Squamish 50k Race Recap: The toughest race I’ve ever done

That's my "who would voluntarily sign up for that" face.

That’s my “who would voluntarily sign up for that” face.

Well… that was an experience.

I think the more challenging moments of the Squamish 50 are still lingering, as I’ve yet to look back and reminisce about the beautiful mountain views, camaraderie of the other trail runners I encountered in those 11 grueling hours, and amazement that I actually finished the race relatively unscathed.

I’m pretty sure the first thing out of my mouth when I crossed the finish line was I’m never doing that again.

***

It was close to 30 degrees on Friday when my boyfriend and I arrived in Squamish, set up our campsite at Alice Lake and picked up my race package at the sponsor hotel. When I checked in, they gave me the option of an earlier start, which I took, thinking it’d be better to start when it was cooler in the day. I’m extremely glad I did start earlier, as I might not have made the cut-off time of 12 hours if I didn’t.

On race morning, there was some cloud cover so the temperature was a bit cooler. I made it to the race start on the beach at Alice Lake minutes before start time, and took off at a plod with about 40 other runners. I remember looking around and wondering who of these runners I’d inevitably end up learning more about, as we would no doubt end up needing the motivation and distraction of others along the way to help us make it to the finish line.

The first 10 km went by quickly.  The trail was fairly flat, carrying us from the campground, around scenic Stump Lake and up along some logging roads to the first aid station. I was feeling good, stopped to tighten my laces and continued on.

Start of the 50k race at Alice Lake.

Start of the 50k race at Alice Lake.

As we neared the first steep climb, my foot caught on a rock and I went headfirst into some bushes. I managed to recover myself, but tweaked something in my left hip while doing so. I continued on, mad at myself for bailing ALREADY, and slowly power hiked my way up the first climb.

I quickly began to fall behind the other runners I was with, as I’m not a very fast hiker. My competitive side wanted me to push my legs harder and keep up with everyone; I had to remind myself that I’m only racing against myself, and that I need to save my energy.

After I accepted this, I started to enjoy the views and snapped a few Instagrams as we started our major ascent. Runners had finally thinned out along the trail by this point; I felt truly alone in the wilds of Squamish as I hiked my way up through the trees, with views of snow-capped mountains to my right and Mamquam River below.

The descent to the third aid station at Quest University almost broke me. Two hours of climbing plus two hours of controlled falling down a steep dirt trail completely trashed my quads. They were shaking so badly that I had to hike down instead of run, hanging on to trees and bushes for support just to save myself from tripping and falling every few feet (and a lot of runner did trip and fall—almost everyone I encountered was covered in dirt).

About 10 km in, at the start of the big ascent.

About 10 km in, at the start of the big ascent.

Once the steep downhill was over, we came out on some logging roads that were a nice salvation for my legs. I guess I was loving the flat terrain so much that I ended up missing a trailhead and ran an extra 500m down a logging road… okay, not ENTIRELY my fault I was following some other guy, and he missed it too.  We turned around and headed back down another steep trail, this time on a mountain bike route.

I was starting to fade by this point. My legs and lower back were tightening up and my head started to throb. I was generally just feeling like crap, and frustrated that I keep catching my foot and bailing every few minutes. I seriously considered quitting at the halfway point at Quest University, which I knew was only a few kilometres away. I started thinking about how I could get my boyfriend to come pick me up, and how we could just go back to the campsite and hang out at the lake. Then I started thinking about how I’d have to tell everyone I didn’t finish, and that I spent months training and came all the way here and only ran 25 km. All of a sudden I was out of the bushes and on the university campus to cheering crowds and a ton of helpful volunteers, who ran up and asked if I needed anything, and took my hydration bag and refilled it for me. I grabbed some watermelon and sat down in the grass for a bit, and texted my boyfriend to let him know I was alive but not having a good time. I snapped a few more photos with my phone and read all the wonderful tweets I got from some amazing tweeps who were following my run. Those tweets plus my boyfriend’s encouraging text messages made me get off up my butt and decide to finish the race. I ate some grape and half a protein bar before strapping my hydration pack back on and continuing on my way, about four hours and 30 minutes into the race.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

Somewhere in the middle of nowhere.

I was feeling a bit better as I made my way up the third big ascent of the race. I would like to call this section “The Climb That Never Ends”, or “Switchbacks To Hell”. I felt like this climb was worse than the first, mainly because it was on an exposed ridge during the hottest part of the day. I quickly became miserable again, but luckily fell into pace with an older gentleman from Campbell River, who kept me company for the majority of the climb. It was his first 50k race too, and neither of us was prepared enough for what we had experienced so far.

The older gentleman pulled slightly ahead of me as the switchbacks got steeper and the sun got hotter. I felt like I was ready to pass out. Then, I experienced my own version of The Oatmeal’s absolution: as I came around a switchback, out of nowhere appeared a family of volunteers with coolers handing out FREEZIES. Those sweet, icy blue tubes of deliciousness had never tasted so good. I downed one immediately and held the other on my forehead for a few minutes before downing that one as well. I immediately felt like all was right in the world, and continued on up the mountain.

I think we climbed for another hour before we finally reached the peak. The descent was steep and quick, but not nearly as bad as the first one. I remember running for most of the way down, and came upon another aid station and stopped for more watermelon. I was feeling okay at this point, though my head was starting to throb again and my lower back and quads were killing me.

Half way point at Quest University.

Half way point at Quest University.

