I once attempted a 50 mile race. This was back in December 2013 at The NorthFace (TNF) challenge in San Fran. Weeks before that race I was experiencing some new nagging pain in my inner leg, but it came and went, so I thought very little of it. As runners know, we are often good at ignoring minor signs of injury in order to keep moving along, and this is what I was certainly doing. I also had an ongoing pelvic injury/issue which had stuck around for months (I was a bad runner/patient and didn’t rest when I should have!), but had still been running well that season, so it seemed silly not to keep on plugging away. In any case, that little nagging pain, turned out to be a stress fracture (most likely) at the lesser trochanter of the femur. It wasn’t diagnosed until the following March, so you can imagine the frustration I was having day after day, unable to identify this pain. That pain, which became quite excruciating at times during TNF race, caused me to think twice about running the full 80km’s, so I pulled out, disappointed at my defeat, but glad I didn’t make things worse for myself.
So, fast forward to 2015. That 50 mile distance was still unattempted and unfinished. It had become the new nagging issue in my head rather than an injury. I very much wanted to conquer that distance, but it still scared me, it still made me think I wasn’t quite ready to be on my feet for so many hours. In fact, the longest I had been out prior to Saturday’s race was during Trailstoke last year. Having missed a turn, and added on about 5km’s, I was out for a little under 7 hours and around 54km’s. It was a frustrating race for me, but my body held up, which gave me some confidence that a longer race would certainly be possible, especially if I was in good health.
To be honest, when I put my name into the Squamish 50 race earlier this year, I wasn’t 100% sure I would actually end up there. My Summer schedule wasn’t set, but in the back of my head I thought it may be good to find a new race at that time of year, despite the fact that I love the event and all it has to offer. But, as August approached, and I had put off entering anything else, Squamish 50 remained on the table. I knew the last 50km’s of the course quite well, but still, the idea of being out there for so long, on a slightly injured ankle, frightened me a bit. I was nervous. This was perhaps the first time in years that I had felt so anxious about a race. I questioned my training, my ability to fight through discomfort, my ankle stability, and wondered if I would just make a fool out of myself and have to pull out of the distance once again. In the end though, the story had a happy ending (albeit I did have some moments of regret, frustration, anger, fatigue, and maybe some wimpering when I jammed my ankle and bailed quite a few times during a good chunk of the race).
So, here is the recap of my very first 50 mile race. Perhaps I now feel like I can call myself a “real” Ultra runner, but maybe that only comes once you finish 100 miles….
It was 3:30 AM when I woke on Saturday. I had woken up frequently during the night to check my watch, so it wasn’t much of a struggle to wake naturally before my alarm that day. With little appetite at such an early hour, I barely managed to eat breakfast, and all I really wanted to to was just start the race.
5:20 found us at the start line. I gave my last nervous look at my husband, turned the head lamp on, and stood amongst a group of runners who were ready to conquer the beautiful trails of Squamish.
Unlike a road race, very few people were in a rush to battle for a lead spot. There were many many many……more km’s to come. The daylight was slowly creeping out from the dark sky as we made our way along the regional trails of the town before hitting single track goodness at about 11km’s. Along the way, I managed to have a little chat with super downhill Ultra star (and winner!) Cassie Scallion from Colorado. We had met briefly in March while racing Chuckanut, but it was nice to chat once again.
The first climb, much to my surprise, was more of a scramble than I imagined. It was short but sharp, but nonetheless a great way to warm the body up to what was in store for the next “few” hours. I love going uphill, and don’t mind powering up when I can, even it’s in the form of hiking rather than running, but to be honest, my downhill skills have never been strong, and to make matters worse, I was so worried about my ankle. I had been improving these downhill running skills over the last year, but still, the thought of spraining it again after less than a 3 week recovery form the initial injury, made me even more cautious and therefore, quite slow on each and every downhill section. Looking back, I think I could have taken more chances on those downhill sections, braked less, saved my hip flexors (which started to scream at me from 25km’s in!), and run at least 20 minutes faster over the whole course. However, my cautionary skills allowed me to finish uninjured, and to that, I thank myself. Sometimes you just have to take that chance.
