Race Report: Squamish 50 Miler

Thinking about running a 50 miler? READ THIS FIRST.

"I'm retiring! That is IT. I am DONE. It is OVER. Never EVER again. I'm serious."

And I was. I really, really was.


First of all, let me start by CONGRATULATING TEAM ELM for absolutely rocking their races at the Squamish 50 this weekend! I have been completely filled with joy and inspiration by you all. It was such an awesome experience to see you with BIG smiles on your faces and to hear your race tales. You all followed your plans, raced smart and reached your goals. Any low I may have experienced during my race, was replaced with sheer happiness at the sight of your smiles!! So proud of you all!!! Paula, Murray, Kim, Donna, Vicky, Marian, Deb, Chris and John...you ROCK. Cheers to you my friends!

Squamish 50 Mile Race Report
*Warning: this race report is excessively long and there are no pictures (yet) to stimulate your eyes. It may keep you from doing your chores for the next hour...

Squamish 50, you really pissed me off.

And yet, I have already begun to forget what exactly it was that you did to make me hate you so passionately a mere 48 hours ago. Stupid humans. Evolution has left us with some uber techy wiring that efficiently replaces memories of intense pain with lovely bubbles of joy. I know there were some very bad times. Yet the few moments of joy I experienced on Saturday somehow keep taking over my thoughts and magnifying themselves. Stop that. Part of me wants to remember the suffering so I will never do it again. But part of me wants to let it evaporate so I will try it once more...

The stats:
50 miles/80kms
11,000 feet elevation gain
Highly technical terrain
11 hours 30? minutes.
Didn't exactly go as I had envisioned.
Rough day on the job.

The back story: Coming Soon
I'd like to say one 'wheel fell off' at about 65kms and the other 3 hit the ditch at 70kms.

But...

If I am to be truly honest, the driver never actually climbed in the bus for this one. I have experienced some brand new thoughts, emotions and ideas over the past few days. Watch for my Mental Musings blog post following this one with some deep thoughts...

Back to the Race Report:
10 Members of Team ELM made the big water crossing over to Squamish for the 50mile, 50k and 23k race courses this past weekend. On Friday, a few of us helped out as volunteers to help the crew get set up for the big weekend ahead. 1000 racers had signed up for the 3 distances which were spread out over two days this year. Chris and I were delegated water station set up and we spent the afternoon loading and unloading those giant blue water bottles in and out of the truck. Perhaps not the smartest move, but what the heck. If you are planning to run 80k I would think you could handle moving a few dozen bottles of water... Jumping 4 feet off the shipping/receiving dock onto concrete after sitting for 5 hours may have been pushing it, however. I felt my right hamstring pull when I hit the ground. "Oh shit. That was dumb"...

It was fun to get out on the course and have a chance to visualize a few of the aid stations. It finally started to make the race come alive in my minds eye. I would be running through here after almost 50kms tomorrow- well over half way! I couldn't resist leaving a few secret messages on flagging tape for myself at Aid 4 to cheer me on when I got there:) 'You can do it!'

We hit the Trails in Motion Film Festival on Friday night after my favourite pre-race meal of sushi. Again...perhaps sitting in a theatre until 9pm was not the best idea. I would normally recommend laying low, getting organized and heading to bed early...but what the heck...I wasn't racing for gold or anything remotely close to it the next day and figured the films might inspire me a little. After watching multiple rail thin uber ultra runners drag themselves suffering over mountains and across hundreds of miles I did feel a little shift in my perspective occur. 400 miles almost makes 50 miles seem easy.

Race morning
I was up just before 4am to get ready for the 5:30am start down town Squamish. I was staying with friends (who live right on the race course near the Smoke Bluffs), who let me borrow their car to get to the start. I left just before 5, a bit behind schedule and when I turned the key...the car wouldn't start. Um. Try again. Um. Try again. Don't panic. Um. Unfortunately I had to wake up my buddy but fortunately the car did start and I was off to the races so to speak. Phew. Close one.

I handed in my 2 drop bags, gave out quick hi 5s and well wishes to ELM athletes Paula and Murray (who were about to rock their first 50miler!) and took care of a few last minute things. I was in the port a potty when I heard the "one minute until race start" call. Um. Um. I ran from the loo to the starting arch for my warm up and just kept on running as the race had started!

