Sunday, November 11, 2012

Squamish 50

August 11, 2012

Since I had endeavored to try out some longer races this year I had decided late last year that I would test myself on a 50 Miler.  Squamish was a new race designed to replace Stormy (a 50 & 100 Mile race) co-directed by ultra runner Gary Robbins.  I know Gary from meeting him on many adventure and running racers over the years.  Gary loves some good single track so expected that any course he would be involved with would likely have some pretty sweet terrain.

My training up to this race was OK and I got in a couple of longer back to back runs on Sat-Sun, but I knew my overall volume wasn't a much as is should have been if I wanted to achieve my potential on a race of this distance.  I had little doubt that I could complete the distance, but knew that I was likely to suffer quite a lot.  Since my prep was sub par my goal was to finish running strong and not be forced to hike the last 30k!

The course starts and ends in the town of Squamish.  As the elevation profile below shows, the starts off with  over 10km of flat terrain in and around the town.  I guess this is supposed to be the warm up?

Having spent the night right in town just across from where the finish line, I found my way to the start line a couple of km from there.  It was a early 6:15 start, but that is to be expected with a race of this length.  Once the race started I settled in to a comfortable pace, pretty much ignoring a bunch of guys who went bombing ahead.  Some were doing the relay so you couldn't reliably use their pace as a good indicator.  This was not a race to test and see if I could hang on to someone.  After a short time, I found myself running near Ellie Greenwood, a world class ultra runner who I have raced against a couple of times.  I decided to stick with her for a while as I knew that if I could stay with her, I'd be having quite a good race.  We chatted a bit as the kilometers ticked off.  Once we got out of the urban area and started the climb I was surprised to see her fall back a bit.  I didn't expect it to be the last of I would see of her.

As you can see from the profile below, the first climb is the steepest.  It was indeed fairly steep although there was nothing insane and it is all runnable.  At one point I passed a guy wearing five finger shoes.  That seemed pretty impressive for a 50 Miler although on second thought, I figured he was probably doing the relay rather than the whole race.  I gained a couple of places on the climb and the body was cooperating pretty well at this point.

Elevation profile of the race from my Garman GPS.

I had opted to wear a Salomon hydra pack I had won at Kneeknacker.  It had a single bladder which I filled with water and had a holder in the back for a bottle.  I had to rig up a string so that I didn't lose the bottle when trying to get it in or out of the pack. I had to fiddle with it a bit during the race, but overall it worked well.  I was working on hydrating and fueling myself regularly  knowing that was critical for a race of this length.

The climb lasted a bit longer than expected, this notion aided by the fact that I guy I was running near kept saying "I know this hill, the top is just around the next corner"  I think he may have shut up after saying that for the fifth time.  Eventually, I topped out at the peak above Alice Lake and headed down a fairly steep and technical decent.

There was a good size aid station around 17km prior to the course heading out for a 5+km loop with some modest climbing.  I moved fairly well through this section keeping my pace solid although with 75% of the race still to go, I could tell it was going to be a long day.  After returning to the aid station, we passed by Alice Lake and Stump Lake on the way to the northern most section of the course.

Around 30k, after passing another small aid station, Ellie decided to fly by me.  Knowing her tenacity, I wasn't at all surprised to see her again.  I kept her in sight for a few kilometres and was actually able to catch back up on a small climb.  It wasn't to last though, and after that she gradually pulled ahead.  Trying to match her would have been unwise.  I was feeling OK, but there was a lot of race left, I had to run my own race.

After a bit more trail, the course went onto road for a few kilometres as we neared Quest University.   Unfortunately, there is a bit of a climb up to the major aid station at the high point of the university.  Since the course passed through this aid station again, I knew I would have to do the climb twice.  After a pit stop there and a few moments to grab some liquids and snacks, I headed out again.  

Mid race.  Photo credit Trevor Richmond

Ahead of me was the longest climb of the course, about 8k, most of it on a gravel road.  It wasn't as steep as the first climb, but definitely ground me down.  For the first 4 or 5 kilometres I continued to feel reasonable, but as I headed back onto trail, I started to fade and had to hike some sections even though it wasn't particularly steep.  Everything just started to hurt and I just didn't have it anymore.  It felt more like a muscle issue more than a classic "hitting the wall" although it retrospect it was probably a bit of both.  As you can see from my kilometre paces below, my pace plummeted around the 50km mark from around the 7min/km rate at the beginning of the climb to slower than 10min/km.  Each kilometre seemed to take forever (because it did).  I finally made it to the top of the climb and I hoped I would be able to get some speed back on the downhill section.  While I accelerated a bit, I was still moving very slow.  The legs just felt destroyed and my pace hovered around 9min/km, pitifully slow for a downhill section even though it was somewhat technical.  It didn't help that I was basically out of water.  Given my snail like pace, I know it was enviable that I would soon get caught and after a few kilometres, I was caught by a couple of guys.  One was good enough to offer me an Ibuprofen, which I took, hoping it would take the edge off.

My kilometre pacing for the race.  My 'bonk' is evident from km 50-60.

Since I was out of liquids, I stopped at small creek to fill up my bottle.  It turns out that I was almost back at the university, but I didn't know this.  I took in a lot of fluids and calories at the station and then headed out.  I had started to feel better even before getting to the aid station and once I left it, I felt much stronger.  The difference was quite dramatic actually - instead of barely being able to run, I now felt relatively fresh again (as fresh as can be expected after nearly 60km).  We had to head up the same road climb again and as I did so, I began to pass many races on the first time up.  Fortunately, this time we only went about half way up the climb before taking a different single track back down.  I continued to feel quite good and was able to make good time on the downhill.

Once I got back down again, I had to make my way partway up the road climb for a 3rd time.  While I was still feeling good, I can't say I loved having to go up the same hills 3 times - overall, the course was great, but this repetition was my only complaint.  Luckily this climb was much shorter and I was soon hitting some fun single track again.  After a few more km's I had a steep decent on Powerhouse Plunge followed by a bit more on gravel road.  It was a bit hot in the exposed area, but I was still moving well and was pretty confident that I could finish strong.  I hadn't been able to reel in anyone ahead of me as they must have had quite a gap on me, but I figured I still might and I was pretty sure no one was going to catch me.

 As I approached the last aid station, my Garman GPS indicted that I had traveled 74km.  Assuming that the course was close to 80k, I figured I had 6k or so to go.  The marshals informed me that it was 8km to the finish.  Now 2km may not seem like much extra on such a long race, but while I was still holding in fairly solid, I was more than ready to be done.  Still, there was nothing to do but suck it up and finish.  I had to do one more decent climb through Crumpet Woods and while it was tough, I manged to run it all.  After a decent through those trails, the last few kms were on road.  I pushed on finishing the last few kms around a 5 min/km pace.  Eight hours, forty six minutes and forty nine seconds after started, I crossed the finish line in 9th place. I was quite close to reeling in 8th place who was just over a minute ahead, but it didn't matter.  While, I wished I hadn't suffered and slowed so much in the middle, I was happy to get the job done and finish well.  I'm not sure if I will do another, but it was good to get this one under my belt.  Jason Loutitt won overall with a pretty amazing time of 7:25:22, 7 minutes ahead of 2nd place Aaron Heidt.  Jason also posted a 37min 10k opening time!  Ellie ended up finishing 5th overall, 40 min ahead of me.  Kudos too to Jeremy Clegg who has trained like a beast over the last year and managed to stag an 6th place finish in 8:09:14.

Perhaps the longest run I will see on this watch?

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