Matt Urbanski reviews the Cascade Crest 100 mile run in this race report, including what you should know about the course and the weather before running.
Race: Cascade Crest 100
Runner: Matt U
Location: Easton, WA
Results: 2nd OA, 20:11.25
I was leading from mile 29 until mile 98 (of 102)! My lead was as big as 45 minutes. I was chill, relaxed, and in control of my race through the halfway point. I made some tactical errors early on the way back but I was still moving and nothing ever got really bad, even though I knew I was slowing. I thought I had the win in the bag. I was thinking “prevent defense” during some of the uphills and technical stuff over the final 15 miles, thinking – “don’t fall and mess this up”, “don’t push too hard and start puking and screw this up”, and “someone has to run an amazing finish to even come close to catching me”.
And then just past the final aid station a bright light approached and Jeff Kercher (my pacer) and I were dumbfounded – “who are you?”, “what’s going on?!”. His response – “You’re a tough f&*$ker to catch!”. We shared some joking words about sprint finishes, and allowing him to pass, and then on a switch back, I stepped aside and let him go.
My brain and body were fired up – we were racing down the mountain with four to go. I felt fresh and ready to roll – but damn was he strong! We were running fast, particularly for night time on trails at mile 98+. I couldn’t believe the speed and strength he had, and I gradually let him go. He finished 3 minutes ahead of me for the win.
I’m not upset about it. I would do some things differently (I mention some of it below). But this was my best mountain 100 miler ever, I managed it very well overall, and Lyndsay put on a phenomenal push to the finish for the win – kudos to him – seriously impressive.
3 Bests – what aspects of the Cascade Crest 100 did you like the most?
- This race is in our backyard so having so many friends and acquaintances out there cheering me on was awesome.
- I love running on the PCT, and overall, the course was pretty and great for doing a 100 miler.
- It was cool to be competitive in an ultra – with this being in the heart of the summer mountain ultra season, the fast folks were elsewhere and that opened the race to guys like me to be in the front. It was fun!
Not so much – What aspects of the Cascade Crest 100 didn’t do it for you?
While I would have liked to run the original course, it wasn’t a negative to do an out and back. It ended up different than my expectations given the route change, but that’s it.
Weird factor – what’s the weirdest thing about the Cascade Crest 100?
No packet pickup the day before the race. This is a unique aspect of this race that I like. The race start is later than most (9am), and there is a rather lengthy race briefing and chat before the start. (In retrospect, it probably wasn’t a long chat, but given that I was ready and amped to race, it seemed like a long time!) So you show up on race day, get your stuff, and run. I like it!
Highlights of your race – what did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?
I ran the first half of the race beautifully. I managed my effort well. I managed the heat. I was positive. My legs were strong and I never felt like I was pushing outside of an appropriate 100 mile effort. This resulted to me being in the lead from around mile 30 until mile 98 – very cool to be cheered into aid stations as the lead runner.
Lessons for others – share your pro-tips on the Cascade Crest 100 to help the next runner
- Manage the heat. It wasn’t even that hot and relative to other races (Western States, Pine to Palm, etc) it isn’t a super hot race. However, it was in the 80s and making efforts during the day to keep the core temperature down is important.
- Avoid wasting energy on steeper, technical stuff on course prior to the PCT. There is plenty runnable stuff in this section, but there are a few rougher spots with loose soil and rocks and some steep little ups that it could be easy to waste energy on.
- If you get there early enough, get into Mirror Lake. During the race and during every training run, I totally submersed myself in this awesome lake along the PCT (a few miles before Olallie aid station). It’s a beautiful shock to the system and immediately cools me down. There is also a decent creek a few miles before this that is even colder. Another great opportunity to cool your core. I recommend doing this sort of thing in training so you’re used to running with wet shoes.
Lessons you learned that will help you next time around
- I’m not going to have a pacer until later in the race – last 10 or 20 miles. This is more of a personal lesson learned based on my personality and what I like about running with a pacer.
- When I left Hyak at mile 51 I was chill and in the lead. Upon picking up my pacer Jeff (awesome pacer BTW) I immediately pushed too hard through the tunnel on the way back and I was pushing too hard on the ropes section and subsequent climb. My left quad starting cramping just above my knee. I couldn’t run the climbs as well from there on in.
- Call it what it is, I am a performer and the main reason I like having a pacer is to have someone there to see me working hard and going for it in a race. I have mantras in my head that go something like “I’m going to show people how to finish”, and if I can have a pacer there with me, I thrive on their being there to witness me trying really hard. In this race, picking up a pacer at the halfway point, I got into the “push for home” mentality way too soon. It wasn’t a drastic move and I didn’t blow up as a result of it, but I got out of my zone of being chill and managing my day, and instead became more focused on the finish and staying in the lead.
