Squamish 50 – Race Report

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.

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The cap that started it all 🙂

 

Pre- race

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.

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Requisite bib photo

 

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Requisite bib photo

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

 

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Pre race gear…

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.

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We look happy and unaware of what awaits 🙂

The race

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.

 

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Handouts at Alice Lake Aid station – watermelon!

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.

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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.

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Having a melt down 🙂

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).

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The sun setting over the smoke bluffs..

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.

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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.

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Dirt and dust.

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Having not raced in 8 months,  I haven’t posted in a long while.  I can’t quite find the words to describe 2015, but a run at the dawn of 2016, might capture some of it.

Run

It was early (well 7 am early anyhow) when I headed out for a  dark albeit glorious run along kits beach, towards false creek. It was chilly, but I had layered appropriately.  Wispy clouds shrouded the mountain, and as darkness faded into light, I stopped to snap a shot. Water lapped against the shore, and ducks (fought..or so it seemed like it) in the water. I decided against an out and back loop, opting instead to take the scenic route, around False Creek. Good decision, as right around Science world, I was treated to the most glorious sunrise, the sky aglow, painted in hues of pink, reflecting off the water.

I have been struggling to get back into my groove these past months, and I told myself that as long as I got out the door for 20 minutes, it didn’t matter what pace I ran. As I ran, I reset. I paused to take in my surroundings, letting the thoughts swirl in my head, and then kept running. Every foot step, every mile I was moving forward. Never mind that my pace was painstakingly slow, that my “easy pace” six months ago, would be my tempo pace now. I reminded myself that I didn’t get to that point over night and so I would not be back to where I wanted to be over night.

I remembered why I run, not because I had to, not because I had been hovering on ultrasignup, signing up for races without thinking about the commitment required to follow through (gulp), but because I loved to run. Running speaks to the very fabric of who I am.

I reminded myself that it was healthy to have a break from running, that the hunger, that the fire in my belly would come back.   A couple of years ago, I would have had to be reminded that there are priorities outside of running.  This past year has brought a number of changes, and, accordingly running hasn’t necessarily been first on the list. And at different points in my life, my relationship with running has looked different

Can’t say that the fire in the belly for running is all back but this morning’s run was definitely a step in the right direction.

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Sun Mountain 50 miler – race recap

Late in the race - faked a smile :).  PC: Glenn Tachiyama

(photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama)

Where do I start? Perhaps with our drive up the stunning North Cascades highway. One of the highlights was Diablo lake. We were greeted by glassy green waters, snow – capped mountains and we took many photos.  As we wound our way up the highway, I could audibly feel the tension drain from my body.

The Methow valley was incredible. Lush fields, valleys and mountains.  Seeing the Methow Valley for the first time was like stepping into another time and place. Words and photos can hardly capture the beauty  of this place.

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Diablo Lake

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Our little cabin was in Mazama, just outside of Winthrop, Washington.  The name of our cabin was “A – cute – cabin” and indeed it was.  Old fashioned skates hung in the entrance. A white cabinet filled with giant red mugs and polka dotted cereal bowls. Wrought iron bed and a porcelain white bathtub. Fire place and couches, and a back deck with a bbq.

The cabin

The cabin

Cottage style country bedroom

Cottage style country bedroom

We had dinner, and made a grocery run to the local IGA.  Relaxing in a hammock, drinking white wine and soaking in the beauty of our surroundings.  It was a very laid backing evening. We met Laura, who was also staying in the same, cabin and was running 50km the next day.  By 10pm, we were all in bed.

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Pre – race ritual.


The Race

Race morning dawned early with 5 am wake up a call.  I ate half a bagel with chocolate peanut butter and we drove the 1/2 hour to he start.  A hint of light rose over the mountains,  and a deer flitted across the road.  I felt a wave of contentment wash over me.

Pre - race photo.

Pre – race photo.

The race was definitely an experience. Having not run further than 35km this training period, and having not run further than 50km, ever, I set out to enjoy this race.  I had heard many good things about Sun Mountain, and Sun Mountain did not disappoint.

The day turned out beautiful, albeit hot!  We started at 7 am, and within an hour I  could feel the warmth especially since the course was exposed with very little shade. But the beauty of the Methow valley was undeniable.  A lake, lush valleys, meadows bursting with wild flowers and stunning vistas of snow-capped mountains made for an incredible day.

