For the past 4+ years the Squamish 50 race has been the centre of our trail running lives… our number one race of the year… we have progressed from running the 23k to 50k to 80k to the 50/50 (130k). Every year everything we do all season, all year, everything we train for is for Squamish 50.
We have had our hearts broken here, our most memorable and cherished moments in life here, there have been many firsts, many lessons learned and a lot of blood sweat and tears poured into these trails. No matter what we cannot get away without having Squamish in our lives. This year we did something a little different… we dared not to race at Squamish 50 and instead we signed up to crew/volunteer/give back!
Our goal race this year was just two weeks out from Squamish 50 and a little to close to race for our bodies to be rested well as we are tackling a giant scary goal… a 7 day stage race… Transalpine… 250km… 15,000M… in the Swiss Alps. No big deal. It worked out perfectly for us to finally give back to the race that has given us so much.
The Squamish 50 race started in 2011, with about 30 volunteers. This year, 2016, there were 250. This race is designed/hosted by Gary Robins and Geoff Langford. The community here is like no other. The trails here are like no where else. The Squamish 50 race is one of a kind. This year it hosted racers from 18 different countries!
We were in charge of the final aid station for all race distances. FARSIDE aid station… where we saw runners at 13km, 40km, 70km and 120km’s into their races. Needless to say… we saw a lot. Racers only had 10 more km’s to go when they saw us. I was excited, nervous and anxious about being at this aid station. I myself, and a few others, have missed time cut offs at this aid station… this is either a good news aid station or bad news aid station. But all things aside we were meant for this aid station. We have all done multiple of distances of this race so we have experience and knowledge, we can relate to what everyone is going through. We knew that when people got to us… they would be needing smiles, high fives and a Mexican Fiesta! So…we decorated our aid station with cacti, sombreros, guacamole and tequila! Fiesta loved by all minus the tequila… Our main goal was to get people smiling.
Our weekend started on Friday as three of us headed up to Squamish. We arrived in time to get some food, drive to the start line set up camp in the back of the truck, sleep for 4 hours and then wake up to the start of the Squamish 50m and 50/50. I was nervous but mostly excited and anxious to get the day started. We wore our Blue Squamish 50/50 hats with pride as we chatted with racers and cheered on the start. With the blink of an eye they were off.
I came into this weekend feeling very tired… beginning my tapper from the years work… my mood feeling far from that of running an ultra. I had been feeling nervous, down, in a slump over the past two weeks as my mileage has narrowed and my body and mind exhausted from all the racing and training this year has seen. When the racers ran by me that morning, all of those feelings went away. And of course I wished once again I was out there to.
As the 5:30am morning start rolled by we grabbed our aid station supplies and headed out into the mountains to set up for the next two days. Mexican Fiesta Party CHECK, Volunteer T-Shirts on CHECK, the hottest day of the year CHECK, Gary Robins and a big red beard CHECK, First runner through CHECK… wait holly crap this guys is on record pace! Dakota Jones stops for water and like lighting is off again. Here began what for me was one of the most emotional weekends of my life.
Cowbell in hand… the day went on. As runners made their way up the hill to our aid station they were greeted with the ringing of a cowbell, high fives and YOU GOT THIS… WAY TO GO’S. Standing at the top of the hill I realized that my roll here on this dirt road was a lot more then just a cheerer, I can be doing a lot more then just sending them in the direction of the aid station. When these runners see me I need to be a source of new life for them. So instead of guiding them around the corner, I greeted them, high fived them, patted them on the back, told them they were strong and they’ve got this. Now, by mid day, I headed off to the Quest Aid Station, which is km 5o, to met with our friend David Thomas, who was out pushing for the SQ. 50/50. I planned to met him at Quest for some crewing help and smiles. While I was there of course I jumped into helping out and got to see and greet many of the SQ 50/50 racers. Those who are running 80km (50m) today and tomorrow the 50km.
I started to see looks of discouragement, despair, or in our terms… dying. People were rolling in hot, dehydrated, cramping… well here goes my turn to share and give back. Not that any of the runners I talked to didn’t know what they were doing or needed me to tell them but I ‘gently’ started throwing out reminders… salt, take more salt, eat, calories, ice water, ect. and I also passed on “I WILL SEE YOU AT FARSIDE” to those who I saw struggling and even to one man in particular who was sitting in the shade and mentioned he was stopping there. He wanted to pull from the race but didn’t have a reason other then its hard, I’m hot, I’m tired… silly things like that. He stayed for a while, rested, ate, drank and then with a little kick in the butt he came over and said I’m going to try. “ILL SEE YOU AT FARSIDE!”
Runner # 911 rolls in with two friends… I noticed they were sitting in the shade looking spent. They had some crew help but I decided to go over and make sure they were okay and give encouraging “hey I had that same # 911 last year when I did the 50/50”. oh and salt guys salt! They got sorted and “SEE YOU AT FARSIDE” as they rolled out. DAVE! yes… dave is in. Looking salty but doing really well, everything is on point and he’s ready to roll after some fresh fruit and water refills!
