Photo by Robert Shaer
With my longest training run being 30km, and having logged only 174km of total running for the entire MONTH of July, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t just a wee bit nervous about my second ever ultra race; the Squamish50 (I did the 50km course). Aside from just generally being lazy post-Vancouver Marathon, I pulled my groin bad playing soccer and was completely sidelined for two weeks.
With only two weeks before the race, I did a few short, easy runs on the pavement, and then went all-in on a 30km loop of Hanes Valley to see if my groin would be able to do the race. It was precarious at times, and I still had pain, but luckily I did the whole run without re-tearing the muscle. (Read my friend Jeff’s Hanes Valley recap from our run here). Phew!
The next weekend I was camping with my son for August long weekend, so no runs there, and then on Tuesday of race week I thought I’d just bang out a 30 to 40km run after work. I ran 12km of pavement to my house, threw on the trail shoes, and carried onto Burnaby Mountain. It was hot, and I was exhausted by 20km into the run. By 28km I pulled the plug, completely drained. Uh oh. How am I going to run 50km of Squamish singletrack in 5 days?!
With Meet Your Maker 50miler looming at the start of September, I had resigned to showing up at Squamish and just suffering through it, with the only goal being getting across that finish line and it being one hell of a training run. I knew it was going to be a hard, long, paaaaiinnfull day, and I was really looking forward to it.
I camped at Alice Lake (same location as the start line), and with a 9am start time I got to sleep in until the luxurious hour of 8am! How sweet is that? I walked from my tent to the start line around 8:30 to catch up with some friends before the gun, and then before I knew it we were off and running. There was a nice cloud cover early which I was thankful for, since the forecast was calling for 30+ degree weather in the afternoon.
The first hour was nice and enjoyable, aside from my apparent need to smash my knee into a log. I was having a great time running on new Squamish terrain, and overall felt great except for some stomach pain that would come and go. I was keeping a slowish pace, knowing I was under-trained, and – from having run RD’s Gary and Geoff’s Coast Mountain Running Series races – knowing that they like to set up tough, merciless courses with plenty of elevation change.
I came to the first aid station and ran through, exchanging a quick high-five with Chris Price who was volunteering. Here, I caught a wave of 50milers, but I didn’t do any research/ planning prior to the race so I wasn’t sure where I should be relative to the runners of the 50mile course given their 5:30am start. After the first aid station comes the largest section of climbing for the course, going from about 400m elevation up to 1000m. I ran what I could, but mostly power-hiked, trying to keep the pace as brisk as I could without falling back into a pace that felt more ‘comfortable’. I passed Chloe who was running the 50miler. She had taken a hard bail early, hitting her face on a rock. She already had bruising around her eye, a cut-up knee, and scuff marks down the back of her shoulder. Chloe, being the hardcore runner she is, stuck it out and would finish the race. Just one more example of the awesome and inspirational people you get to meet running ultras.
The ensuing downhill section after the big climb was probably my favorite part of the day. Such fun, runnable downhill singletrack – what more can you want?
I filled my hydration pack at the second aid station and crammed some food into my mouth (including 5 cent candy frogs!). Continuing downhill, I caught up to and met Dave Papineau and pushed my pace probably faster than I should have going down, but I couldn’t help myself. The course came out onto a logging road before quickly ducking back into singletrack… the problem being that I missed the part where the trail started again off the logging road. I was daydreaming and blindly following a runner just ahead of me and missed the junction. I carried on running along the logging road and I definitely had the thought things didn’t look right. When I heard some distant yelling behind me (I later found out it was Dave nicely trying to get my attention, having just caught a glimpse of me going over a ridge out of his sight), I should have stopped and turned around. Instead, I kept pushing on for some reason until the logging road came to a junction, with almost no flagging except for a string of blue tape (the race flagging was orange). I waited at the junction for the other runner I had passed and we decided this was clearly the wrong way. I ran back to find the the course again, and couldn’t believe how I could miss such a clearly flagged and marked trail. It wasn’t the 10 minutes of lost time that bugged me, it was the extra distance I had just put on my legs knowing I wasn’t going to have any extra energy to spare. Live and learn – pay attention, dumbass. I spent the next 30 minutes reeling back in the runners I had already passed, but Dave was gone for good.
I made it to Quest (roughly half way) in about 3 hours feeling pretty good. I swapped out my shoes – my beloved Pearl Izumi Peaks, which had almost 1000km on them, were completely falling apart and I had no traction on the loose dirt of the steeper sections of trail. The volunteers here (and all the stations for that matter) were amazingly helpful, and took my hydration pack to refill it. I slammed a bottle coconut water and was off. Jeff saw me leaving Quest and snapped this photo of me, apparently feeling like a rock star.
