Physical Challenges, Yearly Focus

Race Report: Cascade Crest 100 2021

On August 28th, 2021 DNFd the Cascade Crest 100. I dropped out at mile 35 after 9.5 hours and 8k ft of climbing. Here is the race report

Goals

Results

  1. Don’t die – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Enjoy being outside – ACCOMPLISHED
  3. Finish the course (even if after the allowed time)
  4. Officially finish (under the official 34 hour cutoff)
  5. Finish in under 30 hours
  6. Top 50% of finishers
  7. Finish in under 27 hours
  8. Top 25% of finishers
  9. Finish in under 24 hours (my bucket list item for this year)

Tactics

  1. Be in last place at the start – ACCOMPLISHED
  2. Don’t exceed 140bpm in the first 26 miles – Failed
  3. No mile in the first 50 faster than 8 minute pace – ACCOMPLISHED
  4. 5 minutes or less at aid stations and stops – don’t stop moving – ACCOMPLISHED
  5. No single mile (and mid-mile stopping) is >30 minutes – ACCOMPLISHED
  6. 400 calories an hour for the first 50 miles
  7. Negative split – last 51 miles faster than the first 51
  8. Sub-10 minute miles on the flats around Hyak
  9. 300 calories an hour after Hyak
  10. Average 130bpm+ overall
  11. Sub-10s for the final flat 4 miles

Successes

What am I proud of from race day?

  • I started the race despite lots of reasons to not show up at all
  • Avoided re-rolling my recently injured ankle
  • Was comfortable being in last place for a long time

Failures

What areas could I improve for future races?

  • Had too much gear in drop bags. Course support was much better than I had planned on
  • I should have requested to move to the 7am start wave given events before the race

Thankfuls

What that was out of my control am I thankful for?

  • Volunteers that cleared the PCT trail
  • A ride back to my car

Frustrations

What that was out of my control do I wish had happened differently?

  • COVID
  • Temperature – it got up into the 80s which isn’t typical for late August in Seattle

Race Recap

This will be a tough race recap to write as I’m disappointed in the result. I’m going to push through it though as there are a lot of good things to take away here. Although sometimes other people read these race reports, I mainly write them for me. They serve as a digital memory for me and I often re-read them when preparing for a future race. I don’t want to miss out on a chance to learn.

Start

There are a lot more logistics to a longer run. You have drop bags to get places, pacers and crew around the start line, updates on trail conditions, etc. Unlike a short race where most people just follow the person in front of them, a 100 mile race with 100 people means many people will be out of sight of most others and need to know a few things themselves.

Despite all of the extra stuff, the start was pretty uneventful. They said go and people took off running. I stayed in the very back jogging slowly.

We went through the tunnel and I was doing my darnedest to go as slow as I could.

The course takes a sharp turn up a steep section called the ‘Ropes Course’ where the race crew has tied a number of large ropes you can use to help pull you up the very steep and sandy hill that connects two trails. Hitting this I immediately broke my heart rate target goals, cracking into the 150s despite walking at a crawl pace.

PCT

Once we got up to Olallie Meadows, I continued to take it nice and slow, lightly jogging the downs and walking the ups and anything technical. Here is me happy as a clam walking along.

I found a few other people going slow and was talking to them, generally having a good time.

I crossed the Stampede pass aid station, at mile 18, at 4.5 hours. I was feeling easy and this was ~24-25 hour pace depending on how you account for the fact that we got a lot of climbing done early. At this point I was feeling great except for the nagging feeling that I was working too hard already. This kind of effort shouldn’t have been very difficult, but I was averaging 142 BPM, which I know I can’t sustain for 100 miles. I should have been in the low 130s.

This is part of the trickiness of my situation. It is hard to know how much of that higher heart rate is that I wasn’t in great mountain shape, that it was warm, that I wasn’t in great overall shape due to regression the last month, etc What I can take away is that I need to be averaging 135 or less for the first quarter of the race in any future races, even if that means walking.

As we passed through Snowshoe Butte I found perfect running conditions. Rockless single track with a slight downhill. That was the type of terrain I let my legs go on a bit and I was still feeling good at this point. The day had cracked 80* though and I should have been more aware of that. I think I let myself get a bit dehydrated here, which wouldn’t make things easy later on.

Turnaround

Usually this course is a big loop but this year, due to fire conditions and trail permits, the course had an out-and-back and then finished the normal loop. I was under the impression the turnaround was at ~26 miles, which is how far along the normal course that particular aid station normally is.

