The Squamish 50/50
This is it. The "A" race of the year. The one that I've been looking forward to. The one I've been training hard for. The one that in all my... enough with introductory dramatics.
I arrived at the Vancouver airport on Thursday night. It was too late to really do anything other than crawl into bed and try and sleep. That worked kinda ok, but not really. I had gotten sick just a few days earlier and was still feeling it. I was coughing a lot and tossing and turning all night.
Friday morning I had continental breakfast and bummed around the little park behind the hotel. At noon I picked up the rental car and drove to the airport to pickup Adam Gears, the man who put the bug in my ear for this race. Now, I'll admit, the race was already on my bucket list, ever since I saw Ginger Runner's 50/50 video. But I didn't expect to do it anytime soon. As it would turn out, participating in Superior this year is totally out of the question, as it's the same weekend as my parents' 50th wedding anniversary. Being in late August, the kids don't have too many activities going on and are not back in school yet. The timing for Squamish was good, so I decided to go for it.
I got a good amount of training in for this race, though not as much in terms in specificity as I would have liked. After recovering from Kettle 100, I really only had about 8 weeks to ramp up the vertical and get ready for this monster. I used the Sage Running mountain ultra plan to help me get ready for the climbs. The Sage Running plans are awesome. I've been using them exclusively for over 2 years now. Since it's a 16-week plan, I jumped in at week 9 and went from there. I did whatever I could to hit the key workouts. The main issue was finding hills with long, sustained climbs. I drove out to Afton several times to do repeats on the utility road hill as part of a long run. I also found a couple roads nearby that have sustained climbs, though they're over in under 3 minutes if you run them at a good pace. When I couldn't find anything good enough for the workout, I hit the treadmill. I was disciplined and diligent, and it was now time to see if the hard work would pay off.
With Adam riding shotgun, we hit the road and made the drive up through the middle of Vancouver and on to Squamish. It's a beautiful drive, up HWY 99. It feels like a far different world than from what I'm used to. With relatively narrow waterways and mountains rising up on all sides, I imagine that this is what the fjords of Scandinavia look like. Soon enough, we arrived at packet-pick up, enjoyed a complimentary lager from Sound Howe brewing, and got out of there. We jad some prime rib dip sandwiches from a local pub and grub, along with a couple local beers. I was fueled and ready to go.
|Rainbow outside - just after packet pick-up|
50-mile race: Saturday
At 3:30 AM the alarm goes off. I promptly warmed up my bagel that I had purchased the night before at the Tim Horton’s down the block, then fired up the coffee. After 3 mediocre PRPs, I geared up, and Adam brought me down to the start line on the Oceanfront.
During his pre-race speech, Gary Robbins called out each country that had participants in the race, and had something witty to say about each one. “Ireland!” (no one makes any noise) “Ok, still in bed hungover probably.” When he announced the USA, after many cheers from the crowd he said “No politics please. For one day, please.” I vaguely remember that at some point during the race I made a bad joke about feeling safe here in Canada, until Kim Jong’s missiles fall short of their targets. Flat-earthers won’t get that one, but that’s ok. Let’s get on with it!
|The moon peeks out from behind the mountain before race start|
At 5:45 we take off through the big inflatable Salomon starting gate, through the parking lot, and onto a path that sits along the water’s edge. The race starts of flat on gentle dirt or crushed rock trails, with a little bit of road as you make your way to the first aid station at mile 6. Things were pretty uneventful here. I just focused on easing into it and not pushing at all, closely monitoring my breathing. No headlamp needed. I got to run with Mike Farrington a bit here. I had met him the night before at packet pick up. This was his third trip to Squamish and 2nd attempt at the 50/50. He’s also a flatlander from NE Illinois, near Chicago, which makes him a REAL flatlander. Super nice guy and full of positive energy. Exactly the kind of person you want to be around in those difficult moments during a grueling ultra. We leap-frogged each other a lot in the first half of the race. Mike has better flat out speed than I do, but he also has lots of friends, and thus spends more time at aid stations. :)
|PC: Mike Farrington|
About a mile after the first aid station, we enter the Coho trail, and things start to get real here, as we go from flat road to a steep, technical mile long climb that gains 1,000 feet, followed by a steep and even more technical descent. Several people said that this is the steepest and toughest climb. I was glad to hear that. I definitely felt winded most of the way up. Many people blew by me on the way up, but I caught them on the way down. This is typical. I am a much better downhill than uphill runner. My quads just don’t quit, for whatever reason. I don’t lift weights or do anything special to toughen them up. In fact, I was worried about not doing enough downhill running in the build up for this. I guess I’m just lucky. I’m also pretty good at negotiating the technical stuff on descents. Now that, I do practice, whenever and wherever I can. I try not to be too timid on those downhills. I’m a bigger guy and I gotta let gravity do its thing.
