I never expected this race would take more mental fortitude to finish than Cascade Crest. In reviewing the elevation profile, it make Rocky Raccoon look hilly. Fortunately I had heard the course has some steep upsie downsies, albeit short. I knew I couldn’t take the course for granted.
Cascade Crest really wiped me out, and with my father’s death and getting sick a couple of times, my training wasn’t ideal. However, I did get my long runs in. (My 50th birthday run was a huge confidence boost). I figured it’d be best to show up rested and sans injury, and that I had enough endurance where I could at least finish.
We stayed in Opelousas (which we dubbed OompaLoompas), which is about 40 miles from the start/finish. (The Best Western in Ville Platte, the closer town, was sold out). Got in late on Thursday, but slept in, grabbed some breakfast, and headed to the S/F to meet up with friends Kelly, his wife Jo, and Burke for a shakeout run on Friday. We of course had been monitoring the weather; winter storm Cleon swept through north Texas resulting in treacherous icy conditions. While things were fine in the south we did get colder than normal temps. It was in the low 40s on Friday; on Wednesday it had been close to 80!
Our shakeout run was an easy 5 miles and showed us the hilliest portion of the course. Indeed, the hills were short but rather steep. Since it had rained the ascents were slick with mud. But I figured that’d keep me to a slow pace.
We drove back to OompaLoompas after the run for a nap and shower, then headed back for the packet pickup and dinner. The RD was laughing since he decided to serve what they had the previous year — COLD pasta with veggies and chicken. It was delicious, but given the temps hot pasta would have been better. The swag was great: a long-sleeved Patagonia shirt, HeadSweats visor with CC logo, pint glass, Forge Racing stickers and a Saloman drop bag. I also found out they’d be giving out age group awards; there was only one other woman in my group, so I’d be on a mission to beat her. We got back to our room by 9 p.m. and settled down.
After a fitful night of sleep due to inconsiderate hotel guests who did not grasp the concept of “inside voice” we got up about 4 a.m. We had organized all of our stuff the day before, so we just needed to gulp down some coffee, change into our running togs and head out the door. It was indeed pretty cool, but not too bad.
Since we’d be starting out in the dark Matt offered to run with me for the first hour or so. I gladly took him up on that. The S/F was pretty mellow when we arrived; there were only 100 or so entered in the 100 mile and 100k and there were several DNSs. As we lined up Matt was shivering almost uncontrollably, so I told him he should go out at his own pace to warm up; I’d be fine.
Knowing it’d be cold, I prepared well (or so I thought). I started with a long-sleeved shirt, my Patagonia shell, gloves and a hat; I then had a couple more shirts in my drop bag, along with fleece-lined mitten gloves (fingerless cloves with a flap to go over them), a mylar blanket, Wattle Waddle arm warmers and a rain poncho. I wore a skirt and compression socks; although people kept asking me if my legs were cold they actually were fine. However, I said they’d probably get cold should it start to rain (queue foreshadowing music).
At about 3 miles in I picked up a friend — James, who was running his first 100. His girlfriend had told him not to go out too fast, and I guess he felt I knew what I was doing (silly boy). He was a talker, but I welcomed it. In fact, I was pretty chatty myself. We told each other our life stories to pass the time (but what is said on the trail stays on the trail). We became the “Living the Dream!” team as we yelled that out each time we entered an aid station. We finished the first loop in 4:30, which was right on target.
(Okay, so a note about the course. Although it claims each loop is 20 miles long, it’s actually shorter. I recorded three laps of roughly 18.8 miles before my Garmin died; I’m rounding up to 19 miles/loop for a total of 95 miles).
I tried to get in and out of the main station as quickly as possible, but it was somewhat disorganized (my only complaint). They didn’t have a specified place for our drop bags, so we just placed them in front of our car (which was close by). I’d come in, grab what I needed out of my bag, check in at the timing station, then head to the bathroom to organize my stuff. I’d then hit the A/S for food and head out, dropping stuff back at my bag that I didn’t need on the run. For the first loop that took only 7 1/2 minutes.
Second loop was much of the same; James and I would exuberantly yell “Living the Dream” as we hit each aid station. Since we’d be changing direction for the third loop, we started seeing the front runners a little over halfway through the loop. I was thrilled to see Kelly in the lead and stopped briefly to give him a congratulatory hug. At one point I saw a woman who looked like she was my age heading toward us; ruh roh! Could it be my competition? On paper that woman appeared to be a back-of-the-packer, but the woman I saw was a good two hours ahead of me. I tried to convince myself she was a 100K runner.
