Squamish50: My first ultra is in the bag

I had been impatiently waiting and obsessively training for the Squamish50 race for over a year. In the foothills of the mountains around Squamish BC, less than an hour north of Vancouver at about the halfway point to Whistler on the Sea to Sky highway, the Squamish 50k course exudes beauty. It is also held in a beautiful location that I had long wanted to explore with my family. As a bonus, completing Squamish would give me my first points toward a crazy goal of mine, getting the entry requirements for UTMB Mont Blanc, the greatest Ultra race in the world.

Leading up to the race

After coming off a lingering muscle injury in both legs during my early season races, I had a really strong month of running in July. I completed several long runs and upped my weekly mileage and elevation. I crowned my training with the Beast of Big Creek race, where I was lucky enough to be able to pace my wife. I felt ready for my race. I tapered and turned my focus on practical race preparation.

For weeks, I had sweated and meticulously researched what new hydration pack I should get. Then, the one I had been eyeing went on sale and I pounced. I also ended up buying way too many energy bars and gels and packing clothing for every possible weather scenario. I’d be arriving in Squamish 2 days ahead of the race and there was no time for last minute gear adjustments.

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Visiting the last couple of kilometers of the race along Smoke Bluffs Park the day after.

I knew it would be an incredibly tough course, as everything about the Squamish races are designed to challenge. The race turned into an even tougher run that I imagined, but the coastal mountains terrain I am familiar with would help. I knew I wouldn’t have to deal with serious altitude or extreme heat. This was a big advantage in keeping me relaxed before the race.

I’m jumping ahead and will spare you traffic dilemma through Vancouver or the hotel drama when we arrived in Squamish.

It’s the evening before the race. All my clothes and gear are laid out. I double and triple check. The alarm doesn’t have to wake me up. I’m up at 3:30am. I am eager to get started.

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Family patiently waiting at the finish line. You guys rock!

I jumped out of bed and got dressed, as my family sleeping next to me in our cramped hotel room.

I ate something and gently woke the family, as they had agreed to take me to the bus shuttle stop. There, I boarded a bus with many other tired and nervous racers and we slowly made our way to the starting area. As we headed to the starting line at Alice Lake Provincial Park, just a few minutes north of downtown Squamish, we quietly prepared.

Once we got to the starting line, daylight slowly started arriving. We stood in anticipation as Gary Robbins, the ultra running legend and amazingly friendly guy, gave the group of about 350 racers a race prep. After hearing, just after 6am in the pre-dawn light, what to do if we’d encountered wildlife on the trail, we were off.

Gary giving us the pep talk minutes before the race start.
Gary giving us the pep talk minutes before the race start.

After a short run through the campground, we entered the soft single track trails through the lush forest. The air felt cool and the big crowd of runners started stretching out along the trail. It was an easy first 9km over rolling hills before the first major climb of the day. I zoomed past the first aid station and took on the first big hill, enjoying the peak a boo views of snow-covered peaks in the distance. The first hill, although daunting on the profile map, felt easy. The downhill proved more tricky and was the first sign of things to come. Tired, I needed to refuel before hitting the 2nd aid station, which threw me a bit out of sync on the very technical downhill. After getting properly refueled at aid station two, I hit a good stride and made it to the third aid station, at Quest University, 23km in about 4 hours. Here, I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the time I had hoped for, but that was alright with me.

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One of the view easy sections of the race.

The sun was out, people cheering racers on and volunteers being super friendly all helping me, with people even refueling my water. At km 23, I felt like this would be a good time to be done- just plop down on the grass and call it a day. It was quite tempting, but I wasn’t even half way.

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Still smiling in the early stage of the race.

Now the race really started

After plenty of watermelon and boiled potatoes (yes, I love those at aid stations!), I felt refueled and refreshed. I was ready to take on the first kilometer on the pavement in the searing heat, before we entered the forest again.

Before long, I was on the second big climb of the day, in the heat of the day- I felt heavy. I was overly glad to be making the check-in point and head back downhill.

Reaching aid station four, I felt like I hit a groove again. I briefly refueled with more potatoes and got a good second wind. Toward the fifth aid station, at around kilometer 40, I was able to keep the slight cramping I was starting to feel well in check. After my Mountain Marathon in March of this year, I would be soon hitting the ‘new territory’ in terms of distance covered in a single run, which was exciting. There were ‘only’ another 10km after aid station five and I though I was ready for anything. I was not ready for what Gary had prepared. The rugged terrain was relentless; the uphills were tough, the downhills were technical and the runners I met along the trail warned me of a “last big hill.”

Reaching the top of the aptly called Mountain Of Phlegm, just after the 46 kilometer mark, almost did me in. My legs completely cramped up, stopping me in stride. I had to sit down for 5 minutes and gather myself because I knew there was another technical downhill waiting for me. My legs, and especially my feet, were now completely shot. I shuffled, bumbled, and slogged myself down the mountain, passing by rock climbers along the granite boulders. Several times I tried to get into something resembling a running stride and even though people cheered me on at every turn, I failed miserably. I didn’t know how I’d run the last 2km of road to the finish line in downtown Squamish.

Thanks Gary for this spectacular race.
Thanks Gary, for this spectacular race.

Moving at a slug’s pace, I approached Pavilion Park where my family welcomed me cheering. They had been waiting for hours, but were amazing and cheered loud the second they saw me. This rush of adrenaline and love allowed me to run the final 100 meters over the line, falling into the arms of the incredibly gracious and friendly Gary Robbins. I briefly thanked him for an incredibly tough, but wonderful experience before happily collapsing on the grass.

After the crossing the finish line, there was nothing left in the tank - nothing.
After the crossing the finish line, there was nothing left in the tank – nothing.

Final thoughts

  • Overall I felt like I executed my plan well.
  • Physically, I was not prepared for the last 8 kilometers, but I’m okay with my overall time of 9:31:37. That placed me in 202nd of 287 successful participants.
  • I do need to start thinking about better socks and shoes, which the gear head in me loves, but I hate the idea of spending the extra money. I’ll see what to do about that, Salomon, Salewa, La Sportiva – anyone listening?
  • My recovery was swift. I was able to enjoy the rest of my vacation in Squamish and Whistler. I hiked a lot and although my legs still feel a bit tight, I’m ready for my next run.
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The beautiful scenery of Squamish BC.

Gear List

  • Patagonia  – Fore Runner Vest
  • Adidas – Slingshot Trail running shoes
  • The North Face –  Better Than Naked shorts.
  • Nike Compression – shorts
  • Brooks – tanktop
  • Buff – headband
Nester Market: Squamish 50 finisher medal - it's mine!
Nester Market: Squamish 50 finisher medal – it’s mine!

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