After that big first climb and descent, things got, well… easy. The elevation change was mostly gradual and gentle, and the surface very runnable. No hazards anywhere. The area around Alice Lake is so peaceful. It reminded me of a gentle run through the trails at Lebanon Hills. Every once in a while there’d be a steep, but relatively short climb up switchbacks. There’s even a long gradual descent down what feels like a twisty motocross track. Most of the trails on this course are mountain bike trails, after all. I was having tons of fun and just enjoying it. Enjoying the magnificent scenery and lush forests with giant mossy trees. I felt at home here. I lived in Oregon for almost 3 years. My wife and I essentially started our lives together out there, after I returned from Bosnia. I got my first real software engineering job there. We bought our first home there. My kids were born there. We even got another pug there (Sidney) to keep our Minnesota pug, Leia, company. And with all those major life experiences, one of the things I remember most is the natural beauty of this entire region. The forests are big and beautiful, the mountains are mighty and may even look ominous, but it’s all so tranquil at the same time. The waters of the ocean remind you of the incredible vastness beyond the ground your feet are upon. In short, it’s epic.
I remember looking at my watch around mile 20 and thinking, Shit. I’m gonna hit the marathon mark around 6 hours. Am I going too fast? Or is it really this easy? This is supposed to be technical? I heard it was going to be like Superior on steroids. This isn’t anything like the SHT! This is a breeze! So basically, I fell for all the traps, mentally. Physically, I was doing fine as I had kept things dialed back the entire time. A wise decision.
The second time through the 3rd aid station, yes there is one small portion where you do a loop on the 50-mile course, I asked a volunteer if there’d be much climbing before the next aid station. “Just a bit,” he said, with a little grin on his face. “Oh crap, is this the aid station before Galactic, right here?”
“This is it,” he confirmed.
I had met another runner from Minnesota at packet pick-up, Ann Starr, who was running the 50K. She had come out to do one of the orientation runs, and knew all about a large portion of the course. “Load up on calories before Galactic.” I remember she told me. So that’s what I did. I ate a little bit of everything and downed two servings of Coke from my reusable cup. It was time to see what the mountain would bring.
Coming out of the aid station, there’s a gradual climb up a utility road and then a little descent, then it’s back up the road again and a quick turn into the woods, where another sign simply reads, “Galactic.” This is it. This is the big one. In this climb you gain about 2,500 feet in 3 miles. The middle third has some steep sections, but overall it’s not as steep or technical as the first climb of the day, back at mile 8. It just takes a long time. It’s a grind. It was slow. I’m slow. But it’s fine. I trained for it. At one point I caught up to two shorter female runners who were struggling a little on some of the steeper parts, as they had to use their hands to get up and over some rocks. As I approached, I stated, “This is where long-legged folks have an unfair advantage.”
“Haha, well we’ll let you go first, Long Legs,” one of the runners replied. I heard them both groan as they watched me step up from one rock to another, without needing to do anything other than lifting my knees higher.
About a third of the way up, I stopped and took pictures of the mountains on the other side of Howe Sound. Breathtaking views from a breath-sucking climb. Part of my plan for the 50-mile was to stop and take pictures, and really enjoy the trail and the views. This would help me conserve energy for Sunday.
