Two summers ago when I was just starting to get into some trail running, I spent the day up in Squamish cheering for all of our friends at the Squamish 23 and 50 races. It was a beautiful, hot, sunny day and the elation and joy on everyone’s faces as they crossed the finish line was awesome. I wasn’t even running but had a pretty great day.
Last summer I got the nerve up to run the Squamish 23 race and it pretty much kicked my butt. Super hot day, low on energy, I spent a lot of time walking on the course that day. I finished with a decent time but it wasn’t the race I wanted.
So of course this year I signed up for the 50k! If the 23 was tough, the 50’s gotta be better, right? Ha ha. I even managed to squeak in and snag the very last guaranteed spot. It was meant to be.
One of the great things about Squamish is that they host a bunch of orientation runs throughout the year so that runners can get to know the course and the first one was a couple weekends ago. And yes, I’m way behind in writing about it!
We headed up to Squamish super bright and early (well it was still dark, actually) so that we could meet up with friends before starting the run. This run was also going to be a bit of stagette adventure for another friend of ours so we had to get her all dressed up and deliver her instructions before we started.
I have to admit, I was a little nervous about this run. I’d found the course challenging the last two times I ran it and hadn’t really done any long trail runs in the past couple months so I was worried I wouldn’t exactly be ready for it. I was going to be running with good friends though and we’d all said we wanted to just take it easy so I prepared myself for a 4-hour, 23-ish km jaunt and we headed out.
My least favourite thing about the 23 km course is that it starts with a long uphill. Not my favourite at any point in a race but especially frustrating right at the beginning because I feel like I always lose all my friends right away because I’m so much slower on hills. Luckily we managed to stay together through the hill and opening switchbacks so it was a much better start than the other times.
I was so happy that I was able to stick with my group of friends and was really enjoying (even the climbing parts) just chatting and getting caught up with everyone. After the first few km of switchbacks and climbing, the course turns down into one of my favourite sections – the first fast downhill. This section is a packed dirt trail with lots of little turns and bumps to fly over. Super fun.
One of my goals for this run was to kick back and just run. Try to run as much as I could and walk as little as possible, only when I really needed to. I’m trying to learn to listen to my body more as to when it needs breaks instead of scheduling them and on this run, everything was feeling really good.
It’s nice that this course is now fairly familiar to me having run it a couple of times. We worked our way through the ‘Valley of Despair’ which was not nearly so desperate in the mild weather we had that day and down through the weaving forest trails right after it. There are quite a few good long sections of downhill on this course and we were really enjoying every one of them.
Time seemed to be flying by and I realized we were just around the corner from the aid station already. And I was still feeling great (in contrast to feeling pretty wiped by this point last year). We cruised in, filled up on chips and Coke and carried on down the trail.
On race day last year, the section of trail just after this aid station really sapped me. Nothing crazy by any means but just a long stretch of little rolling hills, small climbs and short downhills. I was so tired by this point last year that I didn’t even have the energy to run the downhills and ended up walking so much of the next kms.
I was prepared for it feeling tiring again but it was crazy, this was actually where I felt my energy starting to increase. How is that possible? I traditionally slow down and crap out as the race goes on but on this day I felt like I was just gathering momentum. I got chatting with a new girl and the distance ticked by so quickly. We were running at a pretty good clip and before I knew it I had gotten fairly far ahead of my friends. Oops.
I wasn’t sure if I should turn back or just ride the wave and I decided they’d still love me even if I carried on (I hoped!). It felt great to have so much energy on the back half of this course and I felt really strong as this girls and I flew along. I kept expecting to tire out and slow down but it just didn’t happen. I eventually pulled ahead of her too and then caught up to other friends ahead of us before slowly passing them too.
I wasn’t really sure where all of this energy was coming from but I was enjoying it. It must feel pretty good to be an elite runner because I felt like a superhero that day not being tormented by tired, heavy legs and being out of breath. It was a nice glimpse of how rad trail running can feel when you’re in shape and not plagued by problems.
Anyhow, I eventually made it to the final climb of the course (Mountain of Phlegm) and even though I walked a lot of the steep parts, I felt like I was giving it a good push and power hiking much faster than my usual uphill slog. I had caught up to other friends and was enjoying chatting with them as we climbed the hill since I’m not usually running at or near their pace.
I knew that once I got to the top of Mt Phlegm all I had left was a wicked fun downhill and a couple km on the road. My legs still felt good so I hit the summit, snapped a quick pic and threw myself down the trail. There were a few other runners around me and I surprised myself by even passing a couple of them. The conditions were just perfect and the trail was dry and sunny so it was easy to let yourself go and just run.
When I finally hit the bottom of the Chief and shot out onto the road, it felt good to hit the pavement and settle into a rhythm. Last year, I was hoping the road would relax me but when I got there I had no energy and kind of just hobbled along. At the orientation run this year, I felt good on the road and cruised the last couple km with another runner, feeling great, feeling happy.
In the end, I ran this run in 3:24. I was ecstatic when I looked down and saw it too. Last year’s orientation run took me over 4.5 hrs and the race itself last year took me 4:09. Finishing this run, after a very disappointing December and January of training more than 40 minutes faster than my supposed ‘race pace’ from last year, left me feeling pretty darn good.
It was just one of those days where everything came together perfectly. We were running a course that although I’d always found challenging, I really loved. I was surrounded by so many good friends and actually got to run with most of them this time. I was proud of the effort I put in and felt amazing having taken off so much time from previous tries. And to top it all off, I still had to hear all about my friend’s experience running her ‘stagette’ run in a wedding dress, veil and all the shenanigans that went along with it.
After getting changed we headed over to the Howe Sound Brewery for lunch and some hard earned drinks before making the drive back home again. I really didn’t get quite the winter training that I was hoping for but was so relieved and happy to see that somehow I’ve managed to be in decent shape for some of the races and training I have coming up. Phew!