I dedicate this report to my Dad, A. Raymond Rogers, who gracefully bowed out of this world on August 27 at age 87. I am grateful I had the chance to tell him about my latest adventure before he passed. I now share it with you.
We last left our intrepid heroine trying her best not to drive her darling bat shit crazy. (He would argue that happened long ago).
Due to client vacations, I was fortunate to have a light work week leading up to the race. Not the best thing for my wallet, but it gave me time to order, and pack, and reorder, and repack (and, um, reorder and repack) my drop bags. I heard horror stories of food running out at Leadville this year, so I packed enough gels and other nummies to feed an army. The aid stations are well stocked with “real” food, but I wanted to be prepared lest something didn’t sound appealing. My goal was to eat at least 100 calories every half an hour, and increase my caffeine intake as the day wore on. (I even packed some Starbucks DoubleShots in my drop bags at mile 33, 53 and 80). I would be running alone in the dark for several hours and did NOT want a repeat of my Rocky Raccoon sleepies. I met my friend Tracy — who was also running the race — for cupcakes the day before, then ate a hearty, yet healthy lunch and dinner. By 8:30 p.m. it was lights out.
While Cascade Crest can arguably be one of the tougher 100s out there, it has a very civilized start time: 10 a.m. Granted, most runners probably don’t get a heck of a lot of sleep the night before, but at least there’s no running around at Oh God Thirty gathering one’s things. Since they serve breakfast before the race, I just had some coffee and a banana at home. We were on the road by 7:30 a.m. for the hour+ drive to Easton.
Despite my trepidation over making cutoffs, I felt really good about the race. Sure, I knew I could have done more training wise, but at least I was showing up to the race healthy and injury-free. After grabbing some fruit, pancakes and sausages I milled about with the the other runners, catching up with people I hadn’t seen for a bit. (I figured the “home court advantage” would serve me well; not only did I know at least a third of the field, I also knew at least 1 person at every aid station. It would be a welcome sight to see familiar faces who would provide me with encouragement and motivation along the way).
At 9 a.m. we gathered for the race briefing where Charlie Crissman formally handed the reigns over to the new race director, Rich White. He provided an update on the course, as well as explained what we could expect in terms of markings (heavily marked at intersections with a few confidence markers thrown in). However, given a major portion of the course would run along the PCT, he said that section wouldn’t be as heavily marked. (This would come in to play for me). We lined up at the start with about 15 minutes to go, and after both the U.S. and Canadian national anthems were sung we were off!
The first couple of miles are on flat gravel roads and it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and go out too fast. I lined up toward the back and kept an easy pace, not worrying about getting passed. My friend Lisa ran with me for just over a mile, then pulled ahead as we started our first killer climb. That’s right — it wasn’t long before the course showed us just how tough it’d be. We’d gain just over 2,600 feet in four miles; while the first half mile is on a gravel road, we’d soon turn on to steep, rocky single track that was rutted by dirt bikes.
I felt really strong on this section during the training run, but the excitement of the race sent my heart rate soaring. I eventually had to step off the trail to allow several runners to pass; I didn’t want to get caught up in trying to keep their pace. Soon after the water-only station at mile 4 my left ear became plugged. I tried holding my nose and blowing air out, to no avail. Soon the dizziness started and my pace slowed considerably. I once again had to pull over to let people pass. I was able to get my ear to clear by bending over, but once I stood up it’d plug up again. I tried not to let it bother me, but in the back of my mind I questioned whether my race would be over even before it had truly begun.
Although I had no idea what could be causing the issue, I decided to up my calorie intake from every 30 minutes to every 20. My ear did clear somewhat as the course descended, only to plug again on the climbs. Just before the Cole Butte aid station at mile 11 I got passed by Brandon, the RD for the Badger Mountain 100 and 4-time finisher of Cascade Crest 100. I asked him if there were any runners behind him and he said no; we were it! I got somewhat deflated since I was once again dead last, but he said that as long as we were able to keep up the pace we were going, we’d make it under cutoff. I used those words to motivate me and kept soldiering on. (Unfortunately Brandon was coming back from injury and ended up DNFing).