|View from Galactic, Day 1|
The last third of the climb was a little easier. The grade eased up and I transitioned from methodical hike into a fast power walk. After about an hour total, I had reached the top of Galactic and was on my way down. On the descent, I think I caught nearly everyone who had passed me. What I said earlier to those two female runners was true. In fact, this entire course favors taller people. Having longer legs makes it easier to step up and over things on the climbs, and step down steep drops on the descents without having to slow down too much. Shorter runners will definitely have a tougher time with the descents on this course. Throw in the fact that the descents are often steeper than the climbs and that’s what’s gonna beat people up more than anything else. As I said earlier, my quads just don’t fail me. I don’t know why, but they don’t. So I use them. Especially on steep, technical stuff, if my feet have the agility to do so, I will go after the descents pretty hard. And I admit, I was a bit reckless down Galactic. People probably thought I was nuts. I did take one drop-off a little too aggressively and it kinda hurt when I landed, so I backed off a little bit for a few minutes, but then picked it up again after I realized there was no damage. I passed Mike here at some point. He appeared to be struggling a little with the downs, or maybe he was just taking it extra easy so that he could conquer the 50K on Sunday as well. I kept the pace up until I reached the next aid station. Total time elapsed since the last aid station was about 2 hours and 20 minutes, which covered about 7.5 miles.
After the post-Galactic aid station, I don’t remember too much, other than some little ups and downs, mostly down on pretty technical MTB trail, with a lot of planks and boardwalks. Some of these things would really bounce as you ran across them. I admit, I’m not a big fan of running on man-made structures created for mountain bikes. This course does have a lot of them, and some of them are a little dicey. It didn’t take too long before reaching the next major aid station at Quest University.
|PC: Adam Gears|
Quest is a fun aid station with fabulous views, featuring some additional treats. I took advantage and loaded up on calories. More Coke, more Heed, more brownies, more everything. A volunteer asked me if I wanted ice for my hat, I happily took it off and she filled it with small ice cubes. Another runner asked, “Does that help?” “Oh, hell yes!” I replied, as I pulled my hat down onto my head and felt the chilling rush go from the top of my head and down through my spine.
|View from Quest University|
After Quest, there’s a short jog down a road and then a fairly steep climb (for a road) back up to the trail. Now begins the second long climb of the day. This one isn’t as steep as galactic, nor is it technical or gain as much in elevation, but it takes forever. It’s an endless series of switchbacks, and I do mean endless. There’s no summit or views to look forward to either. Those who have the stamina could certainly run the entire thing, so physically, it’s pretty easy. But mentally, it’s very deflating. You gain about 1,500 feet from Quest, but it takes 5 miles to get there. Switchbacks. Nuthin’ but switchbacks.
The way down is much faster, but very steep, and pretty technical in spots. You lose almost 1,000 feet in less than a mile. Here again I was able to make up ground and catch runners that had passed me earlier, though I dialed it back more than I did on the descent down Galactic. There were some tricky mountain bike bridges that had to be traversed here, marked with “Slow — Danger” signs. Speaking of mountain bikes, I don’t know how you guys do it. This is some seriously scary stuff. If you make a mistake and end up falling to the side, you could easily die. I saw one guy on the way up who hit some rocks and did an endo. Twice. After the second one, he got off his bike and walked. Wise choice.
This section finishes with a less intense descent down a gravel road to the second to last aid station, which means approximately 11 miles left. This aid station was a very welcome site, as it had taken me well over 2 hours to get there.
The next section featured a climb and then another descent down into some more technical mountain bike playgrounds. At some point, I dropped down this “chute” and as I started slipping, I reached to the side to grab a hold of whatever vegetation was there. “Ouch!” I had grabbed a large thistle. I don’t remember too much else from this section, other than I was moving more slowly than I would have liked. Eventually, I made it out onto another road, and descending a hill I passed a runner who had his right leg wrapped from his knee up to mid thigh. He was going down backwards. I’ve heard of other people doing this before, but this is the first time I’ve seen it. No, they’re not showing off. Their quads are just shot and running downhill is extremely painful or even impossible. The road flattened out and then turned upward again. I went back into a power walk. A sign read 11 KM left. Ugh, come on! It should surely be less than 10 by now.
At this aid station, I took some time to enjoy the company of 2 pugs, one black and one fawn. I had seen them that morning at the start line as well. I dropped a potato chip and the black pug sniffed it out and scarfed it down. So cute! Some more watermelon, bananas, salt, Coke, and it was time to go and get this thing done! For today, at least. On the way out of the aid station I approached the runner with the wrapped up leg again. He was power walking at a very fast pace, probably around 13 min/mile. As I passed, I told him that he was moving really well especially for not being able to run, and to just keep grinding. I also asked if this was his first time at Squamish. “It’s my first… anything!” Wow! First ultra, the Squamish 50-mile??? That takes some serious guts! I knew he’d finish, so I congratulated him early.
