Racing the High Cascades 100, Round Two

The ride summary of a fellow racer in the High Cascades 100 mtb race were two sentences not often found together: “Fun day. GI issues for 20 miles, plus 2 code browns.”

Riiiight. Fighting a lurching stomach while pooping yourself twice is everyone’s idea of a fun day! Perhaps only for types with screws loose enough to race 100 miles on a mountain bike?

Clearly I’m one of them. At least I wasn’t the racer with the code browns!

High Cascades 100 Race Report, Round Two

I raced the High Cascades 100 in 2017 to explore Bend’s trail network during training and test myself against an intimidating distance. Before that year, I’d never ridden more than 50 miles straight on a mountain bike.

For my second High Cascades 100 attempt in 2019, I scored a free entry a week before the race. Compared to my previous structured efforts, my training plan was a bit different. By which I mean…uhhh, I didn’t have one. Hey, it’s only 9-10 hours of riding, so what could go wrong?

What could go wrong beyond getting veryyyy dusty, that is.

Training For The Race

Don’t let me mislead you. I wasn’t off the couch given that Chelsea and I had bike toured through Spain and Portugal that spring. As an ambassador for Pine Mountain Sports in Bend, I also led a HC100 training series in June and July. Those were 40, 55, and 70 mile rides at a “non-conversational” pace (about 10 mph average).

A bunch of crazy mountain bikers ready for a training ride.

That first 40-miler in June didn’t go well. I’d traveled for 30 hours from Europe the day before and was jet lagged, dehydrated and unprepared for the powerful bursts of energy that mountain biking requires. Thirty miles in, both my quads felt like a viper’s fangs were buried in them every time I got out of the saddle.

I survived (without antivenom) and did regular rides into July. For the final 70 mile ambassador ride, we all pushed hard and I finished feeling great.

Hang on. The race is going around Mt. Bachelor this year, you say? What’s that, a free entry is available?

Count me in.

My Results

Let’s start with the numbers (here’s the details on Strava)

  • Total Mileage: 101.2
  • Race time: 9:27 hours (pace of ~10.5 mph)
  • Total vertical gain: 9,974 feet
  • Finishing place out of 388 riders: 40th (better by 25 places versus my 2017 time)
  • Hours behind the winners: over 1.5. (Those guys are incredible, dedicated athletes. I am an amateur hack.)
All the details. The vert on this map was off according to most people’s GPS. What’s 1000′ anyway?

Race Report/Memorable Moments:

Morning: I wake up at 4:45 and eat my standard breakfast, oatmeal with fruit. I pedal to the starting line in the dark.

Mile Zero: I’m less nervous this time around compared to 2017. I’m confident 100 miles is doable. Still, the energy is palpable and I’m fired up. The starting line song “How You Like Me Now?” by The Heavy will be stuck in my head all.freaking.day.

Let’s do this!

Mile 9: As planned, I hang with the front peloton through the road section to the climb at Tyler’s, chatting with various people that I recognize. It’s striking how connected I feel to the Bend community compared to 2017.

Last time, my mantra was “slow on the uphill, steady on the flats, free speed on the downhill.” This year, I’m planning to be on the gas more, riding that anaerobic threshold.

Mile 17: the first singletrack descent features Spandex-clad racers exploding in horror at the sight of any rocks. My chance to make up time! Next is a fire road past Wanoga Sno-Park, then back up the sandy hell pit along the highway to Mt. Bachelor. A woman on a single speed (!) is haaaammering up the fire road. I’ll catch her on the steeper climbs when she runs out of gears, but sheesh, she’s strong.

Back on singletrack for the climb and descent down to Swampy Sno-Park. I’m feeling good and pushing hard. I roll into Swampy at mile 30, ready to switch out my hydration pack and grab food from Chelsea…wait, where is she? WHOOPS, I’m ahead of schedule. (She arrives shortly after, phew.)

Rookie move, D! Two minutes lost. So much for my chances of winning HAAA.

