Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Cascade Crest 100 Race Report

"Everything was going so good, I thought something bad might happen. 
And then it did..." From the song Coffee Stain by Sarah Harmer

That's kind of how my race went, only I didn't think something bad might happen until it did and then things went from really good to really bad faster than I could pop the top off a bottle of TUMS. A conversation with my husband, who started pacing me at the Hyak aid station some 53 miles in, went something like this:

Dave: "I can't believe how well everything is going."
Stacey: "I know - it's great! I feel so good. I'm exactly where I wanted to be at this point in the race. My pacing has been bang on and I haven't had any of my usual troubles with hydration or nutrition. Everything feels easy. It seems too good to be true."
Dave: "Well, just keep it up, you've still got a long way to go."
Stacey: "No worries. I've got this."

Three minutes pass...

Stacey: "Um, can we slow it down a bit. My stomach suddenly doesn't feel so good."
Dave: "Yeah, sure."
Stacey: "I think I'm going to throw up."

Vomiting, dry heaving, retching, belching and yes, even, farting (sorry - ultrarunning is kinda gross) would be the soundtrack to the rest of my race, which can really be neatly divided into two parts: Before Hyak and After Hyak. So before I get ahead of myself and elaborate too much on unpleasant bodily functions, let's reminisce about the good times.

Before Hyak (Miles 0-53)

Any pre-race nerves were the result of several factors. Cascade Crest would be my first 100 miler and I was equal parts excited and terrified about trying something new that would undoubtedly take me to dark places that mentally and physically I spend most of my life trying to avoid. Also, I felt woefully under-trained. A hamstring injury and sciatic nerve issues that started in May and resulted in two DNFs and a forced break from running for most of July had seriously hampered my confidence and ability to put in any big miles. A cortisone injection in my hamstring sheath 3.5 weeks before the race was effective in reducing the pain, but I had no idea if it would last nor how my body would handle twice the distance I'd ever run.

Standing at the starting line beside the Easton Fire Hall, I was uncertain how the next 24-plus hours would play out, but resolved to get through it no matter what. My main objective was to finish under the 32 hour cut-off so I'd have a qualifying race to enter my 4th(!) Western States 100 lottery and enough points for The North Face UTMB lottery. Beyond that, I wanted to finish feeling good  - as good as possible after running 100 miles, that is - and not to get lost or (re)injured. And while, technically, I achieved all of these things so can consider the race a success, I think next time, I'll be more specific in what I'm asking of the race gods.

As I alluded to earlier, the first half of the race was a dream. I power hiked up steep climbs, danced my way along ridge trails and down flowing single track, chatted with friendly fellow runners (mainly about races that we'd done or wanted to do) and when I needed a break from running talk, I distracted myself with a fun new  playlist that I'd put together. Aid station stops were quick and efficient, with my crew and the very capable race volunteers on hand to assist with every whim. Everything was beautiful and effortless. A 30 mile stretch on the Pacific Crest Trail was especially nice.

Cruising along on the PCT.
I wasn't paying close attention, but think I was probably in the top five women for most of the first half with a couple of us frequently changing position on the climbs and descents. Less concerned about placing, than pacing this early in the race, I was happy to be on or slightly ahead of my time targets while still feeling quite relaxed.

Looking back, I think my stomach problems probably started around mile 45 with a long downhill stretch, followed by a technical bit that I was rushing to get through in the fading light, which distracted me from eating and led to a calorie-deficit that upset the balance of my delicate GI tract.

Coming into the Christmas-themed Hyak aid station at around 9 pm, just over 11 hours into the race, I was feeling pretty good but a bit rushed as I wanted to change my shoes, socks, shirt and pack here while also getting in some solid food and be on my way again in under five minutes. With Dave now starting his pacing duties, we've reached the second part of this crazy journey.

After Hyak (Miles 53-100)

Oh, how the mighty fall. After patting ourselves on our backs about how well I'm doing, there I am on the side of the road ridding myself of everything I'd just eaten, followed by dry heaving and retching every few steps as I struggle up the 8 miles to Keechelus Ridge aid station where I try a couple sips of broth that refuse to stay down.

