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or Running the Squamish 50/50

This whole thing started off with an offer I couldn’t refuse. Sometime last November, RD Gary Robbins dropped me an email invitation to return to the Squamish 50 miler this year. It turns out that my top ten finish in the event last year secured me a place in this year’s race at an unbeatable price. Caught off-guard and slightly awe-struck, in that moment of weakness (or was it strength??), I asked if I could register for the longer 50 mile/50 km race combination. Without a second thought, I was on the list of entrants. Nine months later, I was toeing the start line and wondering if a hat and a couple of Gary’s famous finish line hugs would be worth it all.

Day one – 50 miles (80 km); 3500 m (11 000 ft) elevation change

Smiling and feeling pretty good at the start of day #1.

Smiling and feeling pretty good at the start of day #1. (Every race start picture looks the same!)

Heat management was the factor for the day. Temperatures in Squamish had topped out at 37°C (98°F) the day before which had me plenty scared. I decided to take advantage of the early morning coolness and the initial flat section to get ahead of the bell curve but I knew I would have to slow down and be more cautious than last year. After the first 11 km, I was ready to take on the Rigs in Zen climb with vengeance. This climb is so significant although it is easy to overlook when glancing at the course profile. With multiple false summits and rock face scrambling, this 420 m climb took me about 45 minutes. After topping out at the radio towers, I gave myself a mental ‘high-five’, knowing that the course would not take me by surprise this year.

SQ50m course map

SQ50m elevation

The upper elevation profile is snipped from the Squamish 50 mile map on the website. The second profile is from my Strava track of the 50 mile course last year. Those climbs look a little different, don’t they? A new perspective brings on a higher respect for the course.

After leaving the Alice Lake aid station, the sweet Four Lakes trail swept us along effortlessly. But suddenly I felt something on my neck and I noticed the guy in front of me swatting his cap around. Then I felt a sharp pain near my belly button. I slowed down, took off my cap and tried to swat away the buzzing. We were in the thick of a ground wasp swarm and I realized that I had to get out of there! Everyone around was yelling or calling out ‘Wasps!’. I had two wasps in my cap and one under my shirt. Other runners were whipping off their packs and shirts, trying to free the angry insects. Once we were clear of the area, nearby runners took stock, compared wounds and asked if anyone was allergic. With adrenaline pumping from three stings, I had to stop and regroup for a few moments before gathering my wits and carrying on.

Upon reaching the 37 km mark at the Corners aid station, I was treated to some TLC by Bruce.

Having a support crew like Bruce is truly an unfair advantage. His wise words, questions, support, encouragement and instant action on my requests put me far ahead of so many others.

Having a support crew like Bruce is truly an unfair advantage. His wise words, questions, support, encouragement and instant action on my requests put me far ahead of so many others.

He had ridden his bike out to the station, weighed down with homemade turkey/avocado wraps and other tasty distractions. Last year, I set my sights on Quest aid station (#5) as my main refueling center but found that 53 km is really too late to remedy many issues. This time, it was here at Corners (#3) where I took time to really assess myself as Bruce refilled my bottles and reloaded my pack with treats for the big climb of the day. With almost half of the race done, I felt fantastic!

Heading back out onto the trails after Corners, delicious wrap in hand.

Heading back out onto the trails after Corners, delicious wrap in hand (and in mouth!).

At the base of the big Galactic climb, I settled into a strong climbing rhythm, knowing that this 6 km effort would take at least 1 hour 10 min. Although this climb looks intimidating, the grade is forgiving and there are many parts where I was able to run. On fresh legs, this could be a mostly runnable climb (and I’m sure that Dakota ran up it earlier in the day). This is where the heat of the day started to take its toll. We were in the shade of big evergreens all the way up and down Galactic but the air temperature was starting to rise as we neared high noon. For this race, I borrowed Bruce’s old-school hand-crafted bandanna from his early Western States races to keep me cool. With a cloth chamois sewn inside and a secret opening for crushed ice, I was able to beat the heat. I saw others rolling ice into buffs and wrapping either head or neck in the icy turban.

Secret weapon! The circa-2000 bandanna chamois was a game-changer! I barely even noticed the 31°C scorcher day.

Secret weapon! The circa-2000 bandanna chamois was a game-changer! I barely even noticed the 31°C scorcher day.

