In previous posts I have highlighted the deer family, reptiles, amphibians, and my favorite plants of the Issy Alps. In this post I will highlight the extensive list of mammals in the state of Washington. There are a total of 141 different species of mammals …
This was perhaps the most important race of my running career because it took place at a time in my life when my world was crumbing around me. I spent most of the month of August at my mother’s bedside while her brain was overtaken by Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. It is a rapidly progressing neurodegenerative disease that has no cure and is always fatal. My dad and I tried our best to be there for her while simultaneously trying to cope with the earth-shattering news.
I took an indefinite leave from work and returned to Tiffin, Ohio without much thought or care of whether or not I would be competing at Cascade Crest at the end of the month. My father and I remained at my mother’s side until she succumbed to the disease on August 25th after battling hard for many weeks. At that time, my father and I decided competing in a 100-mile race would be a great coping mechanism, so we left Tiffin and arrived back in Issaquah in the early morning of August 27th, ready for Cascade Crest on the 28th.
Prior to the race, I had been working with Strive, using their EMG compression shorts to track muscle activation with my training. Therefore, on race day, data analyst Zach Shelly joined the crew to help swap out data collection pucks. Additionally, I had the dream team of Apryle and my dad, Walt, back together to crew for me at the race. This was the first time that they had collaborated since my second Leadville 100 back in 2013.
Things got under way at 9AM on August 28th and the Cascade Crest race directors could not have ordered up a nicer day for the event. It was sunny with temperatures in the mid 50s to start the run. Due to DNR closures, the race started from Hyak this year. Therefore, we had to run westward through the 2.3-mile tunnel on the Palouse to Cascades trail initially. Followed by the infamous ascent up the fixed ropes to the Pacific Crest Trail.
We had a strong group of the three consisting of Brandon Bennefield, Paul Weeks, and myself for the first several miles. We moved at a comfortable but solid pace and essentially ran right through the first aid station at Ollalie Meadows (5.2). When we arrived at Mountain Meadows at 11.1, Brandon and I took a little longer to resupply while Paul took off on his own. Shortly before Stampede aid station, Brandon was having some nagging pains and slowed down a little leaving me to pace set on my own. I took a few minutes to refill my hydration pack at Stampede Pass (18.1) and took stock of my nutrition (after 3:03 I had consumed 6 gels).
The miles between Stampede Pass and Tacoma Pass were fairly uneventful. I did see the biggest Coyote I had ever seen dart off into the brush off the trail. Also the aid station crew at Snowshoe Butte was very friendly and helpful. I passed by friends Christophe Fiessinger and Nick Pembroke and chatted for a short time with each of them. I reached Tacoma Pass (28.4) in 4:54 and was excited to see Apryle, dad, and Zach.
The midway point allowed me to see where my competitors were as well, Paul was nearly 10 minutes ahead and Jace Hinsely, Gary Robbins, and Brandon Bennefield came into the aid station as I was leaving. Apryle reminded me at the aid station to run my own race, but I could not help myself from running a little scared. I had some good conversations with various runners on the way back to Hyak but for the most part I was alone. Since I was alone, on several occasions my mind drifted to my mothers passing, causing me to burst into tears.
Jace and I traded second place a few times after Snowshoe Butte aid station, and we ran together and chatted for several miles as we passed through Stampede Pass (38.7) and Mountain Meadows (45.7) aid stations together. He seemed to be quicker at the descents, while I was a little faster on the uphill sections. Since it is almost all downhill following Mountain Meadows, Jace dropped me en route to Ollalie Meadows aid station.
I was maintaining my two gels per hour pace once I reached Ollalie Meadows at mile 51.6. I had been moving for 9:37 and consumed 20 gels and was still not feeling nauseous. Additionally, I had consumed many more calories in tailwind, and real aid station foods as well. The weather was still perfect as I began the descent to the fixed ropes. The sun was low in the western sky and casting a pretty glow on Ollalie Meadows.