Next up is a fun section of singletrack down to Skyliner Snopark…sayonara to the morning climbing as I head downhill. I know these trails cold and it’s a pleasure ripping along in the morning light. Long races are taxing due to maintaining focus, but I rarely find my mind drifting or feeling emotionally exhausted from any big mountain bike ride.

It’s not all hard work!

Mile 42: Back on the climb train. I continue to stay on the gas and feel great up Tumalo Ridge. I’m playing cat and mouse with the same riders as we yo-yo along. Fun fact about 100 mile races: chatting with people as you race isn’t that uncommon.

Mile 57: Aid station at Mt. Bachelor! Cheery volunteers hand me my food drop bag. Unfortunately, other than delicious, salty pickles (SO GOOD), I’m not feeling that hungry during this race and don’t feel like eating my PBJ wrap (<–foreshadowing). Pushing one’s athletic limits pulls blood from the stomach to extremities, which is why so many endurance athletes experience GI and stomach distress during races. As if the exercise isn’t hard enough?

Mile 57-71: Ohhh man, the downhill part around the backside of Bachelor is a blast. It’s a loose, fast jaunt, especially tailing a fast rider from Colorado. The hard effort means I don’t get a chance to eat anything (risk of dying from crashing outweighs my hunger) or drink much. That’s fine though, it’s not like the climb up Edison Lava is hard af, riiiight?

Mile 73: Poor fueling catches up with me. My legs weigh 1,200 pounds and I’m walking my bike. (So are others.) Sections of Edison are steep, rocky and sandy face punches after eight hours of pedaling. Smiles are…infrequent.

This energy lag isn’t fitness, it’s a fueling issue. After the race, I total my calories and I only ate 2,400. That’s about 1,400 lower than planned given my goal of 400 per hour.

I gut my way through it, walking a bit and stuffing Shotbloks down my gullet. I start to feel better, but sure get sick of sugary carbs during these long rides. If only pickles sported substantial calories!

At least there was watermelon later.

Mile 80: Chelsea and our friend Jules jump up and down in the aid station. Jules, a recent arrival from New Jersey’s suburbs, is wide-eyed watching the crazed, spittle-covered riders coming through. I eat a few bites of PBJ wrap, crunch a pickle (delicious again) and swap my hydration pack.

My energy levels are still lagging thanks to not eating. I dog it for another 10 minutes and a couple riders pass me (nooo) before I pull out of my torpor. Not like it matters where I place since I’m not contending for the podium, but…you know, competitive spirit!

By the time I hit the top of Tyler’s Traverse again, I’m ready to go. From there, it’s a hard push on singletrack for miles (Tiddlywinks, Stormking, Catch and Release). For the last highway section, three of us form a pace line and hammer it home on Cascades Lake Highway. We’re doing 25 mph on and my legs smolder, then burst into fiery pillars of torched muscle from the effort.

They drop me with a mile to go and I roll into the finish line solo but grinning, 40th overall. Nothing to write home about, but 25 places better than my first High Cascades 100 and this time with no structured training. I’ll take it.

The end of a long, excellent day.

I’m not tapped out though, which is better than I expected at mile 80. At the finish line, I chug (you guessed it) pickle juice, eat a little food and congratulate other riders.

Then I pedal home to sit in a bathtub full of ice, a delightful tradition for me after crusher rides. I round out the day with our monthly vegan potluck, where those behind me in line are left with empty plates in the wake of me eating all the food.

Sorry everyone. The food is all mine. (Plate 1 of 3 pictured.)

All the Details

Yes, I took training and preparation for this race less seriously than my first High Cascades 100. However, a couple years of (relatively) long-distance mountain biking prepped me for success (i.e. not collapsing on the trail or crapping in my chamois). #winning

Here are my takeaways and lessons learned from my second time racing the High Cascades 100..

