By enduring, we conquer – Earnest Shackleton
The race: Two days. 50 miles day 1 and 50km day 2 for a total of 130km. 19,500 feet of ascent and descent. And a shiny trucker hat to show for it if you were lucky enough to cross the finish on day 2.
I couldn’t sleep very well the first night post race because it hurt. I couldn’t tell where the pain was coming from, because it was coming from everywhere. My legs ached, my foot was throbbing. Getting up to use the washroom was not pretty. Jason offered me a cane when he saw me trying to walk. Go ahead, laugh. Cause I did.
But let’s back up.
horrible bright ideas, my journey to the 50/50 was born out of a desire for the coveted blue trucker hat. I had been part of the Squamish 50 in some shape or form 4 out of the last 5 years. I had run each of the distances previously, 23km, 50km and 50 miles, but I swore the 50/50 runners were insane. I was also adamant you wouldn’t catch me ever doing 50/50. I remember chatting with a good friend’s husband about 50/50 a couple of years back. He snorted: “what, you get airlifted out after day 2?” But that hat…
Back in November, as I was contemplating races for the year I decided I needed a goal that would challenge me and put a little fear in me. I thought about returning to Squamish for a do -over on the 50 mile course (a debacle of a day that previously left me having a melt down at Quest) and at the finish line much slower than I wanted. On the day registration opened, I was on ultra signup at 7:30am; I stared at ultra signup for 20 minutes, and then texted a girl friend, who told me she believed in me. So I signed up for the 50/50. The race sold out in 10 hours. Apparently there are a lot of crazies.
In January, I realized a proper training plan was in order. Few races have truly inspired fear in me. This one did. My friends all seemed to believe I had it in me but I knew it would take a lot of work. I knew a number of people were using Gary Robbin’s/Eric Carter’s training plans- so I purchased a training plan. I stared at the 33 week plan and didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I didn’t know if my body could handle all this.
There was only one way to find out. I definitely made modifications to the plan, and then I ran. Long run after long run. Some solo runs, some with friends who were also running crazy distances. Because I also unexpectedly got into Knee Knacker, I joined all the weekly runs and climbed, and climbed some more. Days turned into weeks, and weeks became months. I had my moments of doubt. Run, rinse and repeat. Jason was incredibly patient, as I often disappeared for hours at a time. I was always tired. I was always hungry. And I was often a non – functioning human being when I was home. Five (5) tune up races including two 50km trail races later, my training was pretty much done. When I started this journey I thought running the race would be the hard part, but the journey to the start line was half the battle.
Before I knew it, race weekend had arrived. Friday morning Jason and I drove up to Squamish and played in the creeks and chilled out. I tried not to think of what lay ahead of me. I just wanted to get started. After checking into our hotel, we headed to package pickup, (which was a zoo), picked up groceries and called it a night. We made dinner at the hotel, and I went through the usual pre – race routine, laying out clothes and double checking drop bags – and then I passed out…
Day 1 – 50 Miles
The alarm went off at 4 am and I managed to haul myself out of bed, dressed, ate and applied body glide liberally. I wondered how I was going to get up the next day but pushed that thought out of my head quickly. I plastered bandaids to my pre – existing blisters, and Jason helped me pin my bib. Your shorts are too short he informed me. So he folded the bib smaller.
After cramming down breakfast (salted avocado with toast, half a banana and leftover ravioli), we joined the conga line of cars to the start at Oceanfront. It should have taken 4 minutes to drive, but took 15. In the darkness all we could see were a sea of red (headlights) A blurry outline of the smoke bluffs was visible. The sun started to rise, orange pink and purple bleeding together in a smoky haze. Luckily the day turned out to be cool, and the air quality was reasonably good.
I managed to down two cups of coffee (shared with Jason who was impressed with the quality of the race coffee), saw some familiar faces, and fan – girled over seeing Courtney Dewaulter. (She won the womens’ race at Western States 100 miler and Moab 240 outright and would go on to set a new course record in the 50 mile race). We were herded over to the start line. And then without fanfare, the race started.
Of course I went out too fast (I hit Canadian tire in 55 minutes…whoops) and soon after Alice Lake, I saw people I had no business seeing in a race. I knew if I didn’t slow down I would pay. So I forced myself to slow down. Eat, drink, down salt pills and salt tablets.
Alice Lake to Corners
As I ran past Alice Lake, I caught up to Michael and Mert. And then Tom passed me. In case you were wondering, they are light years faster. Oh damn, I really went out too fast.
