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2005 Cascade Crest Classic

This is the report of my very first 100, the Cascade Crest Classic. What a fun course!

The Race:

The Cascade Crest 100M is one of the harder endurance runs of its kind – 21500 ft up/down (more up than Western States), a good amount of very technical terrain, a long night (start is at 10am, so most people run through the whole night), and sections called “trail from hell”, “rope section” and “cardiac needles”. Generally people say it’s a bit harder than WS, but with 32 hrs of time quite doable. Still usually only 70% make it.


There are two kinds of people who can finish such a race. Either you’re a good, but crazy, runner, or you’re completely nuts. I belong to the latter category. Always up for a stupid idea, after having done only one 50m race, I let my friends (Chuck Wilson – stay away from this guy unless … and Michele Santilhano – she is outright dangerous!) talk me into signing up for my first 100. And of course, it couldn’t be an “easy” one (that’s an oxymoron anyways, talking about 100m). Before the bad influence, I thought it would be years before I’d even think about trying … Moreover, Chuck proclaimed I could finish in about 27 hours at CCC – whatever!
Anyways, after I sent off my application I started realizing what I’d  done (immediately followed by multiple trips to the restroom). So how do you prepare for a 100 miler? First, read everything on Then be scared. Then do lots of long runs. I ended up doing a 50k trail race every other week, followed by 2-3h of running the next day. My overall weekly mileage wasn’t that high, but I did lots of climbing and descending.

Anyways, I started tapering about 2 weeks beforehand, and as usual all sorts of things started hurting (just a week before the race I developed some weird pain in my hamstring – fortunately it didn’t affect my running too much, but it hurt a lot walking (go figure)), and my knees were bothering me, as always. Half of it is probably just psychological, since in the end none of this bothered me at all in the race, but I also visited an excellent massage therapist a few times, who worked with me on my IT band, amongst other things. I attribute the other half of the missing problems during the race to his work 🙂

Our travel arrangements were pretty tight, since I teamed up with Chuck, and he does so many of those races he usually doesn’t want to miss any work. So our schedule was to leave from SFO friday afternoon, arrive in Seattle, go grab dinner, pick up some supplies, sleep, race, have another dinner, sleep a little and leave on Monday morning at 6am back to SFO (which means we’d have to get up at 2:30am – the hotel was at least one hour from the airport). Well, so it happened, and now let’s finally get to the race itself.


After checking in, having some Boost for breakfast and being generally extremely nervous, I finally found myself lined up at the start. My hydration pack was pretty full, and I carried a water-bottle filled with Boost to keep me well fed (that turned out to be a very good thing). Finally, at 10am, we all started! Everyone got into a trot, and about 500 yards into it my pack opened and distributed all its contents over the dirt road we were on. Duh! A friend helped me pick it up, and I learned lesson #1 – if you have a pocket with 2 zippers, and it’s full, zip them up so there are no forces on the zippers making them open. Ok, slighlty red-faced I continued and caught up with my friends …

The first 49 miles – the easy part

The beginning of the race is a monstrous climb of about 3000 or so feet up to the Cole Butte aid station, followed by a dip down and more climbing to Blowout Mountain. The aid stations were usually around 6-7 miles apart, which means you have to carry quite a bit of water and food inbetween. Anyways, things went pretty smoothly, I felt good but went on a little slower than I felt I could have gone. After Blowout Mountain we ran downhill for quite a bit, and the trail hit the Pacific Crest Trail slightly earlier than I expected. We would stay on the PCT for about 30 miles after that. The PCT is a well-traveled nice trail without anything too extreme. The only thing was that – except for a few key sections – it was completely unmarked, which made me wonder more than once if I was on the right trail (I was alone by then). Once I even stopped for a few minutes and waited for some other runners to catch up. Hey, before you know it you might end up in Canada!
Towards the end of the first 49 miles it got flashlight dark, and for the first time in my life I ran a trail at night. Fortunately my choice of Headlamp – the Petzl Myo XP – proved to be excellent, since it is extremely bright. Nevertheless, the trail was quite rocky at times, and running proved to be somewhat of a challenge …

The Rope Section And The Tunnel

After the Ollie Meadow Aid station I knew I would encounter the famous rope section, a piece of trail that was so steep that ropes were available to help navigate. This section proved to be great fun. The trail to this section left the PCT and became significantly more rocky. The second lesson I learned there was that one shouldn’t look to the side in the middle of the night running a very rocky trail, since that made me have my one and only fall in the whole race. Fortunately I didn’t hurt myself apart from a small cramp in my calf, which disappeared quickly, but I landed on my Boost-filled bottle and got myself covered in boost. Well, at least I knew that if I would run low on food, I could just lick off my jacket … Anyways, the rope section is FUN! First one has to navigate basically through a forest (in complete darkness, which I would not have thought would be my thing) and finally arrive at the ropes (and yeah, you need the ropes!). At the bottom of the ropes, someone directed me towards another main attraction of this run – the tunnel! Yes, an abandoned 2.3 mile railroad tunnel. In the middle I turned off my lights for a little while (the ground was very flat and without obstacles) and yeah – it’s pitch black. To be cool, I ran the whole thing, which turned out to be another mistake, since my left quad started hurting – and not stop doing so until the end of the race. After the tunnel, I encountered some pavement, which hurt my feet a lot, so I ended up mostly walking the pavement (despite it being downhill) to the Hyak aid station at mile 54. My time was just below 13 hours, which was an excellent pace (and faster than my previous 50 mile run!). At this point, I had run more than I ever had. Moreover, I was so fast, that I knew I could walk the rest and still finish within 32 hours!

