Never having run a race longer than 50 miles or having never ran 100 miles in a race before I'd have to admit there is a great deal of anxiety attached to it the week before the race. Now sitting under 48 hours away from the ten a.m. start time Saturday I'm filled with an increasing level of "what the hell did I do" feeling. In less than two days I'm going to be standing at the start line with 149 other people about to cross a line and not return for over 24 hours. We are going to essentially run five miles, hike Camelback Mountain and then repeat that pace for 100 miles. Wow. Oh, and it cost me $200, plane tickets, rental car, hotel room, time off work and countless hours of training, gels, power bars, gas, and make up dinners for always being gone on weekends from my wife.
So far...totally worth it.
The "journey" (I'm going full cliche here) to running a 100 mile race is nothing to scoff at. The training itself is nearly all self motivation. The number of mornings getting up at 3-4am to beat the miserable heat (yes...miserable. Don't bother trying to say you like it. I don't believe you.) that Phoenix produces on a daily basis. Starting a run in the dark and it's 92 degrees? What the heck is that? After dinner runs when it's 104? Yippee. Yet with the heat comes the trips to avoid it. Long runs on the Mogollon Rim, Mt. Lemmon, R2R2R, Kendrick Mountain, up and down and around Mt. Humphries in 75 degree weather. Visiting and experiencing areas I would not have had a chance to visit had I not been doing this training. I've put in some really quality runs, really beat myself up on solo runs in the heat and really pushed myself through some tough runs. I think despite my "low" mileage I'm ready, equipped and feel pretty confident going into this run.
Yet I'm borderline freaking out.
Well...that's probably an overstatement as I rarely, if ever, freak out. More accurately, I'm deathly afraid something is going to happen to my left ankle which has been bothering me for over a month. Is it phantom pain or is it going to be a major issue come mile 70? I can deal with pain, discomfort (please not chaffing...please) but it's tough to run down mountains without a 2nd ankle. I try to keep perspective though and think back to my first ultra, the Mountain Mist 50k in Huntsville, Alabama. Three days before the race I stood up from my office chair and tweaked my right knee in the standard, "Tragic stand up from office chair knee injury" that everyone experiences. My right knee felt loose, weak and I was extremely nervous going into the race thinking i had a meniscus tear and how similar this felt to my first knee surgery. Five miles into it the feeling disappeared, never even remembered it was there and I finished with a solid time on an extremely technical trail. So that memory keeps things fresh in my mind and with a firm grip on perspective. I'm confident it will hold up but it if doesn't? I blame Obama.
So what's the Cascade Crest 100 all about? Well...it's a loop course. 75% single track with 25% forest road/dirt road/old jeep road. The course works its way up and over a lot of ridge lines, lots of sweet single track on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and some monster climbs. 20,454 feet of climbing give or take. There is a "Trail from Hell" around mile 65-70 that is overgrown, blow down trees that takes most runners 2-3 hours to cover the five hours. In the dark. The Cardiac Needles after miles 70 are crazy steep inclines one right after another and then the highest point of the whole race, Thorp Mountain, is at mile 88...only 5,900 feet but still...mile 88?
I'm looking forward to every last inch of it. I've put in so much climbing for training I'm nervous any straight flat areas I'm going to struggle because I'm only trained for up's and down's. Luckily there are no flat areas...so I'm able to concentrate on hammering sections of the course cracked out on caffeine and music. Yes. I said cracked out.
Caffeine induced, music fueled highs. It's why I love running. Fastest 20 minute stretches of my runs guaranteed. How? Easy. Just pop a Clif Double Espresso gel and turn on this song (You Tube clip below): Go ahead...press play. Or if you are really impatient just put it to 4:15 and give it a listen. Just know you are missing out on 4:14 of buildup as the caffeine starts flowing through your veins, little by little, as your pace begins to quicken without you even realizing it. Until by the end of the song you've inadvertently just ran two miles, regardless of terrain, in the time it takes Warren Haynes to shred this guitar to pieces. Probably not the best stragedy for a 100 mile race so I plan on saving this for post mile 50. In fact I have a 25 song playlist that my brother (pacer) has as well. Uh huh. We made a playlist, loaded the same list to each of our respective Ipods and plan to slam some caffeinated gels at the same time and press play on our identical playlist's. 25 songs. 4.4 hours worth of music. God Bless America.
Mile 53. Press Play. We'll be done in an hour.
4:15 minutes in. Dave & Warren Haynes?? Bring on the GU!!!!!!!!
I'm reserving this song for emergency use only. In fact, its in "EMERGENCY USE ONLY" on my Ipod. That's what I named it so I don't make any mistakes and accidently play it when I'm not mentally and physically prepared for the thrashing this song can put on a pumped up set of legs. Afterall, its' 23:14 long. It brings you up, breaks you down and then absolutely hammers you to a forced rad line. I don't think it's avoidable. It's just an incredible song and on the right level of single track it makes me want to go 100% all out, full force, reckless abandon. It's why I run. It's why running is fun. It's what people that "hate" running don't understand. There are a couple dozen songs that when they come on I have to change it immediately because I'll go to fast. This one is at the top of the list.
Despite all the planning and the training there are certainly doubts going into the race. Doubts of finishing, holding up, getting blisters, chaffing, bad stomach. Truth is it's very possible ALL of those things WILL happen. I know how to handle each, have experienced each but mostly it's just the finishing that matters most to me. The rest I can endure fairly easily but not finishing would be very disappointing given the last eight months of concentrated training specifically for this race, everyone talking about this race and so many people that would be asking me about "how did you do?" only to have to respond that I didn't make it. I doubt many people would judge me for not finishing as I never would another for the same thing. The sheer act of attempting such a thing is significant enough as a very small percentage of people, despite growing popularity in the sport, ever will. I simply don't like setting out to do something and not completing it.
Without fail the question of what time you want to finish in comes up. There are always time predictions, estimates and goals. I have a number I'd like to hit but that's irrelevant until I know at mile 90 that I can walk this in and still finish. Until that point comes I'm not concerned with time, where I am, what place I'm in or who's ahead of me. It won't be easy as I'm pretty competitive and convince myself that I can run with anyone (usually around 4:48 of the first video...) but in reality I cannot and each of the runners has to accept that they can't. Nor should they try. That's not to say I'm not or others are to capable but trying to run someone else's race is the oldest cliche in running. Run your own race. Everything else will fall into place. And so I will.
In 40 hours and 47 minutes...