Cascade Crest 100: my first DNF & the power of “what if?”

“Because this business of becoming conscious……it is ultimately about asking yourself: ‘How alive am I willing to be?'”  – Anne Lamott


pre-race jitters, Cascade Crest 100

It was a crazy surreal moment when the booming voice stirred me awake.  From under the pile of down sleeping bag in the bright morning sunlight I heard it:  “RUNNER AT THE TRACKS!! WELCOME BACK TO EASTONNNNN!!!”  

My heart sank deep into the pit of my stomach.

I had dropped from the Cascade Crest 100 miler at mile 60 due to extreme nausea and vomiting from mile 33 on.  I had run the previous 30-ish (okay it wasn’t exactly what you would call running) miles through the night on little more than water and sips of broth despite repeated efforts to force-feed myself.  It was not pretty nor was it anything close to how I had envisioned my race unfolding.  My legs were saying “run” and the rest of my body revolted.  By the time I FINALLY reached the mile 53 aid station I had convinced myself that screaming into Hyak just seconds under the 3 a.m. cut-off was a clear sign that I absolutely could will myself to power on despite not being able to hold down calories.  So I did.

Unfortunately, each step became more and more unstable & I could barely keep down water. It was around 5:30 a.m. when I made the decision to call it.  “Calling it” at that moment meant hiking 5 miles back to Lars’ car in the early morning chill.  Poor Lars was shaking and trembling himself as we were barely moving.  The last thing I remember is Lars covering me with a fleece blanket & his down sleeping bag in the front seat of his car with the heater blasting.  I was out.  The next thing I would hear is the loud voice welcoming triumphant runners across the finish line in Easton.

Needless to say, I was flooded with emotion.  The realization that I had not completed what I set out to complete.  The devastation of not realizing my dream.  The guilt and shame of letting my loved ones, and most importantly – myself – down.

Then came the overwhelming avalanche of “what if….?” 

With something so precarious and unpredictable as successfully navigating your nutrition, hydration and electrolyte balance in your first 100 mile race, there were bound to be bumps in the road, mistakes and low moments.  I had prepared myself for those.  I knew there would be barfy miles.  I didn’t count on those moments coming so early, lasting so long & not ever going away.

Naturally this left me amazingly frustrated, mystified, helpless, angry.  I had the most spectacular pity party on the dark trail alone at midnight:  crouched over, simultaneously & involuntarily vomiting, peeing, pooping and crying.  NICE.

Fast forward to 2 days after the race.  After many hours of sleep, contemplation, tears, hugs & conversations with the most generous and giving friends and family I could ever ask for, I have come away with some thoughts.  Some not-so-horrible thoughts.


start line!

The avalanche of negative “what if….?” questions which only served to give myself an even greater beating than I’d already given myself – (“what if you had just gone a few more miles?? what if you had held on a little longer?? what if you had eaten more from the very beginning?? what if you had forced yourself to drink that soup at mile 23?? what if you had been smarter and stronger and tougher and better???????”…) – started to morph into something else entirely.  After a long conversation with my wise rock climber/philosopher older brother, I started to regard my race with gratitude and respect.  With different kinds of “what if…?”

What if I had never even tried?

What if I had given up before I reached the start line?

What if I had fed myself that sorry-ass old line: “YOU can’t do that Erin, don’t even try.  Other people run 100 miles, not you.”

What if?

Here’s what:  I never would have realized the wonderful & amazing cushion of support, encouragement and love that one receives when your family & an entire community of like-minded people are rooting for you and supporting you in reaching your goals.

I never would have been blessed with the friendships of some of the strongest, toughest, bravest and most courageous women I have ever met.

I never would have experienced the beauty of those wild places one can only reach on their own two feet, under their own power.

I never would have known the dedication and caring of friends who take a whole day or weekend to put their lives on hold to come see you run and bring you smiles, hugs and icy cold Cokes & follow along online late into the night.

I never would have realized that I AM strong enough to run alone on a mountain trail through the dark night.

I never would have experienced the humble reality of what it means to be DEAD LAST in a race.  AND — the joyful realization that being DEAD LAST in a trail race means that eventually the most positive, encouraging, selfless and kind individuals (yay Sweeper Todd & friend!!) will come up behind you and say things like “You are MOVIN’!“, when you know you have dried vomit on your cheek and are barely even making forward progress.

I never would have *finally finally finally* allowed myself the scary & vulnerable feeling of letting someone else care for me completely and entirely. Total trust is a beautiful thing.

I never would have experienced the bittersweet, sad & yet beautiful moment of having my boyfriend hold my hand at 5 a.m., walk with me after dropping out of my dream race, singing to me sweetly in a whisper: “I would walk 500 hundred miles….I would walk 500 more…..”

I am grateful for all these things.

My experience DNF’ing this race has given me a different shiny new set of tools than I had anticipated (I wanted a freakin’ BUCKLE!), but I will take them.  Gladly.  They are tucked away tightly in my pack for my next adventure.  See you out there.


me & my sweet son at Stampede Pass, before the dark miles


this guy saved me



8 thoughts on “Cascade Crest 100: my first DNF & the power of “what if?”

  1. What can I say, Erin?

    You’re a genius writer and a super-genius person–truthful, beautiful, so inspiring and helpful to others!

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!

    Love, Dad.

    On Wed, Aug 28, 2013 at 2:59 PM, sakura blooms

  2. Your brother is wise, and your Dad is awesome. I don’t have much to add beyond what your lessons were – those don’t often come so soon, and yet you found them, picked them up, and are moving on with them. What means this race gave you exactly what you needed at the moment. Well lived, well written, well remembered.

  3. Erin,
    While I don’t remember you in particular, as I passed many other courageous runners, I enjoyed offering an encouraging word. That is what is so wonderful about running ultra distances, beautiful outdoors (sights, smells, sounds) and beautiful people to share our experiences with. Being Dead Last has its notoriety (perseverance and loneliness notwithstanding) and its emotional fulfillment. Sweeps Gail, Becky, and Gail’s husband George were awesome, not complaining one bit for trekking the 6 hours behind my pacer Chris and myself.

    I enjoyed your race report, and understand totally your decision to complete this race another time. I too went through many rough patches, even stopping my watch at French
    Cabin for a couple minutes before deciding to head on down the trail and be Dead Last.

    Thank you for being there and trying your hardest, next time you will use your experience and the encouragement of others to finish. See you there.


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