I slowly picked my way down the ropes and then transitioned to a moderate jog through the dark tunnel back to the Hyak aid station. I arrived at Ollalie Meadows (56.7) in 10:27 and I saw tons of friends. Apryle, dad, and Zach were there filling up my pack and prepping me up for the back half of the course. I saw Jason Himstedt (pacing Nick Pembroke), David Huss, John Maxwell (pacing Gary Robbins), Trisha Stiedl, and Adam Braddock. It was an electric and exciting atmosphere. Unfortunately, my pacer Rob Irr was unable to make it, but Adam Braddock stepped in and paced me for the stretch to Kachess Lake (where he would later begin pacing Nick Pembroke).
I spent some time getting headlamps and chargers together and then Adam and I hit the road. Paul Weeks had already taken off up the road and we chased down Jace as we paralleled I90. The paved road along I90 gave way to a stone road that continued to gradually ascend. I forwent the headlamp for a long time because the stone forest road was easy to follow. Adam played some upbeat pop and hip-hop music and we enjoyed some good conversation and miles together.
Unfortunately, during this whole stretch I became very nauseous and was unable to keep up on my gel consumption. Despite doing two per hour for the first ten hours, I had now only taken one since leaving Hyak aid station. I knew I needed to eat, but I also knew that I could not throw up because that would dehydrate me and put me at even more of a deficit. We reached Keechelus Ridge aid station at mile 64.8 in 12:06 and I took a few minutes to eat some potato soap, broth, and other real food items. I left the aid station eating some ice, which despite being cold really helped my nausea.
Adam and I cruised down the forest road for the next 6 miles to the Lake Kachess aid station (71.6). I took in some more real food at Lake Kachess while dad and Zach prepped up my hydration pack for the next leg of the journey. Somehow or another Paul Weeks came into this aid station after me, and I have no idea how, because neither Adam nor I remembered passing him. Therefore, as Apryle and I left the aid station, I was in virtual second place.
I decided to start using my trekking poles at this stage in the race, which I believe was a good choice. Upon reaching the entrance to the for the trail from hell, we saw Jace running towards us, he had gone the wrong way, now putting me in virtual first place in the race. This the first time in my hundred mile career that I had ever led a hundred mile race this late into game. Apryle and I wanted to keep it mild paced over the tricky terrain, so we did not chase when Jace took off up the trail.
Overall I thought the trail from hell stretch was the most fun I had ever had in a hundred mile race. I was feeling good, Apryle was by my side, weather was perfect, and I was second place. The trail was challenging relative to the forest road, but I thought it was fairly well maintained and quite pleasant. It felt like a midnight trail run date, complete with drinking water from a cool mountain stream under the light of the moon and stars.
We reached Mineral Creek aid station (77.4) in 15:17, meaning that I completed the difficult six-mile segment in about 1:43. I had some quesadilla, chips, and other real foods and then began the gradual ascent up the forest road to No Name Ridge. Apryle relinquished her pacing duties to Troy Haeseler here and he was committed to dragging me into the finish. I really struggled up the forest road to No Name Ridge and Troy did his best to keep me moving quickly. It was good to see Brandon Bennefield again as he passed me on the climb to No Name. Troy and I tried to keep up with him and his pacer, but my legs were not having it, so I dropped to third place overall.
I finally reached No Name Ridge aid station at mile 84 (17:09) and I sat and ate some real food again because I was still too nauseous to do more than one per hour. If I had to pinpoint the start of my decline at Cascade Crest, this would be it. I crawled along the cardiac needles; it was amazing that my body was still making forward progress considering how slow my legs were churning. My eyes were glazing over and I simply wanted to collapse. Troy was unrelentingly positive and stoked to be on the trail, which helped me. I was elated to see the Thorp Mountain aid station at mile 88.8, however, I was not excited that my aid station food order was taken before the climb and I had to return to take a rest and eat. I kept moving forward and topped out on Thorp Mountain in 18:56. I slowly descended and ate a cheese quesadilla and was reminded that their were three more needles and a pass standing between me and a long descent to the finish.
I trudged over the final three needles before making the arduous dusty descent to French Cabin aid station at mile 91.6 (20:12). I sat for a while and ate, because my calorie intake over the needles was dangerously low. James Varner was psyching me up for the final miles and the aid station crew whipped up the best-grilled cheese I have ever had in a race (in fact I ran to the finish with it in a pocket and finished I for a snack on August 30th).