Without going into detail ad nauseam, I flew downhill and felt good as I arrived at Quest aid station (53 km). On Bruce’s wise advice, I topped up my salts to avoid further leg cramps, washed my feet and changed my socks to offset the hot spots on the balls of my feet. After about 10 minutes, I headed on my way with another turkey/avocado wrap to-go. The next climb was another almost runnable hill called The Climb or Legacy, which riders use to access the black diamond descents like Half Nelson and Angry Midget. The switchbacks go on and on and on so it was important to remember that this would be another 1 hour 15 min grunt. Keeping an eye out for any change of grade, I challenged myself to run/shuffle as often as possible. I passed so many runners with this strategy as they struggled with the heat of direct sunlight or, once again, had underestimated the difficulty of these small bumps on the elevation profile. The most dedicated volunteer was waiting for us at the high point, same place she was last year, directing us down the sweet and steep descent as a reward for our efforts. She truly is an angel of mercy!

As I passed through AS#6 and continued to descend, my mind focused on the next climb, called Bonsai, which I had been dreading for months. Although it barely registers on the course profile, it threads its way up through a recent clear-cut in the intense heat of the afternoon. I was determined to make short work of it and I did just that, finding myself back in the shade of evergreens in no time, working my way to its summit. I arrived at the Farside aid station (#7), feeling strong but my emotional balloon was popped when I heard the time. It was 4:30 pm, 11:00 hours into the race, and that was my secret finish time goal. Since I was still at least 90 minutes away from the finish, there would be no PR for me today. There was no way I could complete the two events in my dream time of 19 hours. I should have known that the heat had forced me to move slower and I wish I’d recognized that I was feeling good and strong because I had reigned in my competitive side. But, at that time, I felt complete disappointment and I headed out onto the last section with a black cloud over my head.

And with that attitude, the wheels started to fall off. I knew that there were two climbs left, each about 125 m high and each needing about 30 minutes to summit. The Fartherside climb went well, as it is shady and gentle, but Mountain of Phlegm chewed me up. I knew that the climb ended at a helicopter pad but I just couldn’t get there. It took frickin’ forever and when I finally got to the lovely volunteer at the heli-pad summit, I sat down and whined for all my worth. As I worried aloud about the elapsed time and the course difficulty and having to do it all over again tomorrow, she replied with sweet words of praise and encouragement. She told me to sit and look around and she reminded me that I only had four km to go. She gave me exactly what I needed to get up and finish. I was still able to run so I used my frustration as fuel to power down those switchback, stairs, paths and roads. I was just able to hold off my tears of disappointment and negativity, realizing that I had to get this run done before I could worry about tomorrow. I set my jaw, clenched my fists and tried to hold my emotions at bay. I must have looked intense and half-crazed since volunteers looked at me warily and gave me very curt directions as I neared the finish.

But as the finish grew near, I could see Cathy C. and John I. taking photos. John M. was smiling just beyond the finish line. Bruce was waiting for me at the edge of the park and ran beside me with the go-pro video running as I entered the chute. I could hear my name over the loud-speaker and I saw Gary reach out with unbridled enthusiasm to be the first to congratulate me with his bear hug as I crossed the line.

Right after my well-earned hug, Gary spotted Bruce and dropped everything to congratulate him on his unbelievable TransPyrenean 850 km race.

Right after my well-earned hug, Gary spotted Bruce and dropped everything to congratulate him on his unbelievable TransPyrenean 850 km race. Our ultra-running community is small and everyone knows about everyone else’s achievements!

It was so difficult, so challenging and now so rewarding. As Gary assessed my lucidity, he asked, “Will you come back to do the 50 km tomorrow?”. And I said yes. I admitted to having second thoughts right up until he asked and I was glad he had forced me to re-commit right away.

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Brent ran his first 50 miler in a stellar time of 11:35 and was able to enjoy a few tasty Howe Sound brews before I joined in the finish line fun.

Bruce and I sat with Brent and Erin on the steps of the bandshell and shared stories of the day. Eventually I limped over to the massage table and met Magic Fingers Paul who set to work on my aching foot arches and crampy quads.

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Meet my new best friend, Magic Fingers Paul. Not only did he fix my tender tootsies, he did so without commenting on the layers of filth he had to touch.

