I don’t have quite the words to describe the Squamish 50 mile course. I had done the 23km and 50km previously, participated in the orientation runs, and trained. I knew what lay ahead of me, and yet this was one of the toughest race experiences I have ever had. Quoting a friend, “I don’t think you can ever be completely psychologically prepared for something like the Squamish 50.”
Add in 30 degrees plus weather, exposed trails, 11000 feet of ascent and descent and well the race was a special kind of type 2 fun. In case you are wondering, Gary Robbins likes his racers to suffer :).
How did I get myself into this mess you ask? Well, four years ago, I was volunteering at the Alice Lake Aid station of the inaugural Squamish 50 mile race (which replaced Stormy). As runners came through, I was thinking the following thoughts…what kind of crazy nut job runs this far? Those people are insane. You won’t catch me doing this crap. Hah.
4 years, 2 shorter courses at Squamish and one trucker cap later, I decided it was only fitting that since the cap had all the different Squamish race distances embossed on it, I needed to finish off the then trifecta ( This was before the 50/50 distance was added). If that isn’t the smartest reason for running a race, then well, I don’t know what is. Not.
We drove up Friday afternoon to Squamish (I should point out I had twice as much as gear as the bf – race not withstanding). At his suggestion, I had packed all my race gear into a clear plastic bin (pre – packed race drop bags, and all). Best idea ever.
We headed to package pick- up where many I saw many familiar faces and friends, not to mention a keg of beer. Of course I had a beer.
At the motel (so grateful we chose one across the street from the finish), I went through my pre – race ritual, promptly claiming the kitchen table to lay out all my gear and supplies. (gels (huuma, guu), nuun, salt caps, salt sticks, body glide
I double checked my two drop bags and added a few items. One of those drop bags had a pair of extra trail runners (important because the next morning, enroute to the race, while wearing the ones I planned to race in, I discovered the plastic heel plate was poking out of the heel lining or close to it).
Somewhere in here, J. made me an almond baileys, coke and peanut butter ice cream float. So good.
After a dinner of chicken burritos and corn chips in the hotel room, I lay in bed and fretted while trying to watch the Olympics. Because J is so calm, even though I was nervous (i.e. a little sick to my stomach thinking about Squamish), I wasn’t my usual pre – race mess. We discussed whether to go with his shammy or my buff in order to use to douse myself with water. We did a test and apparently his shammy could hold a cups worth of water. But my buff won, because I could wrap it around my wrist and I didn’t want to add more weight to my pack.
The alarm clock was set for just before 4 am for breakfast (race start was 5:30 am) and around 10 pm, lights out. As expected, I didn’t sleep exceptionally well, but managed about four hours sleep. I woke up at (1:30 am ) and then again at 3:45 am (before the alarm and hit snooze as not to wake him up).
I dressed in the dark, and ate a breakfast of banana, instant oatmeal and quarter of a rock solid bagel. At quarter to 5, I peered out our motel room and saw two racers preparing to leave. I looked out the front door to see two more racers leave. I figured this was a good time to head to the start line.
I woke J. up and headed to the truck. We followed a procession of cars in the dark and arrived at the start line at the ocean front just after 5 am. Stars hung in the still dark sky, silhouetting the Chief, and I found my friends and other familiar faces. A porta potty stop, a photo-op, a cup of coffee later, and we were off.
The first 11km of the course were fast and flat and I could see light reflecting off the lake as we ran past and into trails. The darkness was just giving way to light as we slipped into some trails.
In a flash, we hit our first aid station at Canadian Tire, and I breezed straight through. I hit it in about 1 hour 10 minutes, faster than I wanted. With fresh legs, I was trying desperately to hold the pace back, knowing full well a long day was head.
We wove through the neighborhood, where we came across an inflatable arch, and people were dressed up in blue men costumes etc and cheering for the racers. Made me smile.
Soon, we joined up with a single track trail and were greeted by our first climb of the day – Debeck’s. I was caught in a conga line which was just as well as it kept me from pushing too hard. Finding some open space on a gravel road after the climbs, I tried to find some sort of running rhythm but the Squamish 50 course does not lend itself to smooth running.
I was still pretty happy at Alice Lake aid station, where I saw Pargol, Krysta, and other familiar faces cheering and crew. Pargol set to work refilling my flasks, snapped some photos, and reminded me to run my own race. Then I was off.
I met some new trail running buddies along this stretch and came by Alley as we made our way towards the Corners aid station which was 8 -9km away. As we approached I saw familiar faces cheering and screaming – always a welcome sight. We hit the aid station and I stopped to eat and apply sunscreen while volunteers refilled my flasks. Off we went to do a 10km loop before returning to the aid station (a bee was buzzing in front of my face) and I was very irritated. I had the bright idea to try to out run the bee :p. Fail. I caught up with a couple of runners and the bee finally went away.
Headed back to the Corners Aid station for a second time for more food, a handful of chips, watermelons, oranges and cups of coke (what I subsisted on for the whole day). I slathered on more sunscreen, and then texted J. to let him know an estimated arrival time at Quest.
Soon after leaving the Corners, came my first low point of the day, a 4km winding up hill trail named Galactic.
