Thursday, August 29, 2013

Things I learned at Cascade Crest

Notes on the second half of the course:
  • Hyak to Keechelus (53-60): Two and a half good miles of runnable road, and then lots of power hiking. There is one runnable area about halfway up, but as long as you're hiking with a purpose this is a good area to make up some time.
  • Keechelus to Kachess (60-68): Just as the course manual says, this is the fastest section of the second half, but it is long. Find that comfortable area where it's not a hard run, but not braking either. There is a flatish section in the middle and taking a walk break can help alleviate quad/knee pain buildup. The road has some rocky areas and isn't as smooth as the climb road, so still pay attention to footing as you're running at night. This section really does feel long, so be patient. We ran 8:30-10:15 miles through here.
  • Kachess to Mineral Creek (68-73): AKA the Trail from Hell. My notes on this section are in my pacer report. Run this section before the race. There is at least 15-20 minutes that can be "made up" here over the average pace that you see in the split sheets. If you're used to Cascade mountain trails (or North Vancouver) this will seem like any other trail. 
  • Mineral Creek to No-Name Ridge (73-80): Two steep road miles of hiking, a little runnable section, more hiking, a good running section before the last half mile or so of hiking to the aid station. This is quite similar to the climb to Keechelus. Hike quickly with a purpose! No-Name aid station is kind of exposed, so if it's breezy it can be cold there. I wore a T, arm sleeves and a buff and this was one of only two times I was cold all night (it was about 4am). 
  • No-Name Ridge to French Cabin (80-88): Even though you have Thorp in the middle, this eight-mile section is similar terrain most of the way: climb-descent, climb-descent, keep repeating (the Cardiac Needles). The climbs can be tough, but they're short. The Thorp climb can be cold as well. It may be good to drop your hydration pack at the aid station, put on a jacket or longsleeve for the climb, and take it off before you leave the aid station. There are big temperature swings between the summit and the trail along the ridge which is in the trees and a little more sheltered. Just keep pushing through this section.
  • French Cabin to Silver Creek (88-96): One last climb, then seven-plus miles of downhill. Again, this can feel long. There are some steep areas that might be hard to descend at a fast pace, but there are a few miles of gradual terrain that are very runnable. Enjoy this trail because it really is beautiful and by this time the sun was up and the temperature was getting warmer. When the trail gets steep for the second time it's about 1.5 miles to the aid station. Don't go all out or those last four miles will only feel even harder. 
  • Silver Creek to Easton (96-100): Some dirt trails and road for two miles, then about two miles of paved road. For sub-24 finishers, this section takes an average of 44 minutes. Again, we did a run-walk pattern that brought us to Easton in 43-45 minutes (Martin and I both forgot to turn off our watches after finishing; ha!). Just keep moving as quickly as possible. Once you're over I-90 my Garmin got exactly 1.5 miles.
Pacing notes:
  • Lots of positive reinforcement. Talk when needed, be quiet when needed. Tell your runner when they're doing well, or just did a good section, and use positive statements to keep them going. I have no insights into dealing with a tough runner, fortunately...
  • Sometimes useful to remind the runner to eat and drink if you don't see them doing it (Martin was pretty good about doing it himself). 
  • Hot soup at aid stations during the night was what Martin liked most. BUT, if it's right before a fast section, stick to one cup, not two; too much sloshing is a risk. I always came in to the aid stations asking what they had so I could offer choices to Martin. Stay away from dry foods that can gum up your mouth (most everyone on course around us couldn't eat the flour tortillas they were serving). I ate "normal" ultra fare all night: Fruitsource bars, PBJ squares, lots of gummy bears, M&Ms, licorice, gels (thanks to Dave) and drank only water and ginger ale, with one cup of coke at mile 96.
  • Dave and I planned for me to lead. Because I'd never run with Martin, I let him lead the trail sections pretty much the whole way. I didn't want to go too fast, or slow, and let him set the pace and used positive reinforcement to make sure he kept moving well. However, if your runner needs a couple-minute walk break, or just to stop for a second, let them (IMHO). Martin felt better pretty much every time. 
  • Beware the chair? Martin sat at almost every aid station. It did not seem to have a negative impact. Though I've heard horror stories about people not being able to get back up. Case-by-case, I guess.
  • If you're runner has goals, keep track of splits and pace. Try to get your runner to leave that to you and focus on moving. I think the best option would be for the runner to not wear a watch once the pacer joins, as long as you trust each other. 
  • Don't worry about other runners. Some people climb well, some descend well. There will be lots of yo-yoing and the important thing is to pay attention to yourself. Remind your runner of that. 
  • Watch the course! It is your job to make sure you and your runner don't get lost. Make sure you always look for markings. CC was marked very well, so we didn't really have any issues. Also, don't forget to make sure the time keepers get your runner's number when entering and leaving the aid stations. One less thing for the runner to worry about. # in, # out! Easy as that. 
  • See your runner at aid stations during the day before pacing, if possible. I really enjoyed seeing Dave (and Martin) come through the aid stations. I had an idea of how they looked, how long they were taking at each one and what they were eating. I think it also helps the pacer get more excited to run all night; at least it did for me. 
I think those are most of the main points that come to mind when thinking about the experience.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Cascade Crest 100 pacing report - Hyak (mile 53) to Finish

