Squamish 50km: Race Review

Just shortly after the Barkley marathon the Wild Bruce Chase girls (me included) got a little excited about Gary Robbins and what he almost accomplished. It was soon after the event, we all decided it would be a good idea to register for the Squamish 50. In this race you have the option to do 50miles, 50km or 23km or the really crazy event; the 50/50 (50miles, then the 50km).

One thing my coach really dislikes is ultra running and so we have come to an agreement. My track comes first and my training will strictly be track focused. The events I train for are 800m and 1500m and just recently, I’ve seeing huge improvements in these two events. My other promise was that anything outside of track training would not interfere with my ability to get my workouts done properly. What that means for me is that I spend a lot of time not doing any specific training for bigger distances. Running over 20km for a long run would be detrimental to my speed workout the following week. I ran one 30km trail run 5 weeks before the Squamish 50km and did a 30km hike a month out. This was going to have to suffice to get me through the 50km race.

My training run with Gemma

I crewed my friend/athlete Gemma for the 50miler on Saturday. I’ve never crewed before, so this was a really amazing experience. It was a long day, but I would not have done anything differently. I loved being at every aid station watching my Gemma coming in looking strong and confident. I made tons of new friends who were also crewing and the experience was so inspiring. Once Gemma was finished her race, we headed to the hotel.

Gemma completes her 2nd 50miler and does it with a smile!

I had devised a race plan months in advance. Since Gemma had just run the course we made some adjustments the night before. I had so many secret goals for this race that I only shared with Gemma. These weren’t “winning goals” but rather realistic goals I felt based on my current fitness I could achieve. With little to no specific training, I figured I could comfortably run this race in 7 to 7 and a half hours. If things went sideways I could definitely do 8 hours no problem. The top female finishers typically finish between 5:30 and 7:00 hours. I wanted top 5 as my A goal and top 10 as my B goal and just finish the damn thing as my C goal. I knew taking the podium was out of the question simply because I hadn’t prepared my legs for the terrain.

Pic by: Brian McCurdy

After a very informative pre race prep from Gary Robbins (Race organizer), the race started. I wanted to get to the first aid station in 50mins so this was going to set the tone for how I paced the rest of the race. Since every section from aid station to aid station was so different in difficulty I couldn’t think of it was one big 50km but rather break each section down. With the experience I have from doing a 50mile race years ago, I knew how to mentally prepare and complete the 50km. I got the first aid station in 48 mins, a little ahead of schedule but it’s a course where you have to make up time where you can. At the first aid station they tell you to eat a lot and take a lot of food with you, because the next 10km are pretty much straight up the mountain and it’s pretty treacherous. I filled my bladder, drank some coke, ate some chocolate and headed up the mountain.

Pic by: Brian McCurdy

This climb was never-ending, it was a straight climb to the top so I just power hiked. My goal the whole day was just walk up and run where it’s flat or down. I got passed by a lot of people and I was totally okay with this. As I watched so many jog of the first hill, I thought to myself, that might not be the best strategy this early on. Once the downhills came though, I just flew. I love downhills way more than uphills and I especially love technical downhills. Squamish is amazing for this, it’s an honest course. Whatever your strength up or down, there is equal amounts of both. I got to the second aid station right on schedule again. I grabbed some gels, ate some chocolate and drank some coke. The aid station crew are amazing. They greet you at the station, take your pack. fill it up and put it all back together for you. My only complaint about the aid stations was that they aren’t stocked like most other ultras. They have the bare necessities, chips, potatoes, fruit, candies, coke, water and gels. In other races I have seen sandwiches, bacon and even soup. If you have a special food you love at ultras and you do this race, just pack it yourself.

Coming into Quest Aid station pic by: Gemma

Between aid station 2 and 3 I was somewhere in 5th to 8th place, but I didn’t really want to worry about this right now. I needed to get to aid station three where I was going to see Gemma and I couldn’t be late! When I arrived at Quest university, Gemma was there to meet me and I was basically halfway done the race. All I remember saying to her was, “this is really hard” and there was a lot of swearing. She fed me coke and a kitkat and helped me refill my pack. It’s really hard to leave the aid stations, the people are so nice and there’s food and you just want to take a break.  However, Gemma wouldn’t let that happen, she told me I had to leave. At this point in the race I was on pace for a ~6 hour finish.

