It’s hard to believe but having gone form a road runner who did a bit of training and did the odd few races, I became a dedicated trail runner that would train several times a week and go on long weekend adventures. I really feel like, I have found my calling so to speak. Admittedly I’m not making a living from it and I’m no pro so I still need to go to work. But I really find that trail running gives me a release.
When I say it gives me a release I mean that for that time on the trail, I can normally clear my mind of the million and one things my brain tries to push around my head to the point of distraction. I’m sure we are like a lot of people out there that live pay cheque to pay cheque and it’s not always easy to try and balance the budget and what you need to do in life. I think in the past, running was my escape and I would maybe run away from my problems. After all I worked out that I could run and wasn’t too bad at it at an early age, when I was trying to get away from bullies. Now rather than running away or trying to escape, I accept that life can be tough and you cannot run away as the issues will still be there. But at least when I see the beauty and hang out with trail friends, I can forget about these issues for a little while and when I come back have a fresher approach as I have had that escape that trail meditation gives you for an hour or several hours.
I think Randi would admit that at times it’s not easy with just myself working, and I think I always had some anxiety issues prior to our current situation but they have been heightened by some of the stressors of balancing our budget and trying to live as normal a life as we can when having a limited budget and her ill health.
It’s not something I have admitted openly in the past but I feel I can open up on this blog and explain why I think I need trail running in my life. Some people may think I come across as confident and I have my sh*t together, but some days that's very far from the truth and it’s just me outing a facade on it.
So literally some days my brain can go into overdrive and just really overthink everything. I get to the point I cannot switch it off and it will affect me trying to rest, sleep and it manifests itself in physical issues too.
I have the bladder of a gnat at the best of times and even worse when I drink as once I go I’m going to washroom all evening. I digress as what I am trying to get at is my anxiety literally sometimes screws up where I literally feel like I need to go to washroom all the time. I will go and then 5 minutes later I feel like I need to go again. It is awful and literally can screw me up for a day or sometimes days as I try to get a handle on it and tell myself that it’s all in my head. If I get this issue when I’m travelling it just becomes a catch 22 situation, as I feel even more anxious that I may need to go and I won’t be near a washroom, which more than often means the feeling of needing to go just intensifies.
I am trying to work through the issues that I have and Randi would admit I was a bit on the OCD side when we met which is funny if you think about now I hit the trails and get dirty and covered in blood etc lol.
So back to running and this year I did my first trail run; the "runridgerun" run where I did the 13k race, and it was so much fun and I managed to get in the top ten. Then I did my first 50k the Diez Vista and managed to do it under 6 hours and managed to get in the top 30. Then to my first 50 miler and a top 60 finish and just over 12 hours.
For someone who dabbled with cross country and fell running in the UK and only started trail running at the beginning of the year, I am super proud of my achievements this year.
With that in mind I want to aim for more next year with the hope that more time on the trails brings me more friends to hang out with, more time on the trails to calm my mind and I have said it in the past to Randi but I am going to try really hard to not fret and worry over what I cannot change and not to worry over the small stuff.
So to everyone reading this I would like you to hold me accountable to not be a stressed grumpy bear that can be grumpy and grumbly with Randi. She is a great girl and I am so lucky to have her, and lucky that she lets me go out on the trails so much. It is not easy being a single income family, but I wouldn’t change it as Randi makes me whole and through better or worse I will be there for her. It would be great for if her CFS went into remission and it would be great for both us, but I am here for the good and the bad times.
To anyone else reading this and suffering with anxiety, stress or other mental health issues, please don’t suffer in silence. Talk to family, friends or if your company has a confidential help source use that. If like me you find something like trail running that helps, then embrace it.
By now you may have read my account of my first 50 mile race, and you will have noticed that things did not go to plan. On the plus side I was able to turn things around and avert disaster. As it turned out a number of my trail running buddies also suffered and took a lot longer on the course, and so although my race hit the skids at aid station 5; pretty much most runners had a tough day out there.
