Last summer I took the day to head up to Squamish and cheer on a bunch of friends running the Squamish 23 and 50km races. We cheered at a couple of the aid stations and firmly planted ourselves at the finish line (with cupcakes, chips and bevvies, of course!) for what has become one of my favourite finish line party memories yet.

This year, I decided to be a big girl too and sign up for the race myself. Gulp. Not quite ready to tackle 50km on that kind of terrain, I figured the 23 km would be doable. This past weekend they hosted their first orientation run on the course so I had the chance to see if I was right.

A lot of friends are doing this race too (or the other distances) so there was a really big group of us headed up to Squamish on Saturday. I was excited to be meeting up with running friends I hadn’t seen in awhile but a little less excited about how early I had to leave the house that morning. I made sure I had everything all laid out so that all I had to do was roll out of bed, get dressed and head out the door.

A group selfie with some of my Langley Running Room friends

We all met in the parking lot of Nesters Market around 8:00 am and after coffees and catching up, organized our rides so that some cars could take us up to the start at Quest University and other cars could be left at the market.

As we got closer and closer to starting the run, I was getting more and more nervous. I knew this was a challenging course and generally, I don’t think I like previewing a race course in case it’s awful and then I end up dreading it for race day. I tried to put that fear aside though and have an open mind – getting the run the course now would be an awesome way to know what I was up against and know what I need to train for.

We gathered in the Quest parking lot for one last group picture and we were off. Straight uphill, of course. Ouch. I knew I’d be one of the slowest in this group so I made sure that I didn’t get too far ahead and took it easy up the first hill. I walked for a bit and was able to catch up with a group of friends from Langley just as we turned into the trailhead.

Thanks Dianna for the group shot!

The first part of the run actually took us through more climbing, through trees and then into sort of an open, switch back section. Most of the group pulled way ahead here but I settled in with a few friends and made my way up. It was nice to catch up with them as we climbed.

I’m okay with being one of the slowest in the group but what really sucked was the fact that I’ve been fighting a minor cold for the past couple weeks. It’s not  but my nose has been running like crazy and right away, it was a huge nuisance on this run. I felt like every few steps I had to deal with my nose and within half an hour it was already feeling sore and chapped in the chilly weather.

And yes, it was very chilly. The forecast was for snow in Squamish and they were right! It snowed pretty heavily on us as we left Quest University and continued to snow throughout the run. I’d rather have snow than rain though and it really didn’t make the run any less comfortable. In fact, the snow leant a pretty magical quality to the trails. So peaceful.

So we trudged along and found ourselves running uphill on a gravel logging road. We could see another group of our friends not far ahead of us and eventually they stopped. When we caught up to them, they figured we had gone off course. After a couple phone calls to friends ahead, we realized we had indeed missed a turn by about 1 km. Oops.

The actual chalk markings wore off so this is
what we had missed…

Back on the correct trail, we enjoyed a seriously fun downhill section before being spewed out into a section dubbed The Valley of Despair by friends who raced it last year. On Saturday it just seemed like a clear-cut valley (the ground was frozen so the ruts made footing pretty uneven) but I hear in the summer it is so very hot and dusty. Yuck.

It was after we got back into the woods from this little valley that I realized I was totally alone. My friend had pulled far enough ahead that I couldn’t see her even in the distance. It was the first time I had been so deep in the woods all by myself and at first I felt a bit creeped out. As I got deeper into the trail however, it was hard not to get distracted by how pretty everything was around me. Maybe it wasn’t so creepy to be all alone. Maybe it was actually kind of empowering.

I just went with it, let go and flew down the descent, enjoying every step. Nothing to be afraid of, all of my friends were out there too, just farther ahead. Suddenly I was enjoying myself even more. Then I came upon a really cool section of mountain bike trails and even though they were a little slippery they were just too cool not to enjoy. Who cared if I was alone, I had these cool trails to run! You gotta admit the Squamish Off-Road Cycling Association (SORCA), the organization who builds and maintains all the trails in this area, does a fantastic job!

I eventually made my way out of the woods and into a logging area. As I trudged up the gravel logging road I heard someone call my name and it turns out I had come upon the only aid station of the day. My lovely friend Dianna was volunteering and standing there with chips, cookies and Coca Cola. I haven’t drank coke in about 7 or 8 years but it tasted amazing in the middle of that run!

Two of my friends were also at the aid station so we were able to hook up and run the rest of the way together. And just as we started to climb in the first trail after the aid station, we came upon another of our friends. The rest of the run was quite enjoyable. As much as I felt kinda tough and hardcore scrambling through those trails by myself, it was much nicer to amble along with friends. We chatted about all kinds of things as we made our way up and down and up again.

We eventually made our way to the top of Mountain of Phlegm (don’t you just love the trail names?) and knew that behind all of those clouds was a 180 degree view of Howe Sound. Hopefully on race day it will be clearer because I can only imagine the view must be incredible.

At the top was also where we met this lovely young lady tied to a tree…

We all laughed about it on our way down the other side and after asking Twitter the other night, I finally figured out why she was there. Apparently that trail is called Beyond Valleycliff of the Dolls and I was told there are actually tons of dolls strung up in the trees around there. Smurfs and a family of lumberjacks too! Guess I need to keep my eyes open on race day!

Anyhow, we finally made our way down the mountain and there was just a final crossing of the highway to get back to Nester’s Market where everyone else was waiting for us. All told, this adventure took about 4.5 hours and I had been expecting somewhere between 3.5 to 4.0. So if you consider the fact that I was sick and stopping to blow my nose almost every 10 feet and that unfortunate 2km detour we took, I’m pretty happy with our time. Take those factors out and let me continue training and I think I’ll do just fine on race day.

My legs were pretty tired after finishing but I managed to hobble over to Starbucks where I was greeted by friends with warm drinks and chocolate milk. It’s amazing how much more human you feel after changing into dry clothes and gulping down a large carton of chocolatey goodness.

All things considered, it was a great day in Squamish. Despite how long it took, I really enjoyed the route and can’t wait to go back this summer for the actual event. It was so great seeing so many friends and also just people I know of and follow on social media, definitely a warm community feel and that was great way to be introduced to this event.

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  1. Jessica @ RunYourMuttOff    

    Running (and getting lost) in the woods by myself totally scares me! I’m so impressed you did it. And those photos are magical, what an awesome place to get to run!

  2. FineFettle (Michelle C.)    

    That’s quite the crowd! Strung up Barbie IS creepy. The swirly wooden trail and snow dusted paths among the trees are gorgeous! I would love to run in Vancouver some day!

  3. Ange @ Cowgirl Runs    

    I so miss running in the trails. Calgary has some, but there’s nothing like the trails in Vancouver and on the Island. I could smell the trees through your pictures.

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