2020 Old Cascadia 50: The Race That Actually Happened

Old Cascadia 50 miler. The race was postponed to October 10th from June 2020 due to COVID-19; the inaugural year it was held in September 2018 and the weather was deemed to be too unpredictable (i.e. cold, rain, etc). So it was moved to June for 2019 and 2020 (well, scheduled for June but then COVID happened).

As it turns out, it’s the right call to leave it in June… 

And there we were, lining up at the start line in October. In the pouring rain. 

All week we watched the forecast leading up to the race and it called for upper 40s and rain. Lots of rain. In true 2020 fashion, it never improved. The day before and day after were glorious. Any day but race day would have been fine.

On its face, upper 40Fs doesn’t seem that cold but when you spend most of the race soaked, it’s a recipe for hypothermia.

My drop bag (which, spoiler alert: I never used) that was available at mile 30, contained hand warmers, trekking poles, extra socks, extra buff, and some nutrition. I’ve learned over the last four (and one DNF’d) 50 mile+ races that I rarely need my drop bag. In fact I have only used a drop bag at Black Canyon 100k where I picked up a long sleeve and a headlamp for the last stretch (almost didn’t need that headlamp, either). 

What I wore:

  • Patagonia shorts (sorta compression-ish fit. I figured loose shorts in wet conditions is asking for Chafe City so I went with booty shorts)

  • Rabbit Tank

  • Lululemon Swiftly long sleeve shirt

  • Injinji socks (thin, with vaselined toes)

  • Merino wool buff

  • Oiselle trucker hat

  • Patagonia Houdini

  • Nathan VaporHowe 12L (first edition)

  • Brooks Cascadia 15

  • Dirty Girl gaiters

  • Petzel Tikka headlamp

I carried around 500 calories on me and ~1.5L of fluid. I also had my phone in a ziplock baggie.

Race morning I had a bagel with peanut butter, small amount of coffee. It was an uneventful, smooth race morning. I even slept almost 5 hours.

Race Start to Mile 7

We arrived at the start around 5:15am and it was raining. We picked up our bibs (mine was #13... which seems appropriate for how things seem to be going this year). I visited the portapotty twice and then we were lining up in the start area, wondering what kind of crazy we were given the conditions.

So... I naively thought that I didn’t need to start with my Houdini on and just had a janky throwaway poncho on over a long sleeve as we listened to the RD talk, standing under a tent. I scanned the crowd (and the rain) and thought to myself: “All these folks have some kind of rain jacket on and I’m going to assume they know better than me.” I frantically took off my pack, pulled out the Houdini, and threw it on (and threw out the disposable poncho). 

The key thing here is: I missed the RD saying you don’t have to do Pyramid Peak twice (ugh). So... spoiler alert: I did Pyramid Peak twice.

pic: @jamesholk

As you can see, it was dumping on us from the start. I was completely drenched by the end of mile 1. It was also pre-dawn, so we were running with headlamps into a wooded forest. The first mile is road and slightly downhill so I had a fast first mile (I think it was under 8:00). Then it was on to single track trails and it’s a wonder I didn’t wipe out with the mud, roots, and standing water on the trail. 

The worst weather we had was in the first 7-8 miles. It was raining hard, and around mile 5 or 6 we were on an exposed ridge. The wind was enough to almost knock me over. A tree fell nearby during this stretch (like, audible boom, crash). This was where I questioned if the weather was going to be like this the whole race, would I actually make it? 

pic: @jamesholk

After summiting Pyramid Peak it seemed to get better; we dropped into the woods, lower in elevation. It was still wet but nothing like what I had experienced on the ridge.

I hit the first aid station, popped in, and then said to them: “I don’t think I need anything” and moved along.

Mile 7 to Mile 30

After 14 miles, it was time I got a refill of fluids. Tailwind was the race’s electrolyte option and I was perfectly happy with that. I filled up maybe 1-1.5L again because we had 7 or 8 miles to the next one which isn’t terribly long. At this point I had been hanging out in first place, but knew there was a speedy runner from southern California from my UltraSignup Stalking and figured it wouldn’t be long before I would run into her. As I was leaving, two women were coming in. I ended up running fairly close to several runners from miles 14 to 18, though the stream crossing. 