With that in mind, when I passed people who had already turned around, I was calculating about how far ahead of me they were based off of that and figuring out how soon it would be until I caught some of the slower runners from the first start wave. I was ready for some company. I was also planning how I ate and drank a bit based on the aid station’s location, knowing I had a buffet coming up. As I passed 26.5 miles I wondered if maybe by GPS was off. Then we crossed 27 miles. At 28 miles I was realizing I was a lot farther behind the pack than I had thought. Finally at 28.4 miles I got to the aid station.

It is worth stating that 2 miles isn’t a lot on a short run. My record is under 10 minutes. But at 100 mile pace that was 45 minutes of me thinking I was almost at the aid station and/or being worried my course info was wrong, I was lost, etc. It shouldn’t impact you that much but it does.

As I got to the aid station I was in pretty rough shape. Some combination of the heat, being dehydrated, some stomach issues and being a bit out of sorts due to my being misinformed about the distance. Nonetheless I ate a few avocado wraps, took some Tums, drank a bunch of ice water and turned around. I wasn’t feeling great, but knew that I needed to get moving again.

Uphill to Snowshoe Butte

The next section was a harder one, a big uphill back from the turnaround. I was now ~4:30 which was the hottest part of the day, but getting closer to the cool down. I walked this hill, putting up 20 and 22 minute miles. In retrospect for miles that climbed 500 and 370 ft, that isn’t a horrible pace, but it didn’t feel great at the time.

The next two miles were flat and downhill and I didn’t have it in me to run. I put up two 19s and at that point realized my race was probably coming to an end.

Dropping Out

As a recap, it was 6:30pm as I was approaching mile 35, having covered 8k ft of elevation in 9.5 hours. That put me roughly on pace for a 27 hour finish. (In retrospect, 27 hours would have put me in 25th place of 110 finishers, which is not what it felt like at the time.) I had a great first 26 miles but the last few were a struggle.

I was in last place in the whole event and not gaining much ground most on everyone ahead of me as far as I could tell. I wasn’t technically the slowest on the course, I had just started in the final wave, two hours after the main wave and four after the early wave, so being pretty slow from that wave put me in the very back.

I had an hour and a half to make it 3 miles to the first cutoff point at Stampede pass. From there I had 7 hours to make it 19 more miles to the Hyak cutoff point at 3am. Next up was 16 more miles with a cutoff at 7am at Lake Kachess.  At my earlier average of 15 minute miles, I wouldn’t have had an issue with the cutoffs. At my new, slower pace, I did some quick head math and realized I was going to miss the cutoff at Lake Kachess at 7am the next morning after going non-stop all night unless I could find a way to pickup the pace.

In these long events, that can happen. You sometimes hit a bad spot, take some extra time at an aid station, walk a bit and recover enough to start moving well again.

The opposite can also happen though, you can slow down. I felt this was the much more likely case. I was in rough shape overall; my quads were hurting, my stomach was burpy, I was a bit dehydrated (or at least low on electrolytes), I had a big blister forming on my big toe and I had a minor ankle roll on my left leg. Those things are all mostly to be expected and things I should have pushed through though, but their combination made me pretty sure I wasn’t going to find a fresh wind. Perhaps I was underestimating myself.

All of those ailments are what I would call expected and minor though. What was really worrying me was that my breathing was really short and shallow. If you ever done a hard workout of any sort you know the feeling of your muscles being sore for a few days afterwards. I had never experienced that in my lungs until I ran an Ironman – with anything shorter, my lungs were often a limiter to me running faster, but they weren’t sore the day after. With longer races, I can feel the damage to the lungs as it takes a few days to heal. In this case, only 35 miles in at a very reasonable pace, I was feeling that type of pain/tightness.

I was approaching an aid station where the crew was packing up and about to drive their trucks down the gravel forest roads back to the finish line, where my van was. There were more chances to drop out later but getting home also required an hour drive back that I knew I wouldn’t attempt if I was feeling too tired. So it was looking like I could drop out in the next two aid stations and make it home for a night of sleep in my bed or I would be running into the dark and eventually getting disqualified and sleeping in my van. I’d then get the joy of a miserable Sunday after a sleepless night, possibly get sick again, and perhaps exacerbate the conditions that were lingering from COVID, while still not having finished the race.

The slim sliver of hope that I’d finish was mostly dashed by the fact that I couldn’t push my body the way I wanted to since I wasn’t yet fully recovered.

Why I Dropped Out

Faced with the above decisions you have a choice. You decide to dig deep and push through it or you decide you’ve met your limits. I have always found myself in the former camp.

I decided to drop out and I’ve been chewing on this decision for a month, wrestling with the idea of whether I am getting softer or if that was the right call. In the end I feel pretty good chalking the whole thing up to COIVD. I had literally gotten over COVID enough to run just 10 days prior, putting up runs of 2, 4 and 6 miles before race day and I had now done over 30 miles in a day.