Now I do tend to get emotional sometimes when I run, but most of the day had been pretty tranquil in that sense. However now that today’s run was drawing to a close, with another brutal day looming, and seeing those pugs at the last aid station, I thought of Leia and lost it. It was mile 45 and I was running downhill, moving quickly, but my tears were obscuring my vision and it was rocky, so I had to slow up.
Leia was our first pug. We got her the week after we got married in August 2002. She had been with us through all of our major life experiences. She moved across the country and back with us. She kept my wife company while I was overseas for the first 9 months of our marriage. She was there for me when I hit my lowest lows of bipolar depression, and I do believe that she helped keep me on this earth. She never had a history of significant health problems, but did have degenerative arthritis for the last few years, and was also deaf. Still, I always thought she would live forever. On July 14th, I smashed my PR at the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon in Duluth. When I came home, I put out her food, and went to go get a haircut. When I got back, I noticed she hadn’t eaten anything. She deteriorated rapidly from there. That night, she was crying out in pain like I’ve never heard before, still unable to eat or drink. The next day, at the local pet hospital, after getting some lab work done that indicated a very poor prognosis, we made the decision to let her go and pass on to a better place. I held her in my arms as she took her last breath. It was tremendously difficult to sign the authorization letter for euthanasia. Looking back, she had been suffering immensely for several months, especially after the loss of Cara, our other pug who had died just 2 months prior. Still, I wasn’t ready to say goodbye. I wasn’t ready to say goodbye to Cara either, but she was taken from us. I didn’t have any decisions to make. To choose to take a life is just horrible. And to top it off, just a few days before Squamish, we lost our sweet dwarf hamster, Bella. The last few months have been absolutely brutal, no doubt.
|Leia at our first house, just outside the City of Roses. RIP. I love you!|
After regaining my composure, I started powering through the rest of the course. Looking at my watch, I knew I had a good chance to break 14 hours. On the way up to the final climb, dubbed the “Mountain of Phlegm,” there was a poor young woman looking incredibly distraught. I asked her if she was OK. “Do you know which way to go?” She sobbed. I saw the markers ahead on the trail, where I expected them to be, and then one behind me that appeared to be off to the side a bit. The trails can play tricks on you. At first glance it looked as if we may have gone off course only to have come back on from a different direction, so I said that I would retrace and take a look. As I started back up the trail the other way, it was almost immediately apparent, like within 10 feet, that we were on course, and had not gone off, and so I turned back around and said “We’re good. Just keep going that way and follow the markers.”
We made our way up the steep, but relatively short climb to the top of the Mountain of Phlegm. It’s about equivalent to the campground hill climb at Afton State Park in Minnesota. It’s not too bad, but it’s tough to do after 47 miles! The view from the top was quite nice, and there was even a chilly breeze. But it was time to get this done. 3 miles to go!
The descent off Phlegm is pretty steep, and I took it fairly easy until we broke out from the woods and onto a non-technical surface, and I started to hammer it. Now here’s where I did go off course, and realized my mistake when I was on a trail that was parallel to another trail that had the markers on it. I could have cut over, as I know I had not saved any distance, but I couldn’t do that. I’m a by the book kinda guy when it comes to these races. I ran/hiked back up the hill to the point where I went off, and found the trail. Now I really had to put the hammer down to get under 14 hours!
Coming down onto the road, back into town, I knew I had to run at under 9 minute pace to break 14 hours, so that’s what I did. Wow did that hurt! As I turned into the park, I saw Gary there waiting for me with outstretched arms. I crossed the line in 13:59 and got the big finisher’s hug!
|PC: Adam Gears|
Gary gave me words of encouragement and told me that all I had to do was make it to the start line the next morning. As I stood there slumped over with my hands on my knees, huffing and puffing, I couldn’t muster a witty response. He laughed and said, “You’re probably thinking, ‘I fucking hate you right now, Gary!’” I assured him that I wasn’t thinking that at all. Not yet, at least.
|PC: Brian McCurdy Photography|
My stomach wasn’t feeling the best after pushing at the end. I could barely get down the complimentary burger at the finish. Adam and I went back to the hotel, as it was already pretty late, after 8 PM. I walked into the room and just threw all my crap on the floor, popped two blisters, took a shower and laid down on the bed with my feet elevated. I slowly ate two pieces of leftover pizza over the next hour and drank a liter of water. I tried to drink a beer, but it just wasn’t happening. I closed my eyes around 10 PM, and got a good 6 hours of sleep, though interrupted by coughing fits here and there. Whenever the coughing woke me up, I forced myself to drink more water, so I had probably another liter overnight.