When I got back to Farside, I started seeing some of the runners I saw/helped at Quest. I was SOOO excited by this. I was SOOO excited by their push… I told them “SEE I TOLD YOU ID SEE YOU AGAIN” with big smiles!
Where I was standing on the hill is where majority of spectators and crews were awaiting their runners. I talked to a lot people and got to know some of the runners out there before even seeing them. By biggest reason for sharing this weekend is because of a select few of these runners who really emotionally got to me. Here there are…
Day 1 50miles:
Im chatting with a crew, they are from Ontario, here crewing a friend and husband, his first 50mile race. He has only ever done road marathons. Im blown away. They said he just decided that he wanted to run this race… run the SQ 50miler, never done an ultra before. He trained but they don’t have mountains and technical trails like us. Scott Goodyear #1063. I anxiously waited with his crew and the time cut off slowly approached. Then he rounded the corner. With time to spare for a few minutes to sit down he handed me a card. He got set and off he went. We opened the card. A thank you card, he had pre written. He carried one for every aid station. Wow! This is so thoughtful! Congrats on your finish Scott!
We are a minute to the time cut off. 7:44pm, cut off 7:45pm, this young girl rounds the corner, hands on her hips, she has a ghostly look on her face, she is panting. I was awaiting her arrival with her mom and friend/brother (status unknown) She is from San Diego. This is her first 50mile race, her first ultra race! She just decided she wanted to do it and here she was doing it… with one minute to spare. Her name is Claire. We were pressured to get her out of the aid station quickly so she had time to make it to the finish line. I knew by the look on her face that we needed more then one minute to get her sorted. I sat her down. She said she was just tired because she sprinted the last 2km up the road to make the time. We filled her water etc. I looked her in the eye and said what do you need. She didn’t know. What she did know was that there was a finish line ahead of her and she wanted to get to it. Good news was her stomach was okay. So I decided she needed calories and electrolytes to cary her for the last 10k. I said if you can do anything please eat, hoping some calories would re spark her mental state a little bit. I really really wish I had a few more minutes for her… my pep talk was brief and I don’t know if any of what I said was absorbed… but I tried. I sent her off with a tray (literally) of watermelon and cookies. I said eat this, put the tray on the ground when you are done if you can’t eat this then get a gel down… and GO you GOT THIS! off she went.
Day 1 and 2: Paul Hazon. 50/50. #939. 50 mile day I reminded him to eat a lot of salt. There was some struggle and fatigue in his face at the Quest aid station 50k in. I told him ILL SEE YOU AT FARSIDE. Saw him again at the last aid station again shared a few tips… I was also sharing tips with his crewing friends. It will be hard for him to eat tonight but get him to eat as much as possible. If at all possible get some ice or very cold water and make him have a ice cold bath. And what ever you do get him to that start line tomorrow. Fighting and pushing strong. A nice amount of time before the cut off he roles into farside. This time I told him “ILL SEE YOU IN THE MORNING”. Hoping to plant the seed of small goals, little steps, get to the start tomorrow… and START! 50km day. I saw them again at Quest 25km/105km. Looking with a lot more determination then the previous day. I was so happy to see them there and within a good amount of time for the cut off. Once again SEE YOU AT FARSIDE. Go just get there! Im standing in my spot at the top of the hill on the road… Awaiting arrival with the crew. The one lady he was with, who I have seen both days, had all of his stuff laid out ready to go, this was her first time crewing for him in a big ultra race… She was doing so awesome! I asked how it was going and she said much better then yesterday… a better mental place today. I was so glad to hear this. She thanked me for my help through the day yesterday… I really did help. Then who do we see round the corner, Paul and his friend David (#911). Paul comes straight to me and gives me a hug. “Thank you for all of your help” he says. He gives Brie a big hug. He thanks us. We get him sitting in his chair… and as it should be hands are moving all around he’s eating, drinking, afraid to change socks and takes his shoes off so we don’t. We chat for a few minutes. He is hurting but he’s there and okay. 10 more k. Thank you for this hug Paul. I will never forget it. It made my weekend mean more then what I could have imagined.
Day 2 50kms:
I was back at Quest awaiting Daves arrival. Its getting nail bitingly close to the cut off time so I decide to head down into the trail a bit to catch runners as they come up the super short but step climb before the flat stuff. A few runners come through I make sure they are okay and walk with them to the clearing of the aid station. A lady wearing bright purple comes up. She is a 50/50 runner. I ask her how she is doing… for real. She’s tired but had a smile on her face. She had a few minutes to spare to get re set at Quest. When she got to the top of the steep bit… we walked for a few steps and then I said can you run… and she started running up the slightly graded dirt road… I ran with her… shared a few tips and SEE YOU AT FAR SIDE. She ran up the stairs all the way to the water station. I headed back into the trail. I saw her again at Farside later that day. She made it. She finished. She smiled every time I saw her.