So, the stream crossing. 

It was supposed to be low. Like NBD, not that much water. Except, you know, when it’s fucking pouring. It varied from ankle to knee deep with round, large river rocks. I nearly fell in at the end of the crossing, but managed to catch myself and just soak my arm up to my bicep. Which, no biggie. I was happy not to submerge my whole body.

From the creek, it’s 5 miles of climbing. And man do I wish I my downhill was even 30% as good as my uphill. I’m just not an efficient downhill runner. Short Ass Legs. This is where I pulled ahead of the other female runners.

I climbed and generally felt good considering the weather. I hit the next aid station around mile 22 and filled up a bit more, grabbed some food, continued on.

When I got to mile 26 aid station, I realized that this was going to be a race with quite a large number of DNFs. As of race morning, there were 102 registered but only 72 started. Can’t blame them, given the conditions. At this aid station, there were 4-6 folks hanging out in the tent, wrapped in mylar blankets looking like they were quite comfortable to just call it a day. 

I peed behind a truck at the aid station, and quickly moved on. I still had plenty of fluids and food so I was good. I figured I’d get to the mile 30 aid station and make a decision on if I would pick up my trekking poles or go without them. At that point, my legs felt great!

Mile 30 to Mile 40

The aid station at mile 30 was another one where it just looked like DNF carnage. People sitting around heaters with blankets. My hands were super cold at this point (and I had on medium thickness neoprene gloves that were soaked). I refilled my hydration bladder and could not close the connectors on my pack. My fingers didn’t work. The volunteer insisted on helping me after watching me take forever to clip in the first one. She twice offered soup, etc, and my response was: “I gotta get out of here before I get too comfortable and don’t want to leave.”

pic: @jamesholk

pic: @jamesholk

I decided not to take my poles which I think ended up being a mistake that was only realized around mile 43.

We had another aid station 4 miles later around mile 33 or 34 (so many!) and all I did here was pee behind a truck again. 

Now, for some reason, I had convinced myself this was the last big climb of the race. Like, “Just get to mile 40 and you’ll be good.” Sigh. I arrived at the last aid station (mile 40), after a fairly brutal climb (2000 feet over 3 miles) and some steep technical downhill parts. Somehow I was still in first place? But the fatigue was setting in. I refilled on fluids (not too much because given the weather, I wasn’t sweating much), and grabbed a quesadilla for the road.

Mile 40 to the Finish

This is when I realized I had misrepresented the last 10 miles in my mind. There was another 1500 feet of climbing over 3 miles (taking the total to more than 12,500 ft) and this was the lowest point for me. Never have I had such a strong desire to just sit down on the trail and cry. I didn’t do either, obviously, but I was just so over the relentless climbing and shitty wet footing. I do think that if I had my poles here, I would have been able to get through these miles a little faster. 

The other thing that was challenging with this race and this section was how long the stretches were where I found myself alone. And the flags were about a mile apart so I was having moments of paranoia where I wondered if I was actually lost as I hadn’t seen anyone and could not remember the last time I saw a flag (which when they are spaced a mile apart, if you miss one, it seems like an actual eternity before you see another). There was a point where I stopped on the trail, looked around, and considered taking out my phone but decided to trust myself. 

At mile 44 I saw the sign for Pyramid Peak indicating to go up it and I think that sign was set up for the 20 milers coming from that direction (that race distance is point-to-point). Had I not missed the instructions from the RD at the start line when I was throwing on my jacket in a massive hurry, I would have known not to go up it again. So I wasted probably 5-ish mins on that section, doing ~150 feet more vert. Yay. More vert. Like I needed it. My total ended up at 12,650 feet of climbing.

Then came the final downhill. My legs just hated me. 

Around mile 45 we came back down the exposed ridge and were greeted with hail and wind. I am relieved that I am someone who runs warm because it was fucking cold. One guy passed me here, telling me that his legs hurt so bad and I muttered in agreement.