(the following is a long pacer report; I will publish some key notes and things I learned/tips later this week, along with a few photos)

We roll into the Hyak aid station (mile 53) just after 8:30pm. Dave has been hitting all of our projected splits for the first 40+ miles, and we expect him in around 9:15-9:30pm.

Of all the runners (he was around 20th-25th place) we saw come through Tacoma Pass (mile 23) and Stampede Pass (mile 33), Dave had one of the biggest smiles of anyone. He was eating really well, drinking lots of water and said he felt great. His pacing was nice and conservative and he was very happy to have his parents crewing for him and cheering him on.  

We kitted him out with lights and more food at Stampede and running out of the aid station I let him know we’ll see him in 20 miles and he tells me to go get some rest before joining him at Hyak to pace for the last 47 miles. Great, Hyak can’t come soon enough!

I try to nap, but end up lying with my eyes closed for 50 minutes; no chance of sleep.

We’re setting up our station for Dave when someone at the timing table calls out, “Are Dave Swoish’s parents here?”

We all freeze for a second, then walk over.

“He’s broken his ankle.”

So many expletives rush through my head along with moderate disbelief. Dave is not an out-of-control trail runner.

“Oh, it’s only sprained, but he’s back at Olallie Meadows [mile 47] and he needs to be picked up.”

Nothing you can do about a physical injury that prevents you from running. I guess the “good” news is that the ligaments aren’t completely torn, and he’s only in an air-boot for the next two weeks.

Dave has a great 100-mile run in him, and I hope he recovers well and quickly. He knows I’ll be there, wherever/whenever it happens.


I’m in my full kit, headlamp, hydration pack, pacer bib pinned on my shorts, without a runner. I’m really torn about what to do. I want to go and see Dave, find out what happened and hear how his ankle is. At the same time, I’ve spent countless hours memorizing the second half of the Cascade Crest course, time splits for a certain finishing time and through lots of discussion with Dave, what we thought was a solid race plan.

The only option I can think of is asking Martin Criminale if I can join him. I know he and Dave had been running together a bit (and also at the CC training runs), and Martin had been showing up at the aid stations about 5-8 minutes before Dave. He was the only person I knew (having only just been properly introduced at the start line) and that didn’t have a pacer.

Three headlamps are bobbing under I-90 along the road down to Hyak. I figure one must be Martin and run over. Sure enough, he’s the first one in.

I fill him in on Dave and he graciously says I can join him for the night. I note that he was planning to pick up his iPod here, but wife Shelley puts it back in his supply bag. He washes his feet and goes with new socks, shoes and a fresh shirt (pretty much same plan Dave had, except the shoes).

