On the morning of Cascade Crest Jonathan and I got up early and did our usual pre-race routine of coffee and pb&js. On the drive over to Easton, it was raining. It was a little worrisome, but thankfully my soon-to-be pacer, Jamie Keizer sent me a text to ensure me there was not any rain closer to the course.
When we got to the fire station/start/finish, there were already a couple hundred people milling around setting down their drop bags, checking in, enjoying the pre-race pancake breakfast and mingling. There were a lot of “hey, how are yous” and “are you readys” being asked by many dazed people, most of whom I recognized. This being what I consider my hometown 100 mile race, there were quite a few people both running the race and volunteering who I knew. I was looking forward to running alongside so many friends and seeing who was manning each aid station. It felt like more of a social event; a painful party.
During the pre-race briefing, Charlie Crissman thanked many people and recognized a few others, including Jamie Gifford who would be finishing his 10th Cascade. Charlie presented Jamie with an extra special buckle to commemorate his accomplishment. I am proud to say the buckle was my work of art. Charlie emailed me the week prior explaining he was short on time and looking for someone who was tapering with time on her hands to put together a large, gaudy buckle. I accepted the challenge and gathered silver spray paint, silk plants, wooden letters and gobs of stick on jewels. I glued it all together on an aluminum foil covered large oval to make it as shiny and sparkly as possible.
Then it was time to gather at the start line. After the National Anthem, JB and I gave each other good luck kisses and he went to the front of the pack while I made my way back. Charlie started the countdown and then we were off!
I started off running with my buddy, Scott Railton. We chatted for a while as we started making our way up toward Goat Peak. When we hit the first water stop we were separated and I wouldn’t see him again until much later.
I joined the queue going up toward the peak. I noticed my lower back was extremely tight and my hamstrings were a little tight as well. Over the summer, I’d been dealing with a hip injury—my psoas muscle/hip flexor/abductor muscle/gluteus medius had thrown off my gait and made running almost impossible. It was very painful and caused me to drop from White River 50 back in July and forced me to cross train more than I liked. So I was very diligent about getting it fixed. I had active release done twice per week and shiatsu massage weekly. The combination worked wonders, yet I knew I was going into this race with diminished strength. My tight hamstrings worried me that my hips might end up a factor later in the race.
Jamie, my pacer and her partner/my crew, Shannon were working the Blowout aid station at mile 15. I laughed when I saw Jamie wearing her CCC buckle from last year. Their dog who I call my nephew, Tode was there and he gave me a kiss while they filled my bottles and asked me a bunch of questions. I’d given them this 1.5 page paper with a list of questions I wanted them to ask me and some lines they could use to keep me motivated. I knew they’d get a kick out of it because it was very unnecessary and such a dorky thing to do. I saw Shawna Wilskey working there as well and she told me JB had come through looking strong and that he’d told her to tell me he loved me. She gave me a big hug and I said my good-byes and told Jamie and Shannon I couldn’t wait to see them again.
On the hike up from Blowout, an older gentleman walked up next to me and stroked my arm a few times. A little put-off by such an intimate gesture, I looked at him and said, “Hi.” He asked if this was my first 100 and after I said no he continued to hike up ahead of me. Later on, he joined in a conversation I was having with someone and once we got onto some single track, he lined up behind me. I soon learned he was the legendary Hans. Hans is from Germany and every summer lives in the States and travels all over running 100 milers. He told me CCC 2008 was his 100th and this year it was his 113th. He also informed me he’d run Leadville 100 last week in record breaking time for someone his age.
Hans ran with me off and on for over 30 miles. He mostly stayed behind enjoying the pace I was making and telling me I was running smart. “Linda Darling,” he said, “if you keep running smart, then I can be dumb!” He stopped me when we began a downhill. “No, Linda Darling, you must do it like this.” He proceeded to demonstrate his downhill technique saying I should make smaller steps on the steeper and more technical sections and let gravity take me down. He got back in step behind me and continued to coach me for miles. “Linda Darling, I love you, but I am a 69 year old man!” I told him my heart belonged to someone else and that I was only 31. “Together we are 100!” he surmised. We were perfect for each other. We passed Tony C. and I told him about my “trail-mance” with Hans. Hans had bounded up the trail, but was waiting for me at the top where he took my hand and led me to the road. I looked back at Tony with a “See!” expression and Tony just laughed at the spectacle.
I learned later that Hans picks a pretty girl every race with which to run and that more than a few people were laughing that surely he was calling this girl “darling” and flirting wildly with her. I enjoyed being “Linda Darling” and was very flattered to be one of Hans’s girls.