I hit the Corners Aid station, and realized I had a blister (thanks to a hole in my sock (actually my favourite pair of stance socks)-. so volunteers helped me wash out my foot and bandaid and change one sock. I started the 10kmish loop and realized I probably should have changed my other sock too. Oh well. That would have to wait until I hit the Corners station again. The loop wasn’t as horrible as I remembered. I ate my way through the loop, dealt with my other blister on my second trip through the Corners Aid Station and shuffled along the forest service road.
It was hot and humid, but I followed a conga line up Plastic Scheisse and then got dropped as soon as the downhill hit.
The one saving grace was the hazy cloud cover and slightly cooler than anticipated temperatures. I stopped at Word of Mouth Aid station to fill up briefly and double fisting chocolate cookies and watermelon – and borrowed a volunteers phone to call Jason to let him know I wasn’t far from Quest. I was happily double -fisting cookies, watermelon and clutching my flask as I left the aid station. And then it happened. Maybe because I was busy cramming food into my face, I failed to see the tip of a rock and the next thing I knew, I was face first in the dirt, cookies, watermelon and flask went flying. I rolled myself onto my back side. Both my legs had cramped so badly, I could’t get up. Luckily there was a runner not far behind me, who came to my rescue hauled me to my feet and and made sure I was ok before he took off. I had dirt all over me, but other than that, I was fine.
My pride was wounded more than anything, and then I was mad, because I had wasted two perfectly good pieces of watermelon. Only a few more km to Quest and I made sure not to sustain any more injuries.
At Quest, Jason was waiting with my drop bag. There would be no lolly gagging. Kim was there – she filled my flasks and I changed while I told Jason what I wanted to eat. Jason tended to my feet while I downed an entire bottle of frappucino. I was in and out in less than 10 minutes. And then began the march. I made it to the switch backs and another runner went past me, wearing the shortest spandex shorts I have ever seen and more of her butt than I would care to see. To each their own. Luckily she soon took off and I was spared.
Mr. Freezie guy was at the top of the switchbacks as in previous years. Shamelessly, I asked for a second freezie. For the time it took me to slurp back the freezies, I was in heaven. I tried to get every last drop of the rapidly melting coloured ice.
Now, I just needed to make it to the next aid station. I ran, shuffled and walked my way. Trying to do math all the way in order to make my goal time. My quads were starting to get a little sore, and I was well aware a long day lay ahead, so I shuffled down the trails, the loop and when I hit Garibaldi Road Aid station, I felt I could breathe a sigh of relief. One more Aid station, before the last 10km of hell.
More food, more fuel (chocolate chip cookies), watermelon and salt pills. Note to self, don’t stuff them into your pack – Jason found crumbled bits of cookies in my pack at the end of the day. Off I went to Fartherside – where I grabbed food, got sponged down, more watermelon and cookies and hurried out of the aid station. I wanted to finish in day light.
I was feeling good at this point in the day and put my power hiking skills to work, passing a runner and shortly before Mountain of Phlegm catching up to a guy I had run with earlier in the day briefly. He told me he had underestimated this course and thought he could simply subtract from his 100km time (on a course with half the elevation gain) and get his goal time. I laughed and told him it didn’t work that way, and especially not on a Gary Robbin’s course. We made it up Mountain of Phlegm, picked our way down, and then sideways down the 4 sets of steep stairs and on to those concrete slabs. Somewhere in there, he told me he couldn’t believe I had to do this all over again in less than 12 hours. Me neither.
He told me if I had legs I should go, so I went, ran most of the road section, and down the last block, straight across the finish line, to screams and cheers, and into the waiting arms of Gary Robbins for one of his famous bear hugs. Pargol was waiting for me, as was Jason.
Pargol brought me food, untied my shoes, bossed Jason around, and then pushed us towards the direction of our motel, across the street. She knew exactly what needed to be done having done 50/50 herself a few years back.
In our room, I put on my bossy pants. Jason drew a cold ice bath for me. I went to grab food and a recovery drink from the fridge and forced myself into an ice bath. I dictated from the bathtub, food,water, flasks etc. Poor Jason. He brought me more food, (and unasked, washed my dirty socks and smelly pack picking out the remains of my sticky gel packs and crumbled bits of heaven only knows what). I drew a salt bath and sat in it, trying to rinse off the rivers of dirt on my legs. He refilled my flasks and as I lay in bed, nursing sore legs and stuffing my face still – he rubbed balm onto my sore calves. And then setting my alarm for an early but mercifully later start, I passed out before 9 pm.
Day 2 – 50km
The alarm went off at 4:15 – 4:30 am. Cautiously, I swung my legs over the bed. I was a little sore, but my legs still worked. I was pleasantly surprised. I changed, went to eat breakfast and tried to give Jason a little more sleep, but he was up and dressed, and ready to leave at 5:20 am. I tried to get a few more minutes sleep in the car. The 2nd day was a lot smokier and hazier and we had been given the option to opt out – guaranteed entry for next year and a discount.
