the awful stair machine and lifting weights a couple of times a week. In July, I ran another 37 mile hilly road race in Spokane and then a trail 50K the next weekend in Oakland. I felt strong in both races and started to feel very confident in my training. My last long run was the Elkhorn 50 Miler in Montana. I ran that entire race with my friend Dennis. It was only three weeks before Cascade Crest, so I wanted to run conservatively and not blow myself out or get injured and just have fun. It was very difficult with 11,000 feet of gain and loss and extremely rocky, running through cow poo with multiple stream crossings. Our time was 13:27. I doubled that and added 2 hours for the extra distance and time for the crazy parts of Cascade Crest and thought briefly to myself “that would put me at 29 hours”.

We drove out to Cle Elum on Friday afternoon before the race. It was a good place to stay, as it was an easy 12 mile ride to the start of the race. We had dinner with my friend David from Spokane. David had run Cascade Crest previously and was a great source of information on the course. During our training runs, he would describe how tough the course was, but also how wonderful.

The race does not start until 10 AM so that the front runners also have to run through the night. On race morning, I arrived at the start at the Easton fire station to drop off my four drop bags and check in. My heart was racing. I was a little worried about Rob running with me for 32 miles. He is very strong and I knew I would not be moving fast by the time he reached me, but his longest run this summer was only about 14 miles. I was also a little nervous about being alone for most of the night. I saw Rob Lahoe from Hawaii and we chatted about maybe running together. At some point, I turned around and there was Cheryl. I was confused. She was standing there with Becky, wife of defending Cascade Crest champ Jamie Gifford, but why was she here?????

Cheryl had flown in from Hawaii to help pace me!  No wonder my Rob was so calm that morning.  I would have a pacer from Olallie Meadows, mile 47 to the end. Wow.  Cheryl is such a wonderful friend and I was so excited to have her on the trail with me.

My goal was just to finish under the 32 time limit. I knew that if I ran smart, it would finish. I had to finish. My fantasy goal was to break 30 hours. And so the fun began. Rob L. and I started together just jogging along. With in a short time, we started our first of many major climbs. The trail was lovely and only spoiled
by a couple of guys on motorized dirt bikes. Having them pass us was not a big deal, but they stopped several times and it was annoying to have to stop on the up to pass them or let them by. They also were saying things like “I thought this was a run, not a walk” and “what do you get if you win”. Luckily, that was the only unpleasant thing that happened for me the entire race.

The first tough climb is up to Goat Peak on beautiful single track with amazing views of the Cascades. We also were treated to great sightings of Mt. Rainier, covered in snow and glowing. Seeing such amazing sights energized me and made the climb seem easy. We lucked out with a beautiful, sunny day.

After the first climb, we started on some gravel roads, climbing and descending for miles at a time. I regretted my decision to take my smaller water bottles and not the larger ones and it was a bit hot and the humidity was a bit higher than I am used to. After a while we started on the Pacific Crest trail. It was so lovely and an extremely pleasant running surface only marred by having to stop to get over some downed trees, never easy when you have short legs.

Before I knew it, I came to the Tacoma Pass aid station at mile 23, the first point where I could see Rob and Cheryl. I mixed another bottle of Clip 2, ate some PB & J and told them I’d see them in 10 miles. I hadn’t peed in a few hours, but felt good and kept drinking and taking S-Caps every 90 minutes.

This race allows dogs to be out on the course and I ran a few miles with Guinness a lovely Rotweiler/Austrailian Shepard mix. That was so much fun, as was chatting with her owner. I tried to calculate the time in my head and figured that I was running a 27 hour pace which meant I could break 30 hours, given that I would slow down with darkness and the technical sections yet to come.

At Stampede Pass, mile 33, I took a bottle of Amino, ate some more solid food and downed a Mocha Frappucino. Cheryl and Rob told me that they had a great lunch and were going out to dinner. I would just have to wait for the next night to have a civilized meal. I picked up my lights, as it would be dark before I would reach my next drop bag.

I remember the next section being rolling hills, after a long climb. At some point, I started talking to Alan and we started running together.  He was great company and we were excited that we would reach the next aid station before dark. That was a real mental boost.  He didn’t have a pacer, so I welcomed him to hang with me for as long as he wanted.  At mile 41, we ate some ravioli and off we went into the darkness. The trail had been a bit overgrown but not ridiculous.  After a while, there were some slippery muddy sections and I even went down at a point.  There was even some snow on the side of the course, left over from the long, brutal winter that this part of the country had suffered. But all was good. I had company in the dark of night, the stars and crescent moon were amazing and the weather was holding. Finally, I had the urge to pee again after not having to go for several hours just before Olallie Meadows aid station. I was excited to have Rob join us at mile 47.  I put on a long sleeve shirt for the rest of the night.

After what seemed like just a few minutes, we reached the ‘Ropes’ section of the course. There was no trail. You had to descend down a very steep hill, through trees, with only ropes to guide you and prevent you from just sliding down.  Having gloves on here really helped.  At the end of each rope was a glow stick to lead you to the next one. This was a very strange section, but it was fairly short and done with quickly. Next, was the ‘Tunnel’. I knew that the tunnel was about 2.5 miles long. It was fun for a few minutes, very cool in there. Then, Rob, Alan and I all were waiting for it to be over.  Even though we were running, it seemed to take a long time. There was nothing hard or scary about it, it just wasn’t as pleasant as being under the stars.

From the tunnel, there was a little pavement, then onto the Hyak aid station.  It was Christmas there with lights and snowmen in the middle of the night and I ate some pizza. Off we went to the long climb on a gravel road that went of for miles.  It wasn’t steep, but the gravel felt hard on the feet after so many miles on soft, lovely trails.