His active release stretches made a world of difference to my throbbing feet and afterwards I was able to saunter around the finish area, re-hydrating and eating a burger, as the sun set. As the chill set in, we packed ourselves off to our campsite and I began the de-griming process and then the reloading of my gear for the following early morning start. Bruce whipped up a ravioli dinner which we enjoyed in the dark with a post-race IPA. I was asleep as soon as I was horizontal.

 

Day 2 – 50 km (31 miles) 2500 m (8500 ft)

At 4:30 am, as I was trying to will my legs into my running shorts, I heard Bruce call out from the picnic table. I peeked my head out of the tent to see that all my race gels and chews had been eaten by raccoons during the night. I had stupidly left a handful of packets out and now I had no fuel to start the day. As we ate breakfast and sipped a delicious mug of home-roasted coffee, the marauding band of four raccoons visited our campsite, even daring to venture under the table while we were sitting there! Luckily this was my only encounter with wildlife all weekend!

Still smiling at the start of day #2

Still smiling at the start of day #2

At the Alice Lake race start, in the early light of day, I was able to find familiar faces in the crowd. There was a strong sense of camaraderie between the 50/50 runners, who were sporting a different style race number than the others, and each of us congratulated the others on finishing yesterday and daring to start this next event. It turns out that only 35 runners (out of 100?) returned for the second part of the 50/50 event. I found the Courtenay/Comox contingent and wished them well just as the starting gun went off.

I won’t (continue to) bore you with a step-by-step account of the 50 km run (since it is the final 30 miles of the 50 miler course) but I will note that once my legs warmed up, they responded well and thankfully the ground wasps slept in. Time flew by with trail chatter and I was heading towards the big Galactic climb in no time flat. As I reached the base of Galactic, I briefly ran with Christine S., a familiar face among the hundreds of strangers. We caught up on each other’s lives and compared stories of friends in common before she turned her retro-blasters on and took off.

As we made our way up the big Galactic climb, Christine took this parting action shot.

As we made our way up the big Galactic climb, Christine took this parting action shot.

After the initial shock of running, I found that I was getting stronger on each climb but becoming more tentative on the descents. My feet were tender and I made every effort to plant each footfall solidly to avoid stubbing toes, moving blisters into new territory or inviting unwanted cramping. I had the royal treatment once again at Quest aid station (23 km) with both Bruce and KiCKiT Katie C. attending to my every need.

Thanks to Katie C for the picture. Sitting on the same bench as yesterday, I was treated to crewing in the style of a Formula 1 pit stop

Thanks to Katie C. for the picture. Sitting on the same bench as yesterday, Bruce and Katie got me recharged in the style of a Formula 1 pit stop

The Legacy Climb felt shorter as I was able to march up, running whenever possible, and pass so many sufferers. My Angel of Mercy volunteer was once again awaiting my arrival at the summit, directing me down the crazy Angry Midget black diamond descent.

As I arrived at the Farside aid station (40 km), I was really concerned about that final climb up Mountain of Phlegm, which had taken so much out of me the previous day. I caught up to Christine at this station and decided to hold onto her shirttails and keep her in my sights for this final section. But as the climb unfolded, I recognized certain corners and junctions and knew exactly what was left. I honestly charged up that piece of nasty and was on my way home in no time.

My final descent into town was a blur of switchbacks and leg turnover. As I approached the Smoke Bluffs stairs, I passed two runners who were gingerly taking them backwards. I hit the pavement and turned on the afterburners, simply wanting this endless race weekend to be over. After crossing under Hwy 99, I heard a train whistle blow and I knew I still had to cross the train tracks. Breaking into a full sprint, I raced that train and I won. There was no way that I was going to stop within 500 m of the finish to watch a freight train pass!

Faster than a freight train!

Faster than a freight train!

As I rounded the final corner, I allowed myself to take in my accomplishment. It was a big challenge and I tackled it well. I raced smart and only allowed myself one small section of self-pity. As I entered the finish line park, Bruce called out “You are the second woman.” but my overloaded brain couldn’t figure out what he meant. As I leaped into Gary’s arms for the second time that weekend, he confirmed what Bruce had said. Only one other woman had completed the 50/50 event so far. He set my new 50/50 Finisher trucker hat atop my head and listened to my raw feedback about the day.

Gary's methods are wise. All the racers remember is 'the hug' but Gary gets the opportunity to hear all their uncensored, untapped feedback which I'm sure he uses to ever-improve his events.

