Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Squamish 50K Race Report

It has been 3 months since I ran my first 50K in Winthrop, Washington. Since that time I have managed to maintain my mileage and get a few long runs in, taking advantage of early summer sunrises. Quite honestly, I've struggled to maintain the same focus and commitment that I experienced going into Sun Mountain in May. It would be hard to keep that intensity up though, and I don't think I had been so focused on my running in my entire life. With camping, BBQs, and vacations to distract me, I headed into the Squamish 50 rather fearful that I wasn't ready.  Although I had only run up to 5 hours and hiked up to 9 hours, I wasn't worried about my body.  I knew I could do the distance.  I was more concerned that my mind wasn't ready.  I hadn't visualized, hadn't memorized the course profile or map, hadn't even signed up for the shuttle bus to the race start until 3 days before the race. I was worried about the heat and humidity and the elevation profile.  But really these were only vague concerns because I was too busy with summer family distractions to spend much time dwelling on the race much at all. So the day before I left, I packed my race bag, drop bags and updated my playlists and off I went!

Sat, Aug 16 - Squamish 50M

I am reminded of the movie Traffic, when I think about the race weekend.  Varying perspectives converging on one course. Each of us experienced it in our own way.  A crew of us were going over for the race from the Comox Valley and we arrived just in time to see the first men come in from the 50 mile race. We waited and cheered for friend and coach, Sarah Seads, who crossed the finish line 10th woman overall!  After running 11 hours and 20 minutes, she announced she was NEVER doing another race over 50K, and that she hated Gary Robbins. It was a hard race for her (see her race report here) and after hearing her tell of the suffer fest that she had just endured, I started to get worried.  Really worried. Sarah has done numerous adventure races, and ultras so when she said that SQ50 was harder than the Canadian Death Race, I started to choke.

Her top words of advice:
- carry way more water than you think, it's hot and humid out there
- the race starts after Quest, second half runs harder than the first despite the deceiving race profile
- run slow, and when in doubt, run slower

Ok. After forcing down my pre-race meal I begged off to bed at 9:00, saying my prayers for divine intervention the next day.  Yikes.

Sun, Aug 17 - Squamist 50K

Race day started at 3:40 am. I stayed in an apparently brand new residence at Quest University. Although they had advertised a fully equipped kitchen, there was only a fridge and stove.  No pot or kettle to boil water, no microwave. When you can't make your pre-race breakfast as planned, you push down the panic before the race even starts.  I had brought my own oatmeal, so I hit McDonald's at 4:10 for coffee and hot water. By 4:20 I was parked at the race finish and boarded the 4:30 bus for Alice Lake, the race start. My friend Rob was also racing that day and we chatted briefly on the way. It was his first 50k. I shared Sarah's words of wisdom and wished him luck! By 4:50 we were at Alice Lake. It was pitch dark, but warm and humid.

Second hiccup of the day: the bathrooms were locked. Seriously? 1 hour before an ultra and no bathrooms? We found a pit toilet and I stood in the line for over 30 minutes, not moving a step. Finally with 5 minutes to go before the start, I ran up to listen to the pre-race briefing, started my GPS, said another prayer, and started across the line! 

Leg 1 - 8K
Fuel: 1 Solo Bar
My race plan was simple. Personal management: water every 10 min, salt every hour, food every 45 minutes.  Run easy easy easy until Quest.  It was about 15 minutes in when I remembered I hadn't taken my 1 salt pill before the race as usual.  I gulped it down and managed to maintain a super easy, no heavy breathing pace for this whole leg. The day dawned during this leg, the air was heavy and humid, but it was very comfortable.  I filled up water at Aid 1 and headed right out again feeling great.

Leg 2 - 18K (10K)
Fuel: 1 Lara Bar, 1 Fruit Bar
Shortly out of this aid station we headed up the largest climb of the day.  I kept it super easy, trekking a large part of it, but passing people doing so.  Climbing is not my strength and I wanted to reach the summit feeling great so that I could capitalize on my strength, downhill running.  I was pleasantly surprised at how relatively easy the climb was - steady, not too technical.  We reached the top and headed down before I knew it.  Sarah had been following me on MotionX-GPS and had been texting me cheering me on.  I didn't see these messages for a few hours, but hearing the ding in my pack was uplifting!  This was my favorite section of the race.  My legs were still fresh, I could bounce over roots and logs with ease.  The course was very technical overall, and this was the first section that really reminded me of what I train on at home.  Gnarly roots, wet rocks, logs, twisty paths.  Fun!  The air started to smell like ozone (with that extra molecule of oxygen) and I took long drags of the sweet smelling air to fuel me into Aid 3.  I had a rock in my shoe during the descent that I knew better than to ignore.  I stopped, shook out my shoe, but the darn thing was still there.  I foolishly ran on.  I also noted a slight niggle in my L achilles, but again, ignored it.  Another quick stop at Aid 2 to refill the water (2L completely gone) and I headed for Quest!

Leg 3 - 23 K (5K)
3:30 Elapsed Time
The 5K before Quest was pretty uninspiring if I recall right.  We emerged out of the forest a few times, reminding me that it had gotten sunny and really hot already.  I'd guess 95% of the course was in the shade and for that I was very grateful.  The rock in my shoe was causing me to blister under my L big toe and that worried me.  As soon as I ran up the steps to Aid 3 at Quest I headed for my drop bag, shook out my shoe AND sock, restocked my fuel, refilled my water, etc.  I tried some potatoes, but they didn't seem appetizing.  I was starting to feel pretty dry by this point and all I wanted was wet food.  Watermelon was the choice of the day and I started eating it at every aid station from then on.

