Last year I ran the Squamish 50km race as my first Ultramarathon. The next day I had heard, from a little bird, that Gary and Jeff, the Squamish 50 race directors, were planning a Squamish 50/50 race, the 50 mile course on Saturday and the 50km course on the Sunday, for 2014.
Yep, that was it decision was made, I was going to do the Squamish 50/50.
Three Hundred and Seventy One days later my alarm goes off at 4:00am on the morning of my first 80km and the first day of the 50/50. The nerves had set in for this race the entire week leading up to this morning. A nauseous stomach caused me to have a hard time eating through the week which is something I have not experienced. Usually I am eating like a hungry monster generally all the time, especially the weeks leading up to a race, getting in the extra calories. Everything I needed for the day was laid out, packed up and ready to go. My fiancé, Mike, was going to be traveling to every accessible aid station with all of my extra nutrition so I had pre packed for him everything as per aid station of what I would potentially need. My chosen gear for the day consisted of my under amour compression shorts, lululemon swiftly tank top, Salomon Advance Skin 12 Set hydration pack, injinji socks, Brooks Cascadia 9’s (shoes) and my Coastal Challenge Buff (as a reminder to what I have accomplished and what I am capable of.) I dressed, ate what I could get down for breakfast, tied up my laces, grabbed my drop bag and headed out to jump in for a ride with Dayna to the start line at 5:00am. The race started at 5:30am.
I have contemplated for a week and a half now whether or not I was going to make a post about my Squamish50/50 experience. As I work through recovery and processing what I have accomplished (and put my body through) I go back and forth between its my own personal story for me to know and well I want to share my experience with everyone else. So here it goes, my side of the story.
Entering the race as a whole my goal was to finish. I am not a fast runner by any means but I am a strong and determined one. I don’t like putting time goals (other than a cut off time) because for me it’s about the journey and anything can happen out there. I knew the course really well as I had ran it last year and during many training runs. The first 11ish km’s of the course is flat trails until just past the first aid station where the ascending begins. As I stood at the start line I had made a goal for myself to run until the first aid station without stopping. Take advantage of the flat run-able section I told myself. Dayna dropped off me and my friend Kyle, who was also running the 50/50. (We had planned to stick together for both days.) It was still dark when we arrived and when we ran across the start line. Head lamps were mandatory at the start. We navigated our way through the crowd of people and spots of light, seeing familiar faces of friends who were also lining up to start. My nerves settled as we stood listening to Gary give the pre-race briefing. “It’s just another run,” I told myself. I wasn’t afraid of the distance. My biggest fear before any race is having my old knee injury present itself.
I stood calmly, not talking, not socializing; I just stood near the back of the crowd as I do at every race. I blocked out the noise and chatter, I moved into my own space and I visualized the finish line. Within seconds the race started and I was running with Kyle by my side. The trail was narrow for about the first 5km’s and the runners bottle necked. It was a tight run for a bit but we were in the middle of the pack and were able to keep our pace right where it felt comfortable. Eventually the crowd dispersed and we had breathing room. Arriving at the first aid station at 6:35, I felt awesome! The first section had flown by. Mike was there with my replenishments of nutrition and hydration, Yay! The next section was a climb of 500 meters and another 11km’s before we reached aid station 2 at Alice Lake. During the 500m climb my stomach started telling me it wanted to throw-up. I couldn’t even think about food at this point without feeling like hurling. I have never had a stomach issue before on any of my races, however this past July when I ran the Knee Knacker 50km I had this issue, though I thought it was due to the extreme heat that day and maybe some dehydration. I was not expecting to feel this way for Squamish, especially since it was a cool temperature and a cloudy day. We pushed through and up to the top of the climb, I forced in a Vega snack bar and a Cliff Gel. My goal is always to intake about 200-250 calories per hour, at this point I was beyond failing to do that but my body felt good despite my upset stomach. I was managing to get in liquid okay so I kept drinking the liquid calories I had in my small water bottles. Aid station 2, as instructed, Mike was stern in telling me I needed to intake more calories. He gave me some more bars and gels, I managed to get in some watermelon and we were off running again. Keeping a steady and consistent pace we moved through the trails all the way until Aid station 3, just under the 30km mark. Mike was not able to make it into