Squamish50 Race Report (and a little more)
August 10th – the day of our first 50 miler arrives, can’t quite say “dawns”, since the alarm goes off at 3:35AM, and the dawn is still on its way. It arrives after a sleepless night, sleep being prevented by a constant, and very loud bass filling the otherwise peaceful Squamish valley – our race weekend coincides with the annual Squamish Valley Music festival. But even though the night was sleepless, I jump up with excitement when I hear the alarm – today we run 50 miles.
Bev and I start moving, get ourselves organized, make our ritual pre-race breakfast (rice cereal, with soy milk), liberally apply Body-Glide, get dressed, pin our race bibs to our running shorts, grab our headlamps and drop bags and head out the door.
A few minutes later we arrive at the start location, park the truck, and head towards to the gathering crowd that we can barely make out in the dark of the early morning. Race director, Gary Robbins’ voice can be heard issuing instructions about the day and the course. Bev completes her final pre-race pit-stop, and we join the anxious and excited group of runners lining up below an enormous inflatable Arc’Teryx arch.
As has become rather usual for us, we barely have time to turn on our watches – a quick pre-race warmup is not even an option – as the 10 second countdown to start the race is upon us. This lack of warmup is going to make the first 45 minutes of my race a tad miserable.
Gary yells: “Gooooooo!”, and 149 adventurous spirits get underway on what would be days of varying lengths – 7 hours 37 minutes long for the men’s winner, local Vancouverite Adam Campbell, 9 hours 42 minutes for the women’s winner, Colorado based Krissy Moehl, and 17 hours 22 minutes for the last finisher.
The first few minutes of any race is always an exciting affair, after many months of training and anticipation the thing is finally on. But this race isn’t just any other race – it is ‘the’ race for 2013 for Bev and me. We worked hard for this one, logging around 1,300km of training on roads and trails from April to early August, at various times wondering if we bit off more than we should have, and the start of this race was beyond exciting.
The first 10km was a flat, gravel road winding its way from downtown Squamish to the beginning of the trail system behind the Canadian Tire. Our biggest problem of this section was supposed to be ensuring that we run slowly enough, but instead a dull ache started settling around my left knee at about the 12-minute mark. I was in disbelief – I was utterly surprised, I ran 1,300km in training without any tweaks or problems, I tapered well, and I had no issues at all going into the race. “How on earth could I be feeling pain in my knee after 12 minutes of really easy running?” I started taking stock of the situation, not letting on to Bev that something was going wrong, and realized that I had no “bounce” in my legs. I was flummoxed. How could this be? We often don’t warm up on trail runs, because we usually start trail runs slowly enough that the beginning of the run itself serves as the warm-up, so I didn’t really think that the lack of warm-up could be responsible. At the 30-minute mark, where things started to feel really bad (with a limp beginning to show up), it hit me that we hadn’t run more than about 10km during the entire week before the race. Perhaps the lack of running leading up to the race, combined with the lack of warming up was the problem? I decided to stop and stretch – this is usually the sign of accepting defeat during a race. When a runner pulls up and stretches during a race his day is pretty much over, something is wrong and stretching is not going to help – especially when more than 75km of mountain trail still lay ahead. So, the decision to stop and stretch, while it seems so simple and logical to non-runners, is one that carries a huge amount of emotional consequence. It signals to your system that you’re done; it usually also signals to your running partner that you’re done. I did not want to do that – not to myself, and certainly not to Bev.
But with a limp starting to show up, I was out of options. I stopped and stretched my left quad, dug into my left hamstring and upper calf, and looked at Bev and feebly said: “It’s nothing, keep going, I’ll catch up.” I held the quad stretch for 30 seconds, closed my eyes, grit my teeth and set off again. Zero pain. I ran a 100m, zero pain. I caught up to Bev about 300m on, she looked at me with pure concern – I looked back and loudly reported that all was good. Zero pain – this thing was on, baby! (I ran for another 14 hours with zero pain. I finished the race and had no pain in my left knee again, or anywhere else for that matter!)
We pulled into the first aid station, at roughly 10 km, waved at the volunteers, and we kept moving. We were about to hit the trails. Our first substantial climb of the day was right around the corner and we made it up Debeck’s Hill (1,500 feet of vertical) and down the other side on our way to aid station 2 at Alice Lake. The climb went well, and the descent went well, taking the first little bite out of my quads. Again we basically just bombed through the aid station since we were pretty self sufficient with our fuel and water in our awesome Ultimate Direction AK (Anton Kupricka) race vests (I highly recommend these running “packs” – they are super lightweight, extremely comfortable and just get the job done). We had a drop bag with a new set of fuel waiting for us at aid station 3.
