August 19, 2017
I am officially… an ultrarunner!!!! Months and months and months of training and so much hard work finally paid off on the weekend at my debut ultramarathon, the Squamish 50 miler.
I’m still processing everything really… and currently still riding the runners high!!! But it was so absolutely incredible… I know without a doubt know that I’ve totally found yet another great passion in life… ultrarunning!!
Fast forward to January 2018… As I try to actually complete this post! Signup for Squamish 50 2018 was just 2 months ago already!!!! The following race report and description of my overall experience may give clues as to whether or not I signed up for one of the Squamish 50 races again
Why Squamish 50?
What made me want to or choose to run the Squamish 50 miler as my first ultra marathon? Well, it’s the first ultramarathon trail race that I’d ever heard of, the race that introduced me to ultrarunning, it’s one of the top trail races in Canada, and it looked like a lot of fun from everything I’d seen!
Looking back… Last year on November 26th, I ran my very first ever really legitimate “trail run” (one that actually was single track with lots of roots and rocks in the mountain with several hundred meters of elevation gain vs a flat windy gravel “trail run”) and I loved it SO much that I knew I was hooked on trail running for life.
During the run, the topic of Squamish 50 registration came up. Back when I was living in the Middle East, I’d heard of this race because an athlete I followed on instagram had run the race. I’d already decided that when I moved back home I was going to take up trail running, and so when I saw the Squamish 50, I knew that I wanted to do it some day! So why not do it now? Why not race it the same year as so many of my new friends? Also, I’d already run a marathon, a 50K seemed like the next most logical step, and what was another 7.8km?
Somewhat to my dismay, I was late to the party and the 50k was sold out already. I had it in my head already that Squamish 50 was going to be my goal race for 2017 so I thought what the heck, I might as well just do the 50miler, what’s another 30K when you’re already running 50?! Well… its ANOTHER 30K!!! But back then I was so naive and innocent about the whole trail running game and really had no concept of 80km of running or of what 3500m of elevation gain & loss looked like or would feel like!
A brief reflection on training.
I bought a 50mile training plan from Ridgeline Athletics and attempted to incorporate it into my shift work schedule. The training plan was excellent and once I actually started using it I feel like it prepared me really well for the race!
I guess I kind of started training in January when I ran the “January Battle” with 9 others from the Abby Trail Running Club – through 2 weeks of deadly sinus infection and 4 weeks of absolutely horrid weather with nearly knee deep snow everywhere. Good way to build a base and learn how to push myself though even if I mostly only ran on the flats.
February. First trail race. Run Ridge Run. Insanely unprepared. I was seeing stars and had hardly enough energy to put one foot in front of the other – I think the term is “bonking” ? I was also grossly undertrained. But I loved the race anyways. Coast Mountain Trail Series puts on amazing races with really great vibes and those first trail race feels are incredible!!! I learned so much from the race to set myself up for success in future trail races!!!!
I spent a lot of time running flat still until the beginning of May when I ran the Vancouver Marathon and smashed it… but then raced a 25k trail race a couple weeks later, struggled with it, and realized how much work I had to do to get ready to run 3ish times that distance and elevation!
So the last few months before Squamish I trained hard, pushing myself a lot, spending so many hours each week on the trails – running consumed all of my weekends, and there were so many great runs and adventures along the way and friendships that were built up over the course of hours spent training together.
By the time August rolled around, I was feeling ready for the race. I still wasn’t completely sure what to expect or how it would feel, but I felt like my training was adequate to run 50 miles and knew without a doubt that I’d get through it.
Race Day Plannin & Prep
I’d sat down many times, over the months before Squamish, pouring over the course map and elevation profile, looking at my current pacing and training, trying to figure out what a realistic time goal would be and how long I could expect certain segments of the course to take me.
I battled a little internally with how to run it though. Should I run conservatively and take it slow and easy to ensure that I’d just get through it and not worry about my time or pace? Or should I push hard and try to smash it?! If I pushed too hard would I burn out much too fast and end up with a DNF? What is pushing too hard? If you don’t push til you puke did you even race?