So what did I learn from my first 50 miler? Well, firstly my plan to get in as much distance as I could before the sun kicked in, was perhaps not the best idea. I have discussed my strategy with others following the race and I’m not the first to try this crazy idea, but the issue is that if you go out too hard and too fast, then your core body temperature is hot before the sun gets you hot. That then leads to a hot runner getting even hotter.
So basically I set myself up for a double whammy of being too hot from running and then increasing the heat from the 35c plus temperatures out on the course. Add to that mix, lots of climbing and technical descents, it’s just a recipe for disaster. That’s why I was a hot disorientated mess when I got to aid station 5. But the whole thing about running, racing or indeed any sport is. you will make mistakes but you need to learn from them.
My next mistake was not testing my nutrition thoroughly enough and I will explain this. I have used Lara bars on various runs. But never have I tried to eat them, when I have gone all out in the heat and that’s my problem in that, I tried as best as I could but I just had so much trouble chewing them.
I got to aid station 5 and I just really could not continue with the Lara bars. I was tired and did not want the additional weight of them, so I handed over my bars to my sister who was crewing me at that aid station, and decided to just use what was provided at aid stations.
Another lesson learned was my use of Tailwind as an electrolyte and calorie intake. I had used it in the past on my runs but usually had water too. I normally used sachets on long runs prior to my 50 miler. They say never use something untested but to save money, I got a large bag of Tailwind and made up portions of powder in zip lock bags to be used at each aid station. The issue was, I was carrying this extra weight with the powder and it was a hassle to mix up the powder, and an adding too much to one softflask (running bottle that folds flat when empty) meant the dilution was super strong. I had started with two bottles of Tailwind but that became too much, so I switched to one softflask water and one Tailwind, but as I said that meant the one softflask had the entire tailwind in it and was super strong.
At aid station 5 I gave up on the Tailwind from a weight perspective and mixing perspective and thought I would use the Ultima electrolyte at the aid stations. It tasted ok and didn’t cause any issues, but I found out at the end of the race, it has zero calories and so I now know why for the back half of the course, I felt like I was permanently running on empty. I did take gels and chews from each aid station but I think this may not have been enough bearing in mind the Ultima had no calories.
I also found on the Galatic trail descent heading towards aid station 4 that I ran out of electrolyte and water before I got to the aid station. Maybe next year I will have water purifying tablets so that I can get some creek water and keep myself going.
As mentioned earlier in this blog post, I went out fast and hard and I recall just getting fluids and grabbing one quick item at aid station 2. I skipped aid station 1 completely, so I think next year when I go back I need a different strategy.
I have done plenty of descents on long runs and it's been ok but I found some tough on this race, so I think some weights and core work may help with the race next year.
But I made it and in a good time as everyone times increased due to heat and some people even dropped, so I am proud of my race and getting it done. But certainly there are lessons for me to take away for my next races.
After running for 12 hours the thought of anymore running wasn’t immediately on my mind when I finished the Squamish50, but then there is a joke amongst runners that you can be cursing a race through the last few parts or even after crossing the line, and then suddenly you have entered that same race for the following year or maybe a different race.
What can I say, us runners are gluttons for punishment! In fact some people may think we like pain or have a sadistic streak. I don’t like pain but I will say this, that being able to push myself past what I thought was possible gives me a great sense of achievement, so I want to continue to push my boundaries.
So by Sunday morning I had already decided, I was going to come back to Squamish in 2017 and run the 50/50. For anyone who is unaware of what the 50/50 is, I will explain. Basically the race organizers have a 50 mile race on Saturday and a 50k and 23k race on Sunday. So the 50/50 is running the 50 mile race Saturday and then on tired and sore legs running the 50k race on Sunday. If you complete both you’re in a small group of people who have managed the feat and you get a trucker hat.
So that was Sunday and by Monday I was on ultrasignup (it’s one of the sign up organizations that a lot of North American races use) checking out 100 mile races. I have not signed up for a 100 mile race as of yet, but I have a couple in mind and I am considering the travel and other elements before hitting the entry button.