Once Troy and I made it over the final pass, it was all smooth (but also rocky and rooty) sailing to the finish. Troy alerted me to a headlamp on the final needle, so I knew if I wanted to maintain my podium position, I was going to have to run for it. We cruised down the Kachess Ridge trail as the sun was coming up over the horizon. Once it was light enough to stow the headlamp and see the ground, I increased the pace even more. Somehow I managed to keep my feet dry through Silver Creek area, which meant I made it the entire race without getting my feet wet (a trail hundred miler first).
I did not eat from French Cabin aid station to Silver Creek aid station at mile 98.3. But once I arrived (21:48), I ate one last gel and started my kick to the finish. Troy and I passed through some local trails and then crossed I90 as we made our way into Easton. We shared some laughs and Troy kept kidding me that their was someone on my heals. I reached the fire station finish line at mile 102, finishing Cascade Crest in a time of 22:22:45. It was my first hundred-mile podium position and I was elated.
There are so many people to thank for this race and I will try to include everyone. Thank you to Zach Shelly and the Strive team, for providing me with race gear and the tools to measure my muscle activity throughout this race and my entire summer of the training. Thank you to all the Cascade Crest race family for putting on such an amazing event. Thank you to all the aid station volunteers for making it possible to complete an event of this magnitude. Thank you to Brandon, Paul, Jace, Christophe, and Nick for sharing some miles with me during the race. Thank to Adam Braddock for stepping in last minute to help pace me, you have been there for me so many times and you are an amazing person. Thank you to Troy Haeseler for your friendship and pacing me through the toughest part of the race and getting me to the finish. Thank you to dad for crewing for me once again and being there for me through the toughest of times. Thank you to Apryle for crewing and pacing and supporting me through everything.
Most of all I want to dedicate this race to my mother, the strongest person that I know. She went well before her time and I know there was so much more that she would have accomplished. Mom taught me the meaning of hard work and dedication through day-to-day example. You will be greatly missed and I know you helped me through this race. I love you mom and miss you everyday.
The Gulch Countdown was one of my last additions to this year’s race calendar because of COVID restrictions. Although the race typically takes place in January, it was moved to June 19th this year. Because I signed up in May, my race calendar already included Vashon Island 50K on June 5th and the Run for Shoes 50K on June 10th. However, it was the Gulch Countdown, and I had to sign up, even if it did overload my racing schedule.
Since I had already done two 50K races in the previous two weeks, I was hoping that my legs would tolerate the distance well. According to ultrasignup.com, John Maxwell and Will Jones were signed up, meaning that the podium from the previous two race editions would be back. Therefore, I knew that I would have to bring my A game.
Even though I received a text from John indicating that he would not be racing this year a few days prior, I knew that there would still be plenty of competition. In fact, prior to the start of the race, Abram Elwell told me that he thought the course record would be beaten this year.
I caught a ride up to Mukilteo with Stephane and Aurélien and set up my personal aid station in Adam and Josie Braddock’s driveway, where the start/finish was located. The race got underway at 8:30AM under partly sunny skies with temperatures in the mid 50s. Having done the race two previous times, I was very confident in my strategy this year, which was to flirt with the cutoff times for as long as possible. Therefore as the tempo increased, I would continue to feel stronger with each lap.
In previous years I have tried to stay close to the cutoff times, but lacked the patience to carry it through the entire race. This year, however, I put in a concerted effort and I think I executed the plan well, because I generally ran each lap slightly faster than the one prior. It was actually difficult on the body to move at such a pedestrian pace early because my legs were used to turning over quicker on a day-to-day basis. However, I think it paid off near the end of the race allowing me to gradually increase the pace.
I ran many of the early laps with several different people including Stephane Frion, Ryan McIrvin, Abram Elwell, and many others. Because I was able to select the direction for the first 8 laps I elected to run the clockwise direction. Personally I believe the clockwise direction is a little easier because the route starts with a steep descent and then finishes with a gradual ascent to the finish. Because of the flatter and more gradual finish of the loop I was able to make up time more easily if needed.
As the race progressed I did a few laps with Caleb Babcock and we ratcheted the pace up a little. Nearing the latter part of the race the field size decreased to a strong group of four including: Will Jones, Bruce Ronek, James Wenzel, and myself. However, I knew if I wanted to win the race, I had to go it alone, so in the final three loops, I left it all on the course.
