Classic Beauty Meets Blood and Guts
Monday, September 04 2006 @ 06:22 AM PDT
Contributed by: mday
My quadriceps grew numb with pain as I struggled to descend 4000 feet over a dusty 7 mile trail to the last aid station. I had just run, walked, and crawled 10 miles of jaw-dropping trail over the knife-edge crest of the Cascade Mountains in Washington, a section called the Cardiac Needles. Awed by what I had just experienced, I stumbled and then trotted into the Silver Creek aid station at mile 95, and then cruised the last five miles to finish the Cascade Crest Classic.
The CCC100 is a difficult mountain ultra. With 20,400 feet of climb, it has more uphill than Massanuttan Western States, and Leadville, but less than Angeles Crest, Wasatch, and Hardrock. Finishing times for the CCC100 are similar to Angeles Crest and Massanuttan. But with a 32-hour limit with two cutoffs, the CCC100 is not a forgiving race. In addition to all the climbing, there are two sections where you must bushwack through the woods for approximately 1 1/2 miles. There is a butt-sliding descent using fixed ropes and a 2 1/2 run through an abandoned railroad tunnel.
The crown jewel of the race is the Cardiac Needles (aka the No Name Ridge trail) miles 81-89 of the race. Here you have commanding views of the Cascade Mountains and Mt. Ranier. This section has five steep climbs (if you hold your arms out in front you will touch the trail) and several areas with sheer drops of thousands of feet off your left as you head to Thorpe Mountain.
Its not all blood and guts, however. There are also miles of easy running over the soft single-track over the Pacific Crest Trail. Here you will run through sections there were clear-cut decades ago and are now bursting with blackberries and wildflowers. Here also are many groves of old-growth redwoods. These sections are disarmingly quiet. The giant trees absorb sound and also retain the heat of the day well into the early morning hours. This far north (almost to Canada) the alpine zone is as low as 4000 feet. The CCC100 course tops out at 6000 feet making the race accesible to lowlanders.
Having DNF'd in 2005 due to a frightening asthma attack, I ran a conservative race. My goal was to finish under 30 hours. I was wary of spending that much time on my feet and of all those miles of climbing. There are 4000 feet of climb in the first six miles. I started in the middle of the pack and was completely relaxed on the climb up to goat peak. This was a time to conserve energy - there is a steeper, longer climb starting at mile 68.
Blowout Mountain (mile 16) is where I succumbed to asthma in 2005. That year I sat for 2 hours trying to get my breathing and heart rate under control until the sweeps came through. I set out with the sweeps, made the first cutoff at Stampede Pass but dropped there when the asthma returned. This year I came through Blowout totally relaxed, in 40th place (out of 68), and breathing well. I passed several people over the sweet PCT section from Blowout to Tacoma Pass.
Reading the milage and distance to next aid.
At Tacoma I met my crew for the first time. I had a rookie crew comprised of our two eldest daughters--Ashley and Jessica. Ashley lives in the Seattle-Tacoma area with her Green Beret husband Brandon Morrissey (stationed at Ft. Lewis). Jessica was visiting Ashley en route to her freshman year at Brigham Young University. During the race I spent a lot of time at crew aid stations, probably more than 1 1/2 hours. I kept the crew instructions simple and made it a point to spend some time describing the race to my daughters. I spent a lot of time taking care of my feet--washing them, and massaging my left foot, which has a Morton's Nueroma.
With the benefit of hindsight I clearly spent far too much time changing gear and dawdling at aid stations. But at the time I was concerned about the unknown trail ahead of me and how my feet would hold up. As long as I was well ahead of the cutoffs i was extra cautious and methodical. Now I know the trail and I know how my body responded. I can return in 2007 and race hard to see how far I can drop my time.
On the way to Stampede I passed a few more runners. I also gained the benefit of people ahead of me who dropped at stampede and I left that aid station in approximately 30th position. On the way to Meadow Mountain I tripped an fell into a muddy spring that went across the trail. At Meadow Mountain I made a mistake by forgetting to switch my headlamp for my big LED handheld light. The PCT between Meadow Mountain is technical, with lots of rocky sections where the trail traverses outcroppings on mountainsides. After spraining my ankle I slowed significantly on this section but held my own positionally.
