One hundred miles.
All at once.
Something just two years ago I would have never believed people actually attempted, much less succeeded in I've now somehow done it. What was once thought to be impossible has now become possible.
I've run 100 miles.
Running one hundred miles, running any new distance, has always been a mission of finding my limits. Finding out if I can handle the rigors of the training, follow through with the goal of the distance and actually complete it. I’ve never had any grand illusions of entering a race to actually win it or “do well” but instead I’ve always been more interested in experiencing the people, running a new trail and the conversations afterwards as you sit and think back on what are always long, eventful days spent outdoors.
One hundred miles in the Cascades would really be no different. In fact, over the course of one hundred miles in those mountains I’m left trying to even figure out what to say about something so extensive, so powerful and something so significant as running your first one hundred mile race.
This race I would not be running alone though. The trip to the mountain range a little over an hour east of Seattle would be taken with fellow Wednesday Morning Running Club members Matt Schmitt, Honey Albrecht and Jody Chase. All of which at one point or another I’ve done training runs leading up to this race. With varying degrees of experience and speed we didn’t have any idea of how long we would run together on the course. It would turn out to be nearly the entirety of the race.
Certainly I could give the mile by mile recap of how the race went, what I ate and so on but that would take longer to write than the race took to run. So here are the highlights:
The Man behind the Curtain
Charlie congratulating me after the finish.
Race Director Charlie Crissman has an approach to race directing that I can really appreciate. Not that I have much to compare it to…with this being my only 100 mile race. But in general he’s just upfront, honest and genuine about how he wants this race to be and how he wants everyone to experience it. The race is called a “throwback ultra” being almost “Mom and Pop” and one for the racers. To me it just seemed right, just as I thought it would be and exactly how I think I would handle it had I been in his shoes.
I loved his pre-race speech that said, “This is a tough course. If it’s just not your day out there don’t forget that nobody cares if you finished or not. You don’t get anything but this buckle. There’s nothing to be ashamed of by not finishing.” It was funny at the time hearing the race director essentially telling you this all means nothing and there is no fame and glory for finishing but certainly holds a level of truth that rang true all day. It really doesn’t matter if you finish or not and nobody will ever judge you for not finishing. Most people will never even attempt something this difficult in their lives, making it to the start line is more than many will ever attempt. Charlie was out on the course all day and night. I saw him several times and at the finish he seemed genuinely happy to see me finish and give me a big handshake with my buckle. He went back and announced that it was my first hundred and his enthusiasm was really heartfelt. Just has an aura of a great man, the epitomy of what many ultrarunners I’ve met have been like.
Honey in the first 20 miles with Rainier in the background
The roads are definitely a downer, at least to me. A necessary evil in order to connect some of these trails. You start with two miles of dirt road to connect to the big climb up Goat Peak. Then at the top you head down on a dirt road. This leads to some great trails that connect with over 30 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail that essentially takes you all the way into mile 53, Hyak Aid Station.
It ends there for a while as you pick up your pacer to head out on 2.3 miles of pavement that connects to over 7 miles of uphill on a dirt road. In the dark. This is promptly followed by 7 miles of downhill on dirt road. So all the poor pacers start off their 47 miles with 15 on a road. Nothing like coming into Hyak talking about how great the trails were back there only to start a four hour trip on dirt roads after waiting over twelve hours to run.
Mt. Rainier from the top of Thorpe Mountain, highest point on the course.
The Course is breathtaking. So many people say, “How in the world could you ever run 100 miles?! That’s like driving to Tucson!” If people could get past their memories (horrors) of running on pavement alongside speeding cars while jumping over bags of McDonalds trash and roadkill skeletons and traded that in for ridgeline single track surrounded by hundred foot pines that open up to hundred mile views with a snowcapped Mt. Rainer in the distance? I’m sure they would have a new perspective on running in general.
The Cascade Crest course is a very mountainous course following a loop around Kachess Lake topping out around 5,900 feet on Mt. Thorpe. There is over 20,000 feet of total climbing which if you are a Phoenix native it is about the equivalent of running five miles then hiking Camelback Mountain and then repeating that 20 more times. Lot’s of climbing is an understatement. It’s about 70% single track through the forests. And when I say single track I mean some of the most beautiful trail you’ve ever seen. The trail scouts ridge lines, powers down forest trails, climbs cliffs, and screams down switchbacks. It’s covered in pine needles almost everywhere, rarely technical and when it is it’s full of roots, rocks and trails you can’t help but run fast on.
It has a rope section leading down to the Hyak Tunnel, a 2 mile long dark, wet, creepy tunnel that leads you into the halfway point of the race. It's a part of the race that adds a lot of personality to the race and one that up until the week of the race we were skipping. So glad we were able to experience it.