50K race: Sunday
At 4 AM, the alarm went off. Adam was still sleeping. He was running the 23K today and so he graciously volunteered to drop me off at the start, and then he’d go back and get ready for his race which started 2 hours later. This was awesome, because it meant I didn’t have to drive to the race finish and take the shuttle bus, which would have resulted in much less sleep. I warmed up and ate the final piece of leftover pizza for breakfast, and had some more coffee. To my surprise, I was moving around quite well. Very stiff, but able to get around without limping or anything.
After a familiar pre-race briefing from Gary at Alice Lake, it was time to start the day. I was happy to see that Mike Farrington was back to toe the line and get that 50/50 finish. We started at the way back of the pack today, with the other 50/50’ers. I was able to shuffle my way through the big inflatable gate at about a 12:00 min/mile pace. Not too bad, I thought. But this was the easiest, most non-technical, flattest part of the course.
The first climb up and out from Alice Lake had me a little worried. It’s relatively small and short, again like one of the tougher climbs at Afton, but on switchbacks. I had my hands on my hips right away, breathing hard. At the top was an exercise bike. I thought about pedaling on it, but knew I just had to keep moving forward. Today would just be a non-stop, slow grind. I power walked/death shuffled my way on the flatter parts, and was able to jog the downs without pain. We got to do the little fun twisty motocross track again, and I picked up some speed there, and by speed, I mean 11:00 min/miles. The aid station was in the same spot as it was the day before (AS 3/4 for the 50-mile), but this time, we wouldn’t be doing a loop. It was straight onto Galactic from here.
Mike and I power-walked and jogged together from the aid station all the way to the Galactic trail sign. Again, it was great to have someone with such positive energy there to keep me company. Once we started the climb, he was out of sight quickly. I went to hands on hips immediately, and struggled, along with many others doing the 50/50. It was a much slower grind today, even though it was nice to do this first thing in the morning, rather than at noon with the sun out. A third of the way up, I stopped to enjoy the view again, and it was actually a little better than the day before, with a few less clouds. So hey, for that alone it’s worth it!
|Galactic - Day 2|
I continued on with mile-2 of climb, the hardest part. Slow death march up steeper and at times more technical trail. It was brutal and tremendously arduous, yet somehow, I was passing people. Most of them were 50/50 runners. At the beginning of the third and final mile of the climb, something was happening. My legs and lungs were coming back to life. I switched to a fast power-hike and passed many more runners. As it flattened out towards the top I broke into a jog when I could. Soon enough, it was time to go back down. It was mostly a slow jog down today. Even though my legs and quads felt pretty good, I just didn’t have the agility to quickly dash and dance my way through the technical parts. So it was a lot of jogging, slowing to a walk to side step or step down some obstacles, and then resume jogging. Even though I was more careful, I did wipe out on some loose dirt and rocks and landed flat on my ass. Nothing major, just a few rocks up the shorts. I passed Mike towards the bottom and then jogged my way to the aid station. All in all it wasn’t too bad, but it took me an extra 20 minutes to complete this segment of the course today.
One thing I didn’t prepare for. Calories! Once again, in MN we are spoiled. John Storkamp directs the two big hundred-mile trail ultras here, Zumbro and Superior. And at his races, there always seems to be a full-on feast at every aid station. A lot of it is tradition, with the same folks running the same aid stations year after year, and becoming known for something, like Kurt Decker’s chocolate chip pancakes at AS 1/4 of Zumbro. Or Maria and Doug Barton’s quesadillas at Crosby-Manitou in Superior. The list goes on and on. At the Voyageur 50-mile ultra, which is run by Jamie and Kris Glesener, there are so many aid stations that you don’t need to carry anything at all! Though I still recommend a hand-held so you can douse yourself with water on the powerlines. Anyways, I’m not complaining at all about the aid stations at Squamish, because they’re all fantastic and the volunteers are awesome! But since I had burned through my entire supply of Clif Shot Bloks the day before, I was now swiping and hoarding gels from each aid station (just one per aid station). Since I was going so slow, that would be just enough to keep the machine powered and moving.