Leg 4 - 32 K (9K)
This next section was my low point.  I had completed the only part of the race I really had thought about in advance.  The next section was a series of never ending switch backs and totally uninspiring terrain.  It seemed like we ran and trekked forever without ever really going anywhere.  I was having a lot of conversations on the trail at this point.  I seemed to be in a pack of 50/50 racers who were nursing wounds from the 50 miler the day before.  In their company it didn't seem right to mumble grumpy thoughts in my head so I tried to be grateful for the fact that my legs were "fresh." After cresting what seemed like the top of the next climb, a super cheery volunteer waved to me to turn L and head up AGAIN.  No way.  Up up and up again.  No recovery for these legs!  When we FINALLY started to head down, I actually let out a holler of sweet relief.  I am not a hooting and hollering type of runner and I think that may possibly have been the first time I have ever truly let out a "whooo hoooo!" on a trail. That gratitude was short lived however, when it became immediately clear that my legs were not going to get a break.  Large boulders, steep drops, roots, bridges.  I just couldn't relax and had to stay hyper vigilant.  It was at this point that my legs were starting to feel a little heavy and I feared catching a toe and biting it.  So I kept my step light and just kept chugging.  The achilles pain was gone, the blister under my toe was not an issue, but still by hour 4 I needed something to pick me up. So I pulled out my phone and started the tunes.  I planned to save them for the last hour, but it was looking like this race was going to be LONG.  The Kongos "Come With Me Now" carried my feet into Aid 4.

Around hour 4 I also started feeling the tell-tale signs of low salt.  The low grade nausea start the rumble around 45 min into the hour.  I debated whether to wait until hour 5 to take another pill, but ended up taking the 2 tabs early.  Almost immediate relief, and ability to eat.  Good choice.  Heading into Aid 4 all I wanted besides water was watermelon, potato chips and a sip of Coke.  Another full 2L fill-up and I was off again.

Leg 5 - 40 K (8K)
At this point I wanted to trek way more than I needed to.   I don't remember the exact time I headed out of Aid 4, but I was hot and I was actually bored.  The terrain we were running was very very similar to the terrain where I train at home.  I felt like I was running in Cumberland.  The good side was my legs knew exactly what to do.  My feet managed the technical terrain very well.  The bad side was that my mind was going crazy!  I needed something new to look at. I needed a great view.  I did notice that the few runners around me at that point had really started to smell.  I'm sure I did too.  Funny the things you notice. To distract me I played my running playlist over and over.  On to Imagine Dragons, On Top of the World.  Yes, I'm am on top of the world, I feel great.  Thanks for reminding me guys!  Hmm.  I was seriously sweating at this point and fighting nausea by the 30 min mark each hour.  I ended up taking 1 salt pill on the 30 min mark and 2 on the hour.  Much better.  I couldn't believe how much I was drinking and sweating. Those little pills are my sweet salvation.  I managed to run into Aid 5 looking better than I felt I'm sure.  Another stellar meal of watermelon, potato chips and coke.  More water. A volunteer asked me how I was feeling and I blurted, "Horrible."  She looked taken aback.  I'm sorry whoever you were, I was rather grumpy at that point.

For the record, the volunteers at the aid stations were absolutely incredible - grabbing my bladder to fill it for me, offering food, cheering us on. I did make it a point to thank several volunteers who were all along at various points on the course, making sure we took the right turns and offering a hearty cheer as we came by.  Note to self: volunteer at a race I am not racing in, soon.  These races cannot happen without volunteers.

Leg 6 - 50K (10K)
Time to just bear down and get this done. Although trekking was tempting and I did my fair share, running seemed easier on the mind and it was getting me to the finish sooner.  Coming out of the last aid station and fellow racer who had done the 50 miler the day before commented that he wished he didn't know that there was still another climb coming.  I was prepared for another climb, so when I reached the top and headed down I thought I was almost done and could coast into town!  Then with about 5K to go, the real climb began.  Let me say that the race profile tells you basically nothing about this race.  It tells you that you have a long climb in the first half, but doesn't even come close to representing how unrelenting and unforgiving the course really is.  The elevation is made up of constant up and downs.  With the last 4K leading you down super steep stairs, past the Smoke Bluffs (where I learned to climb many years ago - what memories!) and then a nice flat road stretch into the finish - the race was done!  Fellow ELM racers Murray and Paula were marshalling near the finish line (after completing 50 miles the day before) and their smiles were so great to see.  Marian met me at the finish with a smile and a hug (brave girl!).  It was so great to see all the ELM racers out cheering and having awesome races of their own.

This race was HARD.  It tested me to the max.  Mind body soul.  To the max.  But I felt that I completed it as best as I could have given my level of experience. The RD's did a super great job of organization - thanks for a great day guys!

I didn't keep track of exact fuel consumption timetables, but in addition to aid station super food (note sarcasm here), I managed to eat 1 Solo bar, 3 fruit bars, 1.5 Lara Bars (stayed in my cheeks like a chipmunk for about 30 min), 1.5 packages of Margarita Clif blocks and 1 gel.  Not the whole foods list that I would have liked, but getting anything into my tummy on that hot, humid day seemed to be a monumental undertaking.

I finished the race proclaiming that I didn't care if I ever ran another step again.  Now, 10 days after the fact, my quads have healed, the painful memories have faded, and I've had 2 rather pleasant joy runs.  I've decided that ultra running is like childbirth in that it tends to be a long arduous event completed with lots of sweat, determination, and euphoric pain. Both are planned for well in advance, the decision seriously questioned during, and the horror completely forgotten a short while afterward, enough to make you sign up for more. I thought a lot about childbirth during that run.  Maybe I will do another ultra again, but not for a while.  Who knows what my next post will be about?!

Distance: 50K
Elevation: 8500 ft up, 9000 ft down
Time: 8:20