I have always found it somewhat entertaining how quickly people manage to post race reports on their blogs after ultras. Now I get it. After a ski race it’s reasonable to spend the next day skiing in the area and then travelling home with little time to sit and write until a few days later. After an ultra you don’t go out for a day in the mountains – you do nothing – which leave lots of time to write a blog so here goes!
Saturday was the Squamish 50. One of my goal races for the year, the Squamish 50 has events in the 23k, 50k, and 50 mile distance. I opted for the 50k in order to have my “ultra debut” but not have to run the ridiculous distance of 50 miles. I also figured that I had a shot at being competitive in the 50k distance rather than just walking for 50 miles (especially considering the fastest guys would opt for the 50mile).
In the lead-up to the race I tried to prep by spending as much time running on the course as possible. With the entire course in my backyard, it wasn’t too tough to do a few reconnoissance runs including a (nearly) complete tour of the course a few weeks before that took around 8 hours. My biggest worry for the race was heat. I knew that even in Squamish, early August could make for hot weather and I was definitely justified in my worry. The race day started cloudy but the sun burned through quickly and temps were in the high 20s.
Package pickup was Friday night and a bunch of friends joined us for a pasta dinner before calling it an early night. Alexis came up from the city to help as my support crew during the race (the self-described “water boy”). We spent the evening packing bags and talking logistics for the next day.
Saturday morning rolled around and Alexis drove Sarah and I to the start line at Alice Lake for the surprisingly civil 9:00am start time (the 50mile race started at 5am). He immediately took off on my mountain bike to the first aid station at Rob’s Corners to wait for us there. We also got news from Karina that Nick was sitting in 4th place in the 50mile race. The organizers gave racers the option to start early at 8am if they felt they would be pushing the cut-off times. As we were getting ready to start, we realized that a bunch of people had opted for the early start including a few possible contenders.
The race was off to a fast start with a few optimistic guys pushing the pace into the sub 4.5 hour range. Nick Triolo – a multi-ultra finisher took the lead and the two of us set off alone up the first major climb. After a technical descent I arrived at the first aid-station a few seconds ahead of Nick in around 45 minutes. Alexis was ready to go and I dropped my handheld and snagged my pre-loaded race vest without even having to slow down.
One of our main strategies for heat management was filling the back pocket of my race vest with ice-cubes. This turned out to be genius. Alexis had the pack loaded with ice and when I threw it on and it started melting down my back, all my heat issues went away. The ice lasted at least 45min, slowly melting and keeping me cool.
The second segment of the race from the Corners to Quest had the biggest climb – about 700 meters of vertical – and a long technical descent. I put in a solid push to keep my pace high on the 30 minute climb and managed to run a good portion of it. I really let loose down the descent and had my only crash of the day on a flat gravel section where I stopped paying attention and skidded across the path, bottles flying everywhere.
At Quest, I came into the aid station about 10min behind schedule but still feeling good. Alexis was ready in the steps with fresh bottles and a baggie of gels. As I paused to swap, he shovelled new ice into the back of my pack and a aid station volunteer kindly dumped water on my head. I took a big swig of flat coke and forty seconds after arriving, I was on my way again.
From Quest, the route heads up the Climb trail – a long, switchbacking, mostly runnable, trail to the top of a technical descent. This segment of the race had an intermediate aid-station with no crew (so no Alexis) but they did refill my water and I grabbed a piece of watermelon. The second half climbs through an unsheltered cutblock on the Bonzai trail before another jarring descent down Somewhere Over There. Bonzai was the hottest section of the race with a hard climb up dusty singletrack in the sun. Here I started to cramp. I was still running the uphills but coming down Somewhere Over There I found myself taking the descents cautiously slow where I had sped along in training. Every time I tripped my legs would seize up. Crossing one big log bridge, I cramped and worried about falling off. I managed to limp down to the bottom of the trail and rallied at the logging road looking forward to the ice waiting for me in a few minutes at the Mamquam Rd Aid Station.
