WAM 100k 2022: "Snack Time Was Great Until it Wasn't"

In 2018, I attempted the inaugural WAM 100k, but a calf muscle strain forced me to drop out at the 60k mark. I have been signed up for the race ever since, but still hadn't completed it: in 2019, I dropped down to the 50k distance and then still dropped out of that race because my heart just wasn't in it; and then in both 2020 and 2021 the race was cancelled. With experience, I realized that part of my problem in both 2018 and 2019 was that I ran the Squamish 50k in August. I know a lot of people can do those back-to-back (they're about 3 weeks apart) , but for me they are much too close together to be fully physically and mentally ready for WAM. This year, I made WAM my only goal trail race and was determined to get to that finish line - but then in April, I ended up injured again, with my old nemesis hamstring issue that flares up every now and then. As I worked through that injury with strength building and physio, I found that although I couldn't run at all, I could hike - and so I spent all of May and most of June doing tons of vertical hikes in Squamish and North Vancouver. This was a very unusual start to the summer running season for me - normally at that shoulder season time of year I'd be building my base mileage with runnable forest runs, before the real alpine running opens up. But because my natural inclination is to run (the road runner in me lives on, I guess), steep hiking is not what I would consider one of my strengths - and so I used this time to work on that aspect of my training. By mid-July, I was finally able to manage a 20k run, and from there I decided to just carefully build up my mileage toward WAM in September, without really expecting to be able to get to that 100k distance but hopeful that I could at least run the 50k.

We had a very cold and rainy spring this year, so the alpine opened up later than normal and the timing (late July) happened to coincide with when I was able to start running long distances again. I spent the summer essentially playing in the mountains with friends, feeling stronger and stronger as the runs piled on. And slowly, the hope started to creep back in - could I maybe actually attempt the 100k? Sometime in August I started to feel confident that I could do it, and mentally committed to toeing the line.

Fast forward to race day: At 5 a.m. on Sept 10, my friends Hilary, Katie and I trotted off the start line together along the lovely gravel path that eases you into the trails. The last time I started WAM, I realized a couple things very quickly: my headlamp was terrible, and my eyesight in the dark was even worse (side note: generally it is a wise idea to find these things out before the race, not during it ;) Knowing this, I had a much better headlamp this time around and was kitted out in an ancient pair of glasses that I could just throw in my pack once the sun came up. What a difference this made! Vision is highly underrated, I tell you. 

5 a.m. start. Me, Katie, and Hilary in the left foreground. Pic by Scott Robarts.

The three of us set a strong, steady pace from the beginning, moving efficiently and comfortably through the twisting forested trails before starting the steep climb up Blackcomb Mountain. Some dude said to Katie "is this really the pace you want to be setting?" and we basically just laughed as we ran past him (spoiler alert: Katie won the women's race and finished 5th overall. So, yeah. That was the pace to be setting). The sun was rising as we popped out of the trees and we could see the brilliant full moon still in the sky. It was stunning, and for the millionth time I took a moment to be awestruck by the beauty of this place that we are so lucky to run in. It was also such a stark contrast to the 2018 WAM, which was pouring rain, and so cold that it was actually snowing in the alpine. I'm no delicate creature, but I must say: when you know you're going to be out there all day, it is a pretty big mental boost to have great weather.

Sunrise over Whistler village and Rainbow mountain

As we merrily chugged our way up Blackcomb, we (perhaps tempting fate) started talking about how amazing it would be if we were the eventual women's podium. I've been on the podium with two friends once before in a race (my last ultra, actually - the 2019 Squamish 50k), and it is the BEST feeling. But, it was very early in the race at this point, and there was a lot of running left to do: if I've learned anything in my now 8 years of experience running ultras, it's that anything can happen over these distances. As we rolled over the Lakeside and Decker trails at the top of Blackcomb mountain, our little train stretched out a bit, but we were never running far apart.

One really fun thing about our race course is that as we topped out on Blackcomb we started crossing paths with the 100 mile racers, who at that point were doing the same trails in the opposite direction to us, near the end of their race that had started at 7 a.m. the day before. So instead of focusing on our own races, mostly we talked obsessively about when we would cross paths with Tory, knowing that we should see her somewhere in her last 20k, sometime mid-morning (she was in the lead, which we knew from updates from friends). As it happened, we saw her at the best possible moment: we had all come back together after an aid station, and were running down a service road right as she popped out of a trail heading up. We were at roughly 25k into our race, and she was at roughly 145k into hers. Much screaming and hugging and a little crying ensued. It was perfect.

Team Unicorn causing a scene, as usual. Pics all by Katie.

Seeing Tory put us all on a huge high and we were so happy running down the Ascent trail. I was taking my downhills quite cautiously, which is unusual for me - I'm not sure why it was happening but it seemed to be what my body wanted to do, so I just went with it - and Katie and Hil got ahead of me as we ran back down the mountain. I rolled through the aid station at 30k 5 minutes behind them, and did a food and water exchange with my good friend Hailey, who had kindly offered to crew for me the day before running her own 50k (that aid station was the only place on course we were allowed to have crew). She seemed very surprised at how much food I was asking her to stuff into my vest, ha - but my plan was to not stop for my next drop bag until the 70k mark, so I wanted to make sure I had enough calories with me. Side note about the calorie intake: Hilary, Katie and I were all on the same "eat every half hour" fuelling plan, so when we were together one of us would always holler "SNACK TIME!" at the half hour mark. It was quite helpful and very funny, at least in the early stages of the race when the stomach was still cooperating.