Within the first 40ish km’s, I had the chance to play leap frog with Cassie. Her incredible downhill skills blew me away. I was in awe and could take some major pointers from her! I moved well on the uphills and flowing single track, but each slick, dusty downhill killed me. However, having company in this back and forth fashion, allowed me to stay motivated.
Once we hit the ‘big’ climb, which I personally love in this course due to it’s mostly runnable terrain, I caught the lead lady Amanda, had passed Cassie, but knew I would be seeing her fly by me in the km’s to come. What goes up, must come down, so that long uphill meant a long downhill which I was dreading to some degree.
Fast forward a little bit, and this is where my body and mind went downhill. I began to loose focus, I was running alone after Cassie took a strong lead, I was nauseous, my head was pounding, I was overheating, and stumbling a lot. The hip flexors were on fire, my ankle felt rough, the sun was beating down, and I wondered what I was doing out there. Looking back though, I think I had taken in fewer calories at this point, made the mistake of not getting some ice at the past aid station, and the negative thoughts overtook me for almost 25km’s!
At 62km’s good old Garmin gave up and shut down. I was partly glad to see it die on me. I was tired of watching my pace shuffle along (not that ‘pace’ really matters, but I lost motivation to push). All I could do to keep me mildly ‘in the game’ was knowing that at Aid station 7, there would be cold water, hopefully ice, salty food, and a wonderful husband to keep me going. I also tried to convince myself that I was doing a measly 50 miles, while some people battled trails for 100 miles in rougher terrain. Suck it up Cat, you can do this!
Aid station 7, I love you! This was honestly one of the best moments of the race. What a crew of volunteers. They doused me in water, shoved ice in my pack, passed 2 warm, unappetizing cups of coke my way and I shoved a handful of salty chips in my mouth, chased by a salt tablet and m and m’s. What a sight us runners must be at times! We are like wild animals, making odd noises, shuffling in and out of the stations with an occasional smile, some grumbling and mumbling, but believe me, we are ever so thankful for this havens along the way.
However I may have looked, I thanked them, had some words of encouragement from my man, and all of a sudden, knowing what lay ahead of me for the next 10km’s, I found another level of strength. How is that even possible? After hours of feeling sorry for myself, questioning why I would enter a race like that when clearly 50km’s is enough, and feeling so much fatigue and discomfort in my hip flexors and some in the ankle, I somehow found myself, my true racing self, and bounded (well, kind of…..) up the trails and smoothly made my way towards the centre of Squamish.
With less than 2km’s to go, I could see a lovely lady cheering me on. The amazing Anne-Marie Madden had come out to see me finish my first 50m race. Her voice and motivation made this one of the most wonderful ways to finish strong. Thank you AM!
And so, after 9hours and 12 minutes, I ran across that familiar finish line and gave one the most passionate race directors I know, a big hug. Gary Robbins, you are truly incredible. Your races are tough, so very very tough, but they are also incredibly well organized and without a doubt, spectacular. Your crew of volunteers couldn’t have been better and the pink flagging that dressed the trails of Squamish are still envisioned in my head.
I learned a lot that day. I also realize that my 50 miles, barely covers what some Ultra runners do. And however I may have felt in a portion of that race, doesn’t take away how I felt when I finished strong at 80km’s.
I’m not quite ready to get training yet. I respect my body too much to do that. I want to return to feeling normal before I do anything too strenuous, and I am appreciating having my legs up a little more this week. Have I thought about doing another 50 mile race you may wonder? Ask any runner after they finish an epic event, and I doubt anyone (despite the discomfort), would say ‘No’. There are too many trails to explore out there, and each one is so unique. It’s hard to get bored of trails. So, yes, I would race another 50 mile event, but give me some time to recover before I set any goals.
Cheers Squamish 50! And a big thank you to Compressport for keeping my legs happier in the trail shorts and socks once again this year at the race (no blisters!). Thank you Julbo eyewear, Frontrunners Victoria, and of course Joe for all of your support. Happy running everyone.
Super trail runner and cheering squad, Anne Marie Madden
Awards post race with race director Gary Robbins
Hazy skies in the Shuswap the day after the race