Some races are lottery events as well due to popularity and so getting a place is not guaranteed at some races and so it’s a good idea to have a plan b. Next year I am considering taking part in the Knee Knacker which is a 30 mile North Vancouver race, if I get into the lottery. I think I may well do Diez Vista again as that was a fun race.
Also if I can get myself sorted with an InReach device which is a satellite enabled two way communicator which would be good for my back country runs. The reason I would also like this device is that a great team of trail builders have managed to create a trail from North Squamish to Port Mellon on the Sunshine Coast and I would like to have a go at running the trail as quickly as I can. A FKT (fastest known time) on the trail would be nice but I have a feeling some faster trail runners that I know may bag the FKT before I get onto the trail.
As anyone who has been following us through our page or Instagram will know, I have been building up to my goal race of running a 50 miler ultra trail marathon. This weekend was my race day and the culmination of months of training, effort and the odd injury had lead me to the start line of the Squamish 50.
This is a bucket list race for many trail runners; perhaps not a bucket list event for people that aren't as crazy as myself or others I know in the trail running community. The Squamish 50 is known to be one of the toughest 50 mile races in North America.
At this year's race there were runners from Australia, Hong Kong and Mexico, just to name a few of the far flung countries that runners travelled from.
We arrived on Friday afternoon and met up with my sister and nephew who had come to cheer me on. We checked into the hotel and then worked out where to go get my race package, and where to find the local running store as I needed to get a collapsible cup as the race was going to be cup-less.
As an ultra runner, you carry your own hydration but at aid stations, a favourite is normally coke. The coke gives you some sugar and energy, which can be really helpful and so the collapsible cup was for coke at the aid stations.
We got to the package pick up location and I got my race pack and bib. Whilst there I managed to get to chat with some friends, who were volunteering for the race and happened to also be helping out with the check in and race pack pick up.
We went to Capra Running on the way back which is a new trail running store in Squamish. It was set up by three trail runners who wanted to offer a specific running store. It's a great store and they have some good stuff, so if you are in Squamish, please check them out.
I had gone in to Capra for a collapsable cup, but then saw buffs in there (buffs can be used like a scarf or used as a hat or on the wrist to mop your brow). The day of the race was supposed to be 30c plus, so I thought the buff would be a good option to dip in water and keep my neck cool.
We then went and grabbed food at Boston Pizza as I wanted to carb up and grab some pasta. We met up with Eileen, a fellow ultra runner, whom i had chatted with through an ultra running online forum that I frequent.
It was great to meet Eileen and to have a nice chilled out evening meal before the race as I was very anxious with it being my first ever 50 mile race. We chatted and before we knew it, it was time to head back to the hotel for last minute preparations and to try and get some sleep.
When you have a big race, you always try to sleep but it's usually hard to come by. I just could not get any sleep and before I knew it, it was 4am and time to get ready and get to the start line. I managed to get to start line without getting lost which was a good thing to settle my nerves.
At the start line there was the opportunity to leave one or two drop bags. The beauty of this is, if you think you may need some extra items or maybe some blister plasters etc, you don't have to carry extra items and weight which would make the race harder. I assumed I wouldn't need much in a drop bag or indeed two bags, as I had never used a drop bag in a race before. As this was a longer race I did not want to tempt fate and so used one drop bag as a just in case measure.
The race started at 5.30am and it was mandatory to wear a head torch due to lack of light at that time. By about 30 minutes in to the race, the sun was nearly up and the need for the lamp was unnecessary.There was a bucket at the second aid station to drop your labelled head torch in and you could then pick it up after the race.
I had originally thought of trying to complete the race in ten hours, but that was not to be and I think that was being over optimistic. I had wanted to try and get a good portion of the race done before the sun really kicked in, as i knew trails plus high temps would make it tough.
The first 10k is flat gravel trails and I got carried away on this flat run. The first 30k I was only 40 minutes behind the second and first pace runners so way too fast for an amateur like myself and for my first 50 mile race.
The real killer was a trail called Galactic. It's just over 5 kilometres that's pretty much straight up and it really pushed me together with the heat. I ended up running out of both plain water and electrolyte drink and I kept going and kept hoping the 4th aid station was around the corner and it seemed as if for a very long time, I was running on empty. I'm sure it was not that long.