The next section of the course takes you along the Four Lakes Trail onto the Bob McIntosh trail, one of my favourite sections (very runnable, beautiful foresty trail), and we ran this very well – the only problem encountered here was that my iPod decided that it didn’t like operating while wet – that was the end of any musical distraction – after only listening to the first three songs of my playlist!
We hit the steep uphill Made in the Shade switchback section, and I became very aware of that bite the earlier descent down the other side of Debeck’s Hill took out of my quads! Even though this is a tough, relentless piece of climbing it is another favourite section for both of us – plus the reward of an awesome, easy downhill into aid station 3 waiting at the top of the switchbacks make this a fun climb.
Our drop bags were waiting for us at aid station 3, just past Rob’s Corners, and we refuelled our race vests and handhelds. We then departed for a 10km loop, the only section of the 80km course that we had not run in training – we didn’t really know what was coming, but it turned out to be a really great part of the course, with just a small climb thrown in. Upon returning to aid station 3 we made sure we were cool – I dunked my hat and bandana in the dunking water, stuffed my hat with ice and off we went to tackle the major climb of the day – a relentless, albeit not too technical climb called Galactic Scheisse. This climb continues steadily for about 5km gaining 2,500 feet in elevation, but does offer some great views along the way. With over 40km in the legs by the end of the climb fatigue is now beginning to settle in, just as one of the major descents awaits. Over the next 9km the course loses 2,800 feet over some of the most technical terrain imaginable. Fortunately we knew exactly what was coming since we had run this descent 3 times in training.
As we began the descent I felt really great, opening up a big gap on Bev. It took a few minutes for me to realize that Bev was nowhere near me, and slightly concerned, I decided to stop and wait. A few minutes later Bev appeared looking rather green around the gills. This was probably the low point in the race for Bev as she developed a bout of serious nausea and had to slow down considerably to try to get it to pass. After about 20 minutes of walking she started to turn it around and we picked up the pace again and bombed down into aid station 4, roughly half way down the descent. Here we quickly re-fuelled again and continued our rapid descent without incident into aid station 5 at Quest university.
The second major climb of the day awaited as we departed Quest, at the 53km mark. The next 7km were the hottest of the day as we climbed 1,640 feet on a series of exposed switchbacks up towards Angry Midget. The exposed nature of this section did however provide us with the best views of the day, and here we also had some long chats with a number of interesting fellow runners. We ran Angry Midget once in training and we knew it was a technical, quad crushing descent. On this day, however, we cruised down it without even blinking – amazing what a little bit of specific experience does. From the bottom of Angry Midget it was just a short jog to aid station 6, the second last aid station with only 18km remaining. We checked the time; we had more than 4 hours left to complete the race before the 16 hour cut-off. It was here that Bev and I knew for sure that we were going to get the thing done.
We decided to slow down for the remainder of the race in order to minimize the risk of turning an ankle, or worse, in our now rather fatigued states, both physically and mentally. Running into aid station 7 was pure joy, having beaten the “headlamp mandatory if reaching aid station 7 after 14 hours” rule by more than an hour. We smiled, high-fived each other – joked with the aid station crew and began the final 10km into the finish. It was as we left this aid station that we saw the only wild life of the day…a 3 foot long harmless garter snake “essed” its way off of the trail as we approached – only giving us a mild scare.
The final 10km offered the funniest moment of the day. On an easy gentle uphill stretch next to a beautiful meadowy area, as we were approaching a course marshal, with whom I was already joshing, Bev decided to step slightly off the trail and just simply fell over. As I turned around to see what was going on she was lying on her back, battling gravity in the steep ditch on the side of the trail, looking a little like a turtle battling the unfairness of its shape should it find itself on its back.
The final 10km also offered some real testing moments, with a couple of the steepest climbs of the day laying in wait to pounce on tired, unsuspecting trail runners. The upside (besides the fact that the end was now just around the corner) was that the most amazing view was also laying in wait. As we summited the final climb of the day up the “Boulders” we were treated to an unbelievable view of Squamish valley and the Howe Sound inlet leading to the Pacific Ocean.
From the top of the Boulders we zipped down Smoke Bluffs Park, out of the trails onto the final, flat 3km and into the finish. Bev was leading the charge into the last stretch, her smile reaching all the way around her beautiful face. She looked back at me with happy, accomplished eyes, and said: “We’re in the chute!” (which is a runner’s way of saying that we’re there, we’ve done it).
We had achieved the lofty goal we had set many months prior. All the effort paid off, we were ecstatic. At the finish line, race director Gary Robbins, the H.U.R.T 100 course record holder and winner of many other major trail races, welcomed us home with a huge big group hug as Bev and I ran hand-in-hand over the line.
We finished in 14 hours and 55 minutes and without any injuries, and other than feeling outrageously tired, had no complaints.