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Playing in a meadow of wildflowers early in the race. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

I didn’t have any particular goals for this race, except to cross the finish line. I stopped to take photos  and chatted with fellow runners.

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Wild flowers abounded…

 I felt reasonably decent heading into the 20 mile aid station   I had left a drop bag here but didn’t take anything. Volunteers refilled my flasks, and I crammed food down, chips, gummy bears, fruit and a lot of coke, pb and j. sandwiches.  For some reason, the coke sat well in my stomach.  It was also at the 20 mile aid station, that a fellow runner I had been running and chatting with at the beginning of the race caught up to me. After a few words of encouragement, he pulled out of the aid station.  I never saw him again – but looked him up –  he ended up finishing an hour and forty minutes ahead of me. He told me his strategy had been start very slow and then pick up the pace. Pacing anyone?

It was 7 – 8 miles to the next aid station, and I was warned a climb was ahead.   I focused on putting one foot in front of another, and making it to the next aid station. That made the race more manageable in my head.  The thought of 80km in one go was a bit overwhelming.

Selfie part way up a hot and steep climb.

Selfie part way up a hot and steep climb.

Being such a long day on course, I also had plenty of time to think.  I chose not to run with music, so when I wasn’t chatting with fellow runners or admiring the surrounding beauty, I was inside my own head.   I realized I was so mentally tired (not from the race).  I was carrying burdens that weren’t mine to carry.

And as I made a conscious choice to let go, I felt a weight lifted off me.  As I was recently reminded, by someone very dear to me, we only have so many moments in life, and we might as well enjoy each one.

Besides running further than I ever have (I use “run” loosely), the race took me to places mentally I have never been.  Between mile 27 – 36 were probably the toughest as distance wise. And temperatures continued to rise.

At the 27 – 28 mile aid station a kind volunteer held out my drop bag. I changed my tank top, slathered on more screen, ate more chips, fruit, a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and grabbed a few gels for the journey in between aid stations.

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Mountain views abounded on a very scenic course.

Shortly after leaving the aid station,  I felt a blister on my foot. I debated turning around and heading back to the aid station but decided against it.

Somewhere between mile 27 – 36 mile included a lot of walking, with some “running” thrown in. As long as I kept moving, I figured I would be okay.    I was passed by a lot of people and stung by a bee. But the scenery was stunning, so that made up for it.

At the 36 mile (ish) aid station, I consoled myself by telling myself there was “only” a 1/2 marathon left.  I left the aid station and was greeted by none other than more climbing.

We hit 40 miles ish after a climb to the Sun Mountain lodge. I was not pleased to have to climb this late in the race. We had tried to descend the trail initially – and the volunteers kindly but firmly told us – that if this was our first time around we had to climb up the mountain. The lucky runners heading downhill were 50km racers.  Coming down the mountain hurt too – but seeing the volunteers the second time and going downhill made me feel slightly better. It’s too bad running wasn’t an option – I walked, shuffled along and then ran a little.   We were told the last aid station was 44 – 45 milesish.  Those few miles took a long time and I was hungry.  I was delighted to discover a fruit leather stuffed into a pocket of my hydration vest.

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Somewhere on the course – can’t remember where in the race I took the photo

Catching sight of the last aid station filled me with indescribable joy.  At the last station I found a running buddy volunteering. Seeing a familiar face late in the race was oh so sweet – the first familiar face I had seen all day.  He refilled my flasks, and snapped a photo as I ran off. Thanks for the help 2.0.!  He and another volunteer kindly told me the next 5.5 miles could be done in just over an hour.

I wasn’t so sure but I had my illusions.  After refueling and stocking up at the last aid station,  we pulled out and more climbing ensued.  And it was still hot. (The day alternated between heat, stifling heat and at times the weather would taunt us with gentle breeze).  We reached a ladder.  The ladder seemed cruel so late in the race. A group of us encountered a suffering 50k racer. We offered salt pills and then proceeded to do a group climb (sort over) over the the short ladder over a barbed wire fence.  And then we kept climbing. Surely, it must end.   We caught a tiny reprieve, and then the climbing resumed. I could see faster runners ahead, ants in the distance, across a higher ridge.  There couldn’t be more climbing. But I suspected there might be.