Gary’s methods are wise. All the racers remember is ‘the hug’ but Gary gets the opportunity to hear all their uncensored, untapped feedback which I’m sure he uses to ever-improve his events.

Bruce and I sat and enjoyed the finish line atmosphere, waiting for friends to cross the line, eating as much as my sore mouth could handle and cheering for everyone.

Christine and I finished close together and I was so thankful for her motivation to get out of the Farside aid station.

Christine and I finished close together and I was so thankful for her motivation to get out of the Farside aid station.

Who knew that there was a race between the Marthas today? I snuck a photo with the other Martha's parents since they had

Who knew that there was a race between the Marthas today? I had to  have a photo with the other Martha’s mum since they had my customized sign.

John Murray improved his Squamish 50 km time by more than 45 minutes this year, easily winning the under 20 age group category!

John Murray improved his Squamish 50 km time by more than 45 minutes this year, easily winning the under 20 age group category!

At some point, we heard the announcement that bumped me from 2nd to 3rd place. Adrienne crossed the line after me in the 50 km but had a superb finish in her first 50 miler the day before, making her combined race time faster than mine. There was a brief awards ceremony for the 50/50 finishers. When Gary called me up for my 3rd place award, he said the kindest things about my running history, making it sound like I am full of experience, not just getting old. Admittedly I have done a fair number of ultras, been running them for a big chunk of my adult life and can withstand a lot of adversity but I still have so much to learn and there are so many more places I want to visit on foot.

With a gleam in my eye, I chuckle at his comment about racing in the day when you had to have a map since there were only 8 ribbons used for the entire route. Oh, how things have changed!

With a gleam in my eye, I chuckle at Gary’s comment about racing in the days when you had to have a map since there were only 8 ribbons used for the entire route. Oh, how things have changed!

Podium Finish! With RD Gary Robbins, Adrienne Dundar (2nd), Kaytlyn Gerbin(1st), me (3rd) and RD Geoff Langford

Podium Finish! Here are the women’s 50/50 top three – RD Gary Robbins, Adrienne Dunbar (2nd), Kaytlyn Gerbin(1st), me (3rd) and RD Geoff Langford

I don’t know how I’ll react in November when I receive Gary’s invitation to race in Squamish next August. This race has a draw that I cannot resist – and my favourite colour is green!

The blue cap is for one 50/50 finish. The green is for two finisher and the yellow my other favourite colour) is for three. Hmmmm....

The blue cap is for one 50/50 finish. The green is for two finishes and the yellow (my other favourite colour) is for three. Hmmmm….

 

50 miler Finish Time – 12:15.33

  • 54/197 finishers; 10/50 women; 2/12 W40-49 age group

50 km Finish Time – 8:34.17

  • 148/287 finishers; 44/110 women; 9/32 W40-49 age group

50/50 Finish Time – 20:49.50

  • 12/35 finishers; 3/10 women; 1/3 W40-49 age group

Or My Squamish 50 Miler Race Report

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.

At the 50 mile start line with JP. We both look relaxed and confident about the day ahead.

At the 50 mile start line with JP. We both look relaxed and confident about the day ahead.

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.

The big climb of the day wasn't so bad. It was the long, long descent that seemed to take a toll on me. Here I am at 53 km, enjoying a cup of soup and changing one sock!

The big climb of the day wasn’t so bad. It was the long, long descent that seemed to take a toll on me. Here I am at 53 km, enjoying a cup of soup, changing one sock, cooling my head with a cold sponge and prepping for possible spanking in the last third.

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.

Look at the views from Quest University (AS #5)! There are beautiful views at every turn.

Look at the views from Quest University (AS #5)! It almost makes me want to be a student again. (Ha!) There are beautiful views at every turn.

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!

Flying down one of the aforementioned trails and trying to keep only two points of contact!

Flying down one of the aforementioned trails and trying to keep only two points of contact! (photo courtesy of Brian McCurdy Photography)

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 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)

Here's the elevation profile according to Strava. The back third was tough! In the pace profile, you can see the two places where I sat down at aid stations.

Here’s the elevation profile according to Strava. The back third was tough! In the pace profile, you can see the two places where I sat down at aid stations. Phew!

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.

I sat on this cooler and followed AS #7 advice, had a cold sponge bath and headed out, feeling refreshed and ready to attack those last climbs.

I sat on this cooler, followed the wise AS #7 advice, had a cold sponge bath and headed out, feeling refreshed and ready to attack those last climbs.