The specific COVID related circumstances that led to my dropping out were twofold. First, the fact that my lungs were starting to hurt and second, I had gone in prepared to drop out if things got bad. I had told myself I would just try it out one mile at a time and see how it went. That was probably the start of the end. A 100 mile race is so tough that if you leave yourself any room to drop out, you will. The only way to finish is to tell yourself that you will finish no matter what, no matter how hard or ugly it gets. I had gone in with an excuse (rightfully so) and so I used it. In the end it is really hard for me to know if I was actually in such bad shape that I needed to drop out or if it was just getting bad enough that I latched onto that, but regardless, I know me, and had I not been in bed with COVID two weeks prior, I would have finished that race.

This just wasn’t the year I expected and it is mostly due to some bad luck circumstances. All I can do is take away some learnings and look towards next season.

Post Race

I hung out at the aid station for a bit eating as the volunteers got packed up. Eventually we walked a bit to the cars and drove down the forest roads an hour or so to the fire station where the race finished. Once there I ate some more, had a coke so I wouldn’t fall asleep, and drove back home. I believe I was in bed by 10:30pm.

The next day the whole family drove back up to the finish to collect my drop bags and had a family day at the lake. I was still in pretty rough shape. We left the lake and watched runners still finishing, some 30-32 hours after their start, as the temperatures in Easton approached 90 degrees. At that point I was feeling a lot better about the fact that I wasn’t still running, I could barely walk.

In Retrospect

I can’t help but think that there are some slight variations in situations where I still would have finished the race. Sure, not getting COVID two weeks before is the obvious one, but there are a few more that don’t even require that to change.

Perhaps things would have been different if I had known, or admitted to, the condition I was really in before race day. Had I done that, I might have paced more conservatively and started with the 7am wave. That would have meant I would have had more slower people to run with, which would have helped reduce the load on my lungs up to that point. It also would have meant I was farther along by the time evening was setting in, which might have changed my calculus about whether to drop out. Being 35 miles in meant I had to complete another 2x of what I had done so far that day. If I had gotten a bit farther, even slowly, and found some more speed in the flats near Olallie Meadow, perhaps I would been feeling good enough at mile 56 to keep it going. Finally, I would have then been amongst a bunch of other runner at that point, which would have felt much better than being alone in the back. I would have had people to pace with, perhaps even some of the folks I know.

What is interesting is that while I’m pretty sure a 7am start would have meant me going farther. I’m not sure if me going farther would have been for the best. That is the part that is so hard. Perhaps I made it to mile 70 and then got stomped by the big climbs on the back half. Perhaps I finished the race, but did some more permanent damage to my lungs.

I also wonder if things would have been different had I been in better shape before I got sick. Part of the trouble with this year is that I got a really late start on my training and was already on a barely-enough plan. Had started training at the end of 2020 and/or trained harder, perhaps I would have been in slightly better shape. The difference would be that even in my reduced shape, I might have been well fast enough to not have to flirt with the cutoff. Or fast enough that at the pace I was at, I wouldn’t have gotten into a bad state. My main limiter, remember came down to the time cutoff. Had there not been a time limit, I could have just rested a bit and kept going slowly.

The whole thing is a bit foreign to me. Being near a cutoff is a long way from what I’m used to where good races usually involve me winning and bad races still find me in the top 5%. Here I was flirting with being disqualified.

What is Next?

In the week following the race I debated a comeback. Could I get back into shape by October and do a self-supported run before the snow set in? Could I pick back up where I dropped out and finish the final 67 miles? Should I sign up for a 100 miler somewhere warm in December so I could get my bucket list item done this year?

I’ve decided not to do anything on the race course before the snow comes since I have a 24 hour event planned for October and need to focus on that. A big mountain 100 miler would take me too long to recover from.

I’m still open to the idea of something in December. The trouble is finding an equivalent course (and the whole getting in shape thing) somewhere that won’t be snow covered.

More likely I’ll leave that for a future year. I learned a lot about actually training for trail races this year and have a better idea of how to approach it next year if I decide to attempt this again.

Part of me debates if I even want to do 100 mile mountain runs again though. The event is just brutal, spanning multiple days and I’m not in a place in life where I can easily catch back on the sleep. I’m also not in a place where I can train enough to go faster, like some of the runners who were able to finish this race in 18-21 hours.

Maybe I should stick to shorter events of 18 hours and less. That will let me get full nights of sleep. There are plenty of good 50ks, 50 milers and 100ks that I could do in those times.

I also don’t know if I’m a fan of organized trail races. I’m not sure they’re that much better than a self-supported run. The main benefits of the organized race are having drop bags, food along the way and company. Running on my own give me a lot of flexibility and is a lot less work (and money) to plan for.

You might just find me having fun on the PNWs premier 20-50 mile loops as I see fit.

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