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More climbing.

We reached the ridge, and I was dismayed to see runners ahead, winding their way up a steep hill.  I almost cried, but kept marching up wards.  Runners making their way down called out encouragement. We were less than 5 miles from the finish line.  One foot in front of the other.  And as I finally crested the top and turned around. I felt relief.  I started to run downhill, but my quads protested and it became more like wobbling down hill.  Of course, hidden somewhere in the meadows was Glenn Tachiyama, photographer extraordinaire.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to know what my race face looked like.

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Late in the race. It was hot. I was tired. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama

 I was alone at this point and I kept my eyes peeled for pink flagging.  I felt as though I had gone awhile without the tell – tale pink flags. I started to re – trace my steps uphill. Three steps up, I ran into a fellow runner with whom I had been sharing miles. We decided we  hadn’t come across any turn offs and continued on our paths. Finally, a pink flag appeared on a shrub.  As we gingerly descended the trails on trashed quads and blistered feet, I felt a wave of emotion wash over me.

We exited the trails and crossed a road onto another set of trails. Seeing the Chickadee trail head on which we started, I was certain the finish was just around the corner . But every time we rounded a bend more pink flagging awaited. Those last few kms felt like the longest of my life.

Finally, I heard a volunteer, and then another who told us  200 yards. I had to be close. I willed my legs into a feeble run.  I saw Alan just before the finish.

As I ran into the finish area I could hear screams and cheers of finishers and spectators. The trail running community is so tightly knit.  They cheer for friends and strangers alike.

I came to a halt scanned the finish area and I found J. off to the side, snapping photos.  He had arrived 10 minutes before I crossed, based on my own estimated finish time.  I handed him my hydration pack and peeled off my trail runners.

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Done.

11 hours later…80km done.  It dawned on me 80 km was kind of far.  At some point during the race, I swore I would never do this again but I’m already contemplating the next race. 100km sounds reasonable to me…

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Exploring a park the next day. He decided to carry me, because it was quicker than waiting for me to walk :p.

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Winter adventures – Howe Sound Crest trail

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Today was a gift.   I have been yearning to return to the Howe Sound Crest trail, since last summer’s trip to traverse the whole trail.  Our mild BC winter has made running the trail possible earlier in the season than I thought. 
 
 We played on the Howe sound crest trail,  running (ok hiking) from Cypress Lodge to St. Mark’s Summit and Unnecessary Mountain and back.   I soaked in the views, happily played caboose, and remembered why I run. I run because I can. Some day, I won’t be able to.  I run because there are those who can’t.  I run because in these mountains, my heart has found its home.  I am grateful for this gift, for good friends and a amazing running community. I have been lucky enough to witness  some incredible sights some may never see in this lifetime.  I don’t think I could ever tire of the views we saw today.
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As we stood on one of the summits of Unnecessary Mountain,  the  others chatting behind me,  I drank in the sights before me.  Snow capped peak of the Lions beckoned  in the distance, sunlight glinting off the snow, and the Howe Sound below us.  How do you explain the beauty of something to those who haven’t seen it?   Photos give but a glimpse of the stunning beauty we encountered out there.
We played in the snow,  squealed as we slipped down snowy icy patches holding onto tree branches, and laughing.   And in this place, in this rugged wilderness  that is literally our backyard, I found peace. I found the part of the me which can’t be tamed, and every few steps I would stop, look up, in awe of our surroundings, of this pristine wilderness that I am fortunate enough to call home.
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(Photo credit: Terry B.) So happy in the mountains…

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January musings

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I woke up early this morning (early for me as in before 6 am), and lay awake, thinking, tossing and turning.  My body, sweetly aching, from consecutive days of multiple runs and yoga.
 
