Tuesday, September 02, 2008

A Course is A Course of Course

Wow, am I behind on my race reports! I guess I've been hit with a strong dose of the post-100 ennui that Perhaps it will encourage me to essentialize and keep this brief.

What can I say about Cascade Crest? It is definitely a classic course. Every course seems to have its major unique challenge that identifies it whether its high altitude, super steep climbs, technical trails, hot canyons or unpredictable conditions. This course up in the Cascade Mountain Range in Washington state, seems to be an attempt by its course designers to try to fit in as many of the traditional trail challenges as they could while throwing in some of the most unique twists you will find anywhere. Even Hans-Dieter Weisshaar, who has run more than 100 100-milers, said that there are some parts of this course that are like nothing in any other 100 mile race.

To summarize, Cascade Crest includes the following:
  • Over 20,000ft +/- elevation change (enough to qualify it as one of the harder 100's alone)
  • Some long slow uphill grinds (almost 3000ft right off the bat)
  • Some short, but VERY steep climbs (late in the race, no less)
  • Big wide fireroads
  • Narrow single-track
  • Rock-strewn trail
  • Creek crossings
  • Muddy sections
  • Dozens of downed trees to climb over
  • Downhill sections so over-groan you can't see your feet
  • A little bit of snow on the ground for good measure
  • Potentials for severe weather in either direction (we only had a little rain at the end)
Add to those one a descent that is so steep that it requires a safety rope to go down, a 2 1/2 mile run through an old rail tunnel in the middle of the night and something called "The Trail from Hell" that takes even the front runners nearly 2 hours to complete though it is only about 5 miles and doesn't contain any significant climbing (unless you count climbing over logs, under branches and around pieces of the trail that seem to be falling into the lake below). This is one unique race and something that needs to be experienced rather than explained. About the only thing this course doesn't have is high altitude (peak is a little over 5500ft) which is a good thing for me because even without it I was eerily reminded of being at Bighorn during one of the last steep climbs.

I didn't really do a very good job of studying the course beforehand and maybe went into the race a little more nonchalant than I should for a 100 miler. However, I felt well trained and my only real goal was to redeem myself at this distance after my less than desirable finish at Bighorn. I did look at the maps and the profile a little bit and, somehow, figured that 27 hours seemed like a good goal for this race. I even put together a quick, "back-of-the-napkin" sort of plan. My simple idea was to run the first 1/3 of the race in 8 hours then have 19 remaining to run the other two thirds in something like 10 and 9 hours each (or vis-versa or some other similar combination). It wasn't a horrible plan and looking at the splits there is at least one person who came very close to splits like this and a couple who did much better in the last two thirds coming in under 26!

The thing is that if you look at the elevation profiles, it is clear that the bulk of the climbing, in terms of pure numbers, is in the first half of the race. So, even given the normal tendency to slow down by as much as 20% in the second half of a 100 miler, it seems possible to not loose so much time on this course, if you are just looking at it in the abstract. Except that things like trees, creeks, rocks and hills don't just exist "in the abstract." They exist in reality as real challenges to be faced and overcome and they don't really care how undaunting they may have appeared on a some computer-generated chart with alternating colored bars filling in the space beneath a squiggly line. If any course had to prove the assertion that "the overall elevation gain and loss doesn't tell the whole story," then Cascade Crest should be given the whiteboard marker and sent to the front of the class to school us all.

My plan was to go through my race now, section by section using the course profiles as a guide and posting the many pictures I took to give a sense of the place. However, at the rate I'm going I may never finish this thing and by the time I did I don't think anyone would want to read it. So, I am going to perform a complete cop-out and use modern technology as the crutch it was designed to be. So, in the place of witty banter, insightful observations and compelling narrative, I bring you a photo slide-show provided by the good folks at Google Picasa. This should provide all the entertainment, thrills and intellectual stimulation of back when my parents used to drag out the slide projector to show pictures of my butt-naked 3-year old self taking a bubble bath. Enjoy!


Anonymous said...

WOW STEVE!!! Those photos...and a fun/tough course.

The beauty of those photos seem to rank right up there with Hardrock.

I want to do hardrock but I don't want to climb those mountains at that elevation.... I just love the beauty of that course. So I'm sure I'll end up doing it sometime.

I guess I didn't realize how beautiful CC100 is.

That one seems PERFECT. I might try and squeeze that one on my list for next year since WS100 is definitely out for me....

nice race..


Eudemus said...

The area reminds me a lot of Tahoe with all the forests and lakes in the distance. Cascade should definitely be on everyone's list at least once. It is such a unique course.