Maybe 1 minute later, I heard more footsteps behind.

Now... I had been waiting for the #2 female the entire race. 

I really did not expect to win this thing so the fact that it was mile 45 and still, I was first female, didn’t make sense to me. And this was the point where she showed up. Mercifully, I had mentally prepared myself for this, especially knowing that downhills are not my forte. We had a quick friendly exchange and she was off.

It wasn’t like I could have done much more to have changed this outcome. Perhaps grabbed my poles and not done the extra peak? Maybe. But likely not. Ultimately, she finished 17 mins ahead of me so that’s why I say that I don’t think I could have changed the outcome. She really put a lot of time between me and her in that 5 miles. So the poles might have gotten me up the last hills faster and saved my legs a bit more for downhill speed but it would have been tough to make up the time.

Anyway. Back to the race. 

I painfully hobbled down the mountain. Around mile 47 I really needed to pee and given I was soaked and alone, I saw no good reason to actually pull over and do a proper potty stop. So I just let it flow. Yep, I peed on myself and it was fine. I was warm for like 20 seconds! And then back to cold and rained on. I figured by the time I finished, the rain would wash off nearly all of it and that turned out to be pretty accurate.

No one else passed me after mile 45. I almost caught a dude up ahead in the last mile but it was tough to convince myself to move any faster on the slightly uphill road stretch.

I pulled into the finish while it was still light out (yay! I was happy about that). 12 hours, 20 minutes and 37 seconds. Good enough for 2nd female, 16th overall, and 8th all time fastest (probably will get bumped off to top 10 list next year). 

There ended up being only 53 finishers. They did not post the DNFs or DNSs on UltraSignup (they were listed for about 15 mins after the results first posted so I briefly saw all the red and orange, and then POOF! they were gone) which I guess was nice of them for the DNF/S folks? But, it also feels unfair given all the finishers that stuck it out and likely have other race DNFs on their UltraSignup. 

Post Race

After about 10 minutes, the shivering set in. I didn’t waste any time milling around. I went straight to the car so I could get the wet clothes off. But when you’re shivering, tired, and your hands barely work, it’s insanely difficult to get your clothes off. Just taking off my gaiters, socks, and shoes took me something absurd like a full 3 minutes moving as quickly as I could. I think the whole process of clothes off and new ones on was a good 15 minutes.

I got dry clothes on and then was walking around the car area realizing that we had forgotten to put post-race food in the car (!!!) and there was no post-race food from the race because of COVID. No bueno.

Thankfully, our 20 mile crew drove up maybe 30 minutes after I finished and found me shivering away. Leah scrounged up some kind of food from the race management tent via plea for help. Never was I so grateful for plain tortillas and a 2 liter bottle of Coke. We sat in a running car with heat on full blast waiting for Nick.

I finally stopped shivering and decided I wanted some race swag so I walked over to the finish tent. As I was browsing the merch, Nick finished at 13 hours, 7 minutes looking less destroyed than me. He also took his poles at mile 30 so I am thinking he didn’t have quite the low of lows that I had in the last climb.

We drove back to the AirBnB while Chris waited at the finish for our last 50 miler who was a couple hours behind us. Overall, our group of warm-weather dwellers kind of kicked ass in cold, wet conditions. You would have thought we would have been more messed up but I guess running in miserable heat also works for the mental game of miserable cold. 

The bummer of all this is: this race is supposed to have epic views. And we had none because it was raining and overcast/fog the whole time. I think I would do this race again if we get non-shitty conditions. We missed out on some beautiful views of the Oregon Cascades.

It took me about 5 days to not be sore from this race. I had a hard time walking down stairs for 3 days. We just finished R2R2R and I wasn’t nearly as sore as I was after Old Cascadia and I think that’s mostly because it was a race effort versus an adventure/training day in the Grand Canyon.

Frankly, I was just happy to race. And given the current state of affairs, it might be another 6 months before I see another race again. If Black Canyon 100K actually kicks off, we might get into that depending on capacity. That would be February 2021. Here’s to some vaccines coming out and bringing immunity to the masses.


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