Since I was up, I decided to catch the sunrise.  Bundled up, in the chilly morning hours, it was a short walk  to the beach. I love first light.  In the pre – dawn, hours, there were scant dog walkers, runners. Otherwise, it was deserted.  I love the quiet, the peace. It always feels like those hours before sunrise, those precious stolen minutes before the day really begins, are a gift.
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I stood there,  in the silence, ruminating on what I wanted for this year.  In a yoga class I recently attended, the instructor asked us  “what needs to change for you this year?  Don’t let the year go by on autopilot.”  Normally, I don’t pay much attention to speeches in yoga class, preferring to focus on the workout, on how to ground myself, and to find that fine balance between pushing myself and injuring myself.  But her words resonated with me.
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I thought about how to move forward, how to move in the direction I needed.  I thought of how fear holds us back. I thought about how my vision or expectations of how things should be may never come to fruition. Life seldom unfolds according to our timing, but if we open our eyes, life can surprise us.  And I learned how as we live life, sometimes on mountain tops and sometimes in a valley, sometimes on a plateau, and sometimes, dancing on the edges of broken, that there is always a way forward.
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Howe Sound Crest trail 2014

I remember a hundred lovely lakes, and recall the fragrant breath of pine and fir and cedar and poplar trees.

The trail has strung upon it, as upon a thread of silk, opalescent dawns and saffron sunsets.

Hamlin Garland

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Sunrise driving enroute to Cypress

 

In a summer spent playing on the mountain, including trips to Hanes Valley, Diez Vistas and Coliseum Mountain, the HSCT stands alone. 

Our day began with a 5 am wake up call.  I stepped out onto my patio and saw stars in the sky. The sun rose as we drove to Cypress at 6 am.  We beamed as Bettie snapped a group shot at Cypress before we headed off. 

HSCT was incredible: jaw dropping beauty and oh so tough and technical terrain, that at times I wanted to cry.  Around every bend lay another stunning photo op, the “oohs” and “ahs” abounded. Time stood still.

Apart from the vistas, three words to describe HSCT: Rugged, remote and technical terrain. I thought I  was prepared for the HSCT, but experiencing  the HSCT took me to places mentally I have never been.  It’s fair to say I underestimated the trail a bit.  

On the HSCT, I came face to face with my trail running fears (falling off a cliff was one), navigating down hills littered with loose rocks, hugging ledges, narrow trails, and down hills I had to slide down on my rear.  

One foot in front of the other, was our mantra for the toughest parts. I was also witness to incredible sights that had I not witnessed in person, I would not have believed existed.  The mountains lay claim to your heart and soul, and don’t let go.

Our first stop was St. Mark’s summit with a stunning view of Howe Sound, a teaser of lay ahead. 

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Howe Sound – from St. Mark’s Summit

 

Up until St. Mark’s summit (about 2 hours in), the trail had been what I called reasonable. I’d like to say I had a lot of time to reflect on my life during our long day on the trails, but the technical nature of the trail demanded our full attention. One missed step…

Some highlights: climbing up a rock face  behind Rik– is this the right way??? Me: well, the others are going up this way, so must be?  (I hope).

Belaying down huge slate rocks with ropes ( Hmmm…seems like parts of the trailrequired some mountaineering skill), and after the West Lion, using ropes and chains to cross St. James Peak.

Crossing the peaks...

(Crossing David’s and St. James Peak – Clearly we have decided that a “group trek” across the line is in order. Photo credit: Bill Dagg)

 

Quote of the day: “Hmm…there seems to be a drop off – a cliff.”  Me: thinking…that can’t be right. John (our resident downhill expert): “I could probably go down that.”  No takers.  We retraced our route and rejoined the proper trail that did not involve a cliff drop. Disaster averted.

Me on unecessary Peak - photo courtesy of Susan

Early enough that we are all smiles. Photo credit: Susan

 Up and down, through mountain passes,over slate rock, in between crevasses. Belaying down rock faces.  Like heaven opened up and swallowed me whole.  I can’t adequately put into the words the beauty we encountered on the Howe Sound Crest trail.  And to know we earned those views, so to speak, by climbing scrambling, edging precariously on ledges, holding onto trees and sliding down.   Oh, and I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the bushwacking through some bramble. Fortunately, there were no major falls, but lots of scratches.

My one moment of true panic. Nature called.  I told one of the gang. When I came out from behind the bushes they were gone.  Hmm, just a moment before they had been admiring the views.  A wide expanse stretched before me.  I looked  to the left, and the right, and peered over the edge where I had last seen the others standing. I looked down and Bill yelled up.  Yay, not alone in the mountains. (not that I thought for a second they would really leave me  behind…)

I made my way down, not helping my cause by braking on the down hills (BAD idea) as small rocks skittered under me and I skidded.  I mumbled something and righted myself.  Par for the course.