In preparation for the race I created a pace chart for a 31-hour finish that provided targets for each of the aid stations. I didn’t want to be a slave to this chart, but figured it would help me gauge my progress. Given my training and past race times, I figured I’d be finishing close to 32 hours, but held out hope that a 31-hour finish was within reason. (UltraSignup, however, did not have much confidence in me. It predicted a 33:07 finish — more than an hour over cutoff!) I had hoped to reach Cole Butte in about 2:45, but ended up coming in dead last in 3:09. However, I got a boost by seeing a familiar face, even though he didn’t know who I was. When I first ran the White River 50 in 2011 another runner obliterated Mt. Rainier in the quintessential Glenn Tachiyama race photo (fortunately my husband has mad Photoshop skillz and was able to recreate it). I figured out who the runner was, and lo and behold he was standing in front of me at Cole Butte offering to fill my water bottles. He was taken by surprise as I ran up to him asking, “Are you Kellen?” I told him the story and we both had a good laugh.
I headed out of the aid station before Brandon and soon caught up to another runner, Leitha, on a downhill portion. She had DNFd Cascade Crest twice and was determined to make the third time a charm. Her husband had been in a car accident the year before and is now a quadriplegic, so she was running in his honor. The downhill was bothering her knee, so I snuck ahead when she stopped to walk. However, she caught up again during the next steep ascent when I once again had an attack of the dizzies. My every 20 minute fueling seemed to be working though, and I knew the trail would soon level off. I prayed my ear issue would resolve itself.
The yogurt-fruit smoothies at the Blowout Mtn. aid station were a treat, and it was great to see even more familiar faces. A few yards out of the aid station I saw a guy stretching his hamstrings on the side of the trail; I asked him if he was doing okay and he said he had to fill up on food at Blowout since he hadn’t eaten since breakfast. This surprised me since Blowout is at roughly mile 15 and we were almost 4 1/2 hours in. However, he assured me he was okay, so I continued on. (He too would end up DNFing).
I thankfully was feeling great as well. My ear issue had resolved itself and I was now on the PCT portion of the trail: nice rolling single track. While I knew things could easily go south again, I simply concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other, continuing my 20-minute fueling breaks. While my darling planned on meeting me at the Stampede Pass aid station at mile 33, I had a feeling I might also see him at Tacoma Pass. Sure enough, I entered the clearing to see his smiling face. Such a great boost! Eric Sach, the station captain, had saved me some turkey & avocado wraps, so I ate a couple then and there while my darling filled my water bottles, then grabbed a couple more for the trail. My darling was concerned to hear I was having a rough go, but I assured him I was doing much better, despite arriving more than a half an hour later than I had hoped.
Although I had not run the section from Tacoma to Stampede Pass during the training runs, I had run it a few years prior. I remembered traversing a clearing with some power lines, then coming across the Stampede Pass aid station shortly after entering the forest again. But what I hadn’t remembered is that there are THREE such clearings! But I finally descended into the station to find my darling waiting for me with my drop bag. The cutoff for this station was 8:30 p.m. and I arrived at 7:36; still a half an hour over where I hoped to be. Since it’d be getting dark soon, I lingered a bit longer, changing into a long-sleeved shirt, getting my lights together and eating some soup. I also downed the DoubleShot which really hit the spot. (I stored it in a small collapsible cooler with an ice pack so it was nice and cold). I also ate a rice ball I made with seasoned seaweed, cucumbers and umeboshi plums, which tasted SOOO good after all the sweet gels I had been consuming.
I was also surprised to see quite a few other runners milling about; turns out I wasn’t as far back as I thought (or perhaps I had simply started making ground). I switched out my bottles for a hydration pack, kissed my darling goodbye and headed on out. The next 15 or so miles would be familiar as I had just run them three weeks prior. However, I also knew the trail would look different in the dark. I made it about a half an hour before I had to turn on my handheld flashlight, then another 20 or so minutes before the headlamp came on (I find the headlamp provides great overall illumination, while the flashlight offers spot illumination). At this point I started leap-frogging with my friend Craig, who was dealing with various niggles and therefore was keeping the pace easy. He wore external speakers, and although I wasn’t familiar with the music he was playing, I welcomed it. (Was reassuring to have someone close by as darkness descended).