Fortunately Unfortunately, I had already run the 50 miler, and the thought of repeating this next year was very painful.
I took a let’s see what happens approach. My goal was to make it to the start line and get to the first aid station. Not much fanfare, and day 2 started. There were a number of 50/50 runners at the back of the pack and also a couple of 50km runners who were just hoping to make the cut offs. I was surprised to find that I could run a bit, so I ran and walked. And I made a mental note to hurry up a bit because I didn’t really want to be fighting cut offs if I could help it.
Not long after Alice Lake and right before the Corners Aid station, I fell into step with another 50/50 runner. We ended up being the same pace and ended up running the entire 50km day together. Having someone to share a painful day 2 together was amazing. He was a strong power hiker and could run when he felt like it. We ended up at aid stations within a minute of each other, and left within minutes. And as we wound our way through the course, sometimes chatting, sometimes in silence.
We power hiked up Galactic which was a hot smoky mess and smelled like burning rubber. The air quality was lousy but I was mostly ok save for a sore throat. And my legs were working surprisingly well. Some poor girl was hacking away behind me, but she assured me her friend was with her and she had her asthma inhaler. Ok, then.
We made it through Galactic which for me was the worst part of the day. Breezed through Word of Mouth and off to Quest for day 2. I definitely was less happy on day 2.
At Quest, Jason had everything waiting; he fed me, refilled my flasks and then sent me on my way. 10 minutes (v. the 40 minutes I spent here last time) I left in a hurry, and my new running friend was only minutes behind. We power hiked our way up the switch backs. He was taller and sometimes I would have to run a little in order to catch up before I could walk again. This time, there were no freezies.
We wound our way up the switchbacks, through the forest, over nasty bike bridges, forest services road and then made it to Garibaldi FSR with an hour to spare before the cutoff. I am used to having several hours to spare and so I was not pleased. But, it is what it is, and off we went.
We hit Fartherside with half an hour to spare – what the heck, and I hurried out of there with my running partner seconds behind. I was about to call Jason when my phone rang; it was Jason. Poor soul had decided to wait at Fartherside for me and had been since 12:40pm – he just missed me while standing for 2 hours and then went to get a chair. Oops. He didn’t tell me he was going to be there, and I had other things to worry about.
In the end we made up 15 minutes on the last 10kmish. I am pretty sure that is the fastest I have ever done that section. We passed several runners, and cleared Mountain of Phlegm; my calves were screaming but I forced myself to move just a wee bit faster and then we hit the infamous sets of stairs. When we hit the concrete slabs, I could feel every step reverberating through my shins.
My running partner turned around. “Do you think you will cry?” I paused. Maybe I said, but in the end, there were too many competing emotions and no tears.
We decided to save the running for the road, taking turns leading. It would have been nice to walk (I was tired) but I knew I had it in me to run. We passed a guy in a green shirt plodding along and another runner we saw earlier (who was doing the trashed quads shuffle). I saw the set of traffic lights and knew we were only a few hundred meters away. We ran across railroad tracks, I could see the finish. Just before entering the park we saw a guy, obviously hurting.
“If you can pass him, pass him,” my running partner whispered to me. Of course I could pass him. So I did, and he followed suit. We ran into the finish areas, to the cheers of spectators, crossing the line side by side. We had shared the entire day two and so it only seemed fitting that we crossed together. While I love my solo runs, having a partner to face day 2 of a special kind of hell was priceless.
We remembered to take off our running packs before getting our second finish line hugs of the weekend. Apparently 1200 runners worth of finish line packs and finish line hugs had taken its toll. Gary had to remind me to take off my cap so he could put on my Finisher hat. And just like that, 2 of the longest, toughest days of trail running I have faced to date were over.
They say that a journey of 1000 miles begins with a single step. This journey for me involved over 8 months of hard work, over 1200 miles, and almost 200, 000 feet of climbing. It culminated in 2 days of mountain running and as the proud new owner of a blue trucker hat. Hardest earned hat in my life.
To all my friends who shared miles with me, encouraged me, cheered for me and believed in me, thank you. Wouldn’t have made it to the start without you. And to Jason, the best partner and support ever, who spent the weekend crewing and chasing me around, and taking care of me, I love you and I couldn’t do this without you. Congrats to all the racers and a huge thank you to all the volunteers and race directors Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford – thank you for a tough but incredible weekend.
P.S. I went to get my post race burger on day 2. I started to eat it and Jason pointed out that I was eating a bun with relish and cheese, and no patty. Whoops. Back to line it was:).