Boulder fields... (photo courtesy of bill)

(Picking my way down a rock field…base of the West Lions still lies ahead.  Photo credit: Bill Dagg)

 

Soon enough, I saw the others ahead, little figures making their way towards a ledge, where a fall would not be great.

 

Descending with Terry and RIk HSTC (bill's photo)

(Photo credit: Bill Dagg)

Knowing my penchant for wandering off trail, Bill turned to me:  “Kristine, this might be a good time to pay attention to route markers.”  I laughed, but inside, was dying a little.  I looked ahead, trying to figure how exactly I was going to get across.  Rik pointed out a narrow strip of green vegetation.  I grabbed hold of the wall of rock and placed my foot on the ledge.  Julia was ahead of me, carefully making her way across.  I cursed as I hugged the rock face and inched across.  Luckily, there were limited opportunities to look down, but just over my shoulder, I saw a tiny gap and a narrow dirt path that was my goal.  What have I gotten myself into?  Oh well. Too late now…

Howe Sound crest - ledge walk (terry's photo)

(Clearly, I am very fond of ledges…traversing the base of the West Lion and holding Rik up behind me while Julia makes her way across. Photo credit: Terry Bushnell).

Soon enough, my feet were on relatively firm ground (at least for the moment) and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I hadn’t really contemplated not finishing what I started, but there were moments on the HSCT, where, if granted an out, I might have taken it.  My legs ached,  I was hungry and tired.  Climbing to the highest point, the sun beating down on us and on a narrow path ahead, I hit my low point.  My ham and cheese bagel had melted into itself, and the thought of gels made my stomach churn.  Then I looked up to take in the stunning landscape, my misery momentarily forgotten,  and pulled out my phone for a photo.   

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The weather, in true alpine fashion, changed on a dime.  Scorching sun beat down one minute, and in the next, I could feel a chill in the air.

I ran out of superlatives and adjectives to describe HSCT.  The vistas we encountered were stunning, towering mountains and valleys,  turquoise lakes, Howe Sound, the peaks of the Lions,  views of Coliseum and the Black tusk.  Lush vegetation, green everywhere, blueberries abounded. 2014-09-14 14.12.08-1

Feast for the eyes…

 

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Getting a swim in at Brunswick Lake (HSCT) - Terry's photo

Cooling off at Brunswick lake (Photo credit: Susan)

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Admiring the views part way up a boulder climb….

If there  was a downside to this spectacular hike, it was the scarcity of water.  I carried a handheld in addition to a two liter hydration bladder.  Re – filling water in Magnesia Meadows saved me. Also,  I was rummaging in my pack for every last bit of food  (so pack more food than you think you will need). 

During the last 5km, I managed to down an  entire sports chocolate bar (100 grams) which had re – solidified, and was chugging chlorine tinted tarn water (might have gotten a little too enthusiastic with the water purification tablets…) .  Ahead of me, Terry goes, we have to be almost there now.  Uh huh.  3.7km to the parking lot is far when you are tired.  But we could also smell the finish. After an epic day….we were almost there.

 

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The Howe Sound Crest trail, despite my attempts to describe it, defies words.   Amazing friends and trail running partners, technical terrain and stunning vistas made for an unforgettable day.  10 + hours later,  a group of tired, broken, and humbled runners arrived at Porteau Cove trail head.  And thus ended a day which none of us will soon forget.

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On a day where words weren’t enough..

 

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Squamish 50km 2014 Race recap

 

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In some ways, Squamish 50 was a year in the making. Melissa and I sat at the finish line of the Squamish 50 last August, having run our 23km, secretly envious of those who ran 50km or longer. Our friends stumbled in, delirious, broken, cursing the race director but no  doubt thrilled with surviving a kind of mini – hell. (Side note: Two years ago, I volunteered at an aid station for the Squamish 50 miler, and thought the runners were out of their minds for wanting to run that far).

Come last September, when registration opened, I promptly signed up for 50km. Never mind I had not raced a single ultra before. Melissa had signed up for 50km, and Pargol, naturally signed up for 50 miles and we sweet talked Emma into signing up for 23km.  It will be fun, we told her.  August seemed such a long way off.