I had penciled in some realistic times for each leg based on the distance, elevation and time into the course. They were generous but would require me to maintain a steady pace throughout the day and if all went well I anticipated finishing in 11 hours and 15 minutes (ish lol). I thought I would end up some where between 11 and 12 hours if I took it easy and raced smart. My personal goal for the race was to feel strong at the finish by pacing myself early in the day. First 1/3 embarrassingly slow. Second 1/3 just right. Final 1/3 a challenging push to the finish. Little did I know how challenging it would be...

Leg 1: 10kms flat. Goal 60 minutes. Real Time 55 minutes. 1 fruit bar, 1 salt tab.
I should have seen the writing on the wall when my hair elastic fell out 10 minutes into the run. There goes the race 'do.

This leg was totally flat and a lovely way to warm up. I ran a nice easy pace that I thought I could hold 'all day' and was nice to warm up, get into a rhythm and settle my mind. Everyone around me seemed to be enjoying the exact same pace which was comforting in itself. It was surprisingly dark with the low cloud cover and I had to watch my footing very carefully due to my terrible night vision. I likely should have taken my super bright Magic Shine headlamp but I honestly didn't expect it to stay dark for so long. All good and I arrived at the first aid station feeling relaxed, starting to wake up and warm up. I grabbed a cup of water and carried on, planning to save my water fill up for Aid 3 and take advantage of the aid stations along the way.

Leg 2: 10kms with a moderate 400m climb to the radio tower above Alice Lake. Goal 90 minutes. Real Time 80 minutes. 3 cliff blocks (already unable to eat real food), 1 salt tab.
We had dropped our headlamps at aid 1 and I struggled to see for much of the first 30 minutes of this leg as the single track sections were still quite dark. I had to walk through the rooty sections. I remember thinking it was probably a good thing, as it would slow me down and keep my pace in check so early in the race. Once the trail pitched upwards it was a steady climb with a mix of running and hiking to the top of the mini hill. The humidity was unbelievable. I was absolutely soaked with sweat and it was dripping off of me. I am not a heavy sweater. I could taste the salt on my lips less than 2 hours in. Um...

We enjoyed the only real view we would get that day on the way up to the tower. After that, we would either be in the clouds or in the dark forest, with no views to latch onto. It was likely better than 30 degree heat for most, but personally, I would take a stunning view over cooler weather any day. I crave beautiful views, epic vistas and sweet summit celebrations to fill me up and keep me going. Unfortunately, there would be none of these on the Squamish course that day. Heading up the hill my goal was to stick to my 'first third' race plan: No burning legs, no heavy breathing and slower than I wanted to go. I managed to stick to first two, but looking back I may have been trekking with a bit too much purpose for this point in the race. I was feeling good and leading a small pack who did not wish to pass. I was hiking more closely to my '2/3' effort - strong and steady...but it should have felt 'embarrasingly slow'. Somewhere near the top I clued in and stepped aside and took it much easier to the summit.

It was socked in at the top with no view to enjoy so I grabbed a snack and started down the road...looking forward to a relaxing descent after the first climb of the day. It turned out to be quite a washed out road, littered with 'baby heads' (I hate that term but there you go) that required constant vigilance in order to hold a steady downhill speed and avoid a major spill. For some strange reason, my quads felt tired. Bizarrly tender to the impact of the descent. Not a great sign, less than 2 hours into an all day run. Um...

Into the single track and it was a nice steep drop down to the flat trails of Alice Lake. I had run this little mountain many moons ago as part of a MOMAR Adventure Race and it was nice to know there were a few kms of flat trails ahead of me. I continuously watched my intensity and made sure I was running my own pace. Coming into Aid 2 at Alice Lake, I grabbed a couple of cups of water and carried on...I was feeling good.