this aid station due to its remote location, so I had a drop bag waiting for me with nutrition. Volunteers at this aid station were friends of mine, some amazing fellow runners who I had met and ran with when I first started to train for marathons. They we all there taking care of us and cheering us on. We grabbed a few handfuls of food and headed off for the next 12+kms. My stomach was feeling a bit better at this point so we pushed the pace descending into the next loop. Kyle and I were rocking our team work, Kyle flying down the descents and I pushing up the climbs. Kyle was making sure we were keeping on pace for our 16 hour cut-off time. Aid station 3 was also aid station 4 as we looped around to hit it again before we ran to the biggest ascent of the day, Galactic Scheisse a 7km climb 600+ meters of elevation gain. A fast hike is the usual pace climbing this beast of a ‘hill’ at km 38-44. Meeting and chatting with people who are also suffering with you along the way is always a great and interesting way to help push through the lows that huge climbs often present. Climbing up the Galactic Scheisse was the first ‘low’ point for me, I was still moving forward at a good pace however my upset stomach had come back with a punch. I was starting to feel dizzy off and on, I needed to eat but I wanted to throw-up. Kyle gave me some of his fresh juiced ginger to drink to help settle my stomach. I just wanted to get to Quest. Just over the 50km mark, which is where the unknown for me was, I had never run anything over 55km in one day before. I was so excited to see what would happen! Before we knew it down was upon us. Chaffing and a slight pain in my left knee had settled in as we came around the corner and headed up to stairs to Quest University, aid station number 5. Quest is one of the main aid stations and we had plenty of friends there to support and cheer us on. I took a few minutes here to swap out my shoes, for some reason the palms of my feet were in a lot of pain, very sore. I switched from my Cascadia’s into my Salomon Speed Cross 3’s. We took another few minutes to eat at the aid station before grabbing nutrition from Mike and heading on our way. Knowing what on the course was coming next was in my mind, between Quest and aid station 6 was for me going to be the toughest part of the day, moving beyond the 55km mark and a big climb combo of the Legacy and Angry Midget. We pressed forward, kept mostly silent communication as we climbed. As soon as we hit the Legacy climb I started to feel better the nauseous stomach had dwindled away and my legs were on a mission. I powered up through the switch backs, ran for the beginning of Angry Midget, we were still on pace, we were going to do this! The pain in my knee was gone and we flew…we were flying, driving like race cars around the bends and turns of the decent. Sped into aid station 6, grabbed food, water, refiled the vaseline.. ahhhh (sigh of relief…chaffing yikes!) On we went… One more climb up Bonsai. At aid station 6 Mike told me that my dad was on his way up and would most likely be at aid station 7. My parents have never missed a finish line and I was really excited that my dad would be at the next aid station. The next section up Bonsai and down Somewhere Over There are really technical… as is the rest of the course, however for some reason I just remember this section sticking out to me. Our pace didn’t slow down however, Kyle had started suffering from extreme legs spasms and cramping. He didn’t stop pushing, we ran through it. We were still on pace to make the cut-off time. We ran into the last and final aid station. Coming up the hill we rounded the corner and there was mike and my dad! I was so excited to see them, hugs from both, food, water and I was amped up to run this last section. We were so close, the last 10km lay ahead of us and it is one of my favourite sections of the whole race. I had looked forward to reaching this aid station and was so excited to run the last 10km! 70km behind us and we were in great spirits and loving life! The section of bugs I now call it. Mosquitos ate us alive through most of the trails. If we walked we were covered in them so we ran as much as we could, between leg spams and big hills. We reached the top of Mount Phlegm: The last climb of the race. The race finished with downhill for the last couple km’s and then straight into the finish. Just as we reached the bottom of the descent it was dark enough to put our head lamps on, we ran passed a few others racers in the last few km’s and we crossed the finish line with 15 minutes to spare.
Finally a finish line I had been thinking about for months, crossed. 15 hours 45 minutes and I was greeted at the finish line with the biggest, bestest hug from Gary Robins! I actually got two hugs! Mike, my dad, Dayna, Adam, all of our friends were there for us! My dad was there waiting for me with a pizza! It was awesome… however at the time I didn’t celebrate, I didn’t even acknowledge what I had done or the distance of 80km that I went because I wasn’t done yet. I just had a little time to sleep. The real finish line was still to come. Tomorrow, 50 more km’s to go.