Liz & Honey in between "Needles"
After the downhill roads you are quickly left wishing there was more road as at mile 68 you begin the "Trail from Hell." A five mile stretch of wretched trail that is overgrown, beat down with massive trees and precarious up's and down's all hovering narrowly over a lake some hundred feet below. All at 3am after running for nearly 70 miles. Tired. Cranky. Exhausted. Stiff. It's dark. You're hungry. It's a hard stretch. A one point about two miles in (an hour...) I was stumbling because I was falling asleep. Noah and I had separated from the others, Jody taking off up front and Honey taking it slow behind us. I was so tired just plodding ahead I thought to myself, "I should just close my eyes for a while...just a few steps..." Only to fall immediately, look to my right and realize if I did really fall I'd be in the lake in 10 seconds. Double Espresso gel was ingested immediately.
The sun started to come up at the end of the Trail from Hell and we reach the aid station at sun up. It's a depressing sight of exhausted runners, volunteers and Jody and I push on immediately to get started on the two miles of climbing on this dirt road. Exciting. Noah say's he's going to catch up.
In probably the most tired stretch for me, mentally and physically, I really struggled on this climb but knowing that my wife Jen was going to be waiting at the top of the hill I at least had a goal. We hadn't seen our wives since we left Hyak over 20 miles and 7 hours ago and it was my new motivation to get up the hill. We moved upwards and occasionally I'd look back to see if anyone was coming up behind us. At first nobody was there but after a few minutes I saw a person wearing all red. Thinking nothing of it I turned back around, head down and kept my legs moving forward. Perpetual forward motion.
Over and over I'd look back and see this person coming closer and closer yet i couldn't tell why it was so strange. It just seemed really red and blue and really tall. I wasn't sure if I was hallucinating and asked Jody. "What the hell is that coming up the hill?" It was getting closer and closer...
A few minutes later I look back again. Closer now I could start to make out the figure. It was someone dressed in a full on "Uncle Sam" outfit. Red, White & Blue from pants, shirt, to hat. The guy even had a pair of white gloves and a fake white beard! I say to Jody, "Look at this guys outfit!" To which she said, "That's your pacer." "No...that's not MY pacer." Oh, yes it is. "Hey Noah!"
So off we went, Jody, myself and Uncle Sam. We'd say hello to the ladies at the top of the hill and move on for another three miles of uphill on the dirt road. The views were amazing the entire way yet I was not interested what so ever. I was on a mission.
Top of Thorpe Mountain-photo by Glenn Tachiyama www.pbase.com
After No Name Ridge Aid Station (mimosa's!) we moved into the last 20 miles of the race. This meant not only the highest part of the course with Mount Thorpe but the Cardiac Needles. A series of steep, merciless inclines that I'm convinced were physically placed there to psychologically break the racers. They were not long, I doubt any of the four or five of them were even a quarter mile long but they were steep and they were tough. Especially with 80+ miles on your legs. After the first few you are at Mt. Thorpe, another mind blow where you are at the aid station but need to ascend the mountain, about a 20 minute climb, obtain a piece of paper and then return back down to continue on with the course. At this point though who cares about another 500 feet of climbing? Head down, get going. The views from the top of Thorpe made it more than worth it. Crystal clear views in all directions. Incredible.
Thorpe was the last we'd see of Jody as she moved on ahead of us as we were going up and she was going down. Matt had taken off from Hyak and was probably an hour ahead of us so that left Honey, Liz (Honey's pacer) and myself and Uncle Sam. It was getting warm and we still had some serious downhill to go. After the last of the murderous Cardiac Needles beyond French Cabin Aid Station we started a loooong downhill. Eleven miles of mostly downhill running. None of which felt good. None of it I wanted to run. Until I started running.
Jody, Matt and I along the PCT.
Taking the lead for the group we came to a river crossing the trail. The trail had opened up to high forest meadows, wildflowers, streams and giant pine trees. Even in my half asleep zombie mood I was looking around in amazement of the beauty surrounding us. At the stream I soaked my feet in the ice cold water and just stood there wiggling my toes. I could have stood there for a long time but of course, we had to keep moving. Tetsuro Ogata, a young Japanese runner who I'd seen off and on again all day came through and dropped to his knees in the water, soaking his knees before saying goodbye and taking off down the trail.
Noah and I followed and I started with the intention of running for a couple minutes and then returning to walking. I was tired, I didn't have any energy to push a few miles yet and just felt like walking. I pushed on and the trail got more and more runnable, more beautiful and I a few minutes later I decided to go a few more minutes before walking. Before long it had been ten minutes of straight running and my pace was picking up. Looking back I couldn't see Honey & Liz but Noah was right on my tail. I kept going knowing just a good twenty minute stretch of steady running can take a big chunk of time off and get us there just that much faster. Next thing I know I'm running so fast Noah is having trouble keeping up and I start worrying that I'm going to burn myself out too soon. We are still a few miles from the last aid station at Silver Creek mile 96 but I keep going. Faster and faster I can't believe I'm moving along like this. Noah is right on my tail despite at this point being about nine miles over his previous longest run ever. Noah and I would absolutely hammer out this five mile stretch before coming to a screeching halt at the top of the ridge where the decent straight into Silver Creek begins. Close to a thousand foot decent with about 3 switchbacks. Brutal abuse on the legs at this point in a race but we pushed on and came into mile 96, the final aid station, to the cheers of our wives and volunteers. A morale victory if there ever was one, with only four miles left I felt I could walk it in if I had to.