My Garmin had long died by this point, so I had no idea how much father I had to go. I was keeping a good pace after I left the aid station, and was thankful to be back in the trees and alongside a creek where the air was much cooler. Then all of a sudden, my right calf was on fire. I got stung not once, but TWICE on the same leg within seconds. I stopped and pulled down my compression sock to reveal two huge, stinging welts on my calf. Now I was angry. I hate wasps more than anything, and those stings, compounded with everything else that happened during the race that day, boiled up and out of my body in the form of tears. I felt defeated and exhausted.

I plodded along the trail, trying to hide my eyes from other runners as the passed. (Who all, by the way, asked if I was okay and if I needed anything. Trail runners are an amazing bunch.) The trail opened up out of the trees and into the hot sun again. I was really starting to fade again, and couldn’t get my legs to turn over enough to run anymore.

It was a long, painful and challenging hike down to the last aid station. I felt sick, and had to sit down at the side of the trail on some mossy rocks for a while to rest. It took everything I had to get up to continue. I tried to throw up, but there was nothing TO throw up—my body had used up every gel, slice of watermelon and banana chunk to fuel my muscles for this crazy adventure.

Somewhere up in the mountains -- the town of Squamish is somewhere down there!

Somewhere up in the mountains — the town of Squamish is somewhere down there!

When I came into the last aid station, about 10 kilometres from the finish line, I thought about texting my boyfriend again to come get me. But I had no idea where we were. I could hear music, thinking the finish line must be close, but it was just the music carrying over the mountains from the Squamish Music Festival, which was also happening that weekend. What I wouldn’t give to be sitting in a camping chair with a cold beer in my hand, listening to some hipster bands right about now, I thought as I plopped down in the dirt at the side of the trail to stretch out my hamstrings and assess my wasp stings.

The aid station volunteers told me the last 10 km was just undulating and pretty much flat to the finish.

No, no it wasn’t.

It was undulating for maybe the first two kilometres. I again had no idea where I was, so I started to run again after cresting what I thought was the last climb, thinking I must be getting close to the finish line. I even texted my boyfriend to say I’m about an hour away, and that I should be crossing the line at about 6-6:30 p.m. I could hear the music getting louder, so I thought we must be getting closer to downtown Squamish.

Then we started climbing again. Like, Mt. Finlayson climbing. And it didn’t stop.

The music sounded farther away again. Noooooo! By this point, I had partnered up with another young girl who was equally as frustrated and drained as I was. I remember seeing her with her three girlfriends at the starting line in her finest Lululemon, hair in a neat bun on top of her head. Now her bun was all disheveled, and several pieces of hair were plastered across her sweat-soaked face. She was also covered in dirt—it looked like she had taken a pretty bad fall. I wondered how terrible I must look right now.

“So are you here with anybody? Are you just racing by yourself?”

“Yup.” Right about now I’m wondering who in their right mind would voluntarily put themselves through this.

"Enjoying" the view on "Switchbacks to Hell".

“Enjoying” the view on “Switchbacks to Hell”.

We caught up with a lady hiking with a pole, and I asked her if she knew how far we had to go.

“We’re only at kilometer 43.”

Oh god. By this point my phone had also died, so I couldn’t text my boyfriend to tell him I wasn’t going to make the cut-off at 7 p.m. We kept climbing up then descending down, each time thinking this must be it, we have to start descending down to the road soon. Nope. Another Mt. Finalyson lay ahead as we rounded a corner. The other girl kept going, saying this must be it. I didn’t believe her, so I sat down on a log and ate the last of my grapes and sucked the last drop of water out of my hydration bag. I could see her nearing the top, so I got back up and hiked to catch up with her.

I’m sure the view at the summit was beautiful, but I just didn’t care anymore and wanted to be out of the woods and back in civilization. Realizing cut-off time was nearing, I ran/controlled fell down the mountain and caught up with the girl and the lady with the pole again. I again asked her what her Garmin said.

“We’re only at kilometer 43… oh no, I think my watch stopped!”

A volunteer was standing at the bottom of the last set of stairs on the descent so I asked her how far we had to go.

“You’re less than three kilometres to the finish line!”

I’m not sure where it came from, but all of a sudden I had enough energy to run all the way to the finish line. I was so happy. I’m going to make it, AND before the cut-off!

***

I have never been so happy to see my boyfriend, who handed me a little bottle of champagne as I crossed the finish line and gave me a big hug despite how gross and smelly I must have been. I changed my shirt and took off my shoes to inspect the damage to my feet. Besides being filthy, they were in surprisingly good shape. No black toenails, no blisters.

We went to White Spot in Squamish immediately after that and I downed a burger, yam fries and a big glass of gewürztraminer. After that, went through the drive-thru at McDonald’s and I got a hot fudge sundae. Back at the campsite, I ate a bag of pretzels and a bar of Lindt sea salt chocolate. Food has never tasted so good.

The next day I was sore, but not as sore as I thought I would be. My legs were stiff, but my upper back, triceps and biceps hurt even more. I think it was from my heavy hydration bag pulling on my shoulders and from pushing with my hands off of my quads when hiking uphill.

It’s been a week since the race, and I’m slowly starting to appreciate the experience I had. It was a tough race, and I definitely wasn’t alone in thinking so. Lots of runners I tweeted with after the race also fell on their face/got stung/puked/cried, so I don’t feel as bad about it now.

Will I do another one? I doubt it, at least not one as tough as that race. A marathon now seems like a walk in the park compared to that.

Speaking of marathons…

Should I do the Goodlife Victoria this fall?