I started up Singing Pass, which is a long runnable grade uphill single track trail that brings you to the alpine on Whistler mountain. My climbing was feeling strong, so I did a hike/jog combo, fairly quickly bumping into Hil and Katie again. We stayed together for most of the climb after that, with Katie pulling ahead once we reached the Musical Bumps trail at around 40k. As I watched her bright pink shirt disappear (quickly) into the distance, that was the last time I saw her for the rest of the day. Hilary and I continued doing our little accordion dance, and split up and came back together several more times right up until the 70k point. We had another endorphins boost when we crossed paths with our friend Linda on Oboe mountain (one of the "bumps"), who as usual was running strong in the 100 miler.

Running happy on Musical Bumps trail, on top of Whistler mountain. Pic by Brian McCurdy.

I was having an amazing day so far, but somewhere around the 45k point, I started feeling quite nauseated. I found that I could still force food in without feeling really any worse for wear, but it was definitely getting harder to adhere to the Snack Time schedule. It was a very hot day (around 30 degrees) and being in the exposed alpine at the height of the heat was beautiful but definitely contributed to the stomach starting to rebel. Once we left Musical Bumps and Half Note trail, we took a very steep road (Matthew's Traverse) up to Whistler peak, and that road was quite a grind. Hilary and I hiked it together, stopping to scoop some snow onto our heads and necks. We came into the aid station at the peak, at 50k, in about 7h45, which was much faster than either of us had really anticipated being there. Hil looked at me and said "do you think we can negative split this race?" (run the second half faster than the first) and I basically just dissolved in laughter (hard NO.).

As I made my way ever downward from the peak, my nausea was worsening. I definitely couldn't manage anything solid, but was still able to force gels down, even though I constantly felt like I was going to throw up. The rest of my body was holding up amazingly well - I had no muscle soreness or niggles developing, and this kept my spirits high even though I felt so sick. The new route down after Khyber Pass was a nice rolling trail called Kashmir that I really enjoyed. There was an aid station on the service road at the end of this trail, that we ran through at 60k on the way down and then again at 70k on the way up. I stopped briefly on the way down to re-fill water and eat half a banana, which seemed to settle ok.

After the aid station we ran down a service road for a couple kilometres before joining the trail system in Cheakamus, a gentle rolling/basically flat single track that looped us back around via the tall suspension bridge across the Cheakamus River. I caught up to Hilary again, and found out that she was also dealing with nausea. As we walk-jogged a section we in normal circumstances would 100% be running, I admitted to her that I was frustrated that even though my legs felt so strong, I couldn't run fast because of my stomach. In her infinite wisdom, she just side-eyed me and told me that "it's 100k. We're supposed to be feeling like this" - and for some reason, that made all the difference. Of course it's supposed to hurt, somewhere, and at some point! Was I expecting it not to? It made me laugh, and snapped me out of the frustration and into a more positive mindset. When we reached the 70k aid station again at around 11.5 hours elapsed, Hilary was in and out quickly but I got my drop bag and sat myself down for a bit to re-set. I changed my buff, pulled my poles out of the bag, and swapped out all my solid foods for gels, hoping I could continue to eat those. I drank a little soup at the aid station, but even that wasn't going down very well. We had seen the 4th and 5th place women leaving the aid station on their way down as we were coming back up, so I knew that we were solidly in podium positions. But I also knew I had the long and steep climb back up to the peak ahead of me to do on very little energy, so shuffled my way back onto the trail, determined to top out before sunset. 

I've done that climb several times in training, and it is brutal on fresh legs, never mind after having covered 70k. I felt like I was still moving fairly efficiently uphill, though, somehow - I really don't understand where the energy came from, since I had eaten so little in the last few hours. Thank goodness for the military precision of Snack Time in those earlier miles - the front-loading of calories seemed to be sustaining me well enough. I crossed paths with quite a few 100k runners coming down the mountain, and it was a nice boost to be exchanging encouragement with people. I was completely exhausted on the final push up High Note Trail, and of course that's right where Brian was perched to snap this incredible shot that so perfectly illustrates how I was feeling:

Exhausted, but still moving forward. Pic by Brian McCurdy.

Shortly after that photo was taken, I finally threw up, just before I reached the peak aid station. It actually felt good in a way, since my stomach had been threatening to do it for 35k. I staggered into the aid station tent, sat down, and told myself I wasn't leaving until I got some food in me. I chatted with Sasha, who hilariously told me I looked pretty good ("...like, not pale or anything"), and altogether got a little too comfortable sitting there. I had a couple sips of miso soup and managed to eat a slice of quesadilla, and then finally sort of remembered I was in a race and got my butt moving again, back down Matthew's Traverse. Unfortunately, running down the road proved a little too unsettling, and the quesadilla made its way back up right before I crossed paths with my good friend Malin, who was sweeping the 100k (following the last runner on course). I was so happy to see her but I think I just shouted something like "you just missed the puke party!" as I ran past - not that nice of a welcome, sorry Malin. Luckily, she happened to win the 2019 version of this race, so is no stranger to how it feels in the late stages of it.