The recovery time between the 80km finish line and the start of the 50km wasn’t long. I stayed at a hotel that was literally across the street from the finish line. Steps away from an ice cold bath and bed. The first thing I did was eat that entire pizza, have a Vega protein shake and run an ice cold bath, that I sat in for over 15 minutes, then it was compression socks and feet elevated. I feel asleep with my feet up around 11:30pm and woke up to get ready at 4:30am. Our 50km start time was at6:00am at Alice Lake, the 21km marker from yesterday’s course. We were running the last 50km of yesterday’s same course (minus one 10km loop after aid station 3). Some may say it’s a good thing to know what’s in front of you some may say it’s bad. It was the mentally challenging aspect (one of many) of this 2 day race.
When you look up the race results on the website it looks like I did not start the second day of the 50/50. Well turns out, yes I was at that start line. Stiff, hobbling and determined, I crossed that start line. (first lesson: don’t believe everything you read). It was an interesting morning, as racers gathered near the start. You could easily see who was a 50/50 racer and who wasn’t. If you weren’t hobbling or walking slower than most, you were a 50km racer. I am not going to lie I had doubts, very very small doubts, about today just because of how tight everything was. I really was limping and hobbling. I tried to run right off the start however running was not working for me…and not for Kyle either. I walked/jogged for the first 5ish kms. It was a slow start to work through the gnarly kinks and pains, however before I reached the 1st aid station I was running again and passing people. So I kept my pace strong, working through riding the highs and pushing through the lows. There is never any doubt in my mind that I will not finish something I say I will do. I have never not finished a race I have started. As an ultrarunner you have doubts that force themselves into your mind as you push through your 7th, 10th, 14th hour of running or as you climb that giant never ending mountain but you always keep going. It’s what we do. Reaching Galactic Scheisse was exciting surprisingly, “I am here already!” I said as I started the climb. I was running back and forth with this other girl who was also doing the 50/50. We passed back and forth all the way up this big climb until one point nearing the top she passed me and was gone after that. Galactic Scheisse made shit real. It made me want to stop, made me mad, made tears flow, made me have doubts. It was never ending. I thought it would go by fast as the rest of the course had. But instead it chewed me up and spat me out. But step by step I made it to the top. I ran down it. Just like that from my lowest of low’s to a crazy high. I ran down it so fast… I didn’t stop and I caught up to that other girl and passed her. I ran all the way to aid station 2, grabbed a fruit chew and ran on, only 5 more km’s to Quest! I was running so fast I nearly stepped on the snake that stopped me in my tracks as it lay there across the trail. I waited for it to move before I continued on. Not more than 10 minutes later. Smack! A wall. I hit a wall. Low again. It wasn’t cloudy today like yesterday, the sun was out and it was hotter. I couldn’t run. It seemed again like a never ending climb to Quest. It’s a descent then a climb followed by more descents and climbs before a final descent to Quest. I started running again down some steep single track when I round a corner and see Mike! He said to me “you better run fast there’s a cut off soon at Quest!” Yikes! I ran fast! As I rounded the corner to aid station number 3, km 25ish, I was told that I had made the cut-off time there and was free to keep going, I was the last one through everyone else I had passed behind me was not making it through. Others there were informing me that I wasn’t far behind people in front of me so not to worry I was doing great! I swapped shoes again from my Cascadia’s to my Speed Cross 3’s. My nauseous stomach had held today for the most part therefore I was able to eat more and just worry about the task at hand. I headed up into what I knew was going to be the toughest part of the day for me again. As I began to climb the Legacy and Angry Midget I crossed paths with Linda, who was just finishing the decent to my ascent, I yelled “Hi” to her and she yelled at me “great job court, keep going court keep going” I yelled back “I’m going Linda don’t worry I’m going!” Seeing her gave me a new boost of energy heading up the trail my eyes started to tear. Climbing angry midget I knew I was the last runner, therefore was expecting a sweeper to come up behind me at some point in time. Funny story but nearly catching me in mid forest pee break, Terry and his dog Woods, had caught up to me. Of course we were instantly friends and to be honest it was a pleasure to have the company to talk to as I worked through one of those lows, on that never ending climb. All I had to do was make it to the next aid station and the hardest part (for me) was over. As soon as that relentless climb turned into a downhill we were running again, legs at full speed. I ran fast into aid station number 4 nearly in tears. I had made it! I ran up to the table, Mike was waiting there for me with all my necessary nutritional replenishments. I was bent over, one hand covered my eyes to try and hide the tears running down my face from everyone volunteering who was looking at me, the other hand rested my weight on my knee. There were quite a few volunteers at this aid station some I knew most I didn’t, I looked up at this one lady and said to her “Am I cut?