Although Martin didn’t know it, I basically tried to implement the plan Dave and I had come up with (largely follows advice of previous finishers). Martin was basically on the exact splits I had memorized (a 23:30 finish), so I didn’t have to do any recalculating. His stated goal was to finish, with a pie-in-the-sky DREAM of sub-24.

Leaving Hyak there is 15 miles of road to Lake Kachess. Everyone says you can make up time here, and you can. Once we hit the climb coming out of Hyak we had a great power hike up the steep road. We passed quite a few people here that never passed us back. Near the top of the climb it's quite runnable, and we moved well into the aid station, fueled, and headed out for the 8-mile descent.

It’s a long, long road down, and we were fairly moderate on the quads. We (or maybe just my thinking?) was trying to run it well enough to bank a little time, but not all out. Just like the climb, we passed a couple people we never saw again and enjoyed pretty much the full descent with Mike D’Antonio. We also took a walk break about halfway down. This helped Martin and Mike just take a break from the knee pounding.

Shelley meets us at Kachess, we do the aid station gig and head out for the Trail from Hell.

Everyone says this is horrendous, slow, and you should just plod through it because everyone is going the same speed. Well, yes, and no. A good portion of it is runnable; at least two miles, maybe three. There are some logs to jump over, some rocky sections, a couple creek crossings and one or two dicey steps over steep runoffs down to the lake. It’s the most technical part of the second half of the course, but it’s not hell.

The split that I had for this section was about two hours, and we did it in 1:40ish (the results' splits must include the aid station breaks).

Mineral Creek aid station: more soup and a little cup of beer for Martin (said the savory taste was nice after eating sweet stuff all day).

Dave and I had a plan to move real quick up this road since the Cardiac Needles were next on the ridge. The first few miles are pretty steep though, and we’re in power-hike mode almost the whole time.

Over the last few miles every time the road flattens out I start shining my light ahead to show Martin it’s flatter and we can run. I never say anything, but he usually picked up on it, or realized it himself, and we alternate between running and hiking.

The moon finally comes out from behind the clouds and we enjoy the last mile or so by moonlight with our headlamps off. It gets us out of LED tunnel vision and is really a beautiful experience, running the little downhill portion and then hiking in with our moon-cast shadows. For once the volunteers aren’t yelling, “runner!” and we sneak up on the folks at No-Name Ridge.

It’s 3:49am and a little breeze makes it quite chilly at 4,900ft. More soup for Martin and we take a minute to warm our hands at the large propane heater.

We start moving from No-Name out the ridge toward the needles. We’re off and on hiking and running and Martin’s still moving very well. We’re more than 40 minutes under 23:30 pace.

Every once in a while he frets that “24 hours” is gone and he’s not sure if he can make it. He does make a few calculations, saying things like “we have 10 hours for the last 50k” (when we were at Kachess), but I never actually told him what pace we were going.

A few steep climbs and some good shuffling and we come to the Thorp climb. Amazingly, Thorp is the only small bad patch Martin has. Eating in between aid stations increasingly has gotten more difficult and he hasn’t had any food for about an hour. We have to take two little breaks on the hike up and I snap two pictures of him on the dark summit. A dark view of surrounding hills is all we get. We hike most of the descent down.

Martin knows this is the low point so far. He sits a bit at the aid station, no hot food as it’s hike-in only, just some snacks, candy and gels.

I tell him we just need to get through the next four miles well to French Cabin, and then its downhill and flat home to the finish. We’re still great on time, and I don’t tell him what I think we can finish in.

Finally on the way to French Cabin the sun starts to come up, and it’s bright enough that we can turn off our headlamps. Earlier in the night Martin had pondered if he would get a boost from the sunrise. Whether he knew it at the time or not, he did. Maybe it was the food from Thorp too, but his hiking was quicker and the running was at a better pace too. It feels more like how we were moving 20 miles earlier.

