If you’ve been following me on social media, you’d know I was training for my first ultramarathon, the Squamish 50. This race is an ultra runner’s paradise (or worst nightmare). Along the course, runners are met with seemingly endless technical singletrack trails and over 2,000 meters of elevation gain. Just when you think you’re done going uphill, there’s another hill waiting to greet you. It’s a tough choice for a first ultra.
Coming into this race, I felt confident enough to complete it. However, I was extremely nervous as I didn’t know how my body would react to race day jitters and the gruelling terrain. After much calculations, the goal of coming in between 10 and 11 hours seemed feasible if I had a good day. That’s a big if.
My trail family and hundreds of others converged at Alice Lake to toe the line on August 18th, 2019. I will never forget that day.
PR’s at the Squamish 50? What?
The Squamish 50 had a new start line this year which was by the highway. It took about a mile (uphill of course) to get to the actual trail. I felt energized and ran this whole chunk. Actually, I ran most of the way until the first climb at Made in the Shade, which I also felt strong climbing. Heading into Corners aid station, I felt like I was flying, until I was stopped by my bladder. I stood in line for at least 5 minutes to use the porta-potty. I’m glad I did though. After some words of encouragement from 2019 Squamish 50 mile women’s champion Jeanelle Hazlett at the aid station, off I went to tackle the biggest climb of the day, Galactic Scheisse.
This was only my second crack at Galactic and I seemed to do pretty well. I felt like I slowed down the further I went. I wondered if I went too hard right off the bat. The fatigue made me trip several times, the person behind me probably thought I was gonna slide backwards into them. Either way, I kept pushing until I hit the section that I had a lot of anxiety about: Upper Powersmart. This descent is tough and kind of scary for me so I took it easy, as did other people. There were lots of steep drop-offs and slippery rocks, enough to raise my heart rate a little. Luckily, I survived this section unscathed.
Surprisingly, Strava shows that I PR’d a bunch of segments on this first half. I couldn’t believe it but I guess I’ll chalk it up to race day excitement.
The course seems long…
Heading down to the second aid station took a lot longer than I thought. It’s supposed to be at the 18 km mark and it ended up being around the 21 km mark. I was still descending alright but I was starting to get a little discouraged since I didn’t know if my GPS was wrong or this in fact was the correct distance. Nevertheless, I kept going. I finally got to Word of Mouth and made my way to Quest. Surprise, surprise, there was a short, steep hill to climb that I didn’t expect. What made the climb worth it was seeing friends cheering me along. Thanks to Jennie, Didi, Catherine and Sheena (who also brought bacon!) for all the cheers and support. I definitely needed it knowing I had an 8 km climb up ahead. At this point, I was 45 minutes ahead of cutoff.
On a normal day, the Climb trail is actually quite nice. It’s not steep but it’s long, with a lot of switchbacks. Race day was not a normal day. 25 km in and I was already fatigued so I knew this section was going to be a tough one. I figured, as long as I kept moving, that’s what’s going to save me.
The sun came out and it got hot as I climbed. I’d only climbed this trail on cloudy days so I was not expecting all the sun exposure. I was leapfrogging with a bunch of runners along this section, including a man who kept dry heaving on the side of the trail. Hopefully, he made it through.
I hit the Angry M descent, which I had done at Survival of the Fittest a few months ago in the rain and mud. This time the trail was dry and dusty. Knowing cutoffs were a concern, I scrambled down as fast as I could. There’s an overpass boardwalk that I normally bypass on the side however it was blocked off. Another woman was at the top unsure of how to get down. I felt for her as I had similar concerns. I told her she just had to go slow and off I went. Sorry I left you but time was of the essence.
I bombed down the easier bottom half of Angry M and ran to the Garibaldi aid station where my friend Mel was. She told me I was an hour ahead. I don’t know how I made time but when I looked on Strava I was surprised to see a PR on Angry M as well. After a short chat, bottle refill, and some miso soup, off I went to more familiar territory… or so I thought.
Having done the Squamish 50 23k race last year, I remember describing this next section as “quite fun and not too tough.” Sure… on fresh legs. On fatigued legs, it was a whole other story. This was a descent section yet the climbing seemed to not end. When I hit the descent, it felt like my legs forgot what they were supposed to do. Downhill scrambling was the name of the game.