Meanwhile, I raced road races, ran my first 50km race and played on the trails and mountains many weekends, summer and winter. And reluctantly signed up for cross fit.

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Views from our accommodations at Quest University – the night before..

Race morning

Race morning dawned early. My alarm went off at 4 am. It was pitch black outside when I dressed in my room.  I will spare you the selfie I took at 4 am.

It was still dark when a sleepy lot of us tumbled out of the car at Alice Lake at 5 am. David had kindly risen at a ridiculously early hour to drive the group of us to the 50km start. I was very happy to see tumblers of coffee. Besides dropping my race bags, that was my first stop.

 

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Alice Lake at dawn – prior to 6 am..

A pre – race briefing was given (Gary Robbins standing on top of a picnic table and yelling to be heard) and at promptly six am we were off. My legs felt surprisingly good, not heavy, no injuries. Being able to start the race unscathed is half the battle, right?

The race

At 6 am, the skies had just started to lighten. Running through the trails in Alice lake, it was shadowy. Beautiful. The first 10km were probably the best part of the day. Legs were still fresh, and even the switchbacks we had to climb did little to dampen my spirits. One of the best things about starting the race so early was being able to watch the sky turn from an inky darkness to light as we ran the trails. It was surreal. I love the trails and mountains, and once the race started, I could feel the tension in me begin to ease.
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We came to an open, winding section and I tore through the trails, even recorded a whooping 5:29km. Just at the corner of Rob’s and Cliff corners,  our friend David was 2014-08-18 22.06.102014-08-18 20.53.13

there, camera in hand…

I remembered how failing to eat was my downfall at my one and only previous ultra: (Orcas Island 50km). Volunteers filled my water bladder while I happily crammed jujubes and chips and m & m’s into my mouth. Double fisting banana quarters and a couple of fruit leathers, I marched off.

After Aid station # 1 and a nice long gravel stretch past a lovely waterfall, we approached our first big climb of the day, Plastic Schiesse to Galactic Scheisse.

On the orientation run, I had been alone during the climb up Plastic Schiesse. On race day, I passed one and then two people, and then caught up to three more. I marched steadily uphill. Passed a few people and then hit an entire conga line of people winding their way up a never-ending climb. I could hear snippets of conversation in front me. A woman behind me sounded like she was going to die. (I thought I might die too, but that would come later). I was getting antsy because I wanted to climb at my pace, but decided against passing.  In retrospect, not being able to do a quick pace early on was a good thing.

After we reached the top (for now at least), mercifully we had a stretch of flattish (i.e. gently undulating trails), before the descents came.  Landing on rocks constantly is not fun. I went lurching around a bend right behind Melissa. Trails: Upper Powersmart, IMBA Smart, Fred, and Word Of Mouth.

Though I was somewhat familiar with the treacherous descent, it wasn’t any easier on race day. Holding onto a tree and sliding down on your rear while a host of people are gingerly picking their way down, cursing the race director, was not my idea of a good time. Or at least that was what I told myself.

I might have mumbled a few epithets. The guy beside me said Gary Robbins, the race director had a lot to answer for. No kidding.

Thankfully at the bottom of the never- ending decent, we had our second aid station of the day – it was the last Aid station just before Quest University (which would be our third Aid station of the day and roughly the mid point of our race). I crammed food in (if jujubes, chips, and chocolate chip cookies are considered food) and chugged two cups of coke. Oh my word. So much sugar. I lost track of the number of gels, chews, chips, etc I ate. My teeth ached from the sugar.

5 more km to Quest I told myself. My shorts and tank were soaked, my legs were streaked with mud. I sponged myself off with the wet sponges. I ran briefly with a guy from Tennessee, named Tony, who asked me if there were snakes and wildlife. Instinctively I look at my feet. I hope not, I told him. Too many people on the trails for the bears to come out.  That was my theory anyhow. He told me a story about how during an ultra race, he bought a bear whistle – which kept the bears away but attracted packs of dogs. I was not impressed.

 

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Almost half way, and dry clothes and food await!