French Cabin, 88.7 miles: fake mustaches, berets, peach mimosas, bacon croissants and a French tricolor-draped pine tree. We’d been going back and forth with Amy Rusiecki and her pacer (not bad, right?) all night since Hyak. Hiking up the climb from French Cabin we passed them for the last time.

Down, down, down, like the descent to Kachess going to Silver Creek feels long. But it is a beautiful trail: semi-open forest, wildflowers, the meandering stream. It alternates between slight downhill, which feels decent to run, and steeper downhill where we have to hike a little as its too much on Martin’s knee and feet.

About halfway down this climb we start to seriously talk about what time we’re at. His stomach is a little upset so we plan to have some cola only at Silver Creek and then bring it in as quick as we can to the finish.

This is the first time we discuss going sub-23. I hope he got as excited as I did. All night I kept track of his pace and knew that without a meltdown, we were going to be well under 24 hours. At one point we even said, “we could walk the last four miles and finish just over 23 hours.” All I'd been saying was a mix of, "you're moving well," "good job," "nice section," etc. 

We got passed by the second place woman here, who went flying down about one mile before Silver Creek. She was the only person who passed us in the last 31 miles. That’s solid, both on Martin, and on Kelly Cronin. We finally see a white tent down below.


Shelley surprised Martin at the aid station with her mountain bike to ride it in with us. Martin drinks three cups of Mountain Dew (which he admits after finishing is one too many), I have some coke and just as we’re leaving we hear cowbell and “runner!” It only adds to the motivation.

We can’t all out run the whole way, but do a great alternating pattern of running a few hundred yards, walking for maybe 50-75 yards, and then repeating. The running pace is quick and the walk is a power walk.

Shelley joins us down on the road with about three miles left. Eventually it comes down to having 30 minutes left for the last two-ish miles.

“I can see the finish,” Martin says.

“You can do it man, 200 yards.”

RD Rich White is on the loudspeaker…“Welcome back to Easton, from Seattle, Washington, Martin Criminale!”

22:50:31 - 12th place overall, and 10th male. FULL RESULTS HERE

He has a truly wonderful smile on his face, gives me a big hug, followed quickly by hugs and kisses to Shelley once she gets off her bike.

That’s one hell of a run for anyone, let alone someone who ran their first 50-miler only six weeks prior and also is 49 years old (just sayin’).

Thank you for changing your plans midway, Martin. That was a risky thing to do when you hadn’t planned on having a pacer, and I’m very grateful to have been part of your experience.

Thank you to Dave and parents Swoish. You know we have plans to complete.

The volunteers were amazing at every aid station. As I was trying to get stuff for Martin they were continuously asking me what I needed. A few times I laughed because I’d only been running for a few hours, not 15! Thanks to everyone who was out there.

I’m going to write up some notes for others who will pace and share them later this week, along with some photos. I hope they’ll be beneficial for other runners or pacers.


Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Cascade Crest 100 this weekend

Dave is going to be out tackling his first hundo this weekend at the Cascade Crest Classic, and I have the honor of trying to keep up with him for the last 47 miles.

There will be "semi-live" coverage from the major aid stations available here: starting Saturday morning; look for Dave Swoish.

Dave's parents will be in town to crew and I'll join him at Hyak (course profile) to head out for some night-to-morning running.

I hope everyone has a great, and safe, time out there this Saturday-Sunday!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Angel's Staircase 60k race report - August 11, 2013

This is my race. This is my race. This is my race.

A funny mantra for a middle-of-the-pack runner, maybe, but it's what I felt at Angel's Staircase

 - - - 

Race day. 12:20am.

It's almost like there are multiple strobe lights outside. I can't hear the thunder yet, but the flashes are so intense I think it can't be much longer until it moves closer. Suddenly, the wind starts howling, forcing me to close all the windows, and the rain and thunder arrive.

2:30am. The power goes out....this will make for an interesting race prep quickly approaching at 4am. 