Leg 3: 8kms, mostly flat wide paths with a gradual climb via Bob Macintosh Trail, 'Dead End Loop' to the power lines. Goal 60 minutes. Real Time 60 minutes. 3 cliff blocks, 1 salt tab.
I was cruising along, taking it easy, working on staying light on my feet and relaxed. I had my eye on the prize and was working hard on going easy so that I could finish strong at the end. A few minutes into this leg a runner was coming towards me on the trail. I asked if he was ok- he had a giant smile on his face and was jogging with ease. He looked fresh and full of energy. Was I going the wrong way? "I'm dropping" he said with a smile and a laugh. Bizarre. Only 20k in. It kind of ticked me off actually. If you can laugh and smile and run...you should keep going. But, I was not running in his shoes. So many things can happen. Who am I to judge?

Something was burning.

"Ohhhh...this isn't going to end well", was my brilliant first thought. I was in my tank top/pack combo...it had been tested...and tweaked to avoid rubbing in all the wrong places...but it wasn't working. I could feel the friction and the little fire it was trying to build. I have never experienced chaffing during a run. It really does burn like they say it does. But they are being kind. It is actually more like a little red hot poker being held on your skin with salt pouring on the burn. Ouch. I had wondered if this might happen and had packed a short sleeve shirt in my drop bag. My feet were feeling a bit cranky in my thin soled Speedcross shoes and so I made a mental note of switching both my shoes and my shirt when I got to my bag at the next Aid station. Better safe than sorry.

I will admit that I was in a wee bit of a mood from the start...read: Mental Musings when that blog post is finished for more on that. I was one foot in and one foot out and I don't recommend doing the splits during an ultramarathon. My usual, glass half full, living in the land of rainbows with rose coloured glasses self got a tad suffocated by some cranky broad with a bad attitude and a big mouth. She only holds 'one seat' in the house and doesn't speak up very often. And normally, when she does pipe up, the My Little Pony Party usually just zaps her with fairy dust and sunbeams and she goes back to her corner. But she was persistent that day. And so began one of the biggest 'good witch bad witch' battles my mind has ever entertained.

The last time I was on these trails was in the BC Bike Race last summer and that started to tick me off too. "This would be so much faster on a mountain bike. Soooo much more flowy and fun on a mountain bike. These trails are meant to be ridden on a mountain bike." Bad witch. I hit Cliff's Corners and my brain expected to rip around the turns and birms and whooohooo myself to the next aid station. I pretended I was on my mountain bike by leaning into the corners and popping over the rollers...It was fun, but it wasn't quite the same. I cranked up my pace and just went for it, cuz I wanted to feel some joy. It made me smile and the guy behind me joined in on the fun;) I came into Aid 3 (for the first time) and the volunteers were fantastic! They called out my number and handed my drop bag to me, grabbed my bladder to fill up and asked what else they could do to help. Wow. Service with a smile. I swapped socks and shoes and felt instant relief as my toes spread out and I shed a few grams with my Sense Ultra Salomon's. But my shirt wasn't in there. "Oh lord. This is going to be a long run. It is what it is. I made this bed...time to lay down and get comfy in it;)...chafing, sad legs, bad witch and all"...HAHAHA mad grin..

Leg 4: Middle Third begins. 9kms, small ups and downs, mostly flat. Goal 75 minutes. Real Time 75 minutes. 3 Cliff Blocks, 1 salt tab.
It was an uneventful 9km loop on more of my old mountain bike race stomping grounds and I did what I set out to do: run steady at the 'just right pace'. I honestly don't remember anything about this entire loop. Just cruising past the same cheering squad on the way out and on the way back. I ran up the final mellow 3km incline all the way back to Aid 3 for the second time. It was nice to have a second look through our drop bags. I had a swig of my lemon aid. I had a swig of my vegetable broth. And I grabbed my sushi stash for the road, from my cooler bag.

Leg 5: 11kms the BIG climb of the day. Goal 2 hours 15 minutes. Real Time 2 hours 5 minutes. 3 pieces of sushi, 1 salt tab, 1 ginger pill.
I left the aid station knowing the big climb of the day was ahead and looking forward to reaching the top. But I wasn't feeling too hot as I plodded out of there. I had already been turned off of my 'real food' selection of fruit bars, lara bars, tamari almonds and chocolate. I had already moved to my ' when you don't feel good eat this' back up plan of margarita Cliff Blocks. And now, I was even completely turned off of those. Those are normally my secret weapon. I LOVE those margarita blocks. But it had just taken me 45 minutes to gag down the last 3 and I wasn't going there again. I was on the very bottom of fuel intake, eating only a minimal 100-120 calories per hour and gagging every bite of that down. Why the heck was I feeling so sick to my stomach? I had run back to back days of 5-9 hours and felt great and I was only 5 hours in. What was up? Um...sad face...