Rob was fresh and it was good to have him.  Alan and I fed off his energy.  Just before the top of the climb was another small aid station, a quick snack and off we went.    

Running downhill on the gravel road was not more pleasant for me than the climb. A few runners flew by us, and that was OK. I knew that we still had many hard miles ahead of us and, although I probably could have moved faster, I just stayed at a very comfortable pace.

Next was the Kachess Lake aid station and mile 68. Cheryl was there waiting to take over pacing duties. I ate a grilled cheese sandwich, gave a quick hug and kiss to Rob knowing I would see him again at mile 95 and told him to try to get some sleep. Alan was quick at the aid station also, and off we went with Cheryl into the Enchanted Forest and the Trail from Hell. Someone was kind enough to put a half buried skeleton and some skulls at the beginning of the trail.  I wasn’t worried. I had good company in Alan and Cheryl.   She is tough as nails on technical trails and who doesn’t get rattled by them.  I was thinking back to last December when I was lucky enough to do a 50 mile training running with Cheryl on the HURT course during fantastic conditions; fierce winds, driving rain, trees blowing down all around us. This would be a piece of cake compared to that.

As soon as we started, Cheryl was wonderfully chatty, catching me up on all the news from Hawaii.   It was so good to be with her – two girlfriends catching up in person after several months of just emails.  Poor Alan had to listen to all of our chatter.

The trail wasn’t all that bad.  The problem was that you just couldn’t move fast.  Alan took the lead.  Several times, we had to shimmy on our backs under trees as there was no way for us to go over them. One point, there we were clutching on to the side of the hill while our feet were on a very narrow edge the width of our feet with a steep drop-off.  It wasn’t scary, just slow. The trail is on the edge of a lake and it was lovely to see the pink sunrise on the water. There was a rather large boat anchored in the middle of this small lake and that struck us as odd.

The next aid station was Mineral Creek.  We had drop bags there and we changed our socks and shoes as there were wet from a deep stream crossing and into short-sleeved shirts.  I had a cheese quesidilla and felt find.  Twenty-seven miles to go.  We started climbing and within a few minutes I was overcome with nausea.  This was a first for, as I have never had stomach problems on the trail.  I stopped and really didn’t want to puke.   Like Jerry Seinfeld, I have vomit-free streak of many years.  I had a ginger candy in my pack, and within minutes the nausea stopped.    

We climbed and climbed again on a gravel road. It was supposed to be 6 miles. It felt like 10. Cheryl even commented on this, so I knew it wasn’t just fatigue. It wasn’t too steep, just never ending. I felt as if hot spots were developing on my inner heels. Cheryl commented that it probably because my feet were landing on the same areas repeatedly from the road.

At the next aid station, I looked at my heels and there were no blisters. I put some patches on them which I carried in my pack.  While I was doing this, the aid station people asked if I wanted a crepe with Nutella. Nutella????  Nutella is one of my most favorite food items on this planet and I accepted graciously. I knew it would get me through the Needles which came next.

I had heard that the Needles were three extremely steep climbs.  I enjoyed the immensely.  It was great to be back on beautiful single track.  The views and the yellow and purple wildflowers were gorgeous.  The next aid station was at the bottom of Thorpe Mt.  It’s a ½ mile climb to the top where you have to pick a post-it note and bring it back to the aid station as proof of your summit.  The top of Thorpe was one of the prettiest places I had ever been – a great view of Mt Rainier and all of the Cascades and a lovely lake.  Wow.  Glenn Tachiyama was taking glorious photos of us. Thorpe_mt_topjudy
I went back down to the aid station at which the wonderful volunteers packed and hiked all of the supplies in and picked up a handful of snacks.

A sign said we only had two more steep climbs.  More single track to the next aid station. I was energized from the climb up Thorpe and was moving very well. I had pulled away from Alan at that point. I was anxious and eager to finish.  At mile 88, the aid station had bacon sandwiches. That wasn’t appealing to me, but they had bottles of Starbuchs Mocha Frappucino…..yummy..  I downed one and off we went.   

Cheryl and I had a great time on that part of the trail.  It was mostly downhill, but a bit technical with plenty of stream crossings. I tried not to whine about it and just moved as quickly as possible. A couple of runners passed me as I’m not quick on technical trails. I didn’t care – we were getting to the end and Rob would be at mile 95 to bring me home.

It was so good to see Rob and to know I was almost done. Becky was there with Jamie, who was relaxing under a tree having finished the race more than six hours earlier. I filled my bottles and off we jogged.  Another runner and her pacer passed us and I looked at my watch – I thought I could be close to 29 hours so I started moving. I was running as hard as I could and Rob was amazed and said that I was running at a pretty good clip.  I wanted to be done and I felt euphoric.  We got to the fire station in Easton and I crossed the finish line in 29:06.  I received a gorgeous belt buckle and a beautiful print by Leah Jurek that had my overall place on it. Lovely mementos of a great race.  Race Director Charlie Crissman did a fabulous job and the aid stations and volunteers were wonderful.

I trained hard for this race, but my wonderful day wouldn’t have been so special with all the people that helped me. My friend Don who inspired me with his courage the past few months. My ultra friends in Spokane who made me laugh while forcing me to run harder than I usually like to or else be left in the dust. Cheryl, who surprisingly flew across the Pacific to run with me and to Jamie and Becky for providing lodging and transportation for her. My wonderful husband Rob who encourages me and supports
me, cooks dinner for me when I come home from long runs and paces me even though it’s not his favorite thing to be on trails in the middle of the night moving at a snail’s pace.

Although there are many other 100 milers that I’d love to experience, I would go back and run the Cascade Crest Classic again. It was that good. Ccc_seattle_and_bc_005