By lap 16, the field had been whittled down to Will Jones and myself. I managed to set the clockwise record on the 16th lap with a time of 15:43. On the 17th lap I ran a 15:58, which I was even happier with because I felt the counterclockwise direction was more difficult. Then shortly before the 18th lap, Will Jones said that he did not intend to race another lap so I debated starting the loop. However, after everyone urged me to go, I took off, but the seconds were costly and I did not make the cutoff in the final lap.
I ended the day with a Gulch record of 39.21 miles. I was excited to once again be the last person standing after John Maxwell beat me in 2020. So I am now 2/3 for Gulch Countdown races. Overall it was another great event thanks to Adam, Josie, Nick, Meghan, Ted, and Abram. Thanks again to Apryle for crewing me through the final laps!
4,373 vertical feet
7:14:18 Total Time
6:33:51 Moving Time
Following the Badger Mountain 50 miler I took a lengthy hiatus from racing, and by lengthy I mean one month… I thought I would try a shorter trail race for once, and the Cougar Mountain 10.8 miler was a logical choice. This is a Seattle Classic hosted by the Seattle Running Club with my good friend Michael Havrda coordinating logistics. So far in my time racing on Cougar Mountain I won the marathon (2016) and the 50K (2017). Additionally, Apryle took second in the marathon in 2019. So it was finally time to break the long drought of Cougar Mountain racing and toe the line from Sky Country trailhead once again.
The race starts from the Sky Country trailhead (May 8th) and explores most of central Cougar Mountain in a series of loops that undulate through the heart of the park. The trail is well groomed with crushed gravel or packed dirt and the occasional boardwalk. The dense canopy consists mostly of fir, cedar, hemlock, alder, and maple. The forest floor is carpeted with salal, Oregon grape, devils club, and sword fern.
The opening miles include a loop around Klondike Swamp, Harvey Manning, Cougar Pass, and Tibbetts Marsh trails en route to the Clay Pit area. I started off fairly quick, trying to stick on the tail end of the 5-mile racers who started at the same time. The route starts fairly mild; with nothing more than a 300 foot climb in the first 2.8 miles (20:15) to the Clay Pit. I was not aware at the time, but I passed the eventual second and third place runners, Ritvik Mishra and Erik Hoeg (both of whom I started running with later in the summer). I ramped up the pace as I descended East Fork trail to Fred’s Railroad trail.
The real fun began with the climb to Wilderness Peak via Shy Bear and Wilderness Peak trail. I like to think of climbing as my strong suite and I put some more time into my chasers on the ascent. I reached the peak at mile 4.8 in 34:46. After reaching the courses highpoint (1560 feet), I began the switch backing descent of Wilderness Cliffs. I do not find descending to be very cardiovascularly taxing, but that is probably because I am a weak technical downhill runner. In just one mile I lost 750 vertical feet and probably some time out of my lead.
At the Wilderness Creek trail junction, I began climbing back up to the Shy Bear junction, which marked mile 6.7 (53:46). I knew at this point that I would not be setting any course records, but I was motivated to keep a quick tempo to hold on for the win. I took the Longview Peak trail to the summit spur and then descended the Deceiver trail. My mind started to drift and I was losing focus as I transitioned back onto the Shy Bear trail, but when I reached Fred’s Railroad at mile 8.7 (1:10:37) I was ready to start my finishing kick. I closed out the final 1.3 miles in 8:17, which was a circuitous route back to Sky Country via Bypass, Cave Hole, and Nike Horse trails.
My final time was 1:18:54, good enough for first overall. Although the race is billed at 10.8 miles, my watch said 10 miles with 1,926 vertical feet. Overall, I was happy with my effort, considering it was my first short trail race in a very long time. It was fun to test my legs on the trails at a quicker pace and I hope to incorporate more short trail races in the future. Thanks to all the race directors and volunteers for putting on an excellent event.
Shortly after the springtails and isopods arrived for Chester the Crested Gecko’s bioactive vivarium, I loaded up Bella the Blue Headed Pionus and Darwin the Green Cheek Conure and we drove up to the small town of Ellisforde midway between Tonasket and Oroville, where Apryle …