I knew this climb well, but it was starting to get hot (and my legs already had 37km in them). Still, I had a reasonable strong pace going up as hills are my strength. We were greeted with stunning views in the back ground, and I stopped for a photo op.
Somewhere along Galactic, I met Becky and we were able to run the next stretch to Word of Mouth aid station together (where she also took the best video of me – butt sliding down some technical terrain and hanging onto trees). It felt like forever to Word of Mouth aid station. I was starting to get crabby. Luckily, it was only 5km from Quest.
Approaching Quest University Aid Station (53km) I was happy relieved as I knew I would see J. As I approached, a volunteer handed me my bag, Ellie came up to me, asked what I needed, refilled my flasks, poured ice into my hat. Kim found me a seat, asked what food I wanted, brought me watermelon, and peeled bananas for me ?! J took everything out of my drop bag, bandaged my blisters, brought me a frappucino spiked with baileys that made my day, restocked my pack with food. I was speechless and I felt so spoiled being waited on hand and foot. The volunteer and crews were incredible this weekend, and I can’t thank them enough.
I should say my primary goal for the day was to get to the finish line. I had time goals and expectations which I missed wildly even accounting for the heat. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed but you win some, you lose some. And yes there were some tears of frustration, but things don’t always go according to plan in an ultra, and I could either pout because it wasn’t going my way or pick it up and keep going. I did however, lament to Jason and Kim, that I was already behind schedule. Kim told me very wisely, given the day’s heat, to forget the time, to keep moving and I would finish. We all knew the race started at Quest (if you could call it a race – my day was more like a crawl).
After spending just under 40 minutes at Quest, I left the aid station double fisting watermelon slices. (J. looked at me with sympathy and goes, I’d double you on my bike but pretty sure that would get you disqualified :)).
The climb from Quest up to the trail head was the second low point of the day. It was hot, and I was starting to feel the effects of the heat. Switchbacks in hot exposed sun were not fun, but I told myself to keep moving. I kept pouring water on my buff and wiping down my face. I started singing to myself and gave myself a pep talk. I tried to imagine how many switchbacks I would have to climb (I told myself a zillion) so I would feel better when in fact there were not a gazillion switchbacks.
Not too long after, I saw the Nesters guy with his truck and freezies! This made me deliriously happy. He asked me if I wanted one (umm yes), gave me two, and happily double fisting my cherry freezies, I made my way into some covered trails where a marshall was standing on top of a mountain bike ramp. I asked him how far to the next aid station – he told me, and steeling myself, I marched onward. By the time I hit Garibaldi Road Aid station, I was even more crabby – do you see a theme going? I decided stupidly to play the how fast can I get to the next Aid station game (and probably ran way faster than I should) in order to try and make it Fartherside by 7 pm. Note that in my original plan – I wanted to be at the finish line by this time, if not before. :p
I had not anticipated needing my headlamp a second time, but I would be cutting it close. I moved quickly (or so it felt – in the stretch between Garibaldi and Fartherside aid station. I made it o the Aid station, made it with 10 minutes before you had to take the headlamp rule and still, at the suggestion of the crew, took it. The forests were dim and the sun was setting.
This is where I saw a trail running friend Alley, camped out in a chair. Both of us had anticipated being done by this point. The fact I wasn’t irked me greatly. After having my flasks refilled, eating some watermelon, and eating a couple of chips with guacamole, putting on my headlamp, I headed out. Only 7 miles of torment awaited before the finish line. So close yet so far away.
This was by far the lowest point of my day because (a) I knew how long this 11km stretch could take (b) doing it in fading light was not what I had anticipated.
For the first hour, the light was reasonably good. As I approached the mountain of phlegm (which took forever), the light grew dimmer, and I had to be careful not to trip or miss the pink flags. Luckily reflective tape was hanging from the pink flags. From the mountain of phlegm – 4km to the finish! I picked my way down in the darkness (so this was what night running was like), being careful not to miss flagging. The thought of getting lost after such a long day would be crushing. Also my 100 – 120 lumen headlamp wasn’t as bright as I would have liked.
Finally, I saw the first set of the stairs and the beginning of the end (3 sets of stairs later) I was only a couple of km away. The sun was truly setting as I approached the Smoke bluffs and the beautiful sunset took away some of the sting (but not all).
I caught up with some new friends from earlier in the day, and we ran along the water for the last couple of km (cheered on loudly by spectators) which gave me a huge boost. I followed the orange pylons, heard the screaming and at the park, straight into the arms of Gary Robbins. I am pretty sure the words FML came out of my mouth.
J. was waiting, videoing my anticlimactic finish and had an ice bath waiting so after a quick chat with a fellow runner, we headed back to the motel (which was mercifully across the street).
Squamish 50 miler was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Mentally it took me to some pretty dark places. It was soul crushing and while I’m happy to have finished I really wanted to be faster. I don’t think I have ever felt so defeated by a race before. This is one race where I felt I earned my race medal.
I’m going to eat all the food now and not run for at least a week.
Post run feet – in case anyone wanted to know. You are welcome.
Thank you to all my friends who cheered, crewed supported, the amazing volunteers and crew, and to J. – the best other half a girl could ask for. Couldn’t have done it without all of you!