Reflections on the Squamish 50K: Not Bad For A Burly Man…

Spoiler: I finished.

It’s been almost two weeks since I ran the Squamish 50K and I’ve had more than enough time to eat and drink myself silly and heal up any wounds. Actually, to be honest, I wasn’t in that bad of shape after the race. Without a doubt the worst part was the three days following the race – my back, neck, legs, and arms were pretty sore but other than I was spared of any long-term feelings of un-wellness.

Okay, so now that I have had time to digest the race here is a brief breakdown and some anecdotes!

STAGE 1:  8/9KM

I didn’t sleep well the night before the race; I never do. So after 3 – maybe 3.5 hours of sleep I got up around 1:30 am to eat and get ready. I felt terrible when I woke up. But after I showered, got some fruit in me, and got my pre-race tunes cranking through my headphones I felt good and ready. I had to walk in the pitch black to the start line shuttle, which was a bit of a creepy experience. But by 4:50 am the shuttle, packed with runners, was headed to the start line at Alice Lake. The was slated to start at 6:15 am and after an awesome pre-race briefing by legendary Canadian ultrarunner Gary Robbins, we set off into the smoky abyss that would consume the course for most of the day.

View from the start line, so much smoke.

The night before the race, the race organizers sent out an e-mail basically saying that the air quality was bad, but not bad enough to cancel the whole race. But if you wanted a partial refund and admittance into the race next year they were offering that for those who may have health issues. Anyways, the air quality was bad and visibility wasn’t great, but I was running this race no matter what. There was no way after almost 4 months of training I was going to delay my first ultra.

The first 8KM of the race – or the first leg to the first aid station – was really enjoyable. I don’t know the Squamish trail system at all so I won’t be going into a lot of details about specific trails, just more generalizing how I felt on certain sections. Anyways, the first section to the first aid station was relatively flat and had a really nice flow to it. I kept it at an easy pace but going hard enough to produce a pretty decent sweat. By the time I got to the first aid station my shirt was drenched and my 2L hydration bladder was almost empty. My strategy for the first 3 aid stations (until the half-way point at Quest University) was to spend as little time as possible. Basically, make sure I top up my water and go. I figured I had enough food and nutrition to get me to the halfway point.

My hydration/nutrition plan for the race was simple: a 2L bladder for water in my running vest, 2 vacuum water bottles filed with F2C Glyco-Durance for electrolytes and calories and a bunch of Clif Bar Bloks for extra calories and extra salt (Margarita and Salty Watermelon flavours). Based on my training I was pretty confident I could make it to Quest University without running out of Bloks or Glyco-Durance. So the plan for the first 2 aid stations was top up on water and go.

Stage 2: Aid Station 1 and Galactic: 9-18KM

View from the finish line!

I stuck to the plan at the first aid station: One of the super-friendly and awesome volunteers filled up my bladder with water and I was ready to go. Then came the first huge climb of the day – Galactic. The climb itself wasn’t technical; in fact, it was just a long, boring walk that seemed to go on forever. The more altitude I gained, the more the wildfire smoke bothered my lungs too. I’m not sure if it was a mix of the smoke and not being used to the altitude but I felt really nauseous. Also, by this point, the little bit of plantar fasciitis in my left foot had flamed up and I was already struggling. But I told myself any pain that was deemed non-critical or non-major-injury seeming I was going to push through.

I don’t really have much else to say about the Galactic climb, to be honest. The smoked blocked out any of the nice views of the local mountains and it just felt like a really long, gradual hike uphill. But the climb was totally worth the descent. Descending on the trails named “power smart” was super fun, technical and a little sketchy. I took it easy on the first downhill, I knew if I went too hard I’d blow my quads and knees out too early and I knew there was still some decent descents on the backside of the course. I let a lot of people pass me on the descent, but I tried to still keep a steady pace. The more we descended too, the less nauseous and sick I felt, so that was a good sign as well.

The downhill was really fun and technical. It was basically a bunch of single-track mountain bike trails and some of the obstacles were definitely made for runners, but nevertheless, people were hooting and hollering coming down the descent and I think for a lot of people this was probably a highlight of the first half of the course.

Stage 3: Aid Station 2, and the Halfway Point: Quest University, 18-24KM

My fav photo from the race!

By the time I got to the second aid station, I was ready for some flat terrain. My quads were starting to ache and I was ready to find a bit more of a groove. I stuck to the plan – filled my 2L bladder up, chowed down on a couple of pickles, and spent less than 10 minutes at the second aid station. This decision to not mosey paid dividends. A lot of the people who passed me seemed like they were taking their time at the second aid station so when I left it, I was virtually alone and would be for the remaining 6K or so Quest University.

The roughly 6KM to the halfway point at Quest was, without a doubt, one of my favourite sections of the entire course. I felt good, the terrain had a great flow to it with no super steep climbs or descents and the scenery was spectacular! Going through that thick lush forest while only hearing your feet crunch the dirt below you is a really meditative kind of experience. By the time I got to Quest, I felt incredible.