I’d pre-run about 50km of the course on 3 of the orientation runs and it was so great to be familiar with a good chunk of the course going in. But those last 30k, I really didn’t know what to expect! I’d never run it so I wasn’t too sure what the terrain would be like and I didn’t know how tired I’d be or how my pace would be impacted by tiredness/soreness 50+ km into the race. At the end of the day, I figured it would realistically take me somewhere between 12-14hrs and I’d be happy with any time in that range for my first 50 miler.
I also spent hours going over my nutrition plan for the race, counting calories and figuring out roughly what to eat and when and how much… I knew from previous races how important my nutrition would be and especially with a race of this distance, I couldn’t slack off on nutrition or hydration at the beginning of the race or my performance would be severely impacted throughout the remainder of the race because once you’re in a significant deficit, it’s hard to come back from that/make up for it! I’d been eating during training the way I would during the race to get my body used to taking in enough calories during the race and to also figure out what kind of food my body would tolerate during a run that long. But then, who knows what would actually happen on race day?!
The night before the race, in my hotel room in Squamish, after picking up my drop bag, I sorted out all my gear, filled my drop bags with everything I anticipated I’d need (after googling what to put in a drop bag!), and finally, around 1030 I fell asleep… getting an entirely reasonable 5ish hours of sleep (good for me in general never mind before a race!)
Race Day!! Saturday August 19, 2017: Squamish 50 miler
0400: Race day wake up!!!! Nerves. Definitely nervous!! Throw on race gear, double check everything, eat a little…
0445: Out the door and off to the start line!!! The moon was still out and the sky was dark… but it was gorgeous outside!
On the drive over to the start I sheepishly admitted to my friend Jenny who was also running the 50 miler, that I’d pulled a rookie move and had on brand new shoes that had yet to walk/run even a single kilometer yet. We burst out laughing when she, the experienced ultra trail runner admitted she was doing exactly the same thing!!! However, in all fairness, we were both wearing the exact same shoes we’d been running and training with for months now, just fresh new pairs. I’d never had a single problem with my Nike Terra Kigers, no blisters or points of wear at all… and they’re quite soft and flexible so they don’t require much breaking in. So I figured in this case it would be ok to go with the brand new shoes.
0530: Line up for the pre-race briefing. More coffee in hand. A little cold. A little jittery. It was still pretty dark out, almost needed that headlamp but the sun was just starting to light up the sky with a bit of a glow, so hopefully, I wouldn’t even have to use my headlamp at all. As I stood there listening to the jokes, rules and advice… I thought I’d be so nervous but all I really felt now was anticipation! I was feeling so ready to do this and just couldn’t wait to get started and see how it would all turn out!!
0545, we lined up behind the start line and when the gun went off, aka Gary said GO, we all took off running! Jenny and I ran such an easy, gentle, warmup pace (about 6:00/km) for the first flat 10k that went through some pretty beautiful city trails through downtown squamish and over to the trailhead. We chatted and kind of just relaxed and found our place in the race. It was a really good feeling. It’s the funny thing about distance running… that pacing at the beginning… but when you’ve got 80k to go and you know you’re gonna be climbing or descending for a lot of it, gotta save those legs and no sense wasting energy on the flat at the beginning! So by the time we hit the Coho Trail trailhead and began climbing, my breathing was easy and I felt pretty energized actually!
This section of trail I knew quite well as I’d done the 3 orientation runs and knew what to expect of this section.
What I didn’t expect was how my body would respond to that first climb up Debeck’s Hill! For some reason, despite being decently warmed up, my heart had a hard time with that first climb!! I was so tachycardic, my heart rate and respiratory rate just wouldn’t settle back down into a normal exertional pattern. My heart felt like it was about to explode. My fingers swelled up. I started to get really anxious… what if I felt like this the whole race?!!
So I slowed my pace and subsequently slowed everything right down to a manageable level, and pushed forward up the hill. It does give a solid 300m elevation gain in only about 1.5km so understandable a little tough. Jenny went on ahead and that’s the last of her I saw until the finish line. It was good that way though as I could really just get in the zone and do my own thing
But, glad to have my one little breakdown of the race out of the way so early, and it was the only time in that whole 50 miles where I crumbled or faltered slightly, or I tentatively questioned what I was doing out there! 99.9% of that race I felt strong mentally and never doubted my ability to finish the race and finish it well!
