The Squamish 50 kicked my butt.
And I only ran the 23k course.
I have mad respect for those who ran the 50k and 50 mile courses this weekend. I bow down to those who tackled the 50/50 (50 miles on Saturday, 50k on Sunday).
The Squamish 50 23k was my big race of the summer – the Loop the Lakes 21k and Comfortably Numb races earlier this summer were part of the build up to this run, which would be the longest and highest (1000m ascent, 1200m descent).
I think my summer fitness peaked around June. With vacations, camping, hiking, and out-of-town weddings, this summer has been fun but busy. I’ve been trail running consistently, but in a somewhat haphazard manner. Calling it training would be a bit of a stretch.
Boy, did I feel the effects of my non-training in today’s race.
225 runners and I took off at 8AM from the start line at Quest University. The first couple of kilometers were part of the Legacy trail that I’ve been running semi-regularly this summer – this was the only part of the course that I was familiar with. I seeded myself towards the middle-back, which seemed about right. Most of the runners in my zone did the same run-walk thing I like to do up the switchbacks around this part of the race.
I felt pretty good by the time I hit the first aid station 4k into the race. I brought my own food and drink, so I didn’t need to stop. I knew there was another uphill section after the aid station, and that was a bit of slog, but nothing I couldn’t handle.
Although I hadn’t run these trails before, they were similar to those I was used to running. The uphills were pretty steep and I walked all of them, but I cruised on the flats and the downhills, enjoying the technical bits when they showed up. When I hit the “11k to go!” sign, I was feeling pretty good – though I was definitely pacing myself. I wasn’t setting any course records here.
The group was pretty well spaced out. I passed some people, but others passed me. It didn’t feel overcrowded and I didn’t feel like I was hot on anyone’s heels (nor was anyone stepping on mine). Things were going fine.
I passed the second and final aid station shortly after the “11k to go!” sign – and this is where things went wrong. I hit a downhill section, which was wonderful. I booked it down the long, glorious hill and ended up at a bridge with a bunch of kayakers. I looked to see if there were signs indicating that I should cross the bridge – but I couldn’t see any signage or flagging tape. Come to think of it, I hadn’t seen any markers in a little bit.
This is the point where the kayakers informed me I’d taken a wrong turn – and that the course continued ALL THE WAY UP THE HILL I’D JUST RUN.
This was, in a word, heartbreaking. I turned around and started power hiking back, and then I saw another girl barrelling down the hill. I informed her that we’d come off course. On our way back up, we came across another 9 runners who had done the same thing. It was brutal heading back on the long, steep hill. I knew we still had a lot of uphill sections and I was so annoyed at having to use my energy on this one. I didn’t understand how it had happened.
When I finally got back up to the top, I understood. The signs clearly pointed us to the left – they’d put two pylons on the right, which was down the hill I’d taken. My brain had seen the pylons and assumed I was meant to run between them. If I’d looked up, I would have seen that the tape and markers continued down the left.
This mistake cost me energy, but the worst part was that it really rattled my mental game. The detour had taken me about 15 minutes, which is pretty significant. I tried to get myself back on track, but I couldn’t help think about all the people who had passed ahead of me during that time. Ughhh.
I had lots of time to think about it, because the next stretch continued uphill. I kind of felt like I wasn’t “racing” anymore, so I occupied myself with trying to find trash on the trail. The Squamish 50 has a cool initiative where if you pick up garbage along the way, you can redeem it for a pair of new running socks at the end. This kept my mind busy for awhile.
Eventually, I felt like I’d found my stride again. There was a long downhill section that went on for awhile and felt pretty fun.
Then came the uphill.
There is a horrible, awful, dreadful uphill portion that starts around kilometer 16 and lasts about 2.5k. It basically sucked the soul out of me. I was in a pack of five or six girls, who became my heroes/guardian angels/soul sisters. We slogged through the seemingly endless uphill sections together. Seriously – it felt like it went on FOREVER. And it was very steep. Any energy that remained in my legs was zapped. I for sure said “I’m dying” out loud at some point.
One of the girls said, “Hopefully this will motivate you – we only have 6k to go!”
In fact, it did not motivate me at all. I had NO IDEA how I could possibly squeeze 6k out of my useless lower half.
What goes up must come down and blah blah blah – but while downhills seemed fun earlier on in the race, now they were just awful. I felt two big blisters forming on my big toes, and I did not trust my legs whatsoever. I had to dig really deep here to try to keep my mind sharp and to make sure my legs were listening to what my brain was saying. It wasn’t horribly technical, but as I learned earlier this season, it only takes one misstep to cause a nasty injury.
I hobbled down the trail – and “hobbled” is the perfect word to describe what I was doing. I recognized the voice of someone I knew and chatted with her for a bit. Eventually, we emerged into the road part of the race. A sign indicated we had 3k to go. I thought, “3k – I can do that. I hope.”
I felt borderline delirious for that last little bit. I ran the downhills okay, but the flats now seemed very difficult. I tried to dissociate from my body (or was it my mind?) and made it through the park. When I hit the underpass, there was a slightly uphill bit that broke my running spell. I now began a run-walk routine: run two lampposts, then walk one. Run two pylons, then walk one.
It’s funny – last year I was a course marshal towards the finish line of this very race. I remember seeing people walking and thinking, “You’re almost there! Pick up the pace – you’re almost at the finish line!” Oh, if I knew then what I know now!
I have to admit that the course marshals towards the end did give me a little extra pep to my step (and by that, I mean I’d run three pylons, walk one). As I got close to the park where the finish line is located, the enthusiastic cheerers gave me the boost I needed to make it to the finish line.
I did it!
My time was 3:37:11. To be honest, I don’t really care about the time. I stopped caring when I made that detour. I figured, hey – my time won’t be great, but at least I’ll be able to beat it next year. I placed 163/226, 53/68 in my division (… not so good…), and 99/141 for the ladies. So that puts me around the 25th percentile. Olympics, here I come!
The finish line was awesome – after I recovered, I partook in the BBQ and enjoyed an Alice & Brohm ice cream (I volunteered at package pick up on Friday and each volunteer was given a free ice cream token). I ran into two separate girlfriends – who happened to come 13th and 14th out of the women and finished nearly an hour faster than me. They are amazing (and unfortunately in my age group – ha ha).
This race was definitely type 2 fun. I very much hated the second half of it. But I’m already excited to run it again next year. However, it made me realize that there is NO WAY I’m remotely ready to run a 50k race. Especially not this one.
See you next year, you fickle and wonderful beast of race.