I had signed up to be a pacer for my friend’s 100mi run at the Old Cascadia 100. Around Labor Day, they canceled the 100mi, announced that due to COVID they would not be having pacers, spectators, or support crew, and that all 100mi entrants were now 50mi runners. I had already booked travel so I decided what the heck, why not race the 50mi? Turns out, there were probably good reasons not to, although I’m still glad I did.
I flew into Seattle to see family and then drove down to Portland. I got a COVID test while out there to make sure I wasn’t going to be the COVID equivalent of Typhoid Mary for either my relatives or a bunch of ultra runners. I got to see Mt. Hood, and several other mountains the day before. The race was just north of the 3 Sisters mountains in Oregon in a state park that looked like a temperate zone rain forest. We drove over to the course the day before just to check things out and met the husband/wife team putting it on (they were very nice). The weather was perfect. The day before the race.
The day of, the rain started in earnest as I woke up at 4am. By the time we got to the course it was pouring. It was cold, wet, unpleasant rain. And except for a few brief windows it didn’t fully stop. For a while it was hailing and my first thought was, “Oh thank God it’s not wet anymore.” I was glad I got to see the views the day before, because the day of was just a foggy bubble of rain. My friend, Byron, took off with the lead pack from the start. I let them go, knowing that it would be utterly foolish to try and keep up their pace (Byron lives in Colorado and trains near Red Rocks). I was on my own for a bit, and had a harrowing moment when I heard a tree falling very near me, but couldn’t tell where it was. The top half of a huge evergreen dropped about 50 feet away from me, just off the course. It took about 4 anxious seconds from the crack to when it hit the ground.
I stayed with the first female runner for a good while, and really appreciated her steady pace over the next 25 miles. The course was pretty much running uphill, climbing hard and slow uphill, or running downhill. Not much in between. At 25-30 my legs were starting to get sick of the downhill. I think I was around 5:30-5:40 for the first 25. Turns out my Garmin 235 is about 0.5-0.75 off for every 25 miles, which actually makes a difference for races like this.
At 30, I stopped at an aid station, and changed into dry shoes and socks from my drop bag. I didn’t appreciate it at the time, but several people were shivering under foil blankets and I found out later they were pulled from the race. All in all I think about 1/3 of the competitors dropped, which seems like a lot for a 50mi. When I left the aid station I started shivering violently, but didn’t want to run the 100M back uphill to get more gear. I said F it, and kept running.
The food situation worked really well for me. Early on I ate a lot of bars, stinger waffles, and just a few gels and gummies. I ate really slowly but pretty constantly and never felt hungry or weak. I also had bacon 2x at aid stations, lots of broth, and a lot of Rice Krispies treats. I alternated between water and Tailwind. I find if I only drink Tailwind then I start to feel gross and don’t want to drink enough fluids. Zero issues with digestion the entire time, which was great. Unfortunately they did not have porta potties on course, which seemed like a big oversight. Let’s just say at mile 43 with the help of a few mountain laurel leaves (have you ever tried using toilet paper in the pouring rain?), I made my own facilities in the woods and felt much happier.
Unfortunately I had some running problems on the back half. At 35 my downhill running/jogging was not happening. Quads were getting shot and knees were hurting. At 40, my right knee would not bend going downhill. At 45, walking was barely happening and it was getting darker and colder, especially since I had slowed down. I lost about 20 places between mile 40 and 50 but couldn’t do anything about it. At 42 miles (actually 43 miles, given the Garmin defect) my watch died.
The last few miles of downhill seemed to be unending, alone in a dark forest, chanting “Oh God” and “Just keep going” to myself. I was definitely at some stage of hypothermic, but wouldn’t have been if I could have kept running on the downhill. It’s been a few days and the tips of some of my fingers are still a little numb so I think I killed some nerves. I did finally make it in in 14:15. Way slower than I had hoped, and WAY slower than my friend’s 2nd place finish of 9:32. I think without the quad thing I can easily get it down to the 11-12 hour range.
I really appreciate Jullien Flynn’s help with training and keeping me accountable (and in some cases from making stupid training decisions) during the build-up. I think the only thing I want to change is to add heavy 8-hour long days in the Adirondacks or something similar 1x or 2x a month (I’m looking for a training buddy for this, so let me know if that sounds like something you’d like). With that, I think I would be in the mix for a solid time. I also appreciated my Salomon Speedtrak and Elevate trail shoes, EMS hard shell jacket, Stinger Waffles, Cliff and Luna Bars, Huma Gels, SWIFT socks, and REI wool socks. Also, Udderly Smooth, which was good for chafing issues in the shorts area, while Squirrel Nut Butter and KT Blister Tape took care of my feet. I had zero blisters despite wet and sloppy conditions all day.
Photos are here Old Cascadia 50M/20M 2020 - Alpine Running
I was wearing a black jacket with an orange zipper and a red backpack. I don’t look too good, but wasn’t considering the photo op potential at the time. Course map and elevation profile are here: https://www.alpinerunning.co/old-cascadia-50m
So…. If anyone is interested in 8-hour long runs in the ADKs 1x-2x per month please reach out and we can make something happen. I’m usually 1:30 or a little below for road half-marathon pace, but am flexible. The main thing is to get out there and get hard mileage.