My Racing Technique:

  • To avoid choking dust and crowded trails, stick with the front peloton until it hits dirt. For the HC100, that’s nine miles of road to Tyler’s Traverse (same every year to break up the crowd).
  • Steady pace for climbs, but push harder early on relative to 2017.
  • Push the descents to make up time vs people riding hardtails who crush me uphill. Impossible to make up the difference given how XC-oriented High Cascades is. Or maybe I’m just slow.
  • Not be afraid to pass on downhills. “Pass when you’re good, please” was my go-to phrase. Other riders were polite and accommodating.
  • Eat food and drink water consistently. I did the latter well, but not eating much from miles 40-70 put me in a fueling hole by mile 75 that hurt.
  • Stop as little as possible. I ended up at six minutes total split between mile 40, mile 56, and mile 80, even with the mishap with Chelsea arriving late to the first refueling.
My steed for the race: a Santa Cruz Tallboy.

My Training

Most people don’t ride a full 100 miles preparing for a race and neither did I. My longest ride was 7 hours and my maximum distance was 70 miles.
Rather than lots of back-to-back long rides, this year I just rode for fun when I felt like it. Here’s a general sense of my prep:

  • Bike touring in April/May on a heavy AF bike through Spain and Portugal. Base training!
  • This time around, I skipped all the back-to-back 3-5 hour days. However, I still think that’s the best approach for being ready physically and mentally for such a long day. I’ve logged plenty of long rides since 2017’s High Cascades 100, including ~50 miles/day for two weeks straight bikepacking the Oregon Timber Trail. I was confident my accumulated fitness would carry me along.
  • Unlike some riders, I don’t ride bike trainers or aim for heart rate zones or power thresholds. Yes, I would be faster if I did this. However, I hate it. (As I like to joke, I’d rather be slow than ride inside.) If you’re trying to podium or win an age group in a well-known race like HC100, I think it’s almost mandatory to train like that though.
  • For fitness-building threshold efforts, I simply ride uphill climbs hard for 10-30 minutes. No data, just by feel.
  • My mileage pre-race wasn’t anything crazy. In talking to other riders, it seems like 10-15 hours a week is fine for a comfortable performance.
Base training in Portugal on a lesser-traveled path.

My Food

I aim for max carbs. Your body won’t process any fat/protein that you eat during the race, so only consume those if it helps you down carbs. For me, that’s a little peanut butter in a tortilla/jelly/banana wrap.

Split carbs 50/50 fructose and glucose. We can only process a certain amount of each before uptake stops, so balance it for maximum crushing.

What I Ate

  • Shotbloks, about 2-4 blocks per hour
  • Medjool dates
  • Picky Bars (not 100% carbs, but they go down easily for me).
  • Pickles. Zero calories, but all the happiness and salt.
  • PBJ wraps with raisins and bananas. Not much peanut butter.

Hydration

Same as my first HC100, I decided to a) maximize water access and b) minimize transition times. To accomplish this, I used two hydration packs that Chelsea cycled out and handed to me at the aid stations all refilled and ready to rumble. I also carried a water bottle with water, salt, and lemon water.

I used 50 oz. of water in each pack plus Skratch Labs electrolytes. The secret weapon: I made Skatch ice cubes and put those in the water on race day. Not only was cold water delicious, the ice cubes don’t dilute the electrolyte mix.

My goal was simply to drink water, and lots of it. For a race with so much singletrack, the hydration packs made it possible for me to drink basically whenever, as opposed to only on smooth trails or fireroad. My approach worked well for a second time and I’d recommend it!

Note to people trying to crush it: some kind of carb formula (Hammer, etc) mixed into water is the elixir pros dominate with. Sugar lets you buzz like a hummingbird at max sustainable output!

Or just drink pickle juice.

Lessons learned:

  • Give my aid station helpers a bigger buffer zone in case I’m ahead of schedule.
  • Eat consistently, even if it means slowing down or quickly stopping. The time gained from full energy supplies easily makes up for this. Plus bonking in a race sucks!
  • For the second time, my Santa Cruz Tallboy was the perfect bike for this race. My gear list was almost identical to last time; check it out in my original post.
  • A dust guard or mask is worth using until the 40 mile aid station. (Gawd, do we have to wear these forever?! F off, COVID.) I used a neck gaiter and it saved my lungs. I didn’t need it after the pack split up at mile 40.