With a pocket full of gels (hee-hee), I began the 2.5 mile trek to the next aid station, Quest University, from whence the 23K’ers departed 2 hours prior. I don’t remember much from this section, just lots of power walking. Quest was a welcome site, at mile 15.5, it meant the journey was almost half done. The volunteers said 23K left, but I knew it was not the truth. The 23K racers have 23K left from Quest, the the 50K’ers have about 27. I saw Ann Starr here, the one who gave me all the great advice at packet pick-up. She was doing the 50K and had been training for this race for 10 months. We left the aid station together.
Ann hadn't done this part of the course in her orientation run. I knew that we had a long grind ahead of us, with the endless switchbacks, so I warned her in advance that it wasn’t going to be difficult, but it would just take a very long time and that it’s mentally draining. My turn to give some advice, I guess. Ann is one of those people beaming with positive energy, so it was wonderful to have her company, for this section especially. After we made our way up the steep road toward the trail, sure enough there was a fork in the road with signs that had the 50K’ers going left and the 23’kers going right. More distance for us. More switchbacks. Ann set the pace with a quick power-walk/jog and pulled me along as we began the switchbacks. Nuthin’ but switchbacks.
We had some nice conversations along the way, including some great discussions about mental health. I love hearing about other peoples’ journeys and how they discovered trail and ultra running as a form of therapy. There’s no shortage of that in this sport. It’s a common thread from the back of the pack all the way up to the elites who are smashing course records. It makes me feel like we all share a deeper connection and reminds me that we’re all in this together. We all want the same thing, to just make it through the day and overcome the challenges that lay before us, both during the race, and in everyday life. It makes me smile, at least on the inside.
It was getting warm out now and it felt hot in the exposed parts, but again, this is not a difficult climb. It…just…takes…forever. I think the worst part is when it starts to flatten out and you come out of the trail onto this utility road, thinking it’s over, but no. You go up the road for just a short ways then turn back onto the trail, where more switchbacks await. It truly is endless. Finally, we came upon a volunteer who checks runner’s bib numbers before the descent. I told her it was nice to see her again and asked how far it was to the aid station. She smiled, “You’ve done this before. You know how far it is.” I told her I forgot already. “It’s about 1KM down and then a short ways to the aid station.” Again this is much steeper on the way down than it is on the way up. Being on the heavier end of the distance runner demographic, it hurts me more to fight gravity than to just roll with it. So I picked up the pace and passed several runners on the way down. Once on the gravel road, I knew there was less than 12 miles to go. It was time to to get it done. I was heads down, getting in the zone. Still, the zone had a speed limit of 5 MPH.
Upon reaching the aid station, I had some more Coke, several cookies, chips, and a banana. I began the 4.5 mile segment down into the mountain bike playground. When I came to the chute again, I started to slide right away, and again reached out aimlessly for some vegetation, and once again, grabbed a hold of a thistle!!! (Flowing tears emoji)
Again I don’t remember too much here, just lots of power walking and slow jogging during the flats and downs. I walked all the boardwalks and mountain bike bridges today. Running them with all the bouncing didn’t feel too good. Soon enough I descended down the gravel road and made it to the “11KM Left” sign. I wanted to give it the double deuce, but there were kids nearby. At the final aid station, I fueled up on more snacks and had some watermelon with salt, though I dumped half the bowl of salt on the ground. Before departing, I got an icy cold sponge wrung out over my head and neck. It was like the ALS ice bucket challenge. Shocking, but good. Time to wrap this up.
I knew coming into the final aid station that there was no way I could get under 10 hours, but under 11 would be doable. The cutoff for the 50K is 11:30, and I’ve usually been comfortably ahead of cutoffs at races. Even though I was closer to the cutoff than I ever have been, I decided to not push as much as I had the previous day and just enjoy it a little more. Enjoy the magnificent trail and let the experience of the weekend soak in a little. Still, it feels like I reached the base of the Mountain of Phlegm in no time. And although the ascent was waaay tougher and slower this time, I made it to the top and just sat down for a few moments to enjoy the view and let it all sink in just a little more.