I stopped to take a ginger pill for the nausea, drank loads of water and walked for a few metres. 2 women jogged by me and looked very strong and determined - I wished them well as we all settled into the big climb with my eye on the prize.

Something else was burning.

"Come on shorts. Haven't I run up enough mountains with you this year? Haven't we spent enough quality time together? Aren't back to back 30-40k runs enough time to get to know each other? Who are you and what have you done with my shorts???!!" Um... HAHAHA mad grin. "This is ridiculous". If I was doing the splits at the start of the race, I was in full cirque du soleil mode by now...

I was expecting quite a steep climb up to the top. It wasn't bad at all! I trucked along with a fast trek for the first third of the climb so that I could work away on my sushi snacks. I managed to get it all down and was starting to feel much much better when the grade lessened and I could get back into my my easy running pace. Baby steps and I was able to run all the way to the top. I saw the creek and knew I had made it! The biggest climb was behind me and it wasn't anything to write home about! All of those steep climbs in the mountains had paid off. A quick splash in the creek and I was renewed. Let's go down!

A few moments later and I sucked my last drop of water out of my camel back. I was only 1 hour into my 2.25hour leg. Umm...grimmace face...

Down down down down down down. Down down down. I don't remember anything other than it was damn steep down and I was damn thirsty the entire way. There was absolutely no way I could eat without any water to wash food down so I was beginning to run on E and fading fast as the leg dragged on. 3 pieces of sushi in nearly 2 hours of mountain running doesn't cut it. I caught up to a friendly racer who was leaping with joy and a grin on the descent. He asked how I was doing and I took a stab at it: "Well...I ran out of water 45 minutes ago..." He graciously offered me some of his reserves and I squirted the liquid love back in a heart beat. "I'm gonna live!" I yelled at the top of my lungs. I was revived and we galloped down to aid 4 together...where my 12 giant water bottles and secret flagging tape notes were waiting for me...hee heee:). About 4 of us came together at that aid station and it felt like I was there for quite a while. I put back 5 cups of water and just couldn't get enough. Soooooooo happy to have water again! Filled up my bladder and headed down 'Word of Mouth' for a short 5km leg to Quest University. In only 30 minutes and I would be 2/3s of the way!

Leg 6: 5kms, downhill, technical singletrack. Goal 30 mins. Real Time: 30 minutes.
No food, loads of water.
Short and sweet. I don't remember a thing other than arriving at Quest and jogging up the stairs to the aid station. The crowd went wild and I was once again renewed! It was awesome to have the support of the cheering crowd and yet another awesome aid station. I passed off my bladder and looked in my drop bag for my shirt...it wasn't in there either! It was on the floor back at my friends house...chafe on sister...

I knew that I needed to get some calories in but I couldn't think of anything I wanted to eat. I perused the aid station buffet...watermelon, oranges, baby potatoes, chips, chocolate...ugh...all I wanted was liquid salt. They didn't have any of that lol, so I grabbed my second sushi stash and trotted off down the hill, planning to eat it on the next climb.

Leg 7: 8kms, surprisingly long 500metre climb. Goal 90 minutes. Real Time: 110 minutes. 3 pieces of sushi, 1 fruit bar, 1 salt tab. The start of the slow decline...
After a short climb on the road, it was back into a section of classic Squamish mountain bike trails. We started by climbing up Legacy, a fun flowy bike trail. I walked the first fifty metres to work on my sushi and make sure it stayed down. I was starting to feel pretty good and had another solid running climb, with only a few short strides of trekking along the way. I was envisioning the top...it was so close...and then I would be heading down towards the final leg! At (what I thought was) the top, a friendly volunteer directed me straight ahead saying: "Stay on the trail, don't take any turns, and I will see you back here in about 30 minutes". SAY WHAT? I was planning on being at the next aid station in about 30 minutes actually. I had my mental map in a mess and failed to prepare mentally for the second half of this climb. My heart sank. My rhythm slowed. My shoulders sagged. My steady uphill run degraded back to a trek. I was in the deep dark woods with no views, no one to talk to and no inspiration. Time to dig out my 'I need help' plan...iPod to the rescue!