I carried on, and as the miles ticked up, and the day began getting hotter, I started to feel my energy waning. It seemed to take forever to reach the 4th aid station, and my pace was slowing down considerably. I drank my full 1.5L of water before reaching station 4, as the heat was really starting to get to me. I had been drinking what felt like a ton of liquid, but hadn’t had the need to go to the bathroom at all since the race started. I felt dehydrated, which I think was from a lack of any real training in hot weather. At the 4th aid station I re-filled on water and was told it was 8km to the final station, and 18km to the finish line. I ate some food and trudged on, getting to the point of hating life.
The 8km it took to reach the final aid station took an eternity. There were some stretches in the wide-open, completely exposing me to the sun’s painful rays. At aid station 5, I refilled again on water, and wanted so badly to be done. 10km in itself is not far, but I was completely out of energy. My gut wasn’t able to take any more Gu’s, and I don’t think I had consumed much of anything besides water for quite some time. At this point, I had very much the same thoughts as when I ran Knee Knacker in 2012. Why am I doing this. This is dumb. You’re not cut out for ultras. Stick to the 20km runs, much more civilized. This isn’t even fun. Why do you do this if its not fun? What the hell were you thinking? Can you just dnf? Maybe you can find a ride to the finish line somehow? Or just walk out. Why does this hurt so much? I could be at home, hanging out, instead I’m doing THIS?! Just make it stop, seriously where is the finish line? I must be getting closer… what, I only covered 400 meters?! Damnit, Karl – no more ultras, what a dumb sport.
Honestly, as stupid as it sounds, the only thing that kept me running at this point was the fear of getting passed by a 50km runner. I know I’m never going to compete for a podium spot at a race like SQ50, but the thought of dropping even one position in the final 10k made me angry. I didn’t know what position I was in, or have any placing goals to begin with, so it was totally illogical. But that’s the only thing that prevented me from just walking the final 10km. I do these races to challenge myself, to see what my body can do, and to improve year over year – but I guess at the end of the day I still have a competitive drive to stack myself against the other runners. I can’t help it. I don’t know why. What difference does it make to me if I finish 19th or 30th, or 100th, if my only goal is to finish? I guess I felt, whatever position I was in, I had worked hard to be there. So if anyone was going to pass me, they were going to have to earn it too.
So when I saw another runner I had passed a few hours earlier catching me on some switchbacks, it gave me a needed boost to push the pace as much as I could bear (which wasn’t much faster than snail-pace. And not that snail from the movie Turbo. I guess his name’s Turbo. I was more like a grandpa snail named Slowpoke). In the final few kms, on the push up Mountain of Phlegm, I caught up to Graham Perkins, and chatting with him was a nice distraction. Fat Dog eh? Ok, at least I’m doing anything THAT dumb! At the top of Mtn of Phlegm, I saw Rob Shaer doing his thing, taking great photos . It was nice to see another familiar face. I think I stopped to chat with him for 30 seconds or so, but I have no recollection of what I said to him. Graham Perkins left me in his dust and I carried on downhill towards the finish line.
The final 2km-ish are flat. On a road. Like pancake flat. My pace must have been around 7 minute kilometers, and I was struggling to keep that going. I even had to walk for a few seconds several times. On flat road. Pancake flat road. I was walking. WHAT THE HELL!
My watch died with a little over 1km to go, with a final reading of 49.9km (since I had tacked on some extra mileage for kicks).
At the finish line I just hobbled to a spot in the shade and plopped down. Warren, Dianna and Rob were congratulating me and I couldn’t even talk to them although I really wanted to. Rob and Dianna were kindly bringing me Heed and water and I was putting down what I could. I felt like death. I thought I was going to puke. Or pass-out. Our puke and then pass-out. Or pass-out and then puke while I was passed out. I’ve never felt so terrible after any race, ever. Luckily after about 30 minutes and a shower I regained my wits. I went to a food-cart down the street to get some grub, and while I was waiting for my order I got dizzy and had to sit down on the side-walk. I was resting against a garbage can, with my head between my legs, feeling like I was going to puke. Or pass-out. Or puke and then pass-out.
Luckily, after I got some grub in my stomach I bounced back and felt great (aside from the expected muscle pains and cramping) and I had a blast hanging out at the finish line with everyone, cheering on friends and trading war-stories. It really was something watching the runners come in and seeing all the hugs, tears and cursing that are exchanged in that final raw moment of a race like Squamish50.
So, in describing my race, I realize it might sound pretty terrible. And a lot of it was. But I can’t wait for this:
I hope they offer a buy-two-get-one-free option.
Congrats to all my trail-running buds who ran, it was a hell of day being in Squamish with you – and thanks for the inspiration and support. And thanks to the RD’s and all the volunteers for putting on a first-rate event!