Overall, I enjoyed the heck out of round two of the High Cascades 100. Mike Ripley from Mudslinger Events puts on a fantastic event, other riders are respectful and awesome, and I highly recommend checking out the race in coming years. Who knows, could even happen this July.

Ride on!

Gifford Pinchot mountain biking
Still enjoying riding a week later in the Gifford Pinchot in Washington.

Running in the Dark: 36 Hours at the Cascade Lakes Relay

Cheering Andrew up the What the Hell climb to Mt. Bachelor.

It’s a crazy recipe… Load people into decorated vans. Add a couple hundred miles of running. Toss in a dash of sleep deprivation, a splash of after-midnight running, and a crap-ton of laughing and team spirit.

Voile! You’ve got an overnight relay race. Let the fun begin.

The Cascade Lakes Relay (CLR) forms a giant S-route from Diamond Lake to Bend. If you’ve heard of Hood to Coast, this is Central Oregon’s equivalent. The most popular approach is a team of 12 split between two vans, with each runner taking three legs totaling around 15-20 miles. The total distance is 216 miles.

Sound complicated? It’s not. People run. And cheer. And run. And try (/fail) to sleep. And run. Did I mention running?

Extra points for dancing by the side of the road and forming enthusiastic power tunnels. I wore my ridiculous retro spandex tights; Chelsea rocked a cow costume. Wrangler, Fat Brad and Wayne sported Hawaiian shirts to win style points. Lauren dressed as Thor (carrying an enormous hammer) for the costume leg. We don’t mess around.

Dancing and cheering like fools along the Cascades Lake highway.

Wait, Why Do People Do This?

You’ve got to be a bit nutty to stay up all night and run at random times of day. Surely not many people run these?

Wrong! There’s something alluring about these relays – Hood to Coast draws 20,000 participants each year and turns away another 40,000 (!). All for the opportunity to drive overnight in a van with buddies and their cramping quads, all wearing sweaty socks. If that’s not a good time, I don’t know what is.

Cascade Lakes Relay attracts 3,500 people and is capped by event organizers, resulting in a quieter, less crazy, less sit-in-traffic experience. I ran Hood to Coast years ago and highly recommend CLR for anyone looking for a lower-key, more scenic relay with fewer logistical headaches (traffic, traffic, traffic).

Chelsea instigated the idea (of course). The suckers she talked into it? The Plant-Powered Runners, the vegan running group that Chelsea and her buddy Emily started last year, are always game for the adventure. Sadly, C sprained her ankle 10 days out, but our friend Fat Brad jumped in to replace her.

Fat Brad and Chelsea

Our genius organizer, Lauren, managed to herd the team into two groups: Van 1 and Van 2. Let’s just say that Van 1 bought food in advance and planned a lot, and that Van 2, ummm, knew there was a race… (Yes, fine, I was in Van 2.)

All the Antics

The night before the race, our team downed a pasta dinner, painted our nails slime green, and decorated our vans. Rather than focus on logistics, Van 2 came up with nicknames (Shiv, Fat Brad, Lil’ Yeasty, Waffle, Wrangler, and Taco).

Meanwhile, Van 1 loaded their vehicle with carefully planned gear and shook their heads at our van and the STUDENT DRIVER plastered across the windshield. Whatever – we got this.

Loading van 2. (Ok, screwing around.)

Van 2 with game faces on.

“Wait, what time are we meeting tomorrow?” Waffle asks. Captain Lauren shoots small puffs of smoke out her ears. Van 2 huddles and sorts it out.

Race day dawns. Van 1 is at the starting line at Diamond Lake early and ready to rip. Van 2 slowly assembles at my house at noon and packs up. Medkit, water, enough food for a week backpacking to Everest Base Camp. Relays are easy.

Text message: “Lauren and Emily, Van 2 is mobilized. ETA 3:45.”

