“Oh. My. God.” The first words out of my mouth after crossing the finish line.
This was the inaugural running of a 50km course added to the Squamish 50 lineup and I think RD Garry Robbins was intent on ensuring it was a memorable one. This was only my second 50km trail race and I figured it was going to be tough but to say I underestimated it is, well, an understatement.
(Ed. note: Sorry, it's long. Also, the exact order of trails and experiences are probably off as I don't know the area and I was zoned in my own little world concentrating most of the time)
Leah had a gallery opening the night before so we got in a little later than expected but I actually managed to get a reasonable sleep considering we had to be up at to get ready. We hit the road at and it took an hour or so to get up to the shuttle pick-up location where we met up with Greg, Dave, Alan, Kathryn, et al. The weather was cloudy and cooler than expected which was a pleasant surprise.
|Waiting for the bus. Oh, sweet innocence.|
The atmosphere up at the start line at Alice Lake had lots of positive vibes mixed with bundled, nervous energy. It was a pretty small crowd being that a lot of runners had taken advantage of the early start time (this caused some controversy as it was meant for runners who thought they would not make the 10hr cut off, not regular racers). The weather was cool and cloudy right up until the start time of but then, voila, the sky cleared and we all knew we were in for a hot afternoon.
|Starting Line - Alice Lake (Photo by Emma)|
We started off on the first section of trail I was familiar with from the 5 Peaks series and I stuck together with Solana who knew the course. It really helped to know how to pace upcoming sections and also to encourage and push each other along the way. (While Solana and I have a friendly trail “rivalry” going on, she trains consistently on North Shore trails and wipes the floor with me on technical descents). We focused on hiking the majority of the climbs, not that anyone had much choice. Did I mention there was a lot of climbing?
The first 5km rises slowly as you get warmed up into the trails, with some short steep switchbacks, but then just after the first Aid Station at 8k the course shoots up some 600 meters over 5km. We hiked the steepest parts and ran when possible. I think it took about 50 minutes. After the long, tough, slog to the top it initially felt pretty good to be letting gravity do some work as we started the long descent.
I tried to stay relaxed and light on my feet for the first of the technical descents, switching back and forth down the mountain, more than a few times catching a toe and barely saving myself. The quads took a real beating as we threw ourselves down the course. (This is definitely something I need to work on). Amazingly I never wiped out on the entire course, even after my legs (and soul) were thrashed over the many hours.
I was drinking constantly and I think I may have sweat out the Fraser River by the halfway point. It felt great to change my shirt from my drop bag at Quest University at the “almost” halfway point. The station attendants throughout the course were great but you really felt like a rock star at Quest with volunteers grabbing your drop bag for you as well as running to grab any food or water than you needed. There was also a substantial crowd there waiting to cheer everyone on.
We headed out of Quest feeling strong and refreshed, up the road a bit until we again entered the trails for another switchback climb. I wish I knew the course better as it’s hard to even remember big parts after such a long day and so many amazing trails. There were a couple of times where, even with the great marking, I was ready to head off course but fortunately each time there was either a volunteer or runner nearby to steer me back. Actually there was never more than a few short sections where there wasn’t someone within talking distance.
The course was really well marked and the volunteers at the aid stations were top notch. The surprise mini-station by Nesters Market handing out Freezies was a welcome surprise, too, as the afternoon was getting hot and the climbing continued, unrelentingly. Best Freezie I EVER had.
At different sections along the trail we had amazing views over Squamish and could hear the music festival going on. I was thinking, “so close, and yet only, oh, another 4 hours or so to get back there!”
Looking at the race profile I really thought that after that first brutal climb and descent that the rest of the course would be a much more “sane” but this was not to be our fate. The course was constantly changing and throwing stuff at us. Climbs, descents, roots, rocks, forestry roads, powerlines, bridges, dust, dirt, holes and hornets.
"Climbs, descents, roots, rocks, forestry roads, power lines, bridges, dust, dirt, holes and hornets."
I managed to stay within sight of Solana until close to the 4th Aid Station (33k?) and caught her there just before she took off again. I quickly downed more watermelon, topped up the water and shot back some Heed. We headed back into the forest for more quad-punishing trails. Solana warned me that there was a meadow coming up that would be hot and another tough climb out of there. This is where I lost sight of her for the rest of the race.
