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.


  1. Luke,
    You seem to be grooming yourself to do well on this one. The key training for Cascade for me was to run LONNNGGGGG uphill forest roads 5-10 miles. Do tempos on them up, easy down...and do easy runs up and tempo runs down. Go to Hyak and run up to the top. Go to Mineral Creek and run up from there. If you can run up these sections in the race, you will likely finish top 5 in the race. I increased my lead on these sections from 10 mins at Hyak, to 100 minutes at No Name. I banked all of my mental energy on those 2 climbs and pretended the rest of the race was just prep for running those climbs. Lots of other runners ran the race's sections about the same speed as I did, except for those climbs. You get plenty of relief after the climbs (downhill to TFH, then the Cardiac Needles). Lots of hiking in those sections- so the two big road climbs are really the last chance to run uphill for extended miles. Find your granny 1st gear and grind it out. Even a 13-14 min pace will gain miles on the field if they are walking up those 12 miles of uphill road. Try could blow you up and end your day...or put you on the podium.

    1. Thanks Jer; those are good tips and I really appreciate hearing how you trained for it. I have a lot to learn, and even more training to do, before I ever think about getting on the podium at any ultra :) . It was awesome to see you do (win) The Bear, also; congrats. Besides CC it is the other hundo that I would really love to do. Again, thanks for sharing your training and tips. I definitely read your CC report last summer when I learned I would be pacing.
      Best wishes,