The miles ticked by and I came and went through Stampede where I saw my entire crew and then some. I grabbed my lights and some extra clothes. It became dark early due to the clouds and I turned my lights on before 8:00. Before making it to Meadow Mountain, I began to run with a gal who turned out to be a friend of Rich’s, Tate. I enjoyed running with her and her friend Paul for quite a ways. My friend, Judy Carluccio was waiting at mile 40 hoping to see a few of us. She’d decided earlier in the week to drop out of CCC due to a knee injury, but still came out to volunteer. She spontaneously crewed for me and told me I was looking strong.
Back on the trail before Ollalie, I tripped on something and landed down on my knee and shin onto some sharp rocks. Tate and Paul paused to make sure I was okay and let me get up before I continued to lead our little pack. I could tell I was going to have a few marks. The bruise on my knee would eventually hurt every step, but knowing it was only a bruise and not real injury made me not worry too much about it. It was only pain, no big deal.
At Ollalie I was pleased to learn the Seattle Running Company station has their infamous perogies. CCC is famous for some of the food on the course and being vegan, I’d made up a few of my own versions to have waiting for me at certain spots—pizza at Hyak, grilled “cheese” at Kachess. But I couldn’t figure out a vegan perogie so thought I’d have to do without, but they had cheeseless versions! Yay! I said hi to Scott and Leslie Macoubrey and told Brandon to hurry my perogie up and got on my way.
Tate, Paul and I decided to stick together for a little while because we knew the course reroute was coming up. Usually CCC goes through a two mile tunnel, but it had been deemed “unsafe” by the powers-that-be and thus closed. Charlie created a reroute that added 700 feet of gain and promised a harrowing downhill. The climb was okay, but the downhill was wretched. It was incredibly steep and covered in scree and big chunky rocks. In the daylight it wouldn’t have been fun. In the dark it was down right dangerous. It extracted more than a few expletives out of me and I watched as Paul and Tate got further and further ahead of me.
Finally I made it to a run-able section and passed Allen who was limping along and not looking very good. I promised to find his girlfriend and send her back, which I did. Then I ran right to the Christmas themed aid station where my pacer and crew were waiting for me. Although I initially resisted some of their advice, I quieted myself and remembered that they were probably a little more mentally with it than I was at that point. I obediently took the extra clothes and food they suggested, gave hugs all around and Jamie and I were off and hiking. It was a big forest service road up and then a long down. Jamie made me promise not to kill my legs and bomb down it and my tired legs were happy to oblige. We talked, laughed and even sang together. I was thrilled to have Jamie by my side.
We got to 68 where Eric Barnes was heading up the station. He told me I looked better than most people who’d come through thus far. At that point, I felt so good I believed him. That was to change soon. We took longer at the aid station than I would’ve liked. Jamie changed her clothes and wanted to wait for a fresh grilled cheese. I think this was the only time I felt impatient with her yet that impatience was quickly displaced and transferred to the Trail from Hell. The trail is technical and in the dark feels even worse. It has fallen logs all over it which are tough for my short little legs to maneuver. I had to hug and slide over quite a few of them and Jamie had to pull me at times. At first I was saying “dumb logs,” but by the end of the trail my good spirits were completely gone and they’d become “f’n logs!” I lost a lot of time here and started begging the sun to come up and yelling at the birds to “sing, you lazy asses!” Just before we made it to Mineral Creek, I cried for the first time and realized I’d gotten too hungry and was so damn tired. I couldn’t wait for the forest service road where I wouldn’t have to think about my feet or climb over anything for awhile.
We made it to Mineral Creek and were greeted by Ben Blessing, John Pearch and their crew. I ate and took care of my feet. Ben got some gory shots of my blister about to be popped. He then asked me if I knew that Jonathan had dropped. “What?? Why? What happened??” Thankfully, Ben realized he’d read his list wrong and rapidly apologized. I’ve said before that Jonathan and I would never run a 100 miler at the same time again. We did for CCC because we were already signed up when I made that declaration. This instance furthered my resolve. What would I do if he’d dropped? What scenarios were okay for me to continue and when would I feel I needed to end my race and go to his side? We hadn’t discussed it, so I was even more relieved that I wouldn’t have to make a choice like that.
Jamie and I hiked up the service road. My hips had tightened up and for the first time I felt my injury was going to be a factor. I knew I could keep moving, but any idea of a time goal began to drift away.
We made it to 80 where we made our food order at McNo Name Ridge via a radio to Laura Houston and crew. My spirits were back and I was happy to see Laura, but I was surprised to see James Varner. I assumed he’d finished and then came back to the aid station to hang out, but he explained too many things had gone wrong and he’d gotten “poopy pants” and decided to drop. Now, he was going undrop and to shuffle it in with his friend William Worrell. I invited them to join us and thought they were right behind us when we moved on, but they never caught up.
