cascade express marathon
Photo: Ben Luedke

Race: Cascade Express Marathon

Runner: Tess C

Race Date: 09/29/2018

Location: Iron Horse Trail, Snoqualmie Pass, Washington

Results: 4:01:55

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  1. The scenery is beautiful.
  2. It’s a small no-fuss event (just over 200 finishers), with great people and awesome pacers.
  3. The downhill slope for most of the run probably helped my legs keep moving.

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

I usually run road races, so the gravel and rocks was challenging for me. I ran it last year in road shoes (felt every rock, I swear), and this year I used a flexible trail shoe, which made it much less painful – highly recommend at least a light trail shoe for this run.

Weird factor – What’s the weirdest thing about this race?

The weirdest thing is definitely the 2.2 miles through the tunnel. Volunteers provide small flashlights to the runners just before entering the tunnel, and runners quickly learn how to optimize the tiny beam of light to avoiding tripping. The tunnel tends to slow runners down, I think. It’s hard to pace in there. In the beginning, it is just super cool. After half a mile, it starts to feel… well, uncomfortable.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

This year I finally stuck with a pacing group for longer than a mile. Ha. Pacers really are fantastic people. Bravo to them for sacrificing their PR so that I can avoid falling apart at mile 18. Although the final 6 miles were not great for me, I was nevertheless thrilled that my legs were still moving at a fairly steady pace, albeit a slightly-too-slow pace.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner

As I mentioned above, use a trail running shoe. Also, this year was the first year the organizers didn’t see rain on race day, so be prepared to get wet.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

I tend to train on pavement and treadmill. I think for any race that is advertised as being on packed, hard trail, it is a good idea to train on dirt and gravel. I was using my gastroc’s much more than is typical, just to keep moving forward.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

Although it is called the Express and it is mostly on a downward slope, I think it’s still a hard run (hmmm, I guess that’s a factor of it being long distance). I would rather run on pavement and move uphill every now and then for better traction. Lots of people do P.R., though, so if you’re fast on trail, God bless you, go get that P.R. and I’ll live vicariously through ya.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Gorgeous. A little less gorgeous at miles 22-26, but still beautiful woods.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Well, not as easy for some as the “Express” would lead us to believe.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

They do a GREAT job! I am sure I lost track, but I want to say there were about 6 water stations, and at least two of those had Gu packets. At the Finish line, they cook up grilled cheese sandwiches, which really hit the spot. It has a family-reunion picnic gathering sort of feel at the end. There was bit of a wait (maybe 30 minutes) for the yellow school bus that takes runners back to the Start where our cars are parked, but it wasn’t bad.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

I have no clue. I am not up there competing with anyone but myself. In my age group of women, there were only 12 of us.

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.

Last year and this year, I registered many many months in advance, but I think registration remains available up until the race. There is a discount to use the Summit Inn (a roadside motel up at Snoqualmie), and those rooms are limited, so if you are coming from a far ways away, try to book a room sooner than later. From Seattle, just sleep in your own bed and drive up.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

Standard fare. If you tend to require more hydration than the average Jane or Joe, I would recommend a water pack on your back.

Weather and typical race conditions

Our race day was unusually dry. Typically at the end of September, it’s wet.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next guy?

Consider trail shoes and a camel back or water bottle belt.

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Oh, not really. The first part of the course is a short out-and-back segment away from, and then back to, the parking lot at the Start line. Totals about 5 to 6 miles, I think. So friends could cheer for you there. Otherwise, nothing really until the Finish line, unless friends want to bring bikes and use the trail with the marathoners. It’s an open public trail.

How’s the Swag?

Shoot. I do not remember. Wait… A short-sleeved shirt at the Finish Line awaits each runner. And a plastic water bottle. And the finisher’s medal, of course.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give this race and do you recommend that others run it?

Five stars. It’s a lovable race.