by Lynn Ballard
August 25-26, 2007
I run in the path of your commands, for
you have set my heart free. – Ps 119:32
I think I decided to enter Cascade Crest the moment I watched the video of Krissy Moehl’s record-breaking Hardrock 100 finish. I experienced the full range of emotion as I watched her kiss the truck-sized rock to signal the end of her quest, turn, lean against it’s hulk and slide down to the ground as the power of that moment weighed in on her. Glued to my computer screen, I cried with her, tears of joy and my own remembrances of simultaneous pain and renewal.
Following my first successful attempt of a 100 mile mountain race at Bighorn Wild & Scenic Run in June of this year, I found myself wondering if I had really demonstrated capability at this level of endurance, or if I was more like the blind squirrel which happens to find an acorn now and then. I had a good run at Bighorn, maybe the best I have ever had, beautiful, brutal terrain ready to dash an ultra runner’s hopes and dreams. Joe Prusaitis had tickled my ear during Bighorn. “Lynn, if you can do this, you could do Hardrock”, he would taunt, “you know, you have qualified for Hardrock”, he added a little bit later near the finish… The seed was planted, Krissy’s finish provided the fertile soil for it to grow, the fact that Cascade Crest hadn’t filled to capacity only 6 weeks out was enough to push me over the edge. I would enter another mountain 100 mile race to prove to myself my ability to do mountain 100 mile races…it made perfect sense!
I bumped my mileage back up to the pre-Bighorn levels, approaching 70 miles per week, did a flat 50K July 15th and felt I was on track, although I had little access to trails for training due to the wettest June on record for North Texas…my training would be void of trails and void of hills! A three week taper with a sinus infection thrown in would have to suffice…I’m going to Washington!
My plans are for a quick weekend, little downtime for the race…I’d leave on Friday morning and return on the red-eye on Sunday night/Monday morning. cc_lballard2Friday came and my trip to Seattle was uneventful. I drove from SeaTac to Issaquah and stopped for the final supplies for my drop bags, had a healthy lunch at Taco Bell and continued to North Bend, where I checked into my hotel for the night. I also arranged a room for my friend, John Morelock, who had agreed to come and chase me around the course and fuss at me about fueling, hydration and for anything else about which I needed to be fussed.
After a nap in my room, I drove up to Snoqualmie Pass where a pre-race dinner was scheduled. I met Tony, a tri-athlete traveling with his wife and young son, contemplating his very first 100 mile race. We chatted nervously waiting for the others to show up. I shared what little wisdom I felt I had and wished Tony the very best…he would go on to successfully complete his first 100 mile race. Others filed in and we had great discussion and fellowship with runners and race volunteers over a great spaghetti dinner. We wrapped up the night early and each headed our separate way.
I managed to arrange and rearrange drop bag stuff late enough to meet John when he arrived. John lives and works on Whibdey Island, north of Seattle and had driven down after work (after arranging to be off for the weekend, which is normally a working time for him). It is very comforting to have John there and I quickly settle down and am able to go to bed for much needed sleep.
cc_lballard3Pre-race activities are scheduled to start at 7:00 am leading up to a 10:00 am start, and John is nice enough to put up with my O/C tendencies so we arrive at 6:45…right on time! We meet RD Charlie Crissman and check out the Easton fire house, which serves as CCC100 race central. Drop bags are dropped, and I began the all-too familiar ritual of “suiting up” for a race. I take my time and John works the room, so to speak. It seems like he knows everyone there, or if he didn’t when we arrived, he certainly will before we go home. He’s that kind of person, the kind who hears what you say and what you don’t. Did I mention that it was very comforting to have John there?
We partake in the fire house cookery, sausage, eggs, pancakes, fruit…thanks Easton Fire House, your hospitality was awesome! Charlie and crew make announcements and I find it amusing they are talking about course particulars that I am sure I wouldn’t remember if I were fresh, much less in my 80th mile after no sleep in over 20 hours! I get to visit with the Texas contingent, Moogy, Sean, Robert & Dianna Heynen (crew) and others hoping to conquer the CCC beast. Another North Texas runner, Letha Cruthirds joins us and waits for time to take the starting positions.
cc_lballard4We are called to the start and hear a beautiful rendition of Oh Canada and The Star Spangled Banner and we are sent on our journey. Letha and I settle in together and after fussing with her watch/timer/heart rate monitor, we are comfortable heading up the road, glad the temperature has not risen to much too early. Having someone I know next to me is good, as it puts off the questions rambling around in my head, you know, the bad questions…doubt. The pace is easy and we are very close to the back of the pack. This doesn’t bother me, as I don’t anticipate pushing it in the early climbing, which will begin momentarily. I pinch myself to make sure I am not dreaming. After a few turns on the road, we make our way onto a wide trail, padded out from heavy use near the trailhead. I settle into a comfortable pace and pass a few dozen people on the early part of the climb. Before long, we are at Goat Peak Trailhead, the first aid station, where Krissy Moehl herself is handing out refreshment.