Pic by: Brian McCurdy

After Quest you go on the road for about 2km, except the road is a straight climb up and I started to feel my legs cramping. You turn into the trails and keep on climbing and this is when things went really south, really fast. Both my legs completely cramped and I was stuck. I couldn’t do anything but just stand still trying not to fall over. I went into survival mode; stay calm and think. I had two choices turn around and hobble back to Quest and DNF or power through 25km with plan C firmly in place (just finish the damn thing). I started pounding gels and salt tabs into my stomach and drinking so much water to get it to my bloodstream. It’s amazing how fast those gels do work because within 5 minutes I was able to slowly start walking. I kept eating gels every 5 mins to get me to the crest of the hill while wondering how the hell I was going to do 25km like this. It was my fault, this was the price I was paying for not training for this race, so as long as I wasn’t going to do any long-term damage to my body I would keep going.

Coming into the last aid station. All the pickle juice. Pic by: Gemma

The next aid station was not too far and the descend down the mountain was less epic since I could barely move. I got into the aid station and started chugging pickle juice. I have never tried it, but when I told the crew I was I cramping they said it would work. Surprisingly it didn’t taste that bad. Once again I was off to the next aid station where this time Gemma would meet me for the last time before the finish. I knew from Gemma’s 50miler the day before that this section was pretty gruesome and would take me a bit more time.

It was ridiculous but thanks to Gemma, it was basically what I had expected. The climbs were not as long as the last hill, but there were sections that were so much steeper. There were way more switchbacks which make it difficult to get any momentum. My legs were not perfect, but the pickle juice helped a lot. I walked the climbs and trotted the downs, disappointed I couldn’t fully unload them. My motto to get to 40km was “just keep moving, don’t do anything stupid”. My watch kept telling me I was still on pace for somewhere between 6:30 and sub 7 hours so the cramps only stole approximately 30 mins from me.

What’s ridiculous about this next section is that the downhills start to get into mountain bike trails and you are hiking/running on wooden bridges. So just when you think you can pick up the pace, you have to go down pretty steep drops on wooden slats. Gary Robbins definitely does not take it easy on these runners.

The 50km Course

As I approached the final aid station before the last stretch to the finish line, I actually started passing a few girls. It’s hard for me to be really competitive on the trails, I enjoy just spending hours by myself, setting goals between aid station to aid station. However, this late in the race, passing three women definitely gave me a little pep in my step. I walked into the aid station 5 and oh poor Gemma. She watched me chug 2 full cups of pickle juice, a cup of coke, devour several pieces of watermelon all while she was shoving kit kat into my face. I grabbed a handful of gels and with my pack loaded up, she rushed me out of the aid station, since now I was definitely close to top 5. Gemma also told me my family was at the finish line. My Aunt, Uncle and Mom had come down from Pemberton to see me finish. Now I really couldn’t quit.

The last 11km of this course looks like it’s easy on the elevation chart, but this is Gary Robbins course, so you just have to know it’s not. On 40km of cramped legs, the course just kept going up and up and up. There was one section where you actually wanted to hands and knees climb. Everyone was grumpy by this time, like really cranky. I started to pass a lot of really sore runners now only able to walk the rest of the way to the finish line. Me? Well at this point. I had consumed about 15 gels and 5 salt tabs and 4L of electrolytes on top of all the chips and chocolate and coke. I was the really positive person that everyone wanted to punch in the face. I was singing, and reminding those grumpy runners, it’s pretty much over and to just keep moving. I admittedly swore all the way up the hills and giggled all the way down the hills.

The elevation for the 50km course.

At this point my watch was telling me I had sub 7 hours locked up and if nothing tragic happened I just had to keep moving. With around 6 km to go Gary Robbins throws in a few sets of stairs (going down). I was pretty upset about this and kept reminding myself to have a chat with him about it. Then a little more climbing, and before you knew it, you hit a gravel path. The finish was just 3km away! The rest of the race is at this point is strange. You’ve just spent 47km on a soft but technical trail. Your stabilizer muscles are pretty cooked and you hit hard packed trail to pavement. Legs and feet don’t like this! As I approached the road, my pace started to pick up and I had to keep telling myself to just get to the finish, don’t race to the finish.