I had planned to save my music for the final 10kms but that went out the window and I was grateful for the distraction of my magical beats. I listened to the same 8 songs about 5 times from there to the finish line. Dancing along to the rhythm...marching uphills to the beat...raising my hands in the air to the good ones... Before I knew it I was back to the volunteer after the '35 not 30 minute loop' and galloping down a loamy section of single track... My knees said hello for the very first time. Normally I pass people on the downhills and drop back on the climbs. But today, it was an inverse race world and I found myself slowly passing racers on the ups...while losing my ground on the downs. My quads were getting close to toast and I started to lose a bit of confidence on the steep rocky descents. Instead of leaping down the rock drops, I found myself using my arms to lower my weary legs and lessen the impact. I could tune it out and let 'er fly on the flowy sections, but the bridges, rocks, logs and drops had their way with me for the very first time. I guess that is what 11, 000 feet of elevation does to you.

Uh Oh. I don't feel so good.

On the final 1/3 of this leg, I started struggling to get full breathes in. I thought it was my chest strap on my pack so I loosened it off. It didn't help. I slowed down. It didn't help. I felt pressure building in my chest. It took about 10 minutes but finally the light went on.

Oh No. Not...the...heart burn:((((((

Flash backs of the final 25kms of the Canadian Death Race ripped through my mind and body. During that event, after smugly running almost 100kms without one ache, pain or struggle I was knocked off my fragile pedestal and I met my match...I got heart burn for the first time and it nearly ended my race. I thought I was having a heart attack. Try breathing, let alone running 25kms with a softball lodged mere centimetres from your mouth. That final 25kms took me 4 hours and was the absolute hardest thing I had ever done in my life.

But this time I was prepared! I was never planning to live through that again and so I have had serious heart burn medication packed in my kit ever since that day. I popped the magic pill and guzzled my water to get it going fast. I was already starting to feel the pressure building in my chest and the lump was growing in my throat by the minute. I had to walk. I was going to lose my cookies.

I am a barfaphobic. Some people are terrified of spiders. Others of dark, confined spaces. Others of rats. Or snakes. Or flying on planes. Nuff said. I had to walk. There was no other choice.

It took about 10 minutes but I was finally feeling confident that I could jog my way out to the next and final aid station. I had another ginger pill to soothe the nausea and plodded past the Powerhouse, up the hill and to the final aid station. I was going to make it. I just knew it.

That Aid Station brought my spirits way back up. The volunteers and cheerleaders were roaring for us as we ran up the hill to them. They were offering us all sorts of goodies including a cold water dunk and ice for our bras;). That cold shower was an absolute life safer. "YES!" Another female racer caught up with me after my little walk and we arrived together at the aid station. We shared some words of support and she asked how I was feeling. "Amazing!" I laughed with as much sarcasm as I could muster. She said she thought I actually looked amazing and was running so steady. I couldn't believe that was how I looked from the outside when I was suffering with the chafing, the knees, the nausea and now, the heart burn. She must have been feeling the same or worse than me. Then a random woman came up to us and started gushing that she had seen us come through every aid station and she thought we were AMAZING! We had inspired her and she just had to come tell us. She said she was going to be at the finish line waiting for us to wrap this thing up. I am honestly getting goose bumps remembering how emotional her words were to us. I was seriously touched. I was SO thankful for that moment and it couldn't have come at a better time. Well...actually...it could have...perhaps 20 minutes later...

Leg 8: 10kms, multiple wee climbs, including the evil Mountain of Phlegm to completely destroy your spirits a mere 5kms from the finish. Goal: 75 minutes. Real Time: 90 minutes. 1 piece watermelon, 1 GU gel, 1 more heartburn pill...
I was STOKED! I was energized! I only had 10kms left to go, I had saved my legs for this and they were ready to run! I ran off to the lovely Fartherside Trail, knowing full well what I was getting into as every race I have ever done in Squamish seemed to end in this evil little forest of relentless ups and downs. But I could do anything for 10k. I had just run 70k! Bring it on!