… can I keep going?!” I for some reason thought that I was going to be cut-off there and told I hadn’t made it. She said “Yes! Of course you can keep going! There are no more cut-offs today so you are home free, great job!” Everyone there was congratulating me and telling me I had done it, I had no more cut-offs to worry about so not to fret and take my time make it safely to the next aid station. The tears kept rolling, I managed to stuff some chips into my mouth, grab some food look at Terry and say “let’s do this”. We moved on. Still some very hard technical sections and climbs to come, this I knew. Everyone on this day seemed keen on describing the sections following their aid stations to me; I guess not realizing that I had run this exact same course within the last 15hours (I knew what was coming). Me and Terry were not purposely moving at a slower pace however it was hot and we were moving through an exposed section, so we took a couple of moments along the way to force down snacks. I was starting to worry as it had been quite some time since I had last peed, fear of dehydration was surfacing and I was feeling a little light headed at times therefore thought it be a good idea for moments for more calories and hey we had no more time cut off so we need not worry. We chatted about many things as we plugged along then about 2.5km’s from the final aid station, number 5, we hear over Terry’s walki-talki there is a new cut-off time, “say what?!” I look at my watch, look at Terry and say “wtf that is 10 minutes from now!” My heart sank; I knew where we were and knew that making it there in 10 minutes was not going to happen. Anger, frustration and disbelief set over both of us. Why were we just told no more cut-off times? Was this really happening, how I was told at the last aid station there was no more cut-off’s and now there is? We were moving as fast as we could in and out of running and walking as this was a very technical section. They had then decided that a volunteer needed to come into the trail and escort me out… why I am not sure as I was fine and still able to run at this point, didn’t need medical attention and I had Terry right beside me. Terry and I knew there was no way we were going to let that fly, we radioed back saying no way we are running to aid station 5. And we did, I came running down that hill to see my friends Dayna, Hailey and Kyle (who had to drop out at aid station 1 of today due to pain and another race coming the next weekend) and my fiance Mike. They walked me up the last hill into the aid station, asking how I was, telling me how proud they were of me. They pressed that I be allowed to continue, Terry wanted so badly to run the last section with me. But I was not allowed. The Volunteers wanted to be relived as I had heard them say over Terry’s walki-talki and there was a finish line cut off time. The fact that I had ‘missed’ this new cut-off time still had not sunk in. How could I be stopped? I am still running, still fully functional… there is no way I am stopping here! I never don’t finish something. This was the race of my life… life to me did not exist after this race… I had put everything… everything into this race. To be told at km 120 that I was not allowed to keep going for the last 10km … this was not happening. I made it that day to km 40 out of 50. I had just finished my first 50mile/80km race within the same 24hour period.
I had to let time pass before I could make sense of the weekend as a whole. I was angry, mad, sad, glad, tired, felt as if something was stolen from me, I had regrets, what if I had not stopped or spent less time a this aid station or this aid station or walked/ran faster in this one section… for the first time ever I felt every emotion all at once. My brain was on instant replay for an entire week, what could I have done, where did I go wrong? It’s not fair they told me no more cut offs…
But you know what… it doesn’t matter, none of it matters. I still finished. I have moved beyond others opinions; I am not out there to prove anything to anyone. I know that there were at least 10 more km’s in me, so to me I finished. There is a reason why this happened to me, perhaps to teach me that it’s not always about a finish time or even crossing ‘the finish line’ but solely about my journey. That’s really all it is about… our journey. You may think I’m lame that I say that, because I didn’t actually cross official finish line of day 2 but it’s my journey not yours, I run for feel and for the love of the distance not for time or what place I come in and that’s the truth of it.
Mike and I drove home at the end of day 2, we stopped by the finish line to see some of our friends and received my awesome promised hug from Spring, who had ran the 80km’s on Saturday. I was not in the mood to see or talk to anyone really. So we grabbed out stuff and headed on our way. We stopped for more pizza. I didn’t even change out of my race clothes. As soon as I got home I got out of the truck and headed out for a walk. Dayna and I walked for a while. One: to keep my legs from cramping… you have to keep moving after such a distance and ease your way into stopping… Two: to talk about the day… everything that happened. I had discovered one new thing out there that I didn’t know yet… I really really liked the 80km distance.