Instead we kept running. And not slow either. I was feeling so inexplicably great I just wanted to run after shuffling along for so many long hours through the night. We ran as we crossed the road and along the four wheeler path which had to have been close to a six minute mile before taking a walk break to avoid a colossal meltdown in the heat. Noah had ditched the Uncle Sam outfit at 96 and was running behind me as we crossed the freeway and entered the last mile coming into Easton, WA, home of the Easton Volunteer Fire Department and the finish line.
Oh yeah...full sprint.
With every ultra I've ever done I've sprinted to the finish line. Not an upbeat job but a full on sprint, 100%, every ounce of remaining energy. Going into Cascade Crest I wanted to finish. I didn't want a specific time, placement. I just wanted to finish and I wanted to finish with the ability to sprint through the finish line.
Coming into the little village of Easton you could smell the barn and we went for it. With every inch closer to the finish line you can just feel the energy surging through your body. The last 28 hours of non stop forward motion, the climbing, the downhill, the incessant pounding on your feet....all gone in this one glorious moment as we came across the open field for the one last turn. It's ingrained in my memory, that final turn onto the pavement and then looking up to see the finish line and to hear, "Jeremy Dougherty from Phoenix, Arizona!!" It's something I don't know if I'll ever forget. Crossing under that banner to the cheers of my friends and family and all the new friends you meet along the way. Having Charlie shake my hand and present me with my first 100 Mile belt buckle...simply incredible.
Brother/Pacer/Uncle Same & I at the finish
Well after running for 28 hours and 14 minutes I was excited to be done but surprisingly awake. I was really excited that the race had five gallon buckets of ice cold water to soak your feet and wash off. There was some amazing food at the finish line. Someone handed me a bean & cheese burrito that was so freaking good...wish I was more coherent to go back and get five more.
My wife Jen endured a lot throughout this entire ordeal. Not just this weekend but all those times I woke her up at 4am to go running before work, the Saturday's driving to Flagstaff, Pine or Tucson to run in cooler temperatures not to be home until early evening, or just the times I was beat, tired and worn out from running so much. Her level of patience, understanding and support is incredible and she was so wonderful throughout this entire race. She had never crewed before and didn't know what to expect or do really throughout this race and she did great. She had an awesome supporter in Jeanine, Noah's wife, who was so awesome every time I saw her at the aid stations. She gives you such a lift with her upbeat attitude, you couldn't help but leave aid stations feeling better than when you left. The ladies drove all over the Cascades for me and this with a flat tire, five hour wait from Thrifty and missing me at one aid station. The 100 adventure is never just about the runner but the crews, pacers, and volunteers that are out there just as long, just as tired and just as invested in this thing. It was really special just having them all there.
The Next Day...
Jen & I at the Fish Market in Seattle the next morning.
I ate almost 40 gels throughout the race. Forty. I had about 2 full bananas, six cups of soup/ramen, two full grilled ham & cheese sandwiches, perogies, 300+ oz. of water, countless chips, pretzels, turkey slices, at least 2 full PB&J sandwiches and everything I could find on a table. I had over 20 S-Caps, handfuls of ginger, tums, gummy bears, and oh boy did I slam some Mountain Dew! Yet still...starving and the next morning I rolled out of the hotel bed with one hope in mind. Don't collapse. One foot and then the other my feet held, legs outstretched and I was walking!! I'm not crippled!!!
We walked around downtown Seattle, just Jen and I, had some breakfast overlooking the ocean and the now overcast and rainy skies. Three perfect days of sunshine flooded the streets of Seattle and the trails of the Cascades, all holding up until our race was over before letting loose the rain.
Cascade Crest will always be something I'll think back on for as long as I'm running and then even after that. Such a special day, special accomplishment and shared with such great people. I paced Matt in his first hundred last fall and trained with him a lot this entire year leading up to Cascade. We ran together through 53 before he took off and ran a negative split in the second half. Which was harder than the first half. Incredible. Jody finished her 11th hundred mile race and to see her run so steady, so strong the entire race was really, really impressive. Liz is always a barrel full of laughs and constantly supportive. I feel lucky that I was able to run so much with Honey and Liz throughout this race. Honey pulled us along through the Needles when everyone was tired and burned out. It's impressive to see someone right there in front of you pulling another gear out when ten minutes earlier they looked completely done. More proof that you always have another gear. Always.
Noah had never ran more than a 50k in his life and that was over a year ago. He knocked out 47 miles with a TON of climbing without a bit of complaining all while taking in my crabby, tired, bitchy attitude during that climb up the dirt road. He stayed so positive I felt I needed to lock it up and stop complaining several times. This guy was wearing a full polyester outfit! What am I complaining about?! I'm really proud of him for running so well and so strong. I'm sure I was going too fast for the both of us several times that last stretch but he hung on and stayed right on my butt the entire time which only pushed me harder. It's always more special when I get to run with my brother and experience those places, trails and mountains with him. I'm really glad he made the trip.
Now...on to Hardrock!