Still taking it all in, I choose to pass on the beverages Krissy and her team were offering and pressed on up the climb toward Goat Peak. I have found the rear of a train managing good time on the climb, not too slow, not too fast. Good! Just what Doctor John M ordered! At the Peak, we are rewarded with views of Easton, now almost 3,000 feet below us…the weather was quite pleasant, but we were still sweating profusely. As many stop to take in the view, I press on and find myself alone, with only a single runner in sight ahead of me. It proved to be prophetic, as I close in on Moogy, who will play tag with me for the next 27 hours. I know I am running way over my head if I am staying with Moogy, but I can’t seem to check my pace and we arrive at Cole Butte shortly after noon. I won’t pass another station without filling my bottles.
Next up is Blowout Mountain aid station at mile 23, then onto the incredible Pacific Crest Trail for an enchanting section of the course. I fall in with a runner from North Bend who is promptly attacked by hornets! Before I realize her dilemma, I am hit as well and we both battle the affects of stings on our lower legs. Unfortunately, my new friend begins to experience difficulty breathing as she has a mild allergy to the stings. We press on and I am praying that her breathing gets easier, as we are still quite a way from Tacoma Pass and the next aid (mile 23). We come upon three runners, two bent over attending another who is not well. After checking to see what we can do, we decide the best thing is to make haste to Tacoma Pass (still a couple of miles away) to notify race officials and the two Good Samaritan runners remain behind to attend our downed comrade.
We reach Tacoma Pass and lots of good care and both move in and out efficiently after we have described the situation with the runner on the trail. I learned after the race that volunteers hiked back to the runner and carried him the two miles out to Tacoma Pass! One of those attending the fallen trail runner went on to finish barely ahead of cut-off…God, I love this sport…it’s the people. My friend from North Bend is still struggling with her breathing as we arrive at the Snowshoe aid station (mile 28). It seemed to me that her breathing was getting more and more labored. One of the volunteers is a doctor (RD’s wife, I believe) and asks a few questions, but is satisfied that there is no danger, so we continue on, hornet bites and all. I lose contact with her in the next section, but was quite pleased to see her name in the results with her first official finish after a couple of failed attempts.
cc_lballard7Darkness is setting in a little early, aided by a heavy overcast. The skies open up and begin to weep on us before our next respite. We arrive safely, but wet, at Stampede Pass (mile 33) and see our crew again, but won’t see them again for another 20 miles on rugged trails in the dark. At this writing, I honestly cannot remember Meadow Mountain (mile 41), but I do remember running through long stretches of waist high mulberry bushes (heavenly berries) heavy laden with berries and wet leaves. It is well after dark when I overheard someone comment that bears LOVE mulberries… great! I find myself alone for a good part of the trail here, not able to see the ground through the thick brush, not able to see lights ahead or behind me. It seems like I go on this way forever… This is my first low spot, not focused, not running a lot, not feeling great…full of doubt, always the doubt.
It seems like a lot of time passed and I am near a small body of water and then start a pretty good climb when the clouds part for a few minutes, just enough to let the moon shine through. This picks up my spirits and I set my jaw more firmly and find a new gear for this challenge. Shortly, I begin to overtake runners and notice we are well above the small lake I passed earlier and can see the full moon in the sky and another reflecting off the water several hundred feet below…this really cleared my head and I now was moving really well. Shortly, I reached Olallie Meadows aid station (mile 47) and tasted a hot pirogue, a new experience for me…quite good! Moving quickly out of the aid station, my mind is set on getting this next section done! I seem to be leading a train of runners now and we are on a mission! We have exited the Pacific Crest Trail and are now looking for the infamous bushwack to put us near the mouth of the also infamous railroad tunnel. This section seems to go by quickly, but I must say the bushwack was more than I expected. It is so steep we had to hold tightly to a climbing rope strung between trees to keep from becoming a human avalanche! The footing was horrible, but gravity was our pacer as we careened down to the rail-trail leading to the tunnel, which was yet another adventure. I entered the tunnel alone and would remain that way until the next aid station. More than 1 ½ miles long, this was a symphony of echoes, footsteps, heavy breathing, dripping water…quite creepy. As I near the end, I suddenly go completely blind as someone had stationed themselves there with a flash camera! I stumble forward to Hyak/Snoqualmie Pass aid station, mile 53.