As I approached Quest University, I heard the screams of the volunteers, cheering us in. At the top of the stairs, Pargol, Alan and Sybille were waiting, cheering. I heard them before I saw them..

No words came out of my mouth, but my hydration bladder was whisked from me.  Pargol fetched my drop bag, emptied my drop bag, asked me what I needed, and pushed me in the direction of the porta potties. I have never been so grateful.  Having changed into dry clothes, I was much happier, and watched in bemusement as Pargol ordered Alan to pin my bib to my shorts (I had changed shorts because mine were soaking), as I was a bit of a mess. They were amazing.

 

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Somewhat mollified because I am no long wearing wet clothes and I have eaten. Sometimes life is so simple…

I crammed more food in, chips, bananas, watermelon slices, a handful of chips, and the volunteers directed me downwards…..and then up. I had decided against changing my socks, but as I made my way up the paved road, I realized my feet felt like two ponds, and I felt my right ankle bone rubbing against my trail runners. I was not happy. I paused against a fire hydrant, removed my shoes and socks and inspected the offending ankle. I decided I would have to live with it as I was not turning around and returning to Quest university. So I kept going. The uphill stretch along the pavement seemed like a sick joke.

Soon, we re – entered the trail head and kept going, up and up and up (endless switchbacks). The views were stunning the higher we climbed, but I was too tired to pull my phone out for any photos. And then came the downhills. At one point, we came across a mountain bike ramp that towered over me. Pink streamers hung from the ramp, and I thought, Gary Robbins can’t be serious??? Thankfully, our route took us under the ramp. But my relief was short-lived.

Somewhere on course, can’t remember where – I see a  sign for our race – “Slow down – danger,” and I can’t help chuckling to myself as I thought this adage applied to the whole course. But I slow down regardless; if the guy who makes a living racing and designing race courses intended to torture, tells you to slow down, it would be wise to slow down.

Just keep moving forward to the next Aid station, I told myself. As the race progressed, the aid stations felt further and further apart.  And I began to sound like a petulant child. How far to the next aid station? Not my proudest moment.

The 32km aid station took forever to reach. But not before some  surprises. Enter the bike ramp. I was happily running along the trails when a biking bridge loomed before me. I came to a screeching halt, looked to the left and the right of the bridge which hadplacards marked with an “X” – he wants us to run on this??? With a sigh I started up, but at the top  I decided there had to be a safer way down. So I looked to the left of a bridge, and see I giant log. I stepped on the log and was promptly rewarded with a painful calf cramp – it took everything in me not to scream out loud. I sighed, sat there with a seized calf and crammed some more food in – thinking maybe electrolytes would help.

Meanwhile, I heard approaching footsteps.  A runner appeared at the top of the bike bridge, stops: “this doesn’t seem like a good idea…” Well, no kidding. I am beginning to think the entire 50km has not been a good idea. I have been through the wringer and more than 18km remains in the race. This fact was not comforting.

I hobbled off after the runner passes, and thought I must be getting close to the 32 km aid station. I saw an enthusiastic volunteer with a sign, encouraging me. I promptly slipped on the face of a rock and slid down on my rear. Lovely.

Thankfully, the aid station was only about 150 meters away at this point. I pulled in to the aid station, had my hydration pack refilled (and crammed in two salt pills, chips), etc., more ju jubes and bananas quarters. As I bound down the trails, I saw Melissa pull into the aid station.

Only 8 more km till the next Aid station, I told myself. (I was moving at the blistering pace of 5km, 6km an hour if you were being generous).

And as I pulled into the 40km aid station, the last of the day, relief washed over me. My day was almost done, only 10km left.  I am at about 6:15 – 6:20 (hours in)  according to the garmin.

This was where David, bless his soul, came running up, giving us updates.  He informed us that Susan repeated a loop and was not happy.  I wouldn’t be happy either. Melissa literally pulled into the aid station a minute after me.    He took my plastic wrappers etc, and whisked my leaky hydration bladder away. He grabbed his water bottle, filled it with ice and electrolytes and handed it to me. I made my way over to the bucket of sponges but he reached in and takes the sponge. Did I mention my friends are amazing?

10km to go can’t be that bad – but unfortunately I have been duly warned (and if memory serves me right) the last 10km are the toughest. Plaintively, I asked long the last 10km would take.  He looked at me, gave me a couple different time estimates, and finally said, Just keep moving forward.  Best advice of the day.

