Saturday, September 1, 2012

2012 Cascade Crest 100 Race Report

The Build-up

Three months before the race I was carrying lots of baggage.  Past injuries, DNF's and absolute failures weighed heavily on my mind.  For example, my Bighorn 100 debacle was a serious blow to my psyche and confidence.  I began to wonder if I had already peaked as a runner and was now out of the mix of contenders.

When I got back to McCall with my aching hip and messed up shins, I took a bit of time to regroup.  I had always heard the best thing you can do is train for a race and then not race it.  In effect, that is what my Bighorn race was.  I got a decent 50K training run out there and ducked out before my hip exploded.  I knew I had put in the training since winter and just needed the health to see what I could do.

I waited 5 days until I was ready to burst- and then erupted into a binge of PR efforts.  Not the smartest thing, but I was desperate to go.  Each run was like a celebration and cleansing.  I howled into the wind, chased the elk through the hills and ran like a wild animal. Within two weeks I was feeling great and building volume- ticking off substantial PR's on my staple training runs.  I took a week off so my wife Brandi and I could direct our first mountain ultra- The McCall Trailrunning Classic on July 14.  I hiked and marked course and stayed hungry for the next binge.

The next several weeks were the finest training weeks I could imagine.  Tons of tempo/PR efforts, huge vertical and awesome, soul-cleansing exploration days in the high peaks.  I recognized a new tool in my kit- the low gear.  I had always been a hill attacker, slicing into every hill with everything I could muster and wishing it were over sooner, panting and near collapse at the top of every one.  I found this new gear capable of cruising pretty steep terrain without fatigue for hours on end.  I knew this was an important component to success at CCC100, so I built a strategy around it.


To apply this new climbing prowess to the CCC, I searched the maps for the most runnable long climbs on the course and planned to gain on my opponents during those stretches.  The key climbs I picked were the Goat Peak, Kechelus Ridge and No-Name Ridge climbs.  I would run every step of these climbs and dared anyone to join me.  I knew there were other steeper climbs like the Cardiac Needles that would be more efficiently walked, so I left those out of the plan.  I thought I could run under 18 hours at CCC if I was able to execute as planned.  I was not too far off in my prediction.


I cut miles, but not quality until the last week.  Brandi and I traveled with our McCall friends Matt Tock and Katie Lombard to Katie's parent's home in Kirkland, WA.  We stayed there for the week while Henry and Naomi Lombard took exquisite care of all of us.  We ate organic straight from their garden and got some great seafood at the Seattle fish market.  I went for two runs in the last week:  we ran Mount Si to the top of the Haystack in an easy hour, then jogged around Kirkland a bit.  I felt like a coiled spring ready to pop.  It was finally time to unleash what I had been building.
Atop the Haystack on Mt. Si, east of Seattle
Brandi scrambles off the top, with the Snoqualmie River below.

Team rendezvous at the saddle at the bottom of the scramble.  Matt, Katie and I.

Henry and Naomi Lombard.  Great folks!

Delicious nummy-nums.

Pre-race in Easton.  Idaho's Miss Molly Eimers about to become the CCC100's youngest female finisher ever.  She and Brandi are a sight to behold when they get together.    I'm the old curmudgeon that won't get out of his chair until the race starts.


I went out feeling pretty strong, keeping my heart rate low and focusing on eating a lot.  I ate 3 gels per hour and tried to eat something else per hour like a Stinger Waffle or Shot Blocks.  So, I ate 400-500 cals for the first several hours.  By the top of Goat Peak, I was leading and saw no one else around.  I cruised easily through Blowout and held back a bit on the best downhill of the day- the beautiful singletrack into Tacoma.  Near the bottom of the hill, I was passed easily by Jace Ives, looking like a gazelle on this perfect trail.  He was running low 6 minute pace and looking great.  Instantly my blood began to boil and I saw red- wanting to duke it out for the lead right here and now!  However, I reminded myself that we were not even a quarter of the way into this thing, so I let him go.  I pulled into Tacoma, as he was pulling out.  I ate and drank and in 10 minutes, I had passed him back on a long uphill.  This would be the last I would see Jace, but he did hang closer than I thought for quite a while (just 10 mins behind at Hyak, mile 53).