The quesadilla: It was good while it lasted. Pic by Sasha Brown.

There are a lot of things that amaze me about running distances this long, and one of them is the nature of time during the race. It sometimes seems to be crawling, sometimes racing (especially when you are dreading the next Snack Time), but at some point I always seem to look at my watch and think "How is it even possible that I am still running?". As I made my way back over the Musical Bumps, the sun was setting behind me and it was just the most magical experience, certainly one of the coolest ones I have ever had. I was entirely alone on the trail (although I realize now that Hilary wasn't that far ahead of me, but I couldn't see her at all), it was completely silent, and I watched the day turn to night as I ran on top of a mountain. It was incredible how long it stayed light for, owing to the clear sky, full moon, and no tree cover - I didn't need to turn my headlamp back on until I was heading down from Oboe, sometime after 8 pm. The trusty old glasses made it back onto my face and I started back into the forest.

Sunset behind Black Tusk from Flute summit

Running down Singing Pass was a somewhat comical attempt at staying positive while feeling so queasy. My legs still felt great, but every time I tried to pick up the pace a little I almost threw up, so I would have to dial it back. I ended up bargaining with myself that I would run until my watch beeped the next kilometre, and then I would walk a little to let my stomach settle. It was basically the world's slowest interval workout (while running downhill, ha). I was getting quite emotional, though, visualizing that finish line and knowing how hard I had worked for this. Emerging from the trail back into the open bike park area just above Whistler Village was overwhelming - I knew that it was now a short trek over to the base of Blackcomb mountain to the finish line and I forced myself to just run. I got a bit of a rude shock when I realized that the finish line was not, in fact, at the aid station we had run through at 30k (which was my completely false understanding), but instead was up a hill and around a corner from there. I actually ran through the aid station yelling/whimpering "WHERE IS IT?!" and Nick (the aid station captain) I think took pity on me and shepherded me up the hill in the right direction.

Soon enough I saw the twinkling lights of the finish line area, and then as I rounded a corner up a little hill I heard John Crosby on the mic say "and here's someone showing off by sprinting to the finish line", which I thought was pretty funny considering the pace at which I was moving. I shouted back "I am definitely NOT sprinting, John!", but I don't think anyone heard me. I crossed the line and was swallowed in hugs by Hilary and Katie, with Brendan trying to take photos as I jabbered somewhat deliriously about all the puking (which it turns out both Katie and Hil also did on the way back down from the peak). But the train was reunited once more, as the women's podium and 5th, 9th, and 11th overall among 83 racers who finished (and 105 who started). We had literally and figuratively come a long way since dreaming about this just after sunrise that morning on Blackcomb.

Another podium of friends. How lucky am I? Pic by Scott Robarts.

As I write this post, it is a week after the race and I have never felt so good after an ultra. My legs had almost no muscle soreness afterward, which I still find incredibly bizarre - I guess the combination of doing so much vertical up and down in training, and the fact that the race had such a nice mix of running and hiking. I also stayed fairly well hydrated all day; since I was having such trouble getting food in, I was at least making sure to drink lots (although even water seemed repellent to me, but at least it would go down). Katie perfectly summed up the day for all of us with regard to the nausea when she said "Snack Time was great... until it wasn't). My stomach seems to have since recovered, though it did take me a few days to be able to eat my usual large portions of food again(!).

Mostly I'm left with the lingering sense of an amazing adventure in the mountains on some of my favourite trails, and the joy of having had the good fortune to spend so much of the day with friends. I had built this finish up so much in my mind as a kind of "redemption" run (take that, WAM!), but in the end that's not really how I feel. I'm happy and excited to have finished it, of course, but that never even came into question before or during the race - I knew that unless I had some major physical injury (like last time), I would get to that finish line. I'm happy and excited to be on the podium, but that was never really my goal so it is just a very sweet icing on the cake, especially sharing it with Katie and Hilary. I think what I am taking away from this experience is real pride in my mindset and how positive I stayed throughout the day - I know for certain if I had let myself get into a negative headspace that it would have been very hard to get out of it. I had fun all day, truly - even when I was feeling awful - and that makes all the difference. So 2022 WAM 100k feels like its own accomplishment, not some kind of getting back at 2018 WAM, which I think is just how it should be. It feels more like an opening of a chapter than a closing of one, in that the race still holds a lot of my curiosity: I can say with certainty that I'll be back. But for now: rest and recovery, and revelling in achieving a goal that I've held for a really long time. 

Mission accomplished. Pic by Sasha Brown.

The final numbers:

Distance 102 km/63 miles
Ascent + Descent 6,000 m/20,000 ft
3rd Female | 11th overall (83 finishers; 105 starters)

What a course! The first climb is Blackcomb, the second and third are Whistler.


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