Cascade Crest 100
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.