As we started up a particularly long boardwalk just before the mile 16 aid station, I spied a familiar figure coming toward us: my darling! I introduced him to James, saying he was my trail husband for the day. My darling unfortunately had rolled his ankle, so he was taking it easy. I kept my fingers crossed he’d be able to finish.
When we finished our second loop (4:54) I grabbed another shirt and my headlamp as it would be getting dark. Eight minutes after arriving James and I were back on the trail. We now got to see who was behind us as we had changed direction. While I felt good, the lack of midweek training runs was beginning to catch up with me and my pace slowed a bit. I told James I wouldn’t be offended if he decided to go out on his own but he refused. He’s blown up in races before going too fast and he figured sticking with me would mean he’d finish.
Because it was overcast we had to turn our headlamps on within about an hour of starting the loop. My pace slowed even more as I did not want to risk turning my ankle on the leaf-strewn, rooty trail. But when I wasn’t running, I was at least keeping up a steady shuffle. I found out at one of the aid stations that my competition was a no-show, so as long as I finished, the award was mine.
While I liked running the course in this direction in the beginning, I did not enjoy finishing with the hills. The temperature had dropped and I was tired. I managed to get my feet wet, so I decided I’d change my shoes and socks at the end of the loop, as well as grab my hydration pack that was packed with more warm clothing. I warned James it’d be a longer stop, but he was fine with that.
Due to the cold my fingers weren’t working quite so well. I changed my shoes and socks in the car, also applying Kinesio tape to the balls of my feet since I was starting to get hot spots. I decided to throw on a third long-sleeved shirt, as well as a headband that went under the hat I already had on. Finally, I switched out my lightweight gloves for the mitten gloves. While they weren’t waterproof, they were incredibly warm. If they got TOO warm, I could just unflap the mitten. As suspected, this stop took far longer — just under 35 minutes.
About three miles in to the fourth loop we picked up a third person: Ramon. Cajun Coyote was his fifth 100 of the year; he had paced a friend to his first 100K finish, so that’s why he was farther back. We figured he’d go ahead of us, but he was content to stick with us since it was dark. I think James was happy to have another person to chat with! I had several down moments during this stretch; I felt I was keeping Ramon and James back, but they both said they appreciated the company. I did too, especially since they motivated me to run more than I would have on my own, but I also knew I’d be slowing down even more in the dark.
James started to get sleepy halfway through the loop and began stumbling around. Ramon and I encouraged him to take his caffeine pills, but James was concerned he just have to keep taking them the rest of the night. Instead he plugged in his earbuds, which completely revived him. In fact, Ramon and I would barely keep up. (I pretty much was reduced to a fast shuffle). We had to stop at the last aid station before the finish to change out batteries; my fingers were so cold I could barely get the batteries out of my flashlight. Once again I felt I was futzing too much and taking too much time. I must have put in one battery in the wrong direction, as the flashlight wouldn’t work. Fortunately I had another on me, although that was about to die. But with fresh batteries in my headlamp I could see really well.
Just as we were finishing our fourth loop it started to drizzle. The forecast had called for a chance of rain, so I figured it wouldn’t last long. When we got back to the start/finish James asked the RD if we were at risk of not making cutoff; I felt we had plenty of time (almost 8 hours), but I think James was concerned about how slow I was moving. While he, Ramon and I took off together, he soon was far ahead. (He’d go on to tear up the loop, finishing it in just under 4 hours for a 26:05 finish). I got ahead of Ramon during the hills at the beginning; it was clear we’d all be running our own pace for the 5th loop.
The rain was heavier than anticipated, making the course quite slick. And while I had been fine in my skirt when it was dry, my legs became quite cold. I stopped to fetch the rain poncho out of my pack, but as I put it on it ripped on my headlamp, leaving a gaping hole at the neck line. I tucked it in to the top of my pack, but it was clear I still needed something else for warmth. As I took the poncho off to retrieve the mylar blanket in my pack, the poncho ripped even more, rendering it useless. Oh well, at least I had the blanket. As I stood there tying it around my waist I somehow slipped and fell. What a freaking klutz! As I ran I had to keep futzing with the blanket since it stuck to my legs and made it difficult to run. I finally got it in a position that worked, however, it meant a portion of my legs were still exposed to the rain.