Oh No. Oh No. Oh No. Not...the..heart burn...

It was back with a vengeance. My elation turned to neutral and then to desperation as the softball of fire climbed into my throat. There was nothing I could do but walk to keep it at bay. Do you know how long it takes to walk 10kms? A long freakin time.

Time stood still as I walked through the grand finale of my epic ultramarathon. The anticlimax was paralyzing. I felt strong. My last leg, secret weapon of GU was kicking in. I had energy to burn but no way to light it up. I could handle 2 or 3 steps of light running and then the softball moved up again and I would have to walk for 5 minutes to get it back down. I chugged my water trying to force it down. I took another magic pill. I couldn't shake it. It was a sad moment but I had to suck it up and accept my fate...I was going to have to walk all the way to the finish. Sob story or what!

One by one, they caught and passed me. Some stopped to ask how I was doing. No one was feeling like a rock star by then. They had cramps, they had stomach issues, they moaned out loud at the uphills. But they could all shuffle away and continue running the downs and flats. We wished each other well. I sent them any energy I had left. I had to let them all go. 2 women...4, 5, 6? men...gone.

It was a long walk. After the Mountain of Phlegm climb I knew I was on the final descent. I tried to carefully lower myself down the steep and rocky trail to avoid jostling the softball. When I came to 100 stairs (OK maybe that is an exaggeration but I didn't count them) my IT band threw in the towel. I monkeyed down the stairs using my arms and when I got to the bottom it hit me...

I had no pain in my chest. The freaking heart burn was gone.

Oh sweet jayzus. Hallelujah! "I CAN RUN AGAIN!" I yelled at the top of my lungs to the first racer I caught up to! We ran ran ran together down through the smoke bluffs and past my friend Darcy's home - he was on the deck cheering me on! I was yelling "NEVER AGAIN! I RETIRE!" but he was still cheering me on " GO SEADS!" On I went with the JOY of pain free running ripping through my body...

In mere moments I was running the final 50 metres to the finish! I was so grateful to be able to run through the line. And I was SO grateful to be finished. That one leg that I had in the race, was totally, completely done. The other one was laughing at me from the start line.

And there, at the finish line was my ELM family.

Big hugs caught me and it was a joy to see them all there waiting for me. I gushed. I told them it was brutal. I told them I was NEVER doing that again. I told them I was RETIRED. I let it all out. I couldn't have been more un-coach-like if I had tried. I was too mentally beat to wear both hats. At that moment, I was the athlete and they were MY support crew. They lifted me up, sent me off for a shower, and celebrated with me at the pub. I scared the pants off of them with my replay of the course. They were set to run the 50k and 23k courses the next day and I wanted to make sure they expected the worst...because that is one sure way to lessen the impact. I think it worked;)...they all did absolutely amazing. They raced smart and finished strong and filled me up with inspiration.

Will I do another ultramarathon? Well... I got some tips about preventing and treating the heart burn...I DO love the training...I DO love the people...I really think I can do much better... I guess I may have to eat my finish line words...because life is sweet...and I can never say never...but you knew I would say that...

Looking back, it really didn't go as bad as I originally believed it had. I was within my goal times even if I didn't smash them (as I secretly had hoped). I didn't have any crashes, cramps or serious injuries. So I had some chafing. So I felt sick. So I had to walk 8k. It's an 80k run. It's not supposed to be all roses, butterflies and lollipops. I'll bet 50% of the racers on that course had worse issues to complain about. In fact, if I look at it from the good witch's perspective- it was a pretty good day:)

Squamish 50:

  • Outstanding volunteers.

  • Brutal terrain- unrelenting technical descents right up until 4km from the finish line.

  • But don't take my word for it. The only way to experience it, is to try it for yourself...

If you got this far, you must really have a lot of chores to do. I am happy I got to help you procrastinate a little while longer;0

Happy Trails,
Sarah.