I then had to get to aid station 5 to get to my drop bag, if I needed anything and to meet up with my sister and nephew who had agreed to crew me at that aid station. By the time I got there, I was very hot and a bit disoriented. My sister and nephew got to work trying to help me and the volunteers were super awesome. I got into the shade, got ice in my hat, in my running vest (some runners use light weight running packs called vests) and started to relax and take on fluids and take in food.
By aid station 5 I had worked out my strategy to take in calories by eating Lara bars and to drink Tailwind, a calorie and electrolyte drink mix. It was not working as it took too much energy to eat the Lara bars and I was going off the taste. The tailwind was too much hassle to mix at each aid station. So I emptied my vest as much as I could and took chews from the aid station, the aid station pre mixed electrolyte drink and headed back out after 30 minutes at the aid station.
It did cross my mind to drop at the aid station and my sister, nephew and the aid station crew were very supportive with whatever decision I made. I decided, I would head back out and try to push myself to the next aid station and see how that went.
It was a struggle but no matter the shape I was in, it seemed others were suffering too, and I actually ended up passing some other runners. Even though I was hurting and running on empty, I made it to the next aid station and got more ice and fuelled up. I decided if I had pushed this far, I could get to the next aid station.
I pushed on and the painful legs and the feeling of running on empty did not decrease but I was determined that I would get my goal race done. Throughout the race I met a whole bunch of other runners and I just love the close community that you get with trail running.
I managed to get to the 7th and last aid station and I thought I'm nearly there. One last climb and then back down into Squamish, but it was actually like a roller coaster with ups and downs before the final climb. At the top of the final climb a trail running friend of mine, Kenzie, was one of the course marshals. We hugged and then she gave me the good news that it was 4 kilometres to go which renewed some of my spirt.
I headed down with a bunch of runners and then we got to a point where there were 4 sets of stairs to go down, and when your quads feel like you are on fire, some swearing occurs when you see stairs. But we pushed on and I even managed a sprint at the 100 meter point so that I came in at 12 hours and 24 minutes; 60th position in a field of over 200 racers. It was so tough, 50 runners dropped out.
Other interesting things which happened during my race was getting my sister to rub Deep Blue rub onto my dirty and sweaty feet and legs. I think I owe her a few beers for that. Getting a freezie to eat between aid stations from an impromptu mini aid station being put on by Nesters Markets (one of the race sponsors). I am not totally sure but I think one of the volunteers at aid station 5, who helped me was Ellie Greenwood. She is an elite ultra runner originally from the UK and lives on the North Shore.
While I was out on the race course, Randi was helping out with the food at the finish line and met some cool people, and she got to hang out with some of the cool elite ultra runners.
Randi, Lou (my sister) and Ezra (my nephew) made sure I was taken care of at the finish line; that is after I got my hug and high 5 from Gary Robbins. Gary is such a nice guy. He is an ultra runner and one of the race directors and he hugs and hive fives every finisher.
Volunteers really are the backbone of any race and they were amazing with their commitment getting to tough places to set up, getting up early, staying out late, making sure all the runners had everything they needed from fuel to support and encouragement. At the finish line Josh, a Toronto resident and PT, helped sort out my cramping and painful legs for free. He was at the race, as his girlfriend was racing, and he offered his services.
I really can't highlight how much I love the trail and ultra running community. It feels like an extended family and I hope at some stage I can volunteer and give back to this amazing family/community.
Following the race I was sore and racing was far from my mind, but this morning I made up my mind to go back to race at Squamish next year and race what they call the 50/50. You run 50 miles on Saturday and then 50k on Sunday. Its going to be tough but then I thought 50 would be tough and it was, but I amazed myself with how far I could push myself.
I'd like to thank the race directors, Gary and Geoff, for putting on this amazing race, the many volunteers for their hard work and to my sister and nephew for being my crew. Also my partner Randi for volunteering and supporting me at the race and during my training before the race.
Check out Squamish 50 on Facebook for details of the race.