When we got to Thorpe Mountain I was so excited. I’d never seen the view from the top. When I paced Rich, it was raining so there wasn’t any visibility. Then during our training run, I’d decided to save my hip and skip the hike. I’d prayed all day and night that the weather would improve so I’d have the view everyone had praised. It was explained to me by an aid station worker that I needed to obtain a green ticket at the top and bring it back down. Jamie started singing “I’ve got a golden ticket” from “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” I changed the lyrics and sang “I’ve got a lime green ticket” all the way up. I saw Glenn Tachiyama and told him I’d been thinking about getting this very picture from him all day and all night and all day again. He laughed as he clicked away. We got to the top where I signed the guest book and got my ticket. I proceeded to climb the stairs up to the lookout. The surprised ranger tried to explain that I didn’t need to go up there, but I wanted to see as much as I could. I’d earned this spectacular view!
The finish was within reach. Jamie had been reminding me that “my people” would be at 96, meaning Shannon and Rich and maybe Tode the dog and then Jonathan and Mom would be at the finish. But she had to stop reminding me because I was getting very emotional and if I thought about the finish or my people I started to cry tears of pain, fatigue and pure joy. The first time I cried she told me to stop because then I couldn’t breathe, so I told her that it cleaned my contacts. The next time I cried she asked me, “Can you see better now?”
The miles became slower, but I was determined to keep moving. On the downhill sections I would try to make Hans proud with my feet, but who knows how fast I was actually moving. After French Cabin I was ready for the longest miles of my life. I knew it would feel like it lasted forever and I’m glad that I prepared myself that way because it didn’t end up feeling like that. Jamie got me to shuffle in places I wanted to walk and would tell me I was moving well or congratulate me on a good shuffle. I thanked her each time and often laughed when she said it, but I truly appreciated it. It kept me moving faster than I think I’d have gone on my own and because of that, 96 arrived before I knew it.
As we trotted down the final feet of trail, I saw Michael Cartwright taking pictures at the bottom. “Linda Darling!” he yelled to me. Jamie and I stopped dead in our tracks. She turned back to look at me as we both remembered Hans and we started laughing bringing fresh tears to my eyes. I thought for certain Hans or someone had told Michael that Hans had been calling me that throughout the run, but turns out Michael had no idea.
James Varner was at this aid station as well and my tired mind at first thought he’d somehow passed us, but he said he re-dropped because he couldn’t keep up with us. I hugged him and asked for that in writing which seemed to make him laugh.
Shannon took everything from me that she could. I carried only a water bottle and the idea that I only had a few miles left before I would finish Cascade Crest. Jamie had promised me I could cry after 96 and I did. We alternated a fast hike with a shuffle for the final miles. Shannon was in her truck and when I switched to a shuffle she yelled, “That’s my girl!”
Once we hit the road, up ahead we saw some goon dancing in the street wearing an outfit full of colors that would make Jamie proud—of course it was Rich! I was so glad to see him that yes, I cried again. This was exactly how I wanted to finish, with my two best friends in reversed roles. We’d fallen in love on these very trails two years ago and finished with me as their pacer. Now they were bringing me in to finish the same race.
Rich gave me updates. He told me JB had finished sub-23 which caused the tears to start. “I mean, sub-24,” Rich tried to say to stop my crying. I asked if he saw my mom there and when he said yes, the tears came again. “I mean no!” It didn’t work, the tears were free flowing.
We got over the tracks and I could see JB up ahead taking pictures. I finally got to him and he started trotting with us. I tried to get him to stop running thinking he must be tired, but I think he was wrapped up into the excitement we were creating. I crossed the line at 30:42 completely sobbing. I hugged everyone within arm’s reach—Jamie, Shannon, Rich. I saw Audrey Young, Charlie’s very pregnant wife taking pictures. She hugged me and I noticed she’d started crying. JB hugged me and then I wanted to find my mom. She was making her way over and through her own tears was saying, “Don’t cry, don’t cry!” “Too late,” I told her and wrapped my arms around her.
It was perfect. Or as perfect as it could be going 100 miles. So much can happen in that space and much of it did, but I don’t know if I would alter a moment of it because who knows how it would affect everything. I got what I wanted out of this: I got to go 100 miles on beautiful trails with a group of great people, both runners and volunteers. I got to prove to myself I could push through pretty much anything. And most importantly, I got to share it with the people who matter the most to me. Thank you everyone!