August 16, 2014
The Squamish 50 miler started far from the way I had imagined it. With a 5 am start, it was pitch black and I stood nervously with Jill, trying to mentally prepare for the day to come. Without any fanfare, Gary began counting down from 10 before most of the racers were even lined up behind the starting inflatable. I rushed to get behind the start line and then I was off… running straight into one of the guy wires with my face. In the darkness, no one could see anything and I clotheslined myself on the inflatable guy line, reeled in shock and then just kept on running, unsure how to react.
I re-grouped and began running, following the pack around the parking lot and out towards the city. As the pack strung out quickly along the flat river trail, I could see the lead pack ahead where the trail doubled back on itself. Their headlamps rushed by like a bike peloton, a group of elites looking to separate themselves early on. I stayed away from that inevitable mess, and focused on hitting 5 min/km, as the course wound its way through the town of Squamish.
I felt good, the legs were turning over well and I was calm with the knowledge that I had a long day ahead and I would catch back up to many of the runners rushing off ahead into the dark. To my surprise, my hamstrings were feeling good, an issue which I had thought would result in a major issue on the day. For the entire previous week, I had not been able to walk without severe tightness in my hamstrings, a product of a foolish decision in a group run earlier in the week to bomb some technical hills which tightened up both my quads and hamstrings.
Running smoothly through the first aid in 50 min, I was right on pace and ready to start the first big climb. I spent some time as I ran to adjust my shorts which were falling down due to my new fueling strategy which employed gel flasks in my shorts and storing a soft flask of water when I wasn’t using it. Once I cranked the strings as tight as possible, I was ready to start moving up the field. I hiked strongly up the hill with a group of three runners, separating on the downhill which required some technical foot placement over the washed out road full of grapefruit sized rocks.
As I moved through the second aid at Alice Lake, I met Jill again and traded bottles and soft flasks, still right on schedule. I passed Bryon Powell, chief editor of the ultrarunning Holy Grail, IrunFar.com, and thanked him for coming to visit our race and to provide live coverage of our local PNW race. I have no doubt that more pros will continue to come to this race, and will deepen what was already a very strong field of pro’s and local elites this year.
Nearing the next aid, I joined up with a runner from Colorado, John, and we ran together for the next 20 km which was an awesome way to pass the time. We completed the 10km loop from the Corner’s Aid, and then were off to begin the big climb up Galactica. For the next hour, we climbed nearly 700 m and it was here that the humidity began to take its toll. Starting at around the 2 hour mark (7 am), the air had begun to get thicker and thicker, and I found my shirt drenched through and I was unable to consume a sufficient amount of water and electrolytes.
Immediately upon reaching the top of the climb, we began to descend, nimbly picking our way down the mountain towards Quest university. John and I reeled in another couple of runners, and traveled as a group through the 5th aid. After grabbing some quick supplies, I left before the others as I knew Quest was very close. As I got closer to the aid, I passed the favourite to win the women’s race, Salomon runner Cassie Scallon, and was surprised to find myself passing a pro! Buoyed by this and the fact that I was putting time on my group that I had run with, I was quickly re-supplied by Jillana and my friend Jeff Pelletier who was at the aid offering encouragement and helping runners move through the aid. I left the Quest Aid at 6 hrs, and felt that I should easily be able to complete the last 30 km in less than 3 hours. This would put me in sub 9 which was my pie in the sky goal. I was excited, and pushed on with renewed vigor.
That vigor was quickly sapped, as I began climbing an endless series of switchbacks, navigating through the horde of bikers whom were also racing on the same trails as us at this point. The humidity continued to wear me down, and I could feel my legs tightening with the onset on cramps in my near future. I ran the entire remainder of the race alone, from Quest and was forced to try and remain in a good headspace as my speed and legs deteriorated by the kilometer.
At the next aid, I had sponges wrung over my head, and tried to correct the rising imbalance in my system. The trails were beautiful as I pushed along, and I focused on the moss, the trees, the rushing river, the rooty and rugged trails and promised myself to come back and run these trails when I was in a more appreciative state. I soon passed another runner approaching the final aid, and made my last switch of bottles with Jill, downing a lot of Coke and filling my one bottle with Coke and water to combat my now riling stomach. I knew I only had 10 km to the finish and I intended to work hard until the end.
The final 10 km’s were the most difficult miles mentally of the race, and I struggled to maintain intensity as my legs cramped through calves, hamstrings, adductors and quads with one wrong move. As long as I did not exercert myself in particular motions, I could stave of the cramping, but one wrong move could lead to a locked legs and a tumble. At the top of the final hill, Mountain of Phlegm, I thought I was beginning to hallucinate. I could hear voices drifting through the trees as I descended, but couldn’t pinpoint where they were coming from. I searched around to find these mystery onlookers in the trees, only to realize that the sound was coming from the valley floor where a baseball game was being called over a loudspeaker. My mind was starting to go, and all I wanted was to finish.
At the bottom of the hill, I had envisioned the finish line but found only more trail and a large amount of road running. The final km runs parallel to the main street, and as I came up to a volunteer he yelled “don’t look back but there is someone behind you and running hard!” I snuck a glance anyways, shocked to see Cassie, who I had not seen a sniff of since 50 km and here she was hunting me down in the last km. I surged and crossed the tape ahead of her by a minute or two. I finished in 9:35, to the minute of my predicted schedule, and good for 25th overall. Gary came to congratulate and interview me at the finish, and then I looked to see Jill waiting for a sweaty hug and congratulations. To my surprise my buddy Chris Jones, was standing beside her looking fresh as can be. He had finished 7th overall in a stacked field, and over and hour and 20 minutes faster than me at 8:10. Incredulous, we talked and I congratulated him on an amazing race, what a way to debut at 50 miles!
Overall, I am super happy with the race result. I can always imagine that I should have finished faster if not for the humidity, the drain on my legs from Lavaredo, or the huge training block I had 10 days out from the race, but that was what happened on the day. To celebrate, we almost immediately drove back to Vancouver and went to our friends engagement party. After getting up at 3:45 am for the race, we stayed out in Deep Cove and finally called it a night at 3 am, completing something of a double ultra marathon for the day. It was a great weekend, and another stepping stone on my road to understanding this crazy sport of ultra-running!
Running the Numbers
Race and Location: Squamish 50 mile. http://www.squamish50.com
Also features a 50 km and 23k on Sunday as well as a 50/50 option where runners complete both he 50 mile and 50 k races over the two days.
Squamish is located a 1 hour drive from Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway (Highway 99).
Race Fee: ~$120 depending on when you register via UltraSignup
Distance and Gain: 50 miles or 80 km. 3500m or 11 000 ft of climbing.
Aid Stations: 8 aids, approximately every 10k
Course Profile and Elevation Profile:
Favorite Food: Zephyr Cafe on Cleveland Ave is my go to for a post-run meal in Squamish.
Favorite Drink: How Sounds Brewery. The limited edition 'Total Eclipse of the Hop' is an incredibly well-balanced IPA. If the Total Eclipse is not available, the Devil's Elbow is a solid choice!