- So next time around, no pacers until it’s time to push for home. I want to stay in my zone, manage my race better, and then pick up a pacer when it’s time to hammer it home!
Most important course specific knowledge to know about the Cascade Crest 100?
- Major caveat here is that the course was different this year than normal due to the fires. It was an out and back and didn’t have anything of the normal course after the Hyak aid station.
- Be chill early. There are sections to waste energy on in the first 18 miles.
- The PCT sections from Blowout to some way after Stampede Pass feel amazing and are so smooth and wonderful for running. I loved it.
- It does get rockier and more technical at times after Stampede/Meadow Mt through Olallie. It’s not terrible but it’s not as smooth as earlier PCT sections. I noticed the rockiness of this section way more on the way back.
- Running in the tunnel feels weird to me. I felt like I was sweating more even though I also felt like I was cold at times – just kind of weird – and we had to do it twice this year.
- A lot of runnable stuff on this course. I really enjoyed that aspect of this race.
Aesthetics – is it a pretty course?
Definitely. There was some smoke making for some hazy skies but being out in the WA mountains is awesome and I love running out here!
Difficulty – is it a tough course?
- It’s 100 miles so it’s tough b/c of the distance. On the OAB course, there wasn’t anything about the course that is ridiculous.
- Most of it’s runnable. There are a few tough sections (relative to my weaknesses) like the steep up (and down) section with the ropes heading to the Iron Horse trail near the tunnel, but overall, it’s runnable.
- It felt like there was way more uphill on the way back, but that was likely due to my fatigue! 🙂
Organized and well run – did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?
Awesome! The Cascade crew is fantastic. They create a good vibe, everything went smoothly, and this was all within the framework of having to change the route the day before the race due to fires – well oiled for sure!
Competition – is there a strong field?
This year was moderate. There were definitely some speedier folks there, but not the front runners that you see at UTMB or Western. That said, the women’s race had some stout competition. I think it varies year to year but generally isn’t as deep as other races.
Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.
- Lottery during the winter to get in. Wait list tends to have a lot of movement given the race requirement and the trail work requirement (8 hours of trail work).
- Lodging was easy and good. We got a little A-frame cabin a couple miles from the start at the Easton RV Resort. We didn’t book early and had no problems finding a spot.
- Easy drive from Seattle out I-90.
How are the Aid Stations?
- Great and happy folks (as is the case at most of these races).
- Even better that I knew lots of them!
- I didn’t rely on aid stations for anything other than water (and a few gels and Gu brew later in the race), but I imagine they had good stuff!
Weather and typical race conditions
Summer in Seattle is awesome. Sunny, potential to be hot. Rain not likely (though it has happened in past years). Fires this year unfortunately.
Gear – did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?
- I tried something new this year and it was awesome. I used the Nathan Krar Vapor waist belt (thanks Dale for the recommendation and 7Hills for hooking me up!). This allowed me to carry on Salomon soft flask in the belt. I didn’t need a handheld or a vest as a result. I was able to carry my food and gels in the belt pockets and my Salomon Exo tights pockets. I was streamlined and had all I needed. I was cutting it close on water capacity during the day a few times when it was warmer but it worked out well in general.
- I switched to carrying a 5L vest the final 22 miles. I was slowing enough, there was a 7.9 mile stretch between aid stations, and I was switching more of a gel/liquid calorie fueling plan.
- I never felt like I needed poles for this course.
- Weather was mild and stayed warm throughout the night so I didn’t need anything else. I’ve been told from past racers that having colder gear for the nighttime is wise.
- My crew had a cooler with ice water and a soaked bath towel ready for me at crew spots. So when I came into the aid station, I sat down briefly while we reloaded and they wrapped this wet cold towel around my upper body – wow! Awesome.
Spectators – is this a friendly course for your friends?
Decent. Driving isn’t crazy, crew directions in the race guide are detailed, and this year given the out and back course, we got one more crew spot later in the race which was nice.
What are the awards like?
- Rich hands you your buckle and cheers you in on the bull horn.
- He hands you a cool sweatshirt.
- And then the volunteers take good care of you with food, blankets, buckets of water to soak your feet. Solid.
The Overall Score – how many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it
5 out of 5 stars. This one has been on my list for a long time and it didn’t disappoint, even with the course change.