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)

I was greeted with a hug at the finish line by RD Gary - as he does for every single runner during the weekend.

I was greeted with a hug at the finish line by RD Gary – as he does for every single runner during the weekend.

Gary and I share a moment as I tell him what a fantastic and challenging race he and his committee have created. 90 minutes longer than my STORMY 2011 time!

Gary and I share a moment at the finish line as I tell him what a fantastic and challenging race he and his committee have created. This race took 90 minutes longer than my STORMY 50 mile time in 2009 on the same trail system! (photo credit: 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.

After finishing the 50/50, JP made a beeline for the finish line beer garden and is seen here enjoying a well-earned Super Jupiter ISA.

After finishing the 50/50, JP made a beeline for the finish line beer garden and is seen here wearing his awesome trucker hat and enjoying a well-earned Super Jupiter Grapefruit ISA.

Overall, my day was a huge success and I am pleased with the outcome. The beauty of Squamish is beyond compare (except, of course, for the Comox Valley!) 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

44/160 finishers; 8/57 women; 2/13 40-49 age group

White River 50 Miler 2014

For many years, I have approached races with caution. My mantra has been ‘conserve for later’ and, with about 30 ultra distance races in my wake, I dare say that it has served me well. I have completed all races that I have started, save for one, and I have usually finished feeling like I could carry on beyond the finish line. But I have found myself wondering if I have been holding back too much and if I am capable of more than my mantra allows. Having just completed the Knee Knacker 30 Miler with slight disappointment in my result, I decided that a change in mantra was in order.

Right Now.

How do you feel right now? What can you do right now? What do you need right now? Is this the best you can do right now? Can you push harder right now?

If I push too hard and end up crumpled on the trail side then I will take it as a learning experience and perhaps go back to my conservative ways. When the start of White River 50 came, the limit of my expectations was to improve on my previous finish time but that was it. Oh – and I wanted to enjoy the final 10 km section on Skookum Flats this time (which are not flat BTW).

As the mass of racers headed out along the airstrip and then along the beautifully rolling downhill single-track section to Camp Sheppard, I ran a comfortably swift pace, wanting to get ahead of the mid-packers before the switchbacks began. I found myself among a number of triathletes and road bike riders who were giving subtle hand signals every time we approached roots or rocky sections. I commented that their hands and arms would be pretty tired by the end of the day if they were going to point out all the obstacles along the way.

I arrived at Camp Sheppard Station (6.3 km) in 32 minutes. I hadn’t felt like I was going so fast and decided that the mileage was incorrect. As we started up the 3000 ft climb to Corral Pass, I settled into the switchbacks and the people around me. Although there were some steep sections and tight switchbacks, I was struck by how run-able the whole climb was. The trail would bring us time and again right to the edge of the rocky bluffs where you could look down on the airstrip where we started. Soon enough we could see the peak of Mount Rainier and it was an effort to pull myself away from that glorious view. As we climbed higher, more of Rainier would reveal itself and it seemed close enough to touch.

I found myself alone for most of this climb – out of view of any other runners – and I reveled in the feeling that the trail was mine alone. I was truly able to run my own pace, putting aside all chasing and hunting instincts. There was the occasional pass-and-chat with individuals along the way but then I would be alone again. A cramped belly had me visiting the little girl’s room a number of times and I made a mental note that a Buffalo Chicken Wrap is a poor pre-race meal choice. Luckily my stomach issues resolved themselves and didn’t impact my nutrition plan. I pushed myself to run most everything. I would equate the trail to Upper Queso or Mt Nikkei or Furtherburger and remind myself that I run this kind of grade all the time in training so don’t hold back now.

After I left Ranger Creek aid (18.8 km), I expected to see the returning front-runners coming down towards me but it took a long time before that happened. My memory of hurling myself into the bushes to allow them room was not accurate this time. They did come down fast and I had to step off the trail to make way but I had much better sight lines this time and there were far fewer since I was ahead of my previous pace.

Right before Corral Pass, the ‘photographer  ahead’ signs came into view and I was delighted to see Glenn Tachiyama and Ross Comer seated among the Paintbrush wildflowers, taking photos of all the racers with Mt. Rainier as an incredible backdrop.

