Let me just start with the obvious: Gary, Geoff, Linda, and everyone else on the Squamish50 team, put on an unforgettable weekend of fun and running. With both iRunFar and UltraSportsLive covering the event this year, I can only imagine it being bigger and even more popular next year (if that’s possible). Great job guys, and thanks.
So here is how the 50 mile race went for me...
Five weeks ago I executed an almost perfect Knee Knacker 50km race. That performance got me really excited to tackle the Squamish50. I was confident in my fitness, but more importantly, I wanted my process on race day to be flawless. Given my relative lack of Ultra experience, I struggled a little bit with how much to train between the Knee Knacker (arguably one of the toughest 50km races anywhere), and Squamish (another hilly and technical course). I opted for a fairly high mileage training block right in the middle of the two races, with a gradual 10 day taper into this event. In hindsight, maybe I could have backed it off a bit more, but at the time it felt right.
I'm lucky that one of my best friends (Will) lives in Squamish. I kind of treat his home as if it were my own; I pretty much come and go as I want, whether he's home or not. Having a ‘home’ base in Squamish allowed me to get in a few really specific training runs in preparation, and more importantly, it gave me a stress-free day before the event. Will and Eric Carter put on a pre-race dinner (at Will's place) for friends, which turned out to be a large sampling of the podium spots for the weekend. There was a real low-stress atmosphere, even considering some of the bigger names that were going to be on the start line the next morning.
To cut right to it, the first 10km of the race was pretty calm and uneventful. Myself and Ed McCarthy took turns leading a large pack (13 guys I think) through the dark and twisty trails…mainly because we had the best headlamps of the bunch. At the first aid station, evereyone (except Nick) dropped their headlamps. Mistake! The overcast skies kept the next section of trail pretty dark so I was happy to slot myself in right behind Nick so he could light the way.
It was around about 15km (going up a trail called Rigs in Zen) where I noticed that five of us had pulled away from the rest of the group. Mike Versteeg, Ed, Nick Elson, Max Ferguson, and myself climbed and then descended together as we worked our way to the Alice Lake Aid Station at about 1:40. With a quick bottle exchange, and a wave to my girls, I was back at it. Our group of five cruised through the next section (around the lakes) pretty effortlessly. The trails are rooty and twisty and a lot of fun, and before I knew it we were at the Corners Aid Station. As we started into the Mashiter loop (which comes back to the Corners AS) I noticed that Mike was no longer with us, and by the time we finished the loop (about 3:10 elapsed) and were back at the Corners AS, Max had fallen back too.
It was kind of strange at that point, and not at all how I had visualized the race panning out. I was surprised that it was just the three of us up front so early on, and that It felt like we were three friends just out on a long training run. I was leading as we started the long climb up Gallactic, but Ed and Nick soon jumped past me. They put about 50 metres on me as I took in some calories, but I didn’t at all worry about it. My goal was to use as little energy as possible to get to the top, then run a solid descent all the way down to Quest.
I pulled back up to the guys before the top, and as the three of us crested the climb together, I moved back to the front to pick up the pace for the downhill. Nick and I are both strong descenders (not that Ed is a slouch) and almost immediately we pulled away. For the next 40 minutes or so, Nick and I were just flowing through some amazing Squamish single-track. Again, I was still feeling like it was just a couple of us out on a training run. We traded the lead a couple times, but neither of us was trying to make a move. Before I knew it we were at the Quest Aid Station (just under 4:50 elapsed). We had made really good time to that point, but I knew the next 27km were going to be challenging.
It was great to see my girls as I made the brief stop. They were smiling and cheering, as my buddy Will helped me swap out my race-vest for a waist pack. I high-fived Charlie and Grace, and headed out ready to tackle the Climb trail. Nick wasn’t far behind, and I'm sure we both knew the real racing was about to happen.
Then I made my one mistake...
My stomach and energy had been perfect up to that point, but for some reason (inexperience?) I felt like I needed to up my intake to tackle the rest of the course. As we left Quest and started the second long climb of the race, I over-loaded my gut. Nick pulled past me as my energy started to fade. My sloshing stomach wasn’t processing anything, and I had to back off as Nick motored up the climb.
Given that the last 27 kilometres of the race are some of the toughest, I had to just ride out my stomach problems….water only. I knew that if i pushed too hard with my stomach not working, that I could dig myself a VERY deep hole. I didn’t give up on catching Nick (given that there was still a lot of tough ground to cover), but I did need to focus on bringing my own system back online. Over the next 10 miles or so, Nick slowly pulled away. He was running smooth and steady, while I felt like I was in slow-motion.
As I walked the short uphill into the last Aid Station (Far Side), Ellie gave me the time gap... 7:30. Tough, but not impossible!
I know it cost me another 2-3 minutes, but I decided to swap shoes at that point. I needed somehow to hit a ‘reset’ button in my brain. My stomach was coming back around, and with approximately an hour left of racing, there was still a tiny hope that Nick would falter. I swapped over to a pair of Inov-8 X-talons (from Roclite 243): they offered my toes some extra wiggle room, but also they would provide some better traction on the last section.
The hamster in my head started spinning his wheel again, and I was back racing as I left Far Side. Mentally I was strong again, and my legs were coming back. I was half chasing Nick, and half working to keep my lead over Ed in third. As I got closer to the finish, I was getting stronger and stronger…but i knew it was too late to catch Nick. I am happy that I was able to work through my issues and run the last section at the same pace as him, but obviously I wasn’t able to chip away at any of the lead he had. I crossed the line in 7:40, very proud of my performance.
Nick ran an amazing race, and was strong right to the very end. He slowly burned every one of us off his heels as he set a new course record. In all honesty, I thought that it might come down to the two of us at the end...I had just hoped it was me that would have the better legs! Watch out for him at The Rut 50k next month. He is a very humble man, with a lot of talent !
At the end of most races, I am completely shattered and hardly able to speak or hold a thought. When i finished this 80km though, that wasn’t the case. I was obviously tired, and my legs were sore, but i didn’t (and still don’t) feel like I did a huge amount of damage to my body…certainly not the damage that I have done in my previous Ultras (especially since I didn't really wipe out). I really believe that turning up my mileage this year has been the major driver in improving my ‘durability’. That, plus having to really ease off for about 90 minutes during the latter stages of this race, really limited the damage I did out there. I am still learning about running Ultras (both in the preparation and execution), but I feel like I have stepped up my game this summer. I don’t feel that I need to make any major changes over the next bit, but rather just some fine tuning.
One big observation from the entire Squamish50 weekend: there is a very strong trail/ultra scene right now on the West Coast (Nick, myself, Ed, Gary, Adam, Eric, Graeme, Oliver, Silas, Brad, Connor, Ellie, Kim, Samantha, Anne-Marie….just to scratch the surface!). I’m excited because I see our level of performance getting even higher over the next couple years, especially once a few of us get some international experience.
Next up for me will be the SkyPilot race in Squamish in a month. I'll then dust off my Cyclocross bike to get in some late season bike racing. I won't let my running miles drop too much though, as I really want to race the multi-stage Coastal Challenge in Costa Rica in early 2015. It will require some solid miles in my legs to be prepared.