When you register for a race, what exactly do you expect to get for your money and your time? This is the question that I mulled over for most of the day while recently running the 50 mile event of the Squamish 50. I suppose that most of us simply want the opportunity to run the proposed distance without getting lost and to receive some nutrition and water along the way. But races and race directors vary greatly in their visions of a well-executed event.
To me, the ultimate goal of completing the distance is entirely up to me. Over the years, I have learned (the hard way) to be self-sufficient and I generally have very few needs out on the course. I carry my own food, resupply with my drop bag, if provided, and simply require water at aid stations. Towards the end of a race, I browse the food tables and often take a potato or a cup of coke. I know that I am not in the norm here and my approach may be considered to be ‘old school’. These days, ultrarunners have higher expectations for their race entry dollar and expect support more consistent with marathon road running. Many racers rely heavily on race-day support, which now allows them to run without a water bottle or extra gear, and RDs have had to step up to meet those expectations.
The Squamish 50 Races provide everything imaginable for the racers of their four distances (50 mile, 50 km, 23 km and Kid’s Run). There was no aspect of running that wasn’t anticipated and indulged. This made for a smooth event with many happy customers. It is a race for The People. Here are a few examples of the unexpected luxuries that the race committee provided:
multi-event race weekend – Having four separate distances spread over the weekend encourages family and friends to get involved in an event that appeals to them as well as being a spectator. It also allows for the 50/50 event which has racers running 50 miles on Saturday and 50 km on Sunday – a beast of a challenge! The town of Squamish seemed to be involved in the races in some way, making it a strong community event.
tough and challenging – The 50 mile route surely lived up to its reputation as a challenging course. Do not underestimate those 11 000 ft of climbing, much of which falls after mile 35. The last 30 km will spank you if you aren’t careful.
a showcase of natural beauty – The race route had us twisting and turning through valleys, lakes and mountains, revealing vistas, trails and mountain views in every possible direction with barely any pavement throughout the route.
technical trails – The trails chosen for this race are stunningly beautiful tracks which are mostly used by the local mountain bikers. The ladder bridges, boardwalks and logs make for exciting running and those steep, rocky, sheering descents will make you into either a kamikaze or a pansy. I definitely fell into the kamikaze camp, hollering out a few primal screams during gnarly plunges. With awesome trail names, like The Panty Line, Angry Midget, Seven Stitches, Mountain of Phlegm, Mid-Life Crisis and Entrails, you know that those trail builders have a great sense of humor and a tendency towards sado-masochism!
course markings – With flagging ribbon and surveyor flags always in sight, there was never any question about the route. At any given time, you could see 2 or 3 markers! I believe I heard that they abide by a ’20 paces’ rule, making it possible to run without ever studying a course map. (A bit like a lighted runway at times)
remote volunteers – Over and over, I was surprised to find course marshals WAY OUT in the middle of nowhere, sitting in a folding chair, reading a magazine or noting race numbers. Just when you think you are all alone in some remote corner of the forest, a smiling face greets you with some encouraging words and sends you on your way. The obvious upside is that oftentimes you have finally reached a seemingly endless summit and are about to rip it up downhill.
experienced aid station crews -When I arrived at aid station #7 (70 km), I was feeling the cumulative effects of ‘racing’ and the afternoon heat. The aid station crew recognized my deficit at a glance and efficiently dealt with me, encouraging me to finish a full bottle of water, eat some potatoes and take a salt tablet. Taking less than 10 minutes to steer me onwards, they made a world of difference to the remainder of my race. I learned afterwards that they are all experienced runners from a running club – exactly what racers need at that point of a race.
gluten free options – Aid station food even took to heart the dietary restrictions of some racers
photographers – There were photographers all over the course. I came to realize that seeing someone with a fancy camera did not, in any way, mean that an aid station was close by. These photographers hiked into the most remote and picturesque places to catch our day in digital. I have admired the artistry in previous years’ photos and this year’s installment continues that tradition. (Brian McCurdy Photography)
beer garden – Howe Sound Brewing had a beer garden set up at the finish line, serving two styles of beer. It was the icing on the cake and I spent much of Sunday ‘cheering’ racers as they crossed the line.
Overall, my day was a huge success and I am pleased with the outcome. The beauty of Squamish is beyond compare and the trail system is phenomenal. Personally, I prefer races which provide less in the way of markings, support and supplies, requiring more mental strategy to arrive at the finish line. I like vague distance estimations and the feeling of uncertainty as I wonder if I am still on course. But I am probably in the minority here. Most racers seem to want a guarantee that the finish line is within their grasp as long as they put in their training miles. They like the idea that race day is only about running, since all other factors will be managed by The Race.
In either case, this event was challenging and therefore satisfying. Despite the difficulty of the course, it would be a great race for someone wanting to try a new distance since every need has been anticipated. It is indeed exactly what The People want!
Finish time – 11:24:52
44/109 finishers; 10/57 women; 2/17 40-49 age group