Eventually he got ahead, and I was once again running alone. I arrived at the Meadow Mtn. aid station at mile 40 just before 10 p.m. (almost 12 hours in) where my friend Karen fed me Chef Boy-ar-dee ravioli and filled my hydration pack (canned ravioli never tasted so good.) I was still 30 minutes behind my goal pace, but well ahead of any cutoffs. I gulped down the ravioli and was out within about 5 minutes. A few miles out of Meadow Mtn. my flashlight died, and unfortunately I had not packed any batteries (they were all in my drop bag at mile 53; D’OH!) Fortunately my headlamp and long-lasting batteries, but the illumination just wasn’t as strong as with both combined so my pace slowed as I maneuvered around a trail that became much more technical. As I was starting up the climb to Mirror Lake I heard a couple of runners ahead of me, but couldn’t see them. The trail started to become a bushwhack, so I knew I had gone off course. Sure enough, I turned around to see a course marking leading me up. I got off course again about a mile or so past Mirror Lake; I suddenly was running by a bog that I knew wasn’t there during the training run, so I turned around and found the actual trail. (While the PCT is VERY obvious during the day, at night it gets a bit more tricky. Losing my spot illumination didn’t help things). The trail seemed rockier than I had remembered, and I once again thought I had gone off course. Thankfully I finally spotted a PCT blaze, so I knew I was on the right course.
I pulled into the Ollalie aid station at mile 47 just after midnight; by now almost 50 minutes behind my goal. Unfortunately they had no batteries for me, but they DID have some delicious pierogies, which I gobbled down with some yogurt sauce. I only had about 6 miles left to go before I’d hit the Hyak aid station where I could pick up both batteries (or a new flashlight altogether), and more importantly, my darling as a pacer.
During the training run we traversed a narrow, scree-strewn trail before heading onto more single track to the Snoqualmie Pass ski area. However, during the race, the course turned left before the traverse down a steep, rocky jeep road to the “ropes course” — an even steeper bushwhack with fixed ropes to guide us. Halfway down the road I saw a headlamp pointed toward me and heard, “Hi honey!” Now that’s what my darling says, but it didn’t sound like him. I answered, “Hello? Who is that?” He once again says, “Hi honey!” Turns out he was so concerned about me that he ran three miles (including through a tunnel) to meet up with me! I was so happy to see him and was grateful he was behind me as I maneuvered through the ropes course. It wasn’t too terrible, but the last rope was pretty slack and my feet came out from under me, making me land on my butt. No blood, no foul though. The ropes course deposited us onto the flat gravel John Wayne Trail, and eventually into the 2-mile long Hyak Tunnel. I made great time, passing 2-3 more runners (although they would get ahead of me again when I stopped at the fixed bathrooms at the end of the tunnel).
The cutoff for the Hyak aid station was 3 a.m.; I arrived at 2. My friends Linda and Jenny quickly tended to my needs, grabbing my drop bag and getting me some hot soup and food. I also crawled in to one of their tents to change my jog bra as the one I was wearing was soaked with sweat. (A great tip from my friend Karen: wipe off the area under “the girls” with a wet wipe and reapply Body Glide. No more chafing!) I downed another DoubleShot while my darling opted for hot coffee and we headed down the road. But no sooner had we taken a few steps when we realized neither of us had filled out hydration packs! That would have been a disaster given it was 7 miles uphill to the next aid station. Crisis averted, we were soon back on track.
This section started off with roughly 2 miles of pavement, turning into a gravel forest service road as it climbed. There was only one intersection to worry about, which was about 4 miles from the aid station. When we hit a fork in the road we were to turn left; I thought the this was well-marked, but two friends of mine took a wrong turn and ended up running an extra 3-6 miles. We also ran into our friend Stacey and her pacer Roger; she was not having a good day and decided it would be easier to turn back and drop at Hyak. We arrived at Keechelus Ridge about 4:30 a.m. where I quickly grabbed some food and headed back out (my hydration pack was still half full so I decided to wait until Lake Kachess to fill it). I was looking forward to the 7-mile downhill section, but my legs started to ache and I couldn’t pick up much speed. Although I normally do not like to take pain killers during a run, I figured now was a good time. A few runners passed me during this section (including one of my friends who had gone off course), but once the Tylenol kicked in I crept ahead again. I got another boost once the sun came up a couple of miles before the Kachess aid station.
