Now that you’ve read all about the lead-up to the big race, it’s time to get into the actual race reporting, isn’t it? First off, let’s clear up the title of this post. As many of you are aware, a month before this trip, I also found myself out west for another race, the aptly-named Sinister 7, which of course you can read all about. Unfortunately, at that race, I ended up with a DNF, but one that I had to wear as a badge of honour in my journey as an ultra runner. The conditions and my own mental shortcomings were to blame. As a result, I was looking for a little redemption, and the Squamish 50/50 was just the ticket. If you are not aware, the Squamish 50/50 sees racers tackle a tough 50 mile course in the mountains around Squamish on a Saturday, then the next morning, you have to toe the line once again to race in the 50 km course, whcih is essentially the 50 TOUGHEST km of the 50 miler. For you efforts, if you succeed, you get a truckers hat. Nothing more, nothing less (unless you count getting a hug from the legendary Gary Robbins, which incidentally, I did).
On the day before the 50 miler, it was all about getting ready mentally and dealing with some last minute logistics. This included race registration, packing drop bags, sorting race clothes and food, amongst a myriad of other little things. Since I’d be producing videos on both days, I also wanted to get some footage in the area, and interview the race director. I also convinced Deanna that it would be a good idea to do a little course scoping to give us a sense of the terrain. To those ends, we checked out a couple of the climbs, the terrain, and the course markings. For Deanna, it really started to hit home what she’d be taking on the next day. So far, I liked what I saw, with excellent course markings and mountain bike trails. I’d be getting very familiar with this terrain over the next two days.
Day 1 – The 50 Miler – 80.3km, 3,400m Climbing
Race morning came all too early, with the alarm clocks shrieking at 4am for us to get up. We were staying at Quest University, in a dorm room in single beds. Ironically, this was also the site of one of the aid stations, but we had to make our way to the start line for briefings and to gradually make our way back here, which was well over the halfway point of the 50 miler. The 50 Miler is broken into 8 distinct legs, with the first 1.5 being pretty innocuous, and much of the climbing packed into the latter part of the course. As such, pacing at the beginning is key, and not getting lulled into a false sense of ‘this is easy’ given the flat terrain. Overall, racers have 17 hours to complete this course, so that tells you how the back end feels.
To those ends, after an animated race briefing by Gary Robbins at the start line (and a Coffee with Bailey’s for Deanna!), we got underway at about 5:45am. We had headlamps on (mandatory), but the sun was already making itself known, so the lights were mostly unnecessary. The first 10km was frankly boring, with roads and gravel roads, all pretty much flat and wide. This is on purpose, as we wind through the town of Squamish, warming up for the challenge ahead. With the sun rising, you also got to see the sun illuminate the mountains around us.
In no time, we were in to Aid Station 1, where there were already decent crowds despite the early hour. I ditched my headlamp here with a volunteer, but other than that, just kept running. I was looking forward to Leg 2 featuring the first big climb, Debeck Hill. It didn’t disappoint. We plunged into well-maintained mountain bike trails with lots of flow and gradually made our way up and up, before a great screaming descent into Aid Station 2 at Alice Lake. Here, I took the time to top off fluids and grab a few baby potatoes and chips. Everything was working well, and I felt good. My foot was bothering me a bit, but nothing I couldn’t manage.
Leg 3 was a solid roller of a stage, which featured more climbs, and absolutely trails through forests that were just starting to have the sunlight filter through branches, making it easy to lose yourself in thoughts of the beauty and special journey we were on. I had opportunity to chat with different people, some local, some from away, some first-timers, some veterans. All of us sharing in the community that we call ultra running, and chasing our own goals. Unless you are truly at the head of the race, it is rarely about ‘winning’, but the journey, and I was happy to be lost in the journey today.
The 3rd Aid station is one we actually visited twice. Between visits, we were taken on a trail called ‘Innards’ which is apparently one of Gary’s favourite trails. Here we were treated to a fair number of wooden features built for mountain bikers. It doesn’t take long before you realize that most of these trails were purpose-built for riders. The local MTB association, SORCA, has put a TON of work into making and maintain these trails, and we got to benefit from this. Years back, I actually raced on some of these trails on my own bike, when I took part in the BC Bike Race, but that all seemed a lifetime away as I picked my feet along these routes that look completely different when you are running them.
Ahhh Leg 5. One of the real gems of the course, and the location of the biggest climb of the entire race, a lovely little trail noted as ‘Galactic’ on the sign, but much better known by the full name of Galactic Scheisse. From a relatively low altitude of 300m, on this climb we reached our highest point of 1350m. It was slow going, and most of it was actually under the cover of trees, so we didn’t have a ton of views to marvel over. Even worse, in my opinion, is that at the top, you don’t even end up anywhere with a view, so it sort of felt like we had climbed in vain. My whole purpose for climbing is the views normally. My consolation prize would have to be the crazy descent!