I must’ve hit a wall here because by the time I got to Farside, I was dangerously close to getting cut off. I had 15 minutes. Thankfully my friend Steve was there and he took great care of me. Debra was also volunteering at Farside and took some awesome photos of me. Don’t let the smile fool you, I was internalizing a state of panic. It’s a good thing that the Farside aid station is a must-see destination. You won’t be disappointed as they knock their themes out of the park year after year. Thanks to Brie, Kyle, Courtney and the rest of the Farside team for the amazing service and attention to detail on this year’s Game of Thrones theme. If I had more time, I would’ve taken selfies with the bloody Gary, Geoff and Laz heads on stakes. The best part about this aid station: the sponge down. That gave me quite a boost so thank you.
On the verge of being cut off
“What do you say to the god of death? Not today.”
In my world, it was the god of cutoffs. Arya’s reply resonated with me more than ever as I left Farside. Even though my heart sank a little when I saw the sign saying 11K to go. I thought I had 10K left. I basically had 2 hours to complete 11 km. On a normal day, fine. I was put in a situation I was trying to avoid: racing the clock.
This last section wasn’t too technical from what I recall. I ran whatever I could and power hiked everything else, but at a faster speed. I knew this section was undulating which really messed with my head. My watch also went on low power mode (and eventually died) and all I had left was my cell phone’s clock. At one point, I thought I was climbing the last mountain already and then it suddenly went down again. I don’t know what felt worse, the relentless climbs or the mind games.
The question wasn’t whether I would complete the Squamish 50 course or not. It was whether I was going to make it on time. I made amends with myself and was okay DNF-ing the Squamish 50, but I promised myself that if there was a slim chance that I could make it, I was going to give it all I’ve got.
No photo for this section… for good reason. So here’s my strava map of the race that shows where my watch died.
“I made it… yeah you did!”
I managed to summit the Mountain of Phlegm and instead of texting Cuski to let him know I’m almost done, I just focused on getting down as fast as possible. Close to the Smoke Bluffs stairs, the course marshal told me I had 30 minutes to run 3 km. Two of those were on the road. 10 minutes per kilometre? Yes, I can do that. I ran what I could, walked quickly what I couldn’t. I knew I was getting close, the park was right there but still looked far away. Suddenly I saw someone running towards me. It was Rita. She tried to run me in and I was so fatigued already I had to walk a few times.
The cheers were getting louder. I saw Justin running with me, Mark, Nick, Adam and Sheena by the gate, and my sister next to the path. I had to run at this point and I don’t know where the energy came from but I bolted down the last 200 meters into Gary’s open arms. It was the best finish line hug as he confirmed that I, in fact, was a finisher. I’m a finisher as long as I crossed the line before the 11.5 hour cutoff. I did… with 3 and a half minutes to spare.
Swipe to see the video finish
The Squamish 50 was a lot to process. I couldn’t really eat right after. Most people have gone home. Volunteers started tearing down as a couple other people finished… one after the cutoff and was presented with a consolation prize and a hug from Gary. I thought, that could’ve been me. Today, it wasn’t me. I learned that if I really wanted something, I was going to do everything in my power to do it. It will be very hard to top this race experience. I proceeded to break down in tears in the car on the way back.
I wouldn’t have completed the Squamish 50 had it not been for the people in my life. I won’t name names because I don’t want to miss anyone. You know who you are.
my family and trail family who waited for me patiently (or nervously?) at the finish line, you gave me the strength to finish strong
- my running & non-running friends who wished me well
- social media friends from far and wide
- friends and volunteers at the aid stations cheering, taking photos, filling up my bottles, and giving me words of encouragement
- our group of friends who all became ultra marathoners that day, whom we leaned on during our training journey for support and motivation
- Squamish 50 team of organizers and volunteers for making an event like this possible
Thank you to my mom, my sister Robbi and her boyfriend Mark, for sharing this moment with me. It meant a lot to me that you were there at the finish line to celebrate with me even though I could barely stand.
Most of all thank you to Cuski, who completed his second ultra & second Squamish 50. He trained with me, gave me lots of advice, and was my biggest cheerleader. He never stopped believing in me although he did tell me at the finish line to “never do that to him again.” LOL I’ll try not to.
I’m so happy to finally call myself an ultramarathoner. I’m already waiting to sign up for my next one. 😛 Thanks for reading my first ultra journey.