I think it was about midnight, but John was up and waiting for me, a well-timed comfort in a sea of discomort. I decide to change socks, as my feet had been wet for quite some time, no real damage, but it felt really good to have dry socks. Good food and sage advice/encouragement from John and I complete my longest aid station stop of the race. Next up, a 7 mile climb to Keechelus Ridge. On the climb, I catch a few of the runners who had left Hyak before me. Moogy is there, struggling with a really bad stomach that has forced many unplanned stops for him. He is really toughing it out, insisting he is OK. I move on and make the Ridge (mile 60) a quick stop.
I had planned to push hard on the next section, but the grade made this long downhill a real challenge. I was forced to take more breaks than I would have thought necessary, slowing me quite a bit. It seemed to take me longer to go down this section than it took me to climb to the Ridge. Nonetheless, I arrive at Kachess Lake (mile 68) and John has just arrived, but ever helpful. Dianna is there, ready to start pacing Moogy, who arrives shortly after me. It is about 4 am and I am officially tired!
The next section is called “the trail from hell” in the runners guide. Even now, I consider that name to be way short of describing this “relatively flat” 6 mile section bordering a beautiful mountain lake. The first part is a bushwack with a down tree every 100 yards or so. Now these trees were big, so big that we had to either belly crawl under them or climb up on the trunk and drop down the other side, quite an undertaking. My attitude went down the drain and my pace slowed to a crawl. In addition, a volunteer had filled my bottles with Heed instead of water and I wasn’t taking in enough fluid/calories, as I don’t care for it. I think it must have taken me 2 ½ hours to cover 6 miles. Dianna and Moogy caught up with me and we were together for much of this section, probably saving my race.
We arrived at Mineral Creek (mile 73) just after daylight and began to climb. Oh, nice, ANOTHER 7 mile climb to No Name Ridge (Mile 80). I was moving well on the climb and felt pretty good when I reached the Ridge top. Lisa Bliss, just off her Badwater double was there waiting on me hand and foot. I don’t waste a lot of time, but do fuel up as the Cardiac Needles are ahead. I am, however, beginning to feel I am going to finish. It always strikes me as amusing when you can consider that “only” 20 miles left and we begin to smell the barn! The Cascade Crest course has a way to deal with that rather quickly…enter Cardiac Needles!
The Needles were a rude awakening, sending fire up and down my Achilles and calves. My heart rate zoomed up and I struggled for air…again, the name was an understatement of the actual physical challenge the Needles provided. The weather soured as I moved up toward Thorpe Mountain. Temps dropped and unfortunately, so did my attitude…again. This section was going to hurt…a lot. I moved into the Thorpe Mountain aid station (mile 84) and began my ascent to the peak. Wind was testing the limits of my light jacket and the cold air was beginning to really sting. I round a corner and almost bump in to Glen T. who has stationed himself in a nasty spot to take race photos of the runners…incredible! I reach the summit, grab a ticket and make haste back down to the aid station, ready to get the heck off Thorpe! Before long, I am alone again and realize I am really sleepy. I continue to run as much as possible, but see something that brings me to a dead stop…a deer right in the trail ahead. It moves from my right to my left and pivots right in the trail ahead, moving further away, it seems to vanish into the mist. Thinking I was hallucinating, I decide it wasn’t real and begin to move again. Once I reached the point on the trail where my “hallucination” crossed, I looked down and took note of a clear set of tracks leading up to and away from the pivot point…OK, it was real! A few yards further and I stop again, seeing a mountain lion next to a downed limb by the trail. I do quick reckoning as to whether I should push on or try to move around it, as it hasn’t noticed me yet… I slowly slip forward and soon realize THIS is the hallucination! OK, time to get this done!
I pick up the pace and move on to French Cabin (mile 88). The climbing is behind me and I know I will get this one done. After all, the finish line is as close as the nearest course exit! After seeing Dianna and Moogy for the last time near French Cabin, I run alone to the finish. Leaving Silver Creek, the last aid station, I have trouble doing the math on my projected finish time. It takes me some time to realize I have a shot at breaking 29 hours, but will have to push it to do so. cc_lballard8This short section of jeep road is clouded with dust kicked up by four wheelers zipping up and down the road, I cover my mouth with my trusty NTTR bandana and try to convince myself they have as much right to be here as I do.
I push for what seems like a long time and am quite tired. This is the only section of the course that is paved and it is really punishing my feet and legs. As we are coming back to the starting area from a different direction, I am not familiar with my surroundings and decide I cannot break the 29 hour barrier so I slow to a walk. Once the fire house is in sight, I realize too late that I could have done it, but will settle gladly for 29:03. I crossed the finish line and Charlie handed me a fantastic finisher buckle and John handed me a cell phone with Deborah Sexton on the other end of the line… wanting an up-to-the-minute report on the whereabouts of the NTTR folk.
Special thanks to my friend John Morelock who took the time to help coach and crew me through Cascade Crest. John is a good friend, the kind of friend I can only hope to be.