After cresting this large climb, it was time to head down some great MTB trails and into the next aid station, which was supposed to just be a water/coke/gel kind of aid station, but much to my surprise, they’d managed to get some ‘real’ food out there for us, so I enjoyed a few more baby potatoes and some chips. This aid station was really just meant to be a little pick-me-up before the main even, the next aid station, which was a biggie. Quest University, only 5km downhill from us, over the halfway point, and location of our 2nd drop bags, and also where a lot of friends and family would gather for racers. Of course, for me, it was a ‘lonely’ stop, since of course my important ‘crew’ was racing as well! However, on the upside, when I arrived, I was treated to some tasty freezies being handed out by local kids. Delicious, and a great treat on this warm dry day.
Obviously, the goal is not to linger too long at these aid stations, so after replenishing some food in my pack, and re-filling my hydration, it was off to the races! Although we’d now been going downhill for a while now, that was all about to change on Leg 7, as soon after Quest, we turned skyward, and entered another long sustained climb. This one threw me for a loop, as at one point earlyish in the climb, we criss-crossed some wooden structures where runners were speeding downhill, so I thought we were near the top already. I was very wrong. This was a long way from the top, and there was a lot of climbing to do. Luckily, we were lucky to again be on some great singletrack trail as we made our way up. Plenty of ‘gentle’ switchbacks that were built for cyclists, and therefore not too steep. I was definitely looking froward to the top though.
We finally reached a flat trail that went straight for a bit. In the distance, I could see flagging tape, signs, and arrows, along with a volunteer. Instinct told me the downhill roller coaster was imminent, and I was right. I’d say this was one of my top two favourite descents of the day. Fast and furious, and going up and over a bunch of neat built-up features. This descent finished faster than I thought it would, popping me out on a forest service road, and straight into the second final aid station. I still felt good, and was cheered on as I quickly filled a bottle, grabbed a little bit of food, including some tasty watermelon. I wasted no time in getting onto Leg 8, which featured more fun downhill and winding forest trails. At this point, things were all a bit of a blur, as it was just one great MTB trail after another in succession, with more fun bridges and features.
Although I was getting a bit tired, I was still very much on track for my planned finish of 12 hours, and was buoyed by the fact that the final aid station lay just ahead of me. I had heard rumours of this aid station being fashioned after a Tiki bar, with the pre-requisite alcohol being on offer. Crossing the gorgeous Mamquam gorge, and making my way along a forest road, I finally saw the Tiki mirage not far ahead, with volunteers in grass skirts and leis directing me in. As I entered, I called out ‘I hear I can summon the Kraken here’, to which I was guided to one of the far tables, at which point the kind folks pulled out a full bottle of Kraken dark rum. I had a nice big warm shot of the liquid fuel, chased it with a swig of Coke, grabbed more potatoes, and trotted out, knowing I was on the final 11km leg of the race!
However, Leg 9 is no walk in the park. After a full day of climbing and descending, we still faced two climbs on the final leg. While they weren’t super long or anything, it is their placement that makes them a challenge. Luckily, being rum-powered, I found an extra gear on the machine, and I dare say I flew along that leg, passing quite a few people, even though I knew I had another day of racing ahead of me, I wanted to push this leg and finish strong, for me more than anything. I sang and skipped along as I picked my way through yet more great trails. As opposed to Sinister 7, this time I had made a point to have the entire course profile printed and handy so that I knew EXACTLY when I’d be climbing, and where I could let loose and fly. As a result, I knew when I’d be up and over the ‘Mountain of Phlegm’, which was the final climb of the day. Of course, there was also a great volunteer at the top to confirm this with me!
I knew the rest of the run in was downhill to the town area, then onto paved path and road to the finish for a few kilometers. The only thing that the profile didn’t tell me about were the stairs on the final descent! Luckily, I was happy to bounce down them 2 at a time, flying past rock climbers plying their trade on the granite to my right. Soon enough, I popped out at a parking lot, greeted by the ‘2.5km to go’ sign. I was fading a bit, but knew it was a straight push to the finish in the warm glow of the sun. I checked timing and knew I should make it, but I suddenly realized it would be tight, and I’d have to push hard. So I dug in, and did exactly that, covering the last chunk faster than I’d covered anything else in a while. Cheering crowds and Gary Robbins welcomed me over the line at just under the 12 hour mark. Grabbed some footage and my medal, and called it a day!
However, it wasn’t the end of my day, as now the waiting would begin. In a bit of role reversal, now I was the one at the finish nervously awaiting news of how Deanna might be doing and see her cross the line. Ideally, I would have been eating a nice meal and resting and preparing for my 50k race the next day, but instead, I settled for a hasty shower, a hot dog, and sitting in the grass, camera in hand, waiting patiently. Unfortunately, there was no on-course timing or tracking, so there was NO news. The only thing I could confirm after a few hours’ wait was that she was NOT one of the people that had quit the course. This was music to my ears, as I just knew that if she was still going after 15 hours, she WOULD be finishing. So I waited. And then, at around 15 hours and 44 minutes, I saw some bobbing headlamps in the distance making their way to the finish line. It was Deanna! She came in strong, with a big smile (in large part no doubt relieved to be done). Happy to get a big from Gary, she had done it!