Mountain Meadows- mile 40 or so.  Feeling groovy.
As the PCT miles went on, I paced carefully, constantly cooling myself with my water bottles and any creeks I could find.  I was careful not to drink too much water- drinking only to satisfy thirst and no more.  I ate a Pirogi at Ollalie Meadows made by the Scott Team manning the station.  Scott McCoubrey was happy to see me sporting the new Scott prototype he sent me- the T2 Kinnabalu (aka the T2K).  I will do a full review of the shoe on this blog later, but just point it out now that it was a serious factor in my success in this race.  I rolled downhill on the severe rocky trail and reached the fixed-lines leading through the bushwhack section.  To a life-long technical climber this was really fun.  Reminded me of topping out on Halfdome in Yosemite and sliding down the cables tourist route.  I raced down the ropes, my palms burning in delight.  This brought me to the Tunnel.  It was absolutely other-worldly.  The ice-cold air in there felt great in the heat of the day.  I clicked off some really fast miles loving every step.  I descended to a hero's welcome from my crew at Hyak and picked up my pacer, Matt Tock.

Approaching Hyak.  Love the strange contrast here of concrete jungle after running all day on high mountain ridges.
Matty Tock is a true ultra noob.  Here he is warming up to pace me for the second half.  Who does that?  Just goes to show what we pulled off out there- two hacks from the middle of nowhere with no idea what we were doing, serving that course up Idaho-style.

Matt and I met this winter in McCall and we have been good friends and training partners since.  He has been along on most of my long runs this year, so he had a good feel for the pace I would be getting and what it would take to motivate me for the win.  We left Hyak with a 10 minute lead- unbeknownst to us.  We hit the uphill and eased into it, allowing my uphill gear to engage.  To my delight, an 11 minute pace felt easy so we kept it there.  Subsequent study of the splits show I built a substantial lead of around an hour through this section.  We hit the top after 5 miles of climbing in the dark and kept it easy on the descent.  I had a few crampy twinges on the down, so I think we only ran 8 to 9 minute miles here. I had planned to get sub-7.  Henry and Naomi Lombard met us at Lake Kachese with a grilled cheese sandwich and some gels.  We were gone in a minute into the Trail from Hell.

The TFH begins with a pure bushwhack up and down a ridge covered with tangled blowdowns, to the slightly better trail along Lake Kachese- still very rough, techy trail.  Many scramble sections forced us to stop and use our hands to descend loose gullies.  Every time we got a minute of running well, we would be stymied by a near vertical step or a downed timber.  We did miss a critical creek crossing on the right where the trail continues straight.  After a few minutes without seeing a marker we returned to the missed turn and found a marker over the creek.  I fell into the creek.  Really hard.  One time I broke my GPS watch clasp and would not look at it again for the remainder of the race.  I fell lots of times.  It is extremely difficult to try to run well on this entire course.  Very humbling at times.  As I fumbled around in the pitch black night, I waited to be passed by someone not so clumsy.

Speaking of getting wet in creeks, Mr. Crissman's pre-race briefing promised that we would get our feet wet twice during the entire race.  I was soaked and muddied at least 20-30 times in the race.  Thankfully, my T2K's have drainage ports in the bottoms, so what comes in, quickly drains out.  Even wet, slimy mud seemed to dry fast and fall off.  I figured I would need fresh shoes after this section where my crew would be waiting at mile 75, but my feet were dry and happy in no time.  Not only did I keep my shoes on all day, I did not even sit down- a first for me.  We pulled into Mineral Creek Aid after about 90 minutes covering less than 6 miles on the TFH.  We filled my 20 oz bottle and kept rolling, knowing our crew was just 2 or so miles up the hill.  This hill was to be the culmination of my game plan.  We started in easy and got faster and faster.  We hugged and kissed our ladies one last time at mile 75, grabbed some fuel and headed into 5+ more miles of steep uphill forest road climbing No-Name Ridge.  We were rocking it.  The plan was working.  Our lead would grow to 2 hours through here!
Brandi and Katie "crewing" at Mile 75- on the road leading to No Name Ridge.  Apparently they got the beads from a Girls Gone Wild film crew out there filming their latest feature- "Ultra Girlz...Hottest Crews of the Pacific Northwest."
Still moving well at mile 75.  Like my headgear?  It is a Scott hat, that I turned into a vizor by sawing off the top.  It's a Scott, Hat, Vizor...I call it a Shizor.
At the top of No-Name the enthusiastic aid station volunteers hooked us up with more gels and said they think we were near the course record pace.  This was news to us.  We had no watch to check, so all we could do was run our best.  Our trip through the needles was tough ups and downs with lots of all-out power hiking.  Once, I fell off the trail and to my horror, the slope below was so steep, I could have really tumbled. I grabbed the edge of the trail and climbed back up.  We didn't really know it, but we were on a jaw-dropping ridge with mind-blowing scenery. All that us sad sacks experienced was a stiff, icy wind in our faces and a spot of light on the ground from our Black Diamond torches which we chased all night.  I felt like my cat "Robie" trying to get that laser pointer dot for hours on end, to no avail for our amusement.  I wondered if someone, somewhere was getting a laugh at this insanity as payback for my cruelty.