The alpine meadow was beautiful and hot as expected. The afternoon sun was well-cooking us by this point. The trails were hot and dusty, and the climb out of the valley was a slow trudge. I was feeling hungry and forced down another gel but I was also starting to feel nauseous from the heat. It felt great to finally hit the tree line again where it was considerably cooler.
|Photo en route by Rob (@needsexample)|
More forest trails... trying to stay focused and alert …and then it shot me out on to another forestry road where in my stupor I decided to go right and a volunteer kindly reminded me it would be better to go the other (correct) direction. He said I was about 1 km from the 40km aid station. It was a very long kilometer along the road but it did feel good to just run without having to concentrate as much. I was really ready for the aid station as my water was all out and I was feeling pretty rugged. Some friendly souls along this section told me the station was just at the top of the hill.
Of course the 40k aid station was at the “top” of the hill and when I finally arrived after trudging across the bridge and up the road I got the amazing volunteers to douse my head with water… which felt unbelievably refreshing. I downed some watermelon, orange and banana quickly but my gut wasn’t having it. I guess the combination of heat and sweets over the many hours were taking their toll and I only managed a few steps away before it all came back up. I must’ve wretched 4 or 5 times. This was the one and only time in the race where I thought, “damn, maybe this is it?” but then I recalled just recently reading Pam Smith’s Western States 100 race report, where she emptied her guts, felt better and went on to win the race. I figured I could definitely finish the last 10 of a mere 50k then.
"...but my gut wasn’t having it. I must’ve wretched 4 or 5 times."
As I finished emptying my guts I heard a familiar voice call me over. It was Shea sitting in the shade across the road. We sat for a few minutes and chatted while he helped me get my wits about me to carry on. As it turned out, it was actually a blessing I lost my cookies, and I was feeling lighter and rejuvenated to carry on after I got some more water and a gel back in my belly.
I must’ve cooled off a bit too much, as we started back on the trails it was only a matter of minutes before my right leg, inner thigh, seized up quickly, stopping me in my tracks. Ouch. @#$#%! Fortunately, and surprisingly, a short bit of stretching managed loosen it up enough to get moving and it didn’t bother me again after that.
Apparently this was Shea’s longest distance race so far and I congratulated him as we crossed over the 42.2k mark. Way to go Shea! And ONLY 8k to go!
The volunteers at 40k told us it was only a couple of mounds and a climb and then we were off to the finish line but that assessment was a little exaggerated. The trail continued to twist and turn and climb some more. I heard (and contributed) a fair bit of swearing as a few of us pressed ourselves up the last(?) climb towards the top of Ol’ Phlegmy. It felt great at the top with a strong, cool breeze and a brilliant view, but almost there, onwards down for the last 4k to the finish. The next 2km’s were more quad-crunching descent, including steep stairs! Wheee! We finally came out into a parking lot and onto the roads for the final 2km’s.
It’s amazing how far 2km’s can be.
A final push, some running, some walking, and there, just up ahead the sights and sounds of a finish line approaching.
No matter how bad you feel, always smile crossing the finish line.
|Place holder until order arrives.|
I crossed the finish line, got some water and promptly laid down on the ground, a crushed husk of a man but, probably, already considering my next race.
"Thanks to everyone, organizers, volunteers, racers, and friends for a fantastic day!"
|The Broadway Crew - need to photoshop in Greg (@becomingajock)|
|With Leah holding me upright at the finish line.|
|Post-race "ouch" face|
47th overall (out of 160 finishers)
7th in my category (M40-49)
My plan was to try and take in 250-300 calories per hour, and I think I managed that for the first few hours but after a while the gels do become sickeningly sweet and my belly may have been getting overly full of water, too. Watermelon and bananas at the aid stations seemed to work really well though I probably could’ve taken in more boiled potato and potato chips, or maybe CLIF bars to mix it up. I drank Heed (Hammer Nutrition) for electrolytes at every station.
The Pure Grit 2’s worked well but were almost too minimalist for this hearty trail. A few times I felt sharp shocks into my left middle toe as I landed particularly hard on a rock or root. Other than that they worked really well, were comfortable and light, and I only had a couple very minor blisters.
I didn’t do as much for recovery as I would’ve liked. , day after the race, I was sore and going down any stairs was a struggle, but by I had already loosened-up considerably and found me feeling ready to run again. Normally I’d like to throw in a few more green smoothies, boost my calorie intake and maybe add in some foam roller and Epsom salt bath in the days following but I ended up being busier and more distracted than expected.