And as soon as I got to the top of that hill and ran my first bit of downhill, I found my rhythm and everything just flowed from that point!The downhill to Alice Lakes was fun, like usual, a little steep and technical at points but otherwise pretty flowy! I barely stopped at the aid station as I had more than enough easily accessible calories and plenty of fluids still so I didn’t need anything at that point.
Plus… my sister-in-law was camping here with her family and I was hoping that maybe she would have woken up early to give me a hug… And sure enough, as I powered up the road through the campground, I spotted her!!!(That huge smile on my face is for Mikayla! There’s also tears there… I was surprised at how emotional I was in that moment!!!)
Even with a very young infant who frequently keeps her up in the night, my sister sacrified some sleep to cheer me on! Surprisingly, it’s the only time I cried in the whole race (and I’m usually a regular waterworks!!!). It was just so incredible to have her support and a big hug and the encouragement to get through the day as she was the only family I’d be seeing that weekend. My family hasn’t not supported my running, but they don’t really understand it, and so far none of my family have ever been at any of my races (mostly because they’ve been either overseas of just “training” races and not such a big deal). So at the biggest race of my life, one of the most significant and pivotal days of my life, it meant the world to me to see a family member there, making the effort to support me. The rest of my family was present too via messages. Periodically throughout the race I got messages from them to cheer me on, or taunt me (like my sisters picture of her breakfast waffles right at a time when I was starting to feel REALLY hungry!)
Seeing Mikayla was a much needed boost to get me through the trails around Alice Lake, as previously, despite the beauty of the forest there (it really is so lush and green and the trail is gorgeously flowy) it has a gradual upwards incline which has always been my nemesis and therefore a more challenging part of the race for me. Earlier in the year at an orientation run, I had a massive meltdown just outside Alice Lakes and started panicking and couldn’t breathe, completely psyching myself out. But this time, I got through it in good time with no major issues.
I had put on some music at that point, my Squamish 50 Spotify playlist was full of good beats to motivate me and uplift my spirits a little when I started getting in my head. Despacito had been playing in my head since the start line and after about 2 hours of … Desssspaaaacito… I needed something new! A little Eric Prydz?!
Also, I have this weird habit of counting my steps and it drives me crazy. I don’t start at 1, I usually randomly find myself in my head saying 40, 41, 42, 43… until it really irritates me and I have to try think about something else to distract myself from continuously counting. I do not like numbers that much!
So, obviously I don’t think deep meaningful thoughts or have major epiphanies the whole time I’m running. There were some of those moments though.
Aid station 3… between Rob’s and Cliff’s corners – 1st time around. I LOVE that section of downhill leading up to the aid station and just after… it’s so flowy and fun and wide open!!! There are beautiful bushes and wild flowers and little puffs of dust kick up under my feet. I feel extra fast and can just fly so freely down the hills and zip around little twist corners. The sun is warm and it smells of flowers and the little berry bushes in the sun.
Aid Station 3 to Aid Station 4 is just a fun loop that burns through 10km of the race… through some especially gorgeous bits of forest with twisty wooden bridges, some beautiful moss covered granite rock walls. 10 not super challenging km… just 10km to get you nicely warmed up and in a great rhythm before you head up the big challenge of the day… Galactic Scheisse!!
As I was running up the dusty gravel road leading back to the aid station, I could see dusty footprints that looked suspiciously like a Jenny sized Nike Terra Kiger (or Kerra Tiger as I like to call them)… I figured she was only minutes ahead of me!
Back at Cliff’s corners, hitting the aid station again, I accessed my drop bag again to ensure I had all the calories I’d need to get through the next couple hours as the toughest climb of the day was up ahead… as well as the longest downhill!!
Heading out of Cliff’s corners for the last time, the mountain views are pretty great as you head towards Galactic Scheisse… at least that’s motivating! Also, I hit the 40km mark… half way through the race!!!! That was exciting!!!
The Sheisses are probably the most dreaded hills of the whole race, mostly because it’s just a steady uphill battle for a solid 7 or so km with no downhill reprieve! However, once off the FSR and onto the Plastic Scheisse… I found a rhythm and steadily power hiked up the hill – most of it wasn’t what I’d call runnable (although I’d like to say that next year it would be!) passing a few people here and there, trying to conserve a little energy for the long downhill to follow, chatting a little with runners along the way – an excellent distraction technique!