We passed French Cabin and managed the final climb up from the French Cabin basin.  We knew it was all down hill and we tore into it as hard as we could.  We figured we had not been moving that well and must have been way off record pace, so we just did our best, stumbling and tripping on the millions of obstacles along the way.  When the descent got steep, I knew we were near the bottom and the end of the techno running for the day.

Our crew greeted us with woops and cheers as we rolled in to Silver Creek Aid Station.  My friend Ben Blessing was captaining there and happy to see us.  To our amazement, we were about 15 minutes ahead of course record pace!  Un-freakin-believable.  I ditched my shirt, kissed my wife and took off like a shot.  4 easy miles to go.

4 more miles?  What could go wrong?
Mike Blessing is a fine spirit to encounter in the middle of the night.  He whipped up burritos for all the runners at the end of their wits at mile 96.  Good to see some Idahoans out there at Silver Creek.  Mike's son Ben is a lucky guy to have a father that travels, runs and participates in these events.  I have never been around ANYONE who loves ultras as much as Mike Blessing.  Great guy.

The Record that Wasn't

We were seriously moving and I still thought I might break 18 hours- I'm not sure if it were possible at that point or not.  We hit the powerlines and a long straightaway that was flat or slightly downhill and very fast running.  We began to notice that there were no markers.  I was OK with that because I basically knew where we were and thought maybe because it was so simple that markers were not necessary.  However, we began to pass several intersections with no markers.  That was unusual, because EVERY intersection on the course had been marked to prevent confusion.  We rolled on and found a dirt road that I recognized.  It was the road that ran out to Sparks Road and the highway.  We took it and thought we were good, but we followed the road a while and still no markers.  We returned to the powerlines and went left.  We powered along at full speed, feeling the record slipping away.  We were suddenly dead-ended by a lake- Lake Easton?  We ascended and tried another trail, finding the lake shore again.  We ran back up to the main dirt road where we met by Ben Blessing in his truck.  He knew we should have been on the road to town by now, so thankfully he came to find us.  He yelled at us that the course had been stripped and that he would show us the way in his vehicle.  I dropped the hammer, accelerating away from Matt as rage and adrenaline drove me as hard as I could run.  It felt like 5 minute miles, but Ben was yelling out my splits at 6:40.  Not a bad pace for rolling terrain after over 100 miles on THAT course.  Ben screamed at me to hurry, never letting my pace fall off.  He would drive a ways ahead and light the way, then I would sprint towards him while he cheered and implored me to hurry.  I actually thought Matt was in the truck yelling too, but I was just crazed with mountain running fever at this point and not making much sense to myself at all.  Matt was hustling as fast as his Tree-Trunk Tock legs could carry him, but falling off the pace.  This is why we ran all those intervals this winter Matty!

I crossed over the highway and its small uphill then pushed even harder, sensing the end was near.  I pulled into Easton and sprinted, still thinking I had a shot.  I burnt everything I had bottled up all day and went for all I was worth.  I shifted into the form that I finish all my repeats on the track- arms driving, only toes touching the ground, chest heaving.  My running life flashed before my eyes.  The prodigal youth runner with plans of sub-4 minute miles in High School and Olympic Gold; the fall-out with my father when I quit running at age 12; losing my father in the Alaskan mountains in 2005; rediscovering running in the mountains in Colorado in my 20's; my epic off-the-couch Leadville 100 which begat my ultra-running passion; the endless training; the suffering; the enduring of amazing hardships.  I was finally fulfilling my commitment to my father to become a champion again.  I told the Old Man that I loved him and roared like an engine as I made the turn into the Fire Station.  I repeated our family motto to the cadence of my footfalls- "Strength & Honor, Strength & Honor, Strength & Honor."  Mr. Crissman announced me as a champion and tears streaked my filthy face.  I had done it.  I barely noticed my time on the clock as I passed- 18:31:06.  I was so happy to hug my wife and began celebrating with my crew.  The record thing was far from my mind.  I was fully sated.

I had missed the record by by 3 minutes and 14 seconds.  I probably ran in the neighborhood of 7 miles in that last section from Silver Creek, instead of the 4.5 or so the course required.  The last section took me over 50 minutes to complete and I know that most of those miles were under 7 minutes.  I accept full responsibility for the route-finding mistake.  Vandalism and missing markers are part of this sport and the runner is always to blame for failure to know the course.  The previous two record holders had spent many days on the course prior to their victories and that commitment and attention to detail would have allowed them to carry on with or without markers.  That is what makes real champions like Rod and Jeff so successful year after year.