Although I felt a bit bad about rushing her a bit, I was a bit anxious to get back to our room so I could do some prep for my looming 50k the next day. We hung around long enough for her to chat a bit with some new friends she’d made on the trail, as well as chatting with the race director. She also grabbed a hot dog, and we headed for the car. On the way back, we made a slight detour to McDonalds so I could grab an uber-healthy McChicken and fries as a bit of sustenance.
Day 1 Video Re-Cap
Day 2 – 52.1km , 2,425m Climbing
So, what can I actually say about the 2nd day that wasn’t already covered in the first day? As it turns out, not a whole lot, since every kilometer that I’d be racing on this day was a repeat of the first day, apart from the first few hundred meters at the start of the day. For this race, we were starting at Alice Lake, which had served as the second aid station the previous day. Start time was set for 6am, so headlamps would not be needed. However, it would have been useful prior to the start, as i found myself stumbling in the dark around the park trying to find a washroom. Eventually, I got that sorted out, and made my way to the start area about 10 minutes before the fun was going to get underway.
No doubt you are wondering: how was I feeling? How did I convince myself to get to that start line? Well, as far as the first question goes, I felt tired. I was a bit stiff and sore. But as to the second question? I got myself there because this is what I signed up for. Why wouldn’t I go there? Luckily, in my years of experience in racing a wide range of events, I have found myself in this position before, convincing my body that it does actually want to race AGAIN. The thing to note here is that your body can cope with these stresses. It is more often the mind that can’t cope, which is what causes folks to decide they wno’t get out of bed and tackle day 2. These are the same little niggling thoughts that hold people back from getting out and training in the rain, or when they don’t feel like it. You just have to get over YOU, and get there. I guess that’s what they call motivation. Find your motivation and get out there!
The fact is, 100% of the people that don’t start Day 2 don’t finish and get their hat! Of those that actually do start the second day, over 80% of them will succeed! Moreover, a lot of people actually feel better on the second day after they’ve gotten past the first leg or so. I think the reason is that on the 2nd day, you are much less likely to be pushing for a win or your best possible time. The focus is more on efficiency, running well, and enjoying the day. And with that can come surprises on performance. Take the pressure off, and magical things can happen out there.
True to those words, I launched into the first leg by sticking myself literally at the back of the entire field, and starting at a power walk, gradually moving to a run-shuffle, before finally moving back into more of a true run after the first couple kilometers. Just in time for the first climb of the day out of Alice Lake. At this point, my body was completely in sync with the task at hand, and I headed up that climb with as much power as the day before, passing people on my way, and singing aloud and encouraging all my other 50/50 colleagues (we were sort of clumped together early in the race due to the slower start for us).
The rest of the day for me went well, and I did feel progressively stronger as stages ticked by. I’m not saying Galactic was any easier on day 2, but I knew exactly what the terrain held for me, so mentally, I was prepared for each of the challenges. This played out best on the long climb after Quest as well, knowing exactly how long we’d be climbing. Another high point was the fact that I knew I’d see Deanna somewhere along the race course this day. Turned out that was Quest University, where she snapped pictures of me while I scaled the stairs to my drop bag to replenish food and fluids. Although I never spend much time chatting, and am pretty focused on the race, it is still a huge boost when I see her, even if she can’t tell from me ‘race mode’ face.
Once again on day 2, I summoned the Kraken at the final aid station, opting to swig directly from the bottle this time, at their insistence. Once again, I got that warm feeling my chest, and felt more weightless heading into the final stage. And yes, I truly flew through this section once again, passing a ton of people (many of whom were obviously only 1 day racers!). Looking at my timing, I again got paranoid about my timing, but couldn’t remember exactly how long it had taken me the day before. As a result, I kept pushing very hard to the finish. My goal had been 8 hours on day 2, and I’m happy to report I crossed at 7h 44 minutes! This finish secured me my 50/50 Finisher’s Hat, and more importantly, I had gotten my redemption for last month’s Sinister 7 DNF. I’m very happy with my combined time, which netted me 24th overall, and 5th in my category. Nothing to sneeze at after a tough year of training, racing, and nagging injuries.
Whew! Racing out of the way, it was time to wrap up our Western vacation. We had one final day, as we were flying out on a red eye the following day. This gave us time the next day to try out another local’s spot for a delicious brunch. If you are in Squamish, we highly recommend Fergie’s Cafe. From there, we had time to kill, so we hit the highway and made our way up to Whistler to do a bit of light (read: flat) hiking in the area, as well as hitting a couple breweries and a coffee shop for good measure. From there, it was just a drive to the airport, with another short stop in Squamish at Howe Sound Brewing where the post-race party was getting underway. I was very glad we stopped there though, as it gave me some great 1 on 1 time with Gary to talk adventure racing, ultra running, and the Barkley Marathons. Yes, wheels are churning in my head, but I’m not ready or worthy quite yet.
Alrighty, this mega blog post has got to come to a close, doesn’t it? Thanks for sticking with me on this journey, and stay tuned for my next race, which is the Midnight Moose Ultra. Ultimately, due to the S7 DNF, this will end up being my longest race of the season at 103km (most of which will be in darkness). Till then, make sure you check out my Day 2 video below, and get out there and FIND YOUR MOTIVATION!