Crossing the finish line Pic by: Brian McCurdy

Turning down the road that snaked to the finish line you were hit with so much headwind. Squamish gets really windy in the afternoon. Again I had to just get to the finish safely since my watch was predicting 6:45. I was more than giddy that I was going to finish 15 minutes better than I had expected. With 900m to go, I passed a woman who I thought was a 23km runner, but to my surprise, she had a blue bib. She didn’t even try to stay with me, so I just motored. At 800m to go, I saw Laura and Kristen and Laura decided to remind me I ran 800m in 2:27 last week, to which I just shot her a pretty dirty look. With 400m to go I could hear and see the finish line and I gently picked up the pace. As I came down the finishing shoot, I could hear my friends and family screaming, the clock said 6:45 and Gary Robbins was there to greet me with a huge hug! Gary Robbins hugs every single participant all the races over the weekend. I’m not sure what is harder, running 50km in the mountains or having to hug over 500 people.

Pic by Brian McCurdy

I got to my mom and I was wired. My aunt was worried I was going to drop from a heart attack. Gemma and my mom banned me from any more sugar and forced me to eat protein. These are the kinds of friends you need at a finish like this, someone who will think straight for you because you can’t think straight at all. The other thing you can’t do after this course is walk. I was done! My legs were swollen, tired and tender to touch.

The HUG! Pic by Brian McCurdy

I waited for the rest of the crew to come in and everyone ran so amazingly. I was so proud of the entire group who went out and did something we had no way to properly train for. A lot of the runners on the course mentioned they had seen a lot of runners from Ontario and they noticed we were all so good on the downhills. I wasn’t surprised.

The rest of the day I couldn’t stop smiling. I had just completed my first 50km rounding out my racing range from 800m to 80km. It doesn’t seem like a goal most people would put on their list, but for me, this was something I needed to do just for me. At the end of it all, I finished in 5th place overall female and was 23rd finisher overall. I was 2nd in my age group 40-44 and my teammate Tanya was 3rd and that was really special for me to share this with her.

Gemma ran a 50miler/crewed my 50km and then volunteered all day!

I want to thank the volunteers and Gary Robbins for making such a hard course so much fun to run. Without all these volunteers I’m not sure how this race could even happen. Secondly, my Mother, she goes all over the place with me to watch me race and she is my biggest cheerleader. Gemma is my angel. She supported me through the entire 50km and never doubted I would complete my A goal. We really do make a great team and I wouldn’t have changed a thing about that weekend. The rest of the Wild Bruce Chase team that raced, you all did amazing and I’m so lucky to have this group of girls that are as crazy as I am.

What did I learn training for a 1500m and racing a 50km? I learned a lot about the mental game of running this August. The body does require the proper training (and I don’t recommend anyone do what I did.), but the mind is so much stronger than your legs. If you let your mind take control, it will always win, good or bad. I learned you have to pick one goal and that goal has to be your focus, and you have to accept that the other goal will be what it will be. My only goal this summer was my 800m and 1500m PB. I never worried a minute over what would happen during the 50km. As my coach had said to me “You know what your body can do, and I trust you enough to not do something that will hurt you in the end.” I was able to do so well in the 50km because I’m one of the few middle distance master athletes that still keep up a higher mileage running plan. I may not have gotten in any super long runs, but I routinely log lots of miles throughout the week. Lastly, I just love to run, fast, slow, trails or track I just love it. When you really love a sport, and you know you are doing it, not to win, but to embrace the experience, many surprisingly wonderful things happen. You are free to enjoy every step rather than obsess over winning or losing and with realistic expectations, you’ll often exceed your goals.

My family at the end!


2 thoughts on “Squamish 50km: Race Review

  1. Sandie Orlando

    Michelle – I love reading your race reports because you tell it like it is, and always with a sense of humour. By keeping it real, you help readers appreciate the hard work, tolerance for pain, and mental strength that is such an essential part of finishing with a smile.
    I particularly liked reading about the understanding you have with your coach, and the agreement you made with yourself when it comes to your focus and fulfilling your passion for doing what you love to do.
    Crazy – maybe. In all the right ways!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *