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.