The downhill pounding did a number on my bowels, and it became clear I wouldn’t make it to the aid station port-o-pottie. I pulled off the trail and did my business, doing my best to clean myself up with Wet Wipes. (My ever-so-dutiful husband had me hand over the Ziplock bag with the soiled wipes; he earned major brownie points). I stopped at Kachess just long enough to grab some food, fill my hydration bladder and duck in to the pottie to wipe and lube my arse.
The next section is called the “Trail from Hell,” a 5-mile stretch along the banks of Lake Kachess. Apparently it used to be truly hellish as runners would encounter a bunch of blowdowns that were tough to maneuver around. But it’s now more like the Trail from Heck; twisty & turny with enough tricky sections to make it tough to run. The first half-mile section is the most challenging as one must bushwhack down to Box Canyon Creek (although even that section had been somewhat cleared), then log hop across and scramble up the other side. Knowing I’d have to slide on my butt through a couple of sections, I put on some lightweight biking gloves, a la Karl Meltzer. While I wasn’t moving particularly fast, I felt good. More importantly, I wasn’t worried about making the last cutoff at No Name Ridge.
Halfway through the Trail from Hell I caught up to my friend Vivian, who was having a tough go. She and her husband had just hiked the 270 miles of the John Muir Trail, and I don’t think she was fully recovered. Soon after I came up on my friend Lisa and knew she must be struggling as she’s normally much faster than I am. Sure enough, she took a nasty spill coming down the ropes course and wasn’t sure if she was going to be able to finish. When I to Mineral Creek I plowed right through as I had dry shoes and socks waiting for me at the aid station. (My friend Kim had tried to rock hop this section during the training run and unfortunately slipped and broke her wrist.) When we got to the Mineral Creek aid station my friends Terry, Delores, Toi and Kevin were there to take care of us. While I thought we had plenty of time to make the 11:30 a.m. No Name cutoff, they lit a fire under our asses. My darling grabbed my drop bag and refilled my hydration pack, while Kevin dished up some quesadillas and Terry helped me change my shoes & socks. (The Injinji toe socks are great from preventing blisters, but they’re a pain in the ass to change in a hurry, particularly when one’s feet are wet).
Both Vivian and Lisa caught up to me, as well as Kim’s dad Mike. (He had wanted to drop at Hyak, but Kim refused to give him a ride! She let him sit for half an hour to eat, then scooted him out of the aid station. Her plan worked as he caught up to us on the Trail from Hell). Vivian left the aid station about 5 minutes before me and I started fearing it’d be Bighorn all over again. (She was the last person allowed to leave the Dry Fork aid station where I had gotten pulled. I arrived at the station just as she was heading out; we were less than 5 minutes apart at the time). Once again I was fighting cutoffs, but there was no way I was going to give up; I had come too far. I figured if I was looking strong by the time I got to No Name, I could perhaps convince the sweeper I was able to continue on. My friends Laura, Allison and Owen would be there to back me up.
While the climb to No Name isn’t particularly steep, I wasn’t able to run much. But I kept up a strong power hike, averaging about 17-minute miles. My Garmin died on Keechelus, so I had to rely on my darling to keep me informed on my progress. He assured me we were doing fine, but I was still worried. However, our group had now grown to at least 12 people (six runners and their pacers), and I figured there was no way the sweeper could keep us all back. No Name is a very remote aid station, so we’d have to catch rides with the volunteers once they packed up. That strengthened my resolve to keep going even if I had to get my bib pulled.
My concern was for naught as I reached the station to the cheers of Laura, Owen, Allison, Francesca and Adam with almost 20 minutes to spare (the sweeper hadn’t even arrived yet). Still, they were an efficient pit crew; as I sat down to shake a pebble out of my shoe, Owen drew a tattoo on my arm (No Name had a tattoo parlor theme this year), my darling filled my bottles and Francesca shoved pieces of bacon into my mouth. I was in and out in less than five minutes, however, once I was out of sight of the aid station I settled into a fast walk to get my heart rate down again. The toughest portion of the course was yet to come, so I wanted to give myself somewhat of a break.