I made my way down the mountain a little slower this time around, and opened up once I exited the main trail onto the gravel path. This time I did NOT go off course and noticed there was an extra pink ribbon there where I had missed the turn the day before. After I finished the 50-mile, I told Gary I had missed that turn and he said he’d go back and put some additional markings there, and he did!
I continued to run from the gravel path down onto the road and “booked it” all the way to the finish, topping out at 10:30 min/mile pace. When I crossed the line at 10 hours and 35 minutes, I was given the coveted Squamish 50/50 finisher’s hat. Mission accomplished. 82+ miles of brutal, mountain trail. Moments later I found Gary and got my finisher’s hug and we had a nice conversation for a few minutes, and talked about Defeat the Stigma for a bit. In addition to being an ultra legend and amazing race director, he is genuinely one of the coolest people in the world. I know that he will get his Barkley finish too.
|An ultra legend, amazing RD, and one hell of a human being|
Adam showed up at the finish after seeing me cross the line on the live video feed. He’d finished his 23K many, many hours ago. He bought me a beer since I didn’t have any money with me, and we hung out at the finish area until after the 11.5 hour cutoff. We saw Mike and congratulated him on his 50/50 finish, this time with hugs instead of high fives. And Ann Starr came across the line and got her 50K finish that she had trained so hard for. It was awesome and uplifting to witness that and all the other finishes. Also inspiring to see Gary at the finish welcoming runners in who did not make the cutoff time. They may not have got an official finish time or a medal, but they still got the official finisher’s hug.
We went back to the hotel where I showered quickly, because now I WAS HUNGRY. After declining to wait for a table at Howe Sound brewing, Adam and I went to the same restaurant we’d gone to after packet pick up. I would have ordered $200 worth of food, but the server didn’t seem to care about us. That was really the only disappointment of the whole weekend. Actually it’s a good thing, because my eyes were definitely bigger than my stomach. I could barely finish my second beer.
The next morning we had breakfast in town and then took our time making our way back down towards the airport, stopping at Brittania Beach along the way for a short hike and some spectacular scenery. Upon reaching Vancouver, eclipse gazers were on every corner. One person had told us the sun would be 90% covered. The daylight never faded, so I don’t think that was the case. Not a big deal. The eclipse was eclipsed by the events that took place over the weekend.
At the Vancouver airport, after clearing US customs (yes, you clear customs before departing the country), I finally had some poutine! At Burger King, no less. I didn’t care, it was delicious. Why don’t all restaurants serve poutine?!! I’ll never understand.
|No bacon? Guess I won't "have it my way." Still amazing though!|
A week later now, I feel pretty good, far better than I’ve fared after any hundred miler. I’ve heard people say that it’s worse to have to run 50 brutal miles and then stop and get up and do another 31 the next day, but I disagree. Getting off your feet, having a chance to refuel, and getting some good quality rest makes a huge difference. If it were a hundred mile race, like an out-and-back or 2 loops of the 50-mile course, that would be exponentially more difficult. I even did the Glo Run 6 days later, with the entire fam. Our first 5K together! It was awesome.