Kent and Charlie welcome me home.  I love the stop sign in the back.

Matt and Ben with me in the Fire Department garage warming back up.  The chilly night caused contractions in my legs and feet after I stopped.  I had to be rewarmed before I could hobble away.  Thanks to the many who endured my stinky feet, bravely massaging the seizing arch to get me to stop moaning.

Scott shoe aftermath.  My T2K's on the left and Matt's Race Rockers on the right.  My protoype's superficial decals peeled off which will be corrected in the production model.  I can't believe he rocked a racing flat for almost 50 miles.  The Aero Foam midsoles in both pairs of shoes is no ordinary midsole.  Even a racing flat with this stuff offers enough protection over rough ground..  
Molly Eimers and pacer Dan Sears above Lake Kachese.  Great shot Glen T!  Way to hang tough and finish  Molly.  The pride of Grangeville, Ideeho representin'!

What's next?  I'll start with some well-earned down time...if you consider chasing the wily Wapiti through the high peaks of Idaho for the next month to be down time.  I am happy to announce I will be officially joining the Scott racing team, participating in product testing, representing Scott at events and flying the Scott flag on my race gear.  Very exciting stuff.

Thanks for reading and I hope something in this drivel inspires you to go hard in the hills.  If the urge to run through the Idaho mountains strikes you, then by all means come on up.  My friend Ben Blessing and I are directing a 100 miler in McCall on October 6- The IMTUF100.  Just like it sounds- I'm Tough. The Idaho Mountain Trail Ultra Festival 100.

The hardships of the Idaho winter will be upon us soon and we have a freezer to stock with meat and 6 cords of Lodgepole, Red Fir and Tamarack to cut and split for heat.   Maybe I will find inspiration in another race this year.  For now, it's good to be home.



  1. What an exciting race report! I've run the Trail from Hell before, on fresh legs, and in the daylight. It took me 90 minutes. Congrats on making the Scott Racing Team. I am so elated you had a good race, especially on a 100 miler. You raced for 100 miles. Sometimes, I am utterly amazed by what the human body can do. Recover well!

  2. Wow, Jeremy! I felt like I was right there with in the mind of an elite runner at the front of the pack. I've got Wasatch next week and I'm a little nervous. Not nervous about finishing, but nervous about actually wanting to do well (for me). Both times I saw you at WIFMER, I felt good and was amazed that I was interested and willing and able to really push my limits. I hope to keep that same kind of drive next week and will use your words of wisdom to definitely inspire me to do just that.
    Thank you for sharing your epic journey and being okay with stuff that just happens. You are truly genuine.

  3. Ah Killer the race was superb but damn it man you earned it! You ground through the lows and now you are enjoying the high! Congratulations on an excellent race but more importantly thanks for making the sport a better place to be! Happy trails!

  4. Thanks for the kind words everyone. Glad to report I am recovered and feeling great a week later- hiking lots of mountains and feeling no pains. Last night, after a long hike with pack and bow, I ran a quick 1.6 miles uphill back to the truck and it felt amazing. I should have a racing plan hashed out for the remainder of this year soon. Still got some fire.

    GZ- you have truly ventured to the far corners of the interwebs to find this lowly blog. How?

  5. Lowly? Hardly. Been watching this one for a bit!

  6. Oh....I just can't believe this. I watched this unfold online but to read it from your perspective is a gift. Thank you so much for writing and sharing. What a race! I mean just WOW!!! Congrats Jeremy on the race and Scott team :)

  7. Thanks Amy. Load your guns and bring 'em to McCall. T-minus 24 days.

  8. Hey Jeremy I'm so glad to hear all of this great news about your race. I read your report and the interview, and i couldn't be more impressed. You're the man Jeremy, and definitely my biggest role model. I'll keep in touch; good luck with everything.

  9. McCall...Thanks man. I know you are in your cross country season right now. Run with Heart and Vision and you will go far. Looking forward to next summer, running the mountains together. Good times ahead.

  10. Jeremy!!! How cool! We are so psyched for you. The week we climbed with you in Wyoming, Brendan said "the day he doesn't get lost he is going to win one of these things".... and you can still get off course some and rock it, you are such a strong runner and a big inspiration to us! Huge congrats. It was very cool to read your post. Our little guys loved your gifts, and we can't wait to see you both. Running is growing on us, ever since you lent "Born to run" to Brendan. Next summer sounds like a plan, would love to run 40 miles in McCall! We'll train over here and see what happens! We will keep you posted for sure :) Much love to you and your lady, and congrats again! See you soon my friend!!! -Chloe