Alexis was ready for me and I made another quick changeover. New bottles food and ice, I grabbed a much bigger drink of coke and some watermelon and kept going. Now in Crumpit Woods, I had to managed the rolling terrain left to cover and tried my best to keep running. I was now cramping badly enough that even the smallest uphills were just walking but I still managed to run the descents. The final climb to Mtn. of Phlegm was tough but I did my best to run the descent out of the Smoke Bluffs. On the road with just a few K left to go, I pushed as hard as my sore legs could go to the line.
It was great to finish with friends cheering me down the chute and Gary – the race director – kindly sprayed me down with champagne. I chatted briefly and incoherently and then sat in the shade while Nick and Karina grabbed me chips and water. It was exciting to hear that Adam won the 50 mile race and Brad won the 23k. I will claim credit for all three wins as being due to my awesome pasta party the night before. Alexis arrived about an hour later with a change of clothes and we waited together to watch Sarah finish her first ultra race. We were both pretty stoked when she crossed the line smiling and without any injuries. We hung out a little longer and then headed home for pizza and a movie. Hopefully Sarah will eventually write up her own report because on just a few weeks of training, after what seemed like months of no activity due to a sprained ankle, she totally rocked this race. Pretty awesome.
Overall, I can’t believe how well the race went. Logistically, it could not have been more perfect. Alexis did a fantastic job as crew and was in all the right places at the right time. The heat was no problem and I was never worried about water. Without a doubt the limiting factor in my race was my legs.
I probably ran too fast/pushed too hard on the early climbs but I think it wouldn’t have gone much better without more training miles in my legs. My average pace splits for each segment gradually slow down from 5:30min/k from the start to Corners to 7:20min/k by the finish.
The race was incredibly well organized. Despite vowing never to speak with Gary again for designing such a brutal course, he did a pretty amazing job. The volunteers were on top of their game and extremely helpful. I really appreciate all the effort that went into putting this race on. The only hiccup that I noticed was the optional early start that made for effectively two 50k races (the second overall fastest men’s time started early as well as the fastest women’s). I think this mainly caused headaches for the times though. It sounds like the option will be eliminated for next year.
I also have to say that I have new found respect for those who raced the 50 mile. Adam put on an impressive show for the win but also amazing are those who finished in 14,15, 16+ hours (same goes for those pushing the time cut-off in the 50k). I can’t imagine doing that! That is enormous amount of time on feet.
- Segment 1: Start-Corners (8km) – 1 Gel and 4 Solids – 750mL water
- Segment 2: Corners-Quest (15k) – 2 Gels and 7 Solids – 1.5 L water
- Segment 3: Quest – MamquamRd. (17k) – 3 Gels and 5 Solids – 1.25 L water
- Segment 4: MamquamRd.-Finish (10k) – 1 Gel and 6 Solids – 1.5 L water (I only actually ate 2 of my solids during this segment)
I planned 250 calories per hour based off a 5hr pace and managed to stick to the strategy until the last 45 min of there race where my stomach was just getting tired of gel as food. In hindsight, my only change would be to switch to more real food – watermelon and potatoes at this point in the race. I drank ~3/4 of the water above and dumped the rest on my head. I also carried and used 6 salt pills throughout the race.
- Watch Data Here: Suunto Move
- Dynafit race shorts and Dynafit Feline Ghost shoes – Shorts are perfect. Tight enough to keep gel packs in the legs and the back pocket holds lots of food. I stuck with my well used pair of Ghost shoes and they were perfect (though I think its time to retire this pair finally).
- Patagonia top – kept wet by constant supply of water on my head and ice in my pack.
- Suunto Ambit 2 watch – worked great as usual. Used the custom data screens to see only my split times and average pace. Locked the screen (bottom right button) to keep from stopping mid-race, worked like a charm.
- UltrAspire Isomeric Handheld for Segment 1
- Ultimate Direction SJ vest for the rest of the race. – While the vest worked great, I think in the future I will look for the AK race vest model for a slightly lighter option and to make filling with ice a little easier. It would also be nice to be able to completely switch vests at aid stations rather than restocking the same one.
50k Race Results: 50kResults
Squamish Chief article: chiefarticle