Ollalie meadows is a beautiful part of the course and as I came into the meadow the view opened up and the nighttime sky was spectacular. Leaving Ollalie I encountered the "ropes." This is the place where you descend through the bush using fixed ropes. At one point I fell and slid on my butt. My shorts acted as a scoop and collected dirt as I slid down the slope. Fortunately the dirt fell out of my shorts as soon as I stood up and there was no lasting damage.
The whole point of the ropes is to drop down the mountainside to connect the PCT with the John Wayne trail, which is built on reclaimed railroad track. As you start on the John Wayne trail you quickly arrive at the tunnel. I was aprehensive about the tunnel but it proved to be a pleasant part of the course. i ran well on the soft gravelly tread. The air inside the tunnel was cool and moist which was refreshing after breathing trail dust all day. The tunnel is very slightly uphill but runs as though it was flat. There are only three flat stretches on the course and it would be more than 40 miles to the next one.
I came into Hyack (54 miles) in 24th place. Here I spent 25 minutes with my duaghters. I changed shoes and then changed back because I didn't like the way the new shoes felt. I layed down to stretch my back. My daughters told me stories about what they had seen during the day. When three runners came in in quick succession I decided I had better leave.
The next section is mostly dirt road and ciimbs way up to Katchess ridge. I came in to the Katchess ridge aid station, spent some time with my crew, and left just as three runners came in together. I was looking forward to the next section, which is 8 miles of downhill running to the Katchess Lake campground. I made excellent time running downhill in a relaxed stride for 7 miles until suddenly my legs turned into concrete and I started walking. At the Katchess aid station I sat in the crew vehicle changing flashlight batteries, taking care of my feet, and putting some cold weather gear into my pack. The three runners came and went, in addition to a couple of others. I had just lost five positions!
I would catch two glimpses of the three runners during the rest of the race. They went on to finish 1/2 hour ahead of me. In the mean time I quickly passed two runners on the Trail From Hell and made it to Mineral Creek at 7 am. The Trail From Hell is a very rugged trace of a trail along the edge of Katchess Lake. There are many obstacles, including old-growth timber downed across the trail. You can't just step over these giants, some of whom are more than 5 feet across. In this section you do spend a lot of time scrambling up and down over rocks and trees, but is is a beautiful part of the course.
After leaving Mineral Creek I made the long climb up to No Name Ridge. My relaxed approach to the race paid off as I climbed well and ran parts of this section, which presents the longest sustained climb of the course.
In no time I found myself looking back over my shoulder at spectacularly rugged peaks and miles of mountain wildernees. Soon I was climbing the Needles. I became totally absorbed in the spectacular scenery and slowly became euphoric as I realized I would finish the race.
As I crossed the finish line in 29:21 as 24th overall I had a huge smile on my face. The race was a completely positive experience for me. I had no serioius problems and felt totally relaxed and lucid the entire race. My recovery has gone equally well as I racked up 25 miles of easy running the week after finishing.
Special thanks to RD Marcus Dennis and Aid Station Caption John Perch. For a long time it was not certain there would be a CCC100 in 2006. Longtime RD Randy Gherke was no longer able put the race on. Marcus and John worked hard in the very short time they had to prepare for this year's race everthing went perfect from my point of view. I'm sure there were some problems but I didn't see them. The trail was marked well, the aid was great, and the start and finish had plenty of food and shade.
I plan to return to the CCC100 next year and every year as long as I can. This is a special race for me, as it will be for anyone who finishes it. It is challenging, beautiful, relaxing. This year I learned that I am tougher than I thought I was. I learned that you can't do enough hill training. I learned that I have a faster race in me, and my training for 2007 started the moment I finished.
Photos: Jessica Day Glen Tachiyama Lisa Bliss