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With Glenn in the foreground and Mt Rainier in the background, this is the shot of the day in my eyes! photo credit: Ross Comer @ http://www.comerphotos.com

Corral Pass (27.2 km) was a full-on, Cowboy-themed, hoot’n’holler experience. I filled my bottles and got out of there before the two-step dancing began. The trail took us on a lollipop loop up to the high point of the course before it began descending and meeting up with the ascending runners. The addition of the loop meant that I didn’t get to see my friends Marie and Carie all day and I wondered if they were ahead or behind  me.

The following 16.5 km, 3000 ft descent of single track is the crowning glory of this race. The trail is soft underfoot and mostly shady through the forest. It is such a well-established trail that there are very few rocky and rooty sections with almost no alder stumps reaching out to grab trailing toes. I ran hard because I felt great Right Now. I saw almost no one for that whole time except for a few downhill specialists that I had met and passed earlier on the climb. I pushed myself to accelerate and lean downhill because Right Now I wanted to go fast but all the while I was wondering if this would destroy my quads for the next huge climb and descent.

I spent a short time at Buck Creek aid (43.7 km) making sure I got all the food and electrolytes from my drop bag for the second half. As I got back on trail and headed on the flats through the campground, my legs felt heavy and I shuffled a bit. But as soon as the trail began heading up, my legs fell into the rhythm of climbing again. For the next 2800 ft climb, I took small, high cadence steps and passed other runners who were taking big, deep-knee steps. I thought of my legs as efficient pistons on some sort of robotic machine and I was able to run some of this shorter but steeper hill.

Fawn Ridge station (51 km) came up quickly and I knew that there would soon be a brief break in the climb as we reached the ridge line before continuing up to the false summit. I continued pushing my pace and I plugged in one ear bud so I could listen to my playlist of upbeat latin, big band and folk tunes. There is nothing quite like Squirrel Nut Zippers and Basement Jaxx to get me grooving!

Getting close to Suntop with Mt Rainier behind. photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama @ http://www.tachifoto.net

Suntop station (59.5 km) was filled with enthusiastic volunteers who knew exactly what to ask a runner. My pockets were emptied of trash, my cap was soaked in cold water, my water bottle was filled with ice and they watered down cola exactly to my preference. I took a section of PayDay bar from the food table – my only aid station food indulgence of the day – and headed down the road. The gravel road descent is a mentally tough 10 km section. It is hot, exposed, dusty and covered in – gravel! It curves this way and that way and is graded consistently until the final kilometer. I passed 3 or 4 runners who were all walking and feeling too demoralized to exchange pleasantries. I found a comfortable rhythm that wasn’t fast but it didn’t ache either. The time went by quickly.

I had been dreading Skookum Flats since I signed up for this race. When you look at the race profile, your eyes are drawn to the two huge climbs and you forget to pay attention to the final 10 km of gentle up-river single track.

Yowza! Look at those 2500+ ft climbs! But don’t forget to save something for those last “flat” 10 kilometers!

From the Skookum Flats aid station (69.8 km), the trail winds up and alongside the White River and there are many little rocky ascents that are tempting to walk. In fact, the whole trail cries out for you to walk, enjoy and meander. But by this time, I had studied my watch and knew that I was headed for a big PR. The aid station volunteer warned me that this final section would take 1 hr 30 min but it fell on my deaf ears. I pushed myself hard here and passed a number of runners who were caught off guard by this tricky section. I even passed two women – the only women I had seen since leaving Corral Pass – and one of those women had a non-racer friend who was both pacing her and muling for her (arg!). I tried not to let this minor rule infraction bother me and focused on trying to run my own race.

Luckily this difficult section offers miles and miles of beautiful distraction. photo credit: Ross Comer

There are three new wooden bridges along these ‘flats’ and the final bridge is the marker of about one mile of trail to go. No sooner had I gone over that bridge when I caught my trailing toe on a root and did a full Superman flight into the bushes. Not only did I re-open a knee scrape from Knee Knacker two weeks ago, but I landed right on my recently injured and stitched up knuckles. It took me a minute or two to stand up, deal with the ensuing calf cramps and inspect my former injuries before I was able to find my pace again and push on.

Madonna was singing Die Another Day in my ear buds as I exited the trail, which seemed fitting. The long gravel parking area seemed to lengthen as I ran towards the finish line. I turned the final corner and was shocked to see my time – 10:15:01. This was a full 60 minutes faster than my time here in 2010! This finish time placed me 84th overall (out of 248) and 13th woman (out of 64) and I was first in the women’s 40-49 age group. My friends Carie and Marie took 2nd and 3rd in our age group, making it a clean Canadian sweep! Pretty decent results for a course that offers 17 400 ft of elevation change!