I made really good time getting to Quest too. It took me roughly 4 hours and 15 minutes, which was ahead of schedule for me. My original goal was to make it the halfway point in 4 hours and 30 minutes, so I had an extra 15 minutes to spare.

I didn’t waste a lot of time. I grabbed my drop bag, re-filled my Glyco-Durance, re-filled my water, chowed down on a couple of Bloks and some chips, changed my socks (I decided to keep my shoes on as my feet had yet to start hurting), changed my shirt, and got ready to go. I made a couple of videos for family and friends and then I was off. I spent maybe 15 minutes at the aid station in total.

Stage 4: More Climbing, a Bear, and the Journey to Aid Station 4: 24-32KM

After leaving Quest I felt great. Fatigue was starting to set in, but I was surprised with how much energy I had. After a short run on some flatter roads, the course turned back into a long, slow switchback climb. Luckily, the smoke was so thick that the heat from the sun was kept a few degrees cooler than it would have been if it was a clear day. This was a bit of a life-saver as unlike the “Galactic” climb, which was covered, this one was pretty exposed.

The struggle was very real.

The climb was long. One woman, I passed told me, “Once you think it’s over, it ramps back up again.” She wasn’t wrong. It was pretty similar in length to Galactic but it was a bit more technical and there were mountain bikers on the trail as well so there was lots more to think about and look out for. It was a grind, but honestly, I felt pretty decent on the climb, although I did start to feel nauseous again near the end of the climb.

As the climb was about to end (or so I thought) a course Marshall told us that a bear had been spotted ahead and that we should make lots of noise. This was good motivation to stay close to faster runners and the remainder of the climb was done with a bunch of yelling and noise-making, but I never saw the bear (thank goodness, to be honest, I probably looked like a ready-made meal at this point).

As we approached Aid Station number 4, everything was starting to hurt: my legs, feet, and stomach. But because I had made such good time on the first half of the course I was able to take some time to eat, drink and relax at the aid station before heading out. Little did I know I had yet to hit my biggest wall yet.

Stage 5: The Wall, Low Points and the Trek to Aid Station 5: 32-41KM

Poetry

Pretty much immediately after I left the Aid Station I felt terrible. My knees, calves, and feet were killing me and I hadn’t eaten enough and my body was starting to feel weak. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this section of the course because it was the most frustrating for me. I basically walked almost the entire way to the final aid station. I was lucky that I had made such good time on the front end of the course that I could afford to take my time and work through this wall.

Everyone hits a low point in their race, and for me this was it. But I had trained through low points and mentally I told myself that if I made it past Quest I wasn’t quitting, no matter what. Anyways, I wish I had more to offer about this part of the course but I was inside my head and physically struggling that I don’t remember much. I do remember the approach to Aid Station 5 – there was a sign saying “Help Isn’t Coming”, and it couldn’t have been more fitting.

Barkley Marathon feels at the final aid station!

Getting to the final aid station was a relief. There’s no other way to put it. I believe by the time I got to the final aid station I had been on the course for just over 8 hours. So, I had roughly 3 hours to make the 11.5 hours cut off time and do the final 10K.

FINISHING: The Final “10K” and Finishing: 41-52KM

I’m not going to lie, the last 10K was tough. Actually, it turned out to be more like 12K, but it really didn’t matter at this point. I literally hobbled my way along the course. Everything hurt. I was ready to be finished the race. Of course, around 46-48K there were some climbs where myself and other runners found ourselves cursing Gary’s name allowed as they were some of the steepest climbs of the whole race. The very last one they had someone with a bell cheering you on and it was a relief to get the last 100-meter scramble over with.

By the time we got off the mountain and down to the final 2K on a paved surface, I was so ready to be done. The last 2K was some of the hardest as my quads, knees, and calves had pretty much red-lining for the last 15K. I definitely realized I trained enough for the climbs, but not for the long technical descents. I also would have had my longest training run be closer to 35-40K in one day, as after 35K my legs felt like they had had enough.

Anyways, the last 2K was excruciating, but as I came around the corner, seeing the finish line in downtown Squamish I felt so relieved and happy. Seeing my wonderful girlfriend Jessica (who was so supportive and beyond being understanding of my crazy drive to do this thing) and getting to hug Gary Robbins and have the finishers medal placed around my neck was something I’ll always remember.

The first thing Gary Robbins said to me after I hugged him was something along the lines of “Not a bad time for a burly guy”. For some, it might sound like a back-handed compliment, but I totally understood it. All the odds were against me in finishing this, but through grinding, grit and some hard training, I was able to do my first ultra.

The amount of support and encouragement I got on the trail was astounding. The trail running and ultramarathon community is incredible and I am so looking forward to doing my next race.

It was an amazing experience, and honestly, I’m already looking at doing my first 50-miler next year

So, if all goes well, I’ll be back writing about training for my next big race. For now, I’ve got to focus on a few other big, exciting, changes happening in my life. So I might not post for a while, but if you’ve read these posts thanks for reading and thank you to everyone who sent me a message on social media congratulating me and supporting me, it was so very much appreciated.

Onward and Upward!

 

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