Runner #908. Now we are even closer to the cut off. Like maybe 5 minutes to spare if that. He gets to the top of the steep bit before the aid station… I recognize him not from yesterday but from something else I couldn’t pin point it. Same thing I ask how he’s doing, if he needs anything… he said he was fine and planned on just rolling through the aid station without stopping, he knew how close to the cut off he was and seemed to be doing better then most. Perfect off he went. ILL SEE YOU AT FARSIDE! Awaiting his arrival at Farside, I was standing with and talking to his girlfriend (sorry if status is wrong) she ran the 23k earlier that day was crewing for him. She said this was his second year coming back trying to finish the 50/50. Last year he was cut off at this last aid station. NOW I REMEMBER. I remembered him from last year I ran with him for a bit on the 50k day. Now this year he was back for revenge. They are from somewhere south in the US. Somewhere flat. I cannot remember where exactly but she said he trains running up and down in car parkades because its the only incline and decline they can find. He sadly missed time cut off on Day 1 50m day this year at km 50. But was allowed to start Day 2 as another 50k runner just not a 50/50 runner as he didn’t complete day 1. Imagine that. You get cut off day 1 which means your 50/50 is over but he still had the determination to wake up on day 2 tow the start line and keep going. Inspiring it what it is. He finally reached our aid station on day 2 and sadly missed the time cut off again. It was emotional. But he will be back again.
David Thomas. I met David at last years SQ. 50/50 we were both racing and both walking when we met. We climbed the biggest climb together shared stories, encouragement and listened to a track of the Ginger Runner’s new album (both super Ginger Runner fans). This was my second attempt at finishing the 50/50 and this was Dave’s first. We eventually parted ways at some point and ended up finishing the 50 mile day at different times. Getting back to the hotel (which was literally across the street from the finish line) we realized that Dave was just a few doors down from us in the same hotel. Day 2 50k morning came and went. We didn’t see dave at the start line of 50km Day 2. We didn’t know if we just missed him or if he wasn’t there. It wasn’t until the finish of Day 2 back at the hotel that we saw Dave… sadly Dave couldn’t start day 2 due to an injury. So he is back this year do try and tackle this beast! We kept in touch all year and I told Dave along with volunteering I would be there as best I could to crew him and help him through. I met Dave on day 1 at the start line and at Quest 50km mark. At 50k he was doing great not pushing to hard to tire out for the next day. I got him ready we chatted about whats to come and SEE YOU AT FARSIDE. I headed back to fareside. Dave made the cutoff time at farside… it was close but he made it and kept me on my toes! He rolled through and finished the 50mile day! I told Dave that what I did last year was find a walking stick. No trekking poles were allowed on the course but later on in the race after 50kms. I had found a walking stick on the ground. The motion of a walking stick helps a lot especially on day 2. I didn’t see him off at the start line of day 2 but was awaiting his arrival at Quest 25ish km’s in. Cut off time 12:00 noon. Im waiting and gathering runners just at the top of the steep section in the trail. Watching the clock. Runners come in. But no Dave yet. My heart is pounding, I’m on high alert. Dave where are you? Whats going on! Its now after 12. Dave has missed the cut off. My heart is broken for him. The aid station starts to clean up. But I am still waiting for him. He is somewhere in between us and the sweeper. He finally rounds the corner… I run down to him… he’s got two walking sticks in his hands. He knew what time it was and what that meant. We both started to tear and I gave him a hug and told him that I was so proud of him. He went on to tell me how hard he pushed, how great he felt until climbing Galactic Scheisse. The biggest climb. I knew everything he was saying. Ive done it. Ive felt it. Ive also been cut off. Its so hard to see… someone else going through that. But the strength that we have isn’t just while we are out there running and fighting through… no the strength also comes when you are done…and when your not done but when someone tells you you are done. It takes strength to get past that, to get through what that means and to cary on. I am so proud of Dave. I am so happy to be his friend… to have met him out there last year. Dave has tackled some huge races this year and is moving on to run his first 100miler in October! But he will be back again next year for the 50/50!
Being at this aid station this past weekend changed me. For the first time I was on the other side. I am always the racer chasing cut offs, suffering, pushing… I never in my life imagined that I would be in the position to say… sorry you cannot continue because you have missed the time cut off. Its not something that anyone wants to do. But we all understand it. It happens to a lot more people then just you. When you train all year and your whole life revolves around this one thing that you don’t get to complete. Its awful. Its not for me. But what is for me… is being there for people when they are most venerable, struggling and literally in pain and doubting there existence. This weekend was emotional in so many ways. I have taken almost a week to physically recover from it. But I have also taken a new outlook and a new love for the trails once again. I was refreshed, my passion was reignited and I was reassured that the trails are where I belong. I will take these stories with me as I head into my big scary race in a weeks time.
Of course it wasn’t just me at that aid station!!! Kyle Conway, Brie Hemingway, Chris Hardy, Gary Jones, Karen Samuelson, Sarah Hancock, Marijke Johanna, Rosie Howard, Steve Micolino. We all rocked it!
If you want to volunteer or race next year visit www.squamish50.com