“Juuuust kidding, we’ll be there as planned at 2:15.” (Is there anything more fun that flipping shit at organized people?)

Van 1 and 2 debrief in Silver Lake.

Running Through the Night

So it began: Van 1 ran six legs and handed off to Van 2 for our six, then flip, flop, a flippity flop…for 36 hours. There was heat, dust, scenic views, a cold night, quad-pounding downhills, and one consistent theme: at all times, we had a runner smacking rubber on earth, moving us toward the finish line, step by step.

To make things more interesting, Lil’ Yeasty suggested our van do 25 penalty pushups each time we used given names rather than nicknames. Sure! Sounds easy. Hundreds of pushups later, we weren’t so sure…

He didn’t do enough pushups, but Fat Brad cranked out some 6:15 miles!

My favorite leg came after midnight in the middle of nowhere east of La Pine. First, we pretended to sleep in a floodlit high school parking lot with 500 other runners. People set off car alarms, stage whispered at 120 decibels (HEY SARA, WHERE’S THE SLEEPING PAD?!), and so, despite earplugs, I caught about 1.2 seconds of sleep before it was time to run again.

Somehow, it all worked out. We made it to the dusty exchange, where bleary-eyed runners wandered in from their race leg, hoping to see a team member. I heard someone yell DAKOTA and then Andrew zoomed in, slapped the bracelet on my wrist and sent me off into the night.

Andrew rolling in to hand off to me at 1:30 am. (Shot: Fat Brad)

Blinking lights bobbed in the distance. Nothing to do but track them down! They call passing other runners “roadkill,” and people keep track of the tally on the side of their van. That 7.3 mile run yielded 16 for me, as I couldn’t ignore the incentive of catching the beacons in the night.

We continued, on and on through the night, into the morning, and around Mt. Bachelor. Our van snagged an amazing 7 a.m. nap in the shadow of the mountain, then rallied for our final legs down the Cascade Lakes highway all the way to Bend.

Lil’ Yeasty getting some power tunnel action (and a slap) heading down toward Bend.

The Results

Out of 165 teams, we placed 13th overall and 5th in the co-ed open division. Not bad!

The Plant-Powered Runners

It took us 28 hours and 22 minutes to run the 216 miles, a 7:53 min/mile average pace.

Andrew coming in hot and a cold stream of water about to cool him off… (Photo: Fat Brad)

Van 2 tallied a couple thousand pushups. Lil’ Yeasty and I each ended with 500 (all completed during the race, ow). Fat Brad did only 50 of his 550 (the karma police will find him). Taco banged out a few hundred, whereas Waffle and Wrangler each demonstrated remarkable mental control and kept their totals under 100.

Taco sneaking some winks in a high school parking lot to get ready for more pushups.

Across the board, even though the event wasn’t easy, the team stoke after the race was high. There’s already talk of racing again next year. (Too soon, my aching calves say. Next time, I’m not doing a bike trip right before.)

For anyone considering an overnight relay race, I highly recommend Cascade Lakes Relay. The lack of sleep, the organizing headache (thanks, Lauren and Emily!) and of course the running are entirely worth it for a cool experience. What cements friendships faster than sleep deprivation, bumping loud rap and cheering suffering runners up hills, after all?

More pictures below!

Waffle during downtime between legs.

Lil’ Yeasty doing his best walrus impersonation.

Fat Brad and Waffle hanging in our (well-decorated) van.

Fat Brad coming in hot with the handoff to Taco.

Someone slapped this magnet on our van…

Fat Brad stretching it out at midnight.

Powering through my final leg near Mt. Bachelor.

Cheering on another team along the way. Power tunnels are the best.

Part of the fun…

Wrangler stoked after her night leg.

Wrangler handing off to Lil’ Yeasty.

Chelsea!

Lil’ Yeasty and his flip-flopped security detail.

Fat Brad dropping the hammer at the end of his first leg.

Fat Brad turning up the heat at the end of his final leg for some more roadkill. Both his feet are off the ground, folks!

Pushups…so many pushups