Any attempts to jog the 8 downhill miles to Lake Kachess aid station are thwarted by an angry stomach that refuses to settle and doesn't tolerate jostling well either so we just keep walking, and getting passed. Sigh. Feeling too miserable to care about much, Dave and I decide that I will have a 20-minute power nap in the van at Lake Kachess and then reassess my ability to carry on. Or not. If I'm still unable to eat, then it's unlikely that I'll be able to continue.

Fortunately, 20 minutes of sleep proved to be exactly what I needed  and I left Lake Kachess with a much happier belly and attitude, which was certainly tested on "the trail from hell" that was next up. Alison had planned to pace me through this section, but because I was so much slower on the last section than we had expected, it didn't work out so Dave stepped up to do the honours. (My husband rocks!)

We did a decent job of power hiking this extremely technical 5-mile trail, but by the end of it, the nausea was back and I was swept up in the oh so pleasant vomit and dry heave cycle. We arrive in Mineral Creek around 5 am and the lovely Stacie was there waiting to pace me through the final 27 miles.

We walked and walked and walked...
We walk about 20 of those miles, my stomach tolerating only the tiniest sips of ginger ale. After a long climb on a dirt road, we spent most of the morning on rolling single track. With the expansive mountain views and brightening sky, it was hard not to be overwhelmed by the pristine beauty of this area.

At around 93 miles, I start feeling good. Really good, in fact, and we start pounding out the last few miles in what I think was a very respectable time considering everything my body had been through in the past 24 hours.

I finished in just over 26 hours and in 8th place for women. Full results here.

It was a long and hard journey, but one that I am ultimately so glad to have taken, even with the lows, because it's from them that I'll learn the most for the next race. And, yes, there will be more 100 milers in my future. (Sorry, Dave!)

At the finish with my very patient, super pacer Stacie who walked 20 miles with me.  
Post-race finish line pic with my other super pacer and most wonderful husband, Dave.
Happy to be done!
Running ultras is an extremely selfish undertaking and I couldn't do it without others selflessly supporting me.

My Crew
The one aspect of the race that I had no concerns about was my amazing crew. I can't thank Dave, Stacie, Magda, Alison, Sam and wee Fiona enough for giving up a gorgeous summer weekend to sleep unusual hours in odd places and put up with me and my BS and bad smells for much longer than anyone should. They kept me going when the going got really bad and I owe my finish in large part to their efforts. They knew that the only acceptable excuse I'd have for not finishing would be an injury - and I'm pretty sure it'd have to be a serious one for them to let me quit. (If I'd known how terrible 40 miles of walking while severely nauseated and vomiting would feel, I might have added it to the list, but I didn't and that's probably a good thing or I might not be the proud owner of a shiny new belt buckle today!)

Coach Ryne for preparing me as best he could while I stubbornly kept injuring myself. Also, my massage therapist Pierre and physio Mark for treating said injuries.

And to my friends and family who sent their love and best wishes from afar, thank you. It really does mean a lot to me to have your support (even if you think what I'm doing is absolutely insane).

The Cascade Crest Race Organizers & Volunteers
Wow - you are amazing! This was one of the best organized races that I have ever had the pleasure of participating in. From the race schwag to the well stocked aid stations, to the course markings and cheerful volunteers. Well done!

The North Face Canada
I am so proud to represent The North Face Canada. Their products have never let me down and, as you can see from my gear list below, without their sponsorship, I'd be practically naked out on the course and no one wants to see that!

While not everything went well for me this race, I did get it right with my gear. Thanks to the following items, I made it through the race without any chaffing whatsoever and my feet stayed blissfully blister-free.

The North Face GTD trail shoes
Injinji trail toesocks x 2
The North Face Better Than Naked Tees x 2
The North Face Better Than Naked Shorts x 2
The North Face Better Than Naked Jacket
The North Face capris
The North Face Stow-N-Go bra
The North Face arm sleeves
Sugoi calf sleeves
The North Face Better Than Naked hat
Buff (borrowed from Alison)
Petzl Tikka headlamp
Nathan HPL hydration pack
Ultimate Direction Jenny ultra vest
Garmin Forerunner 310XT watch
Ironman Timex sports watch
Rudy Project sunglasses