Squamish 50k 2014: From Made in the Shade to Mountain of Phlegm, and Everything in Between

What can I say? This race was incredible. It was brutal. It was a true test of mettle and endurance. And I loved it. 
Photo courtesy of Brian McCurdy Photography
I finished the Squamish 50k in 7 hours 12 minutes, and came in as the 11th place woman. I have never run for that long in my life (well okay, some of it was definitely more power hiking than running), and it's crazy to think that that time is well over double my marathon time - for only 8 kilometers more in distance. That right there is a good indication of the insane terrain that this race covered. I've already waxed eloquent about the beautiful, crazy ups and downs (literally) of the course in previous posts - so, here, I'll go into the more figurative ups and downs the race presented me with.

I had a fantastic start, just running my usual training pace and feeling very comfortable on the familiar trails. The first 10k flew by; the short climb up Made in the Shade seemed easy, and Rob's Corners was fast and fun. I headed into the big ascent on Galactic exactly an hour into the day (at 7 am!) and in good spirits. I was lucky on this trail to latch onto a group of 4 people who were working together to power hike up the steeper sections and run the more runnable sections. I stayed with them all the way up and we crested the hill about 8 minutes faster than I had done on my own in training - the power of running in a group! I felt good on the ridiculously technical downhill that follows this climb, though took it easier than I normally do because we've had some rain this week and the rocks and roots were dangerously slippery. I found out after the race that a lot of people dropped out due to bad falls, ankle rolls, etc., so I think being conservative on the descents was a good strategy for me. Coming into the Quest aid station at 23 k at 3 hours (my exact goal), I was feeling strong and very happy to see my amazing partner there as my crew. I changed my socks because I was feeling the start of some blistering, Brendan replenished my gels, Nuun electrolyte drink and water (1 bottle of each), and three minutes later I set off for the Climb trail.
Coming into the Quest aid station at 23 k
I've run the Climb trail so many times in the last year, and know that it's tough and long but all runnable. I found out yesterday that what constitutes as "runnable", even on a long training run, is a very different story in the middle of an ultramarathon after 3 hours of hard up and down running. The Climb almost killed me, probably because my quads were starting to seize up from the downhill pounding, and my hip flexors were getting sore from the uphills. Not a good combination! I did a lot of hiking on this section and it took me an hour to reach the top - when it normally takes me under 50 minutes - but didn't let it get to me mentally, which I am very proud of. In fact, I kept a very positive attitude for the entire race, which I know contributed in a huge way to having such a great experience. I kept repeating a line from Scott Jurek in my head: "not all pain is significant", and telling myself - out loud - that I could do this. The run down Angry Midget (yes, that's really the name of the trail) was quite agonizing, but I was still relatively glad to be running downhill instead of struggling upward. 

I came into the third aid station in 4:30 (a bit behind my goal), but then seemed to get a kind of second wind and felt great on the next few sections of trail. I quickly realized that on any kind of gently rolling trail I felt amazing, and on any steep ascents or descents I was needing to work much harder than what I've ever had to in order to maintain any kind of decent pace. Instead of worrying about it, I focused on running strong on the sections of trail when I felt great, and reminded myself that it was pretty awesome that I could still feel good at all after more than 5 hours had elapsed. I enjoyed the course as much as possible between Fool's Gold and the bottom of Somewhere over There (which has the longest, twistiest, bounciest log boardwalk on the whole course), and ran well into the final aid station at the entrance to Farside.
Somewhere over There boardwalk (photo taken on a training run)
At this point there was only 10k left in the race, and I left the aid station at 5:44. Although normally I could cover 10k on trails in about an hour, I knew this section would take me much longer because of the steep climbing up Mountain of Phlegm and (par for the course) the equally gnarly descent on the other side, including running down a series of impossibly tall and narrow staircases into Smoke Bluffs Park. I knew that I had it in the bag at this point though, so I just put my head down for the final grind and ultimately finished the last flat 2k in just over 10 minutes, which felt like I was practically sprinting after the day's efforts (I am quite sure it didn't resemble anything close to sprinting). Crossing the finish line was an incredible feeling: Brendan was there cheering me on - as he was throughout the entire course, as well as being my crew - and race director Gary Robbins makes it a point to give every finisher a bear hug, which is just awesome.
Crossing the Finish Line
This race was such an amazing experience, and as usual I learned a lot - which is bound to happen over 7+ hours on these trails. I am so happy with my attitude throughout the race; I've gone to the dark place in marathons before, and it's not pretty. I never let myself give up, even when I was wondering how I could possibly climb another hill, and just reminded myself to keep moving forward. The race was incredibly well organized: the course was flagged into oblivion, and even if I hadn't been familiar with the trails there is no way I could have taken a wrong turn anywhere along the entire 50k. Aid station volunteers were fantastic; they came up as soon as you approached and asked what you needed, filled bottles for you if necessary, and offered general encouragement. Having Brendan there for support was a huge help, both in terms of having everything I needed at the aid stations and the boost it gave me to see him. I could not have wished for a better experience for my first ultra. It's crazy to think that exactly one year ago, I moved to Squamish and ended up in the middle of the 50-mile race by accident on my first trail run. That run planted the seed in my mind to train for this year's race, and it is a great feeling to have accomplished it. 

I know that next year (because of course I will do this again), I can knock quite a bit off my time, assuming that I have a solid summer of training without any of the setbacks that happened this year. I went into this race quite undertrained, and definitely would have attacked the course more aggressively if I had had more confidence in my fitness. But for now, I am going to relish in this year's accomplishment, and get some rest. I think I've earned it.
Time to Rest

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