I had told James that when the sun comes up during a 100 it’s like you have a new lease on life: you can turn off your headlamp and the morning sun really brightens up your day. Well, on this day that would not happen, as there was NO sun. Sure, I could turn off my headlamp, but it was still gray and rainy. Just when I thought the rain had stopped it would pick up again, plus it never warmed up. My torso had become extremely chilled and I prayed they’d have a garbage bag at the aid station. About two miles from the A/S the thunder and lightning started and I worried they might shut the race down. I had come too far for that to happen.
Just before I hit the station I had to go down a steep dip and then up the other side. As I was making my way down I slipped in the mud, landing on my butt and getting my mittens wet. When I reached the aid station they handed me a garbage bag and asked if I wanted to warm myself by the fire. At that point I just wanted to keep moving. I’m sure I was quite the sight with the mylar blanket wrapped around my legs and the garbage bag on top. I knew I was on the verge of hypothermia, but prayed I’d be fine as long as I moved. I tried to think positively, but was incapable of doing so. All I could think about was what would happen when I finished the race. I get extremely chilled on a normal day, but after spending 6+ hours in freezing rain? While I had both my Snuggie and down coat at the end, I wasn’t sure they’d be enough.
The next eight miles were tortuous. While the thunder stopped, the rain continued and it got darker. I was chilled to the bone as my feet were continually wet (the trail had become almost a river with all the standing water). While the garbage bag provided some relief, I was still quite cold and decided the mylar blanket would be better served up top. However, I had to clutch it around my body, which meant my hands weren’t free to catch myself should I fall (and fall I did).
I finally reached the last aid station and gulped down some soup. The poor volunteers were huddled around the fire, trying to stay warm. The table of goodies was soaked, including a bowl of pretzels that swelled up with moisture. I didn’t stay long as I was eager to finish; I only had just under 4 miles to go.
Wouldn’t you know it — it was the worst 4 miles of the race.
My spirits were already dampened (HA!), and then the rain became the most intense it had been the entire loop. The trail was a river and although it was less than two miles to go it seemed endless. It was then I suffered the most insulting fall of all. I got to one of those evil dips; as I started down it I slipped yet again, landing with my butt totally up against the backs of my feet so that my knees were completely bent. My already wet mittens got thoroughly soaked and muddy, and of course it was tough to get out of that position. I managed to pick myself up and soldered on. I knew I’d be close to the finish when I reached a paved road that I’d cross; I’d then have about a quarter mile more single track before I reached a second paved road that would take me to the finish line. It seemed I had been running for miles, but the first paved road never materialized. I actually thought I might have gotten off course. Finally I saw it, but of course the trail wound around for about another quarter mile before I could actually cross it.
Just as I was doing so Ramon came up behind me and scared the bejeezus out of me. (I had been looking behind me several times to see if anyone was catching up, but hadn’t seen anyone). I shouted out encouragement and told him to finish strong and get warm. As I hit the single track again I could hear someone beeping at Ramon; the finish line was near! I got within a few yards of the second paved road to realize it was Matt who was beeping.
Even though I had wanted to break down in tears several times during that last loop, I wanted to save my energy to keep warm. But when I saw our car I totally lost it. Matt got out and started heading toward me with arms out-stretched; he too started crying as he saw the utter distress on my face. I collapsed in his arms, telling him how incredibly cold I was. He kissed me, saying he’d be right at the finish line with the warm car. I scurried up the final 1/10th of a mile, crossed the finish line and yelled out my number. I didn’t even bother picking up my buckle; Matt immediately whisked me in to the car where I broke down into deep, moaning sobs. I couldn’t believe the sound coming out of me; it was almost other-worldly.
Matt wrapped the Snuggie around me and I managed to get my wet shoes and socks off. But I was shivering so uncontrollably that it was difficult to function. I finally got all the wet clothes off and got in to dry ones. My extremities were tingling and I was incredibly uncomfortable. I didn’t want to face going out in the rain again, so Matt collected my buckle and age group award.
It was a good hour before I warmed up and was able to face anyone. I still didn’t want to get out of the car, so Matt pulled around to the A/S so that I could thank the RD and say goodbye. We stopped in Ville Platte at Sonic Burger, and I immediately fell asleep afterward on the drive to Lafayette. Fortunately our hotel room was ready for us; I climbed in to bed — down coat and all — and crashed again while Matt went in search of beer.
Finish times: Matt — 22:57, me — 28:10.