The next 10 miles include the dreaded “Cardiac Needles” — several steep, yet short climbs and descents that truly wear on one’s legs and mind. The Cascade Crest runner’s manual claims the first one is the longest and steepest, and during the training run I had to agree; it seems endless! But during the race I was surprised to find it wasn’t bad at all… only to realize I actually WASN’T on a needle yet. But even with fatigued legs it was clear my hill training was paying off; the climbs were by no means easy, but they weren’t a zombie shuffle either.
I dropped my hydration pack at the Thorp Mtn. aid station for the climb up to the forest service cabin to retrieve my magic ticket (proof that we made the entire climb). Glenn Tachiyama positioned himself just before the summit and snapped a great pic of me hugging Glenn Mangiantini, who was concerned I wouldn’t make cutoff. Just as I was reaching the bottom of Thorp Mtn. Vivian and her pacer were starting the climb. She looked pretty rough, so I shouted encouragement, saying we had this. (She thanked me after the race, saying it was just what she needed to hear at that point). I passed a couple more people and swore every time I got to another needle. (No one has ever been able to count the exact number of needles, probably because the race directors manage to add a few come race day. At least it seemed like that to me).
My spirits brightened once I hit the French Cabin aid station as I knew I only had one more needle to tackle (the bacon and cheese croissant they served also helped). I was surprised to see my friend Ras sitting at the station, but fortunately nothing was wrong, he merely needed to take a bit of a break. Sure enough, with about 7 miles left to go he and his pacer Heather came up behind us. They ran with us for a while, but I waved them on as I knew I couldn’t keep up. (I wanted to save my energy for the steep descent in to the Silver Creek aid station).
During the training run I had a really rough go on that descent. It was everything I abhorred: steep, rocky, slippery with loose sand and seemingly endless. I had slipped during training, so I tried my best to keep “nose over toes” as I made my way down. While I certainly didn’t bomb down this section, I was proud of myself for running it faster than during the training run. Still, my darling was concerned we were cutting things too closely; he knew I’d kick myself if I didn’t finish in under 32 hours. I arrived at the Silver Creek aid station at 4:46 p.m., giving me 1 hour, 14 minutes to finish in under 32 hours. This last section — roughly 4 miles — starts off with roly poly doubletrack, then flattens into a smooth trail with some dirt roads, then a section of paved road, and finally onto a somewhat rocky section along the train tracks to the end. I was feeling spry and knew I’d be able to pick up the pace. I popped my ear buds in and cranked up my “power” songs; the horse could smell the barn.
When we hit the paved road I saw Ras and Heather just ahead. When they looked back and saw me they sped up; we laughed since it was obvious they didn’t want me to pass them! I teared up as John Denver’s “Take Me Home, County Roads” came on, especially at the line, “Take me home, to the place, I belong.” For me that place was the finish line. As I turned on to the final rocky section, I remembered what my friend (and tattoo artist) Owen had told me: be careful! You’re so close to the finish that people can see you, so the last thing you need is to trip and fall. But I hopped over the rocks with ease, picking up my pace even more as The Killers’ “For All These Things That I’ve Done” came on. I whooped as I pulled off my hat and swung it above my head, crossed the finish in 31:39 and yelled out, “UltraSignup can kiss my sweaty, stinky ass!”
Ever the prankster, Rich tried to tell me they had run out of buckles, but I was having none of it. I grabbed it out of his hand, clutched it in my own and hobbled over to a chair, grateful for it to be over. Ras came over to congratulate me, saying while he indeed had sped up when he saw me, both he and Heather thought it was someone else! Their conversation went like this: “Oh, someone’s trying to catch us, better speed up.” “Boy, I wonder how Betsy’s doing. I sure hope she finishes.” “That runner’s gaining on us; better kick it into high gear!”
It was an incredible journey and the most hard-won buckle to date. Will I run it again? Unlikely, but not because I didn’t enjoy the experience — I will be joining my friend Laura as co-captain of the No Name aid station. But who knows, those needles may call my name once again.