Up and Down

One of the mean things about this race is that the second half of the race is harder than the first – and not because you’re tired! I had arrived at Hyak feeling reasonably good (a little chilled, but I changed into something dry), had some chicken soup broth (at night, that’s some serious performance-enhancing stuff, I can tell you) and was soon back on the road. The next section was the only boring part of the race, since it’s one loooong climb (in the dark) up a wide dirt road. To my delight, about halfways up this climb I met a pacer (Lisa Bliss) who lost her pacee (she had an ankle injury, so took it easy) and we spent the next few hours chatting and climbing/descending together. She happens to be the medical director of Badwater and tried to sell me on this race (ok Lisa, I WILL do it someday!) and it was good to have someone to talk to. We reached the top and then went down the same kind of dirt road to the next aid station, Kachess Lake, doing a long downhill run. Now you may think running downhill is easy, but it turns out it’s not. It hurts your quads, and you cannot control your energy expenditure as well as going uphill, and most importantly it is just so tempting to run a little too fast, so often one feels much more worn out after a downhill than after an uphill section.  So I reached the Kachess Aid Station (mile 69) not feeling that great, and I started to get worried about how my quads would hold up …

The Trail From Hell

After leaving that aid station followed another highlight (yet it was still night) of the course – the Trail from Hell. To navigate to the trail from hell, you had to pass a small foresty section via what the RD calls “a makeshift trail”. Yeah! What happens here is that they put some ribbons and glow-sticks randomly in the woods, and you have to navigate from one marker to the other. You spot the next one, then – carefully – navigate there, and so on – above and under trees, through bushes, … No running here! Then, finally, one hits a short runnable section just to get to the “trail from hell”. A sign stating “most difficult” indicates what’s to come. Let’s just say – running is not advisable. It’s a very rocky, rooty trail with frequent hand-use. And btw easy to get lost. I nearly tried to climb up a unwholesome cliff, before I noticed I had left the trail … and some sections are rather slippery, inviting you for a dip in the lake below. This part of the trail was fun, but also seemed to go on forever, so I was glad that in the middle someone caught up with me – being teamed up seemed a lot safer here. Finally we reached the end, and after another section of more runnable trail (with some creek crossings) we got to the Mineral Creek aid station (mile 75).

Only 25 miles to go …

So one might think that with 75 miles done, you’re nearly there, right? Yeah. No. At the mineral creek aid station we were finally able to shed our lights and some clothing, but we had just a small 3000-foot climb ahead! I felt like I wouldn’t do too well on this climb, so I took my time, changed my socks and got some soup at the aid station (I even sat in a chair!!).
Initially the climb felt hard, but I surprisingly felt better – probably helped by the sunrise and some beautiful scenery. I pushed up the climb at a strong pace, and even was able to overtake someone, which gave me even more energy! Finally I came to the top of the hill and to the next manned aid station at mile 80. I stripped more clothing, put on sunscreen, and felt quite happy going on to the next section.

Cardiac needles

So Chuck said “yeah, the cardiac needles aren’t that hard”. Cardiac needles? Well, so the next ten miles would contain a few sections of trail, where someone just appears to have left out the switchbacks. The sections are not long – but long enough to completely deplete you of energy. And they are STEEP. So steep that if you want to move at all it’s hard. I have not seen any trail as steep as this in this area (not that long, at least). Wow. In the middle of this section, at mile 85, we also had a quick stint up to to a lookout (another half mile steep climb), but got rewarded for that with an unbelievably beautiful view of Mt. Rainier and the whole area. Anyways, The downhills in this sections were often too steep and rocky to run well (which is VERY hard on the quads), and I was glad when I reached the French Cabin aid station at mile 88. Interestingly, the whole way I felt like my legs should give out right now – but there was always more energy left.

Finish …

When I reached mile 88, it seemed like a sub-28 hour finish would be possible if I moved quickly. I followed some other runners and after a final nasty climb, we came to a nice runnable long downhill section. Despite some burning quads we were flying down this section, running very fast … until we hit the last downhill mile, just before the 95 mile aid station. All of the sudden the trail became barely runnable rocky STEEP downhill, slowing us down a lot. I guess I could have passed my colleagues but didn’t feel mentally up to it. This was the most frustrating section, since it seemed to go on forever, and every step was painful for quads and feet. I finally broke out cursing swiss-german – something that doesn’t happen very often. Worse, we knew the aid station was at the “bottom”, yet we were following at the side of a canyon which seemed to get deeper and deeper the more we descended, with no end in sight. Fortunately it turned out that we didn’t have to get to the bottom of the canyon, and we reached the 95 mile aid station. We knew it’d be 5 flat and partially road miles from here. The time was 26:10 by now, so if I would run a 10 minute mile I could even finish below 27 hours. I barely spent any time and sped away, just to find out that those 5 miles were very very long … At this part my emotions started going up and down, and I walked parts, ran parts until we reached a road section – yes! – and I started running. To my dismay there were some u-turns and things that made the stretch seem to just go on forever, but finally I saw Chuck waiting (he had to drop out because of an injury in his calf muscle) – and I knew I finished! 26:58, just under 27 hours, 3 hours better than I would have hoped and place 29 out of 66 finishers (and 96 starters).


Wow. I had done it. I never felt really bad, I was well hydrated, despite some slight nausea was able to eat continuously (mostly Boost Plus)! It could not have been any better (and subsequent 100s would confirm that :). At the finish I received the coveted brass belt buckle in a beautiful wood box.

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