I gulped down 2 more cups of coke, 1 cup of water, shoveled down more ju jubes,  grabbed a quartered banana section. And off I go.  But not before he gets this ultra flattering photo of me and Melissa…

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My face is crammed full of food…can’t smile…

 

And the climbing is NOT done: the views were stunning though. Dappled sunlight through the trees.  The sound of a rushing creek below. I felt a breeze and in that moment, I was blissfully happy.

I was tired. My hips ached, my calves were tender and as I mumbled incoherently to myself, I used my hands to hoist me up. Being short is not always helpful during trail races.  I gave myself a pep talk, I have legs. I have lungs. I have come way too far to quit now.

Somewhere along the trail, my other calf seized. I sighed, held onto a tree, stretched the calf out and let more runners pass, and then off I go again.

My garmin has died so I am running blind, but that’s okay. I tried to eat the banana section, but for some reason, that made me want to vomit. I gave up and shove the quartered banana and peel into my pocket.

I caught up to a guy who is clearly suffering. In perhaps an ill – timed attempt to lighten the mood, I ventured to say, having fun yet? He grunted or whimpered or both. Oops.

We climbed, and climbed some more. Where is this Mountain of Phlegm from last year so I can get this over with???

I was tired, and in no rush so I climbed behind him, until he finally stepped  aside to drink from his handheld. He looked really rough. I asked if he was ok. He nodded. I’m not sure I believed him, but I am also hurting and desperate to be done, so off I go.

I heard volunteers cheering in the distance, and I ran towards the sound of the cowbell. 4km to go the volunteer told me. He reassured me the course was all downhill from that point.

I ran downhill  and encountered yet another slight uphill. Liar, I mumbled to myself, it is not all downhill. Soon enough, I reached a steep set of stairs that I had to descend.. My calves were screaming. I held on to the railings and gingerly made my way down, sideways at an angle.  I couldn’t walk straight down without destroying my hamstrings.

I felt slightly relieved as I hit flat ground.  I ran past people who were preparing to rock climb. They whoop and holler when they saw me run past. This made me feel a little better.

A stretch along the water, albeit flat, were among some of the longest kms of my life.

I ran into the parking lot.  A car honked.  I look up.  The occupants are leaning out the window cheering. An elderly couple look up as I hobbled past and urged me on “Go, go.”

A volunteer at the end of the lot directed me to turn left onto the road, and as the pylons came into view, it is  only about a km to go, and then half a km. I heard the screams in the distance. I ran along the railroad tracks (ok, maybe running was a generous term to use), landing on the rails as a means of propelling myself forward. I crossed the street, and started counting flags. 500 meters, a volunteer told me. I saw John running towards me, and he ran me in. Made me so happy. My feet hit the grass, and I have never been so ready to be done anything in my life. I crossed the finish line, into the arms of the waiting Gary Robbins and basically demanded a finish line hug.

 

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And  8 hrs 15 minutes and change later, I was done. My friends came running up, pointing cameras. I heard my name. Someone tugged on my arm. I was bit overwhelmed. But so happy to be done.

 

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What I really looked like after I crossed the finish line…

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I have raced marathons, I have even run a 50km previously but Squamish 50km was one of the toughest races I have done to date. Although I was trained, was prepared for this race as much as one can be, it was a rough day out there. I experienced a roller coaster of emotions. I felt as though I had been hammered, thrown into a spin cycle in the laundry machine and then spit out by the finish line. Regardless of the calibre of runner you are, Squamish 50 will humble you.

At the end of the day, I have no regrets. As much as one can enjoy a course like Squamish, I did. I am so glad I came back to run 50km this year. I was reminded once again, of why I love trail running. The trail running community is incredible. The volunteers were fantastic. My friends and crew were amazing, and I could not have done this without them. I was spoiled rotten during this race.  I know have chosen my friends in life well.  Maybe, just maybe, I will come back and run 50 miles at Squamish next year.

 

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2014-08-17 16.56.15-2 Shiny happy faces – 50 miles (80km) for Pargol Saturday, and 50km for Melissa and I on the Sunday.

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Cold beer at Howe Sound Brewery…so good

 

 

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