So the other question that comes up. How does it compare to Superior? Is it harder? Well, it’s difficult for me to compare the two. I’ve done Superior 50 mile and Superior 100. Squamish 50/50 is a different beast altogether, spread out over 2 days. So the best I can do is compare the 50 mile races. Step for step, the trail itself of Superior, which is the SHT, is way harder. There are some very tough, technical descents at Squamish, no doubt, that are especially difficult for shorter folks. But there’s also a ton of runnable trail and parts that are just gravel road, crushed rock, and a bit of paved road. The tough sections of the trails at Squamish are on mountain bike trail, but that also means they are plenty wide with little to no overhead obstacles. Superior 50-mile is 99.5% SHT. Which means foot travel only, single-track and 18-inches wide, with non-stop hazards at your feet, and almost guaranteed to be very muddy. There are hazards buried in the mud that you can’t see. You literally cannot take your eyes off the trail for even a second, or you’ll end up on your face. At the same time, if you happen to be tall, you can have fun ducking under large and small tree branches that hang over the trail. Last fall at the 100, I spent half of the Crosby-Manintou section hunched over. That sucked just as much as the time I stepped off the plank into a knee deep mud hole. By contrast, the Pacific NW and Vancouver region in the summer is usually very dry, so dry this year that Canada had record numbers of wildfires. In fact, we all got an email a couple weeks before the race stating that the air quality due to smoke was poor, around 7 to 8 on the air quality index. If it reached 9, they would have to cancel the race. Fortunately things changed and some cooler weather came in. By race day, the index was down to a 0. But the trail was very dry and dusty. This presents its own challenges, especially down those steep technical descents. The loose dirt can be very slippery. My shoes for the 50-mile had awesome grip. I could seriously turn on a dime, even on the loose surfaces. On Sunday, the shoes I wore had good grip for rocks, average grip for the dusty trail, and I struggled more, and fell once. You definitely want good trail shoes for Squamish. Road shoes would be a nightmare, but they’d be a nightmare for Superior as well. I like to wear shoes that have enough of an outsole and midsole that you can just step right on top of any rock or root and not really feel it, rather than trying to dodge every single one. You can probably do a good amount of dodging at Squamish, but there’s no way you can do that at Superior. All those mangly messes of roots, often intertwined with rocks. It’s just not possible. So, I guess what I’m saying is that the trail itself at Superior is harder and will slow you down a lot. But the long arduous sustained climbs followed by steep, technical descents at Squamish will also slow you down and beat you up. Superior 50 mile is actually 52 miles and has a tighter cutoff. My finish time for Superior 50-mile was a little faster than my finish time for Squamish 50-mile, but I wasn’t going nearly as hard at Squamish as I was at Superior, since I had to get up the next morning and do another 31 miles. So, who knows really? It’s hard to say. I think peeps from the Pac NW US or Vancouver area that have done Squamish should come to Superior and experience the different challenges for themselves. Superior 50-mile and Squamish 50-mile have close to the same elevation gain and loss on paper. It’s just accumulated differently. Superior is non-stop little ups and downs that pile up. Squamish has a bit of that, but it mostly comes in very large doses, as is the case with many mountain races. Although, the first 6-7 miles and last mile are totally flat. So you’re getting all of the elevation change condensed into about 42 miles, and that does make a big difference. I do think that in reality, Squamish has more elevation gain and loss than Superior. In the end it’s impossible to say which is harder, really. In terms of how technical the trail is though, despite Squamish’s super challenging sections, Superior wins, hands down. One thing is for certain, both races are EPIC. You should do them both.
50-mile elevation gain: 11,000 ft
50-mile elevation loss: 11,000 ft
50K elevation gain: 8,500 ft
50K elevation loss: 9,000 ft
Official Time: 24:34:53 (13:59 for the 50-mile, 10:35 for the 50K)
PRP: 3 / 1
MRP: 0 / 0
MRP Attempts: 0 / 0
MRU: 3 / 3
Shoe Changes: 0 / 0
Sock Changes: 0 / 0
Shoes: Hoka One One Speedgoat 2 (awesome shoes with great grip) / Altra Olympus 2.0 (the “just get it done” shoe)
Socks: Wright / DryMax Speedgoat
Shirts: DSP safety green running tee / DSP gray tank with custom ventilation
Shorts: The North Face Better than Naked / Underarmour
Hats: 361 cap / Las Vegas $6 tourist shop trucker hat
Hydration vest: Salomon Advanced Skin 5L with 2 Salomon “speed” soft flasks / added Nathan hand-held the second day (should have had it the first day too)
Watch: Suunto Ambit3 Peak
Headlamp: Petzl Tikka+ (not used, but required to start the 50-mile)
Sunglasses: Cheap “Ironman” sunglasses that look really stupid when resting on my hat
SageRunning Mountain-Ultra 16-week plan (condensed into the last 8 weeks). I love these training plans. The workouts are hard, but they are worth it! Sage, Sandi, and Ray are an amazing team and do great work.
Cliff shot bloks: strawberry, mountain berry, black cherry, and orange
Honey Stinger cherry cola chews
Gatorade chews: red and blue
Saltstick caps (1 to 2 every hour)
Thanks to Madeline Harms and Adam Gears for representing Defeat the Stigma over the weekend and congrats on your races!
Special thanks to my entire family for supporting me and letting me do this crazy shit.
This race is dedicated to my beloved pug of 15 years, Leia. RIP.