I get up, use my phone flashlight to get my headlamp out of the car and start doing my normal pre-race routine. Except this time, it's cold coffee and a cold shower. I think I'll stick with both hot in the future...added bonus of seeing a few Perseid meteors while I'm outside. 
Foreboding clouds at sunset on August 10; Twisp, WA. 
The storm somehow flushed out the heat. Saturday was 90s and felt hot. Congregating at the "start line" at 7am it's cool, damp but not muggy, and very pleasant. 

Greg, Richard and I cruise up the first 3.5 miles of dirt road that leads to the 50k of singletrack. Richard takes off, and Greg and I hike-run for a couple more miles.

After the first aid station, about 8.4m, the trees open up to rocky outcroppings and then the meadows of Merchant Basin. Angel’s Staircase looms above, next to Martin Peak.

I love steep hiking. This is my race.

I make it up to the top along with Rhea, briefly take in the views earned by our 6,000' climb and start the descent.

After cresting the top of Angel's Staircase. Thanks for being out there Glenn (and I hope your ankle gets better soon!). 
Steep and technical, with these views, it's perfect.

Mile 13: beautiful meadows on the west side of Martin Peak. Still mildly-technical trails, I catch up to Kyle.

Alpine trail on the west side of Martin Peak on the way to Boiling Lake. 
Soon enough it’s time for the second climb of the day above Boiling Lake to Horsehead Pass. Not as steep as the staircase, but it’s still full-on hiking.

Descending begins; semi-technical near the top leading into smoother forest trails all the way down to mile 21.

The heat of the day before hasn't arrived. It’s warm, but not hot. Coming into the aid station, though, there’s a young boy (12ish?) with a bucket and two huge car sponges.

I don’t care what you say. I let him sponge me down, soaking my head, shirt and shorts. It’s fantastic and feels like a wake-up shock; my cold shower at 5am earlier in the day.

After my stomach woes at White River, I go simple for today: water only to drink, gels, Fruitsource bars, one small PB&J square and some M&Ms. No fruit, stay away from Gu brew.

Just a quarter mile down from the station there is a wide stream, 15 yards, ankle deep. Splashing through cools the socks, and reminds me of all the miles running with sopping feet during this summer’s mountain outings. I've come to enjoy (at least more than tolerate) having wet and cold feet, and the water doesn't bother me.

This last climb (5.5 miles, ~2,000’) is right in between running and hiking. It meanders: up left, back to the right, further right, I don’t know where it’s going. I can see the pass up to the left that we’ll crest and drop into Merchant’s Basin to rejoin the Foggy Dew trail back to the start/finish, but the trail continues to wander. It's not steep or tough, just long. Starting to get a little tired, I have a gel and make it over, about mile 27; 10 miles of downhill await.

My stomach feels decent; I’m not dehydrated (or at least not noticeably); legs are feeling it a little, but not sharply.

This is my race.

Good technical trails again lead to the last aid station at 29m. Water refill (thanks Brandon!), M&Ms and I’m out quick. Ran and I yo-yoed all day after Kyle and I caught up to him around mile 16, and he let me pass and enjoy flying down the five miles of trail to the road. I made good time, kicked a few big rocks and somehow didn't fall, scared a couple 35k runners, passed one 60k runner who looked really beat and popped out onto the road.

With just over three miles to go, and all downhill dirt road, I’m content to just cruise it in at a comfortable pace. I thought I’d finish in 8:30, and here I am with a couple miles left and am at 7:15. I let up, not pushing it. Ran comes back and passes me with about ¾ of a mile left, saying he’s hurting and just wants to finish ASAP.

I feel differently.

Regardless of what place I get, I know I've run a great race. I managed my body well, embraced the technical and tough terrain this course is known for and really pushed myself. Most of all, I enjoyed all of it. It was a wonderful day in the mountains. With the exception of the closing miles that I feel aren't worth completely thrashing my legs on, I've left it all out there.

James greets me at the line and I blurt out, through an enormous smile, “Now THAT’S a trail race!”