So I think my new mantra is here to stay. I felt like I pushed myself hard and my body responded. I had no muscle issues or fatigue during the race and my recovery has been better than I ever remember. Perhaps all that ‘conserving’ on the downhills was causing more quad damage than leaning in and flowing through. Right Now is the mantra I will take with me to Italy next month for the Tor des Geants.

As for the White River 50 Miler, it is a phenomenal race that I hope to return to many more times. Not only is the terrain unbelievably spectacular and challenging, the organisation is flawless. There was never a moment where I questioned where to go, even though the trail markers were minimal. The volunteers were helpful, enthusiastic and obviously runners themselves. It was the perfect place to throw caution to the wind.

Or “I’ve Been Here Before”

I recently came across this little gem which I wrote on paper in 2008, after I had an operation. Now five years later, I find myself in the exact same situation, having just come out of an unexpected surgery which will lay me flat for a few months. I find the message here very motivating. If I was able to summon up the courage to set the goal of a 50 miler back then, surely I can do it again. Enjoy!

“You will require eight weeks off to recover from this surgery,” my doctor told me. “Eight weeks with no work, no lifting and no exertion.” It felt as if a heavy fog had rolled into the examination room while I tried to absorb this latest piece of information. It was surprising enough that I was a candidate for surgery, but unbelievable that I would be out of commission for such a long time. This was going to impact every aspect of my life.

“You understand that this means no running either,” she added emphatically, giving me a knowing smile.

On all accounts, I am a healthy person, living a healthy lifestyle. I eat my greens, recycle as much as possible and run just enough to allow me to truthfully call myself a runner. Cutting running out of my regime was not going to kill me but I knew I would miss it. Although I regularly met up with friends early on weekend morning to run in the rain and frost, my purpose was to socialize, always looking forward to warming up with the apres-run coffee.

It's the social life that keeps me truckin'.

It’s the social life that keeps me truckin’.

Luckily, my surgery was scheduled for the middle of November, just after the clocks fell back one hour. I often look at the end of daylight savings as the beginning of winter hibernation, so it was fitting to begin my recovery then. I followed doctors’ orders to the letter and did close to nothing for eight full weeks. As time went by, I was granted permission to go on short walks in the neighbourhood but, in all honesty, those walks wiped me out. I spent hours wondering if I would ever be back to normal again.

On the seventh of January, I had my last appointment with my surgeon. Officially, I was healed, fixed, recovered and was given my life back. It was thrill to simply go back to work. I even enjoyed shovelling snow day after day. There had been so many little things that had fallen to the wayside during my recovery.

But, what about running? I was so hesitant to begin training again. I know how hard it is to get past the one hour mark, after taking a break from running. I know that hill climbing is the first skill lost when not practised. I need a  concrete, attainable goal to help me get back into the groove. But I also want a challenge to work towards that will take me far beyond the level of fitness I had before.

My sights are set on the STORMY 50 mile ultramarathon in Squamish, BC. A fifty miler is a substantial goal and I will have to work hard to achieve it. I have run on those fabulous mountain bike trails many times and I know that their beauty will offer needed distraction during some of the gruelling times. I am keen on supporting a local race and racing alongside some of my training buddies. I also know that the race director puts her heart and soul into making this run a destination event.

In my preparation for the fifty miler, I plan on working up to the Scorched Sole 50 km race in Kelowna, BC. Again, this grassroots race is put on by a dedicated team of acclaimed runners who know exactly what racers need to succeed. I look forward to the help and motivation they will provide at the 25 km mark as they send you off for another loop of Okanagan Mountain Park.

I am looking forward to spending a lot of time on my feet and literally running away from my surgery.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

I have run away from surgery before. I can do it again.

Addendum: In 2009, I built myself back into fitness and achieved both goals. I completed the Scorched Sole 50 km in 5 hr 30 min. I went on to set a PR of 10 hr 4 min at STORMY 50 miler later that summer.

STORMY - 200m to go.  It ain't gonna be pretty.

It ain’t gonna be pretty

But it will feel good when it's over!

But it will feel good when it’s over!

The Happy Wanderer

My Paths on Strava

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