Richard, just back from his 450-mile crossing of Iowa (in only seven days), threw down a crazy time of 6:58.

I get some recovery drink down, but it's too early for my stomach to handle real food.

Greg comes in at 8:20, greeted by his wife and girls (the last time they’ll see him run before he heads off to Wasatch for some well-earned redemption).

Some relaxing and a soak in the creek makes me feel better about all the pizza being baked, and I eat quite a few pieces before I help James, Candice and crew pack everything up. East 20 brought their wood-fired oven: my favorite slice has local peaches and blueberries on it. Cleanup includes lots of talking with Matt and fiancĂ© Carrie (Kerry?), Project Talaria's Dave Melanson and of course the Rainshadow duo.

Driving back to Twisp at 9pm, it’s been a long, but great day.

Thank you to James and Candice for putting on such a great race and all the volunteers who had to hike in the aid station supplies. Glenn took great photos, as usual, and I can’t wait to see the Project Talaria video.

Being the first Rainshadow event with prize money it did bring in some big names, as you can see from the full results, HERE. Those are very fast times.

Dave, you told me this was going to be my race, and I did my best to make that happen. Thanks for giving me the encouragement. Now it’s your turn.

(note: my GPS cut out on the road for two miles; most recordings I've seen have it at about 37.5 miles)

Sunday, August 4, 2013

The training I did for my first 50-miler

It seems like I run fewer days and less miles than other ultrarunners. I usually only run three or four days a week and the majority of my normal runs are 3-10 miles. 

I approach my running as fun. The only thing I do that could be considered real "training" is a weekly speed workout (either a tempo run or some intervals at the track). Everything else I do as enjoyment, or as a break from the rest of the world (also enjoyable). 

I feel like I've learned a lot about running in the last seven months since I signed up for my first ultra and that is what compelled me to post the training I've done.

Besides my weekend long runs, everything else is even below most marathon-training-level plans. 

Training in January-March, up until Chuckanut 50k, I averaged 30-mile weeks, with long trail runs between 13 and 20 miles, with at least a couple thousand feet of vert. After Chuckanut, I started running quite a bit more to train for Sun Mountain 50k, summer mountain outings and White River 50m.  

Here are my weekly details (races are in bold, as are weekly totals):

1-Apr 0 0 4 4.2 0 4 20.8 33
8-Apr 0 6.4 0 8 0 12.3 0 26.7
15-Apr 6 8.1 0 6 0 24.1 0 44.2
22-Apr 0 6.4 1 8.1 0 3.75 14.65 33.9
29-Apr 0 8.1 0 15.5 0 2.75 24.8 51.15
6-May 0 6.4 0 8.1 0 8.2 0 22.7
13-May 3 6 0 0 0 0 29 38
20-May 0 0 0 3.6 0 23.45 0 27.05
27-May 0 6 0 8.1 0 18.4 0 32.5
3-Jun 0 6 7 0 0 47.2 0 60.2
10-Jun 0 2.1 3.6 8.1 0 27.4 0 41.2
17-Jun 0 3.1 3.6 15.2 0 19.5 0 41.4
24-Jun 0 3.6 8 0 0 42 0 53.6
1-Jul 0 4.75 6 0 0 32.4 0 43.15
8-Jul 0 7.25 0 5 0 34.1 0 46.35
15-Jul 0 4.5 0 8.2 0 6.2 4 22.9
22-Jul 0 3.2 0 0 0 50 0 53.2

With my long weekend run addiction, I also like a lot of vert, especially with the mountains melted out. While this pales in comparison to some people, it felt good for me. Below are my vertical gain totals for each month (as recorded on my Garmin/Strava):

April: 15,151'
May: 16,801'
June: 38,425'
July: 26,916'

June was by far my biggest month of training, with 215 miles and the vert above. July would have been big if not for White River, but it also was nice to rest a little....sort of...

It feels weird to be recovering from White River, but also tapering for Angel's Staircase next weekend. I miss the mountains.