And before I knew it, with much less difficulty than I anticipated, I was at the top of 7ish km of uphill and heading back down – about 10 km of steep and unrelenting downhill until the Quest University Aid station at 48km (where my friends would be waiting!!!!) I remembered Gary advising us to be cautious on that downhill as it takes far more out of you than you anticipate, and there’s still a lot of uphill and downhill left after that one long downhill! So I tried to take it at a quick but reasonable pace!
As I neared Quest University, I could hear a lot of noise, laughter, cowbells…. such a pick-me-up!!! Feeling energized already, I picked up the pace and ran up the stairs to the Aid station for big hugs from Katrina and Paul and Matt. My friend Jenny had just left the aid station so she was only about 5minutes ahead of me in the race… so I was keeping my pace up pretty much exactly how I wanted to!
I was feeling really really great at this point! Nothing hurt, I was loving the run, loving the energy, just really enjoying the whole experience! As you can tell from the smile on my face…
Someone handed me a freezie… the best thing I ate the entire race!! It was heavenly. I switched out my socks… pretty sure someone tied my shoes for me. People checked in. Did I need anymore water? Electrolytes? Took my pack off my back. Refilled it. Volunteers are amazing!!! They’re so great at making sure you having everything you need, and doing things for you so that all you have to do is rest and recover briefly!!!
So I sat. I ate the freezie. Nibbled at a few other things – some potato chips and smarties (trail races have THE BEST aid station goodies!!!) – some Coke probably too… and just relished the brief conversation with friends and enjoyed how unexpectedly great I was feeling!
But again, I didn’t linger long… 30ish more km of running to do… 30ish km I’d never done before. That was a little terrifying. I was currently at my max distance point. I’d never run anything more than 50km before so I was heading into completely unfamiliar territory – personally, physically, and terrain wise – I’d never seen this section of the course yet. I knew there was a substantial amount of elevation ahead of me yet… but in more manageable chunks!
After jetting out of Quest, I slowed down substantially on the trails. It was a bit of a jog, walk, jog, walk situation. The energy I felt at Quest rapidly faded. It was a bit of a mental battle. This is very runnable, why aren’t you running Annemarie? Ok, start running again… Fading? Slow to a walk. Gather energy reserves. You think this is hard now? You still have 25km to go! Oh an your patients, remember what they go through? This is nothing, so completely insignificant compared to how they struggle and suffer!! So you can do this! Run again!
The first 10km after Quest were some of the most difficult for me and tested my mental fortitude. It’s where I had to really dig deep, draw on what drives and motivates me, and really push myself to carry on. I was feeling pretty fatigued and almost sleepy at that point and kind of just wanted to curl up in a ball and have a little trail nap too… but no napping!! 20m to go!
Ok… another aid station. 60k in! Knees were getting sore. This race has a lot of uphill. But it also has a lot of downhill. And until this day, I really had no idea how all this downhill would impact my knees and how the technicality of it would slow me down or how my slightly ouchie knees would make me more hesitant and therefore slower on the downhill too! So… as I figured I was pretty well hydrated still, I popped a couple Advil from my little first aid kit. I knew I still had a couple hours of running ahead of me yet and I needed that anti inflammatory action on my knees! (It’s important to note that NSAIDs are so contraindicated in ultra running!! I knew a little about the adverse effects of NSAIDs on kidneys during endurance events, but didn’t know the full repercussions really, so in future events I would not pop the Advil!)
But it definitely helped. Those last nearly 20km of undulating hills/couple hundred meters of climbing then a couple hundred meters of descent were pretty killer. Gorgeously lush and green with late afternoon sunshine shining through the leaves… But very challenging physically at this point! Mentally not so hard at all as the kilometer countdown was on and intense anticipation of the finish line kept me pushing onwards as fast as I could, not worried about conserving energy now, just giving it all I had!
I had a good laugh when I bumped into the photographer on the trail, just after a blowing a large and very unladylike snot rocket. I hoped he didn’t catch it on camera?!!
And then the last hill, Mountain of Phlegm (Phlegm?! What a name?! The nurse in me gags just thinking of it! Nurses…ya feel me right?!!!!!)… a giant granite rock… one tired leg in front of the other… not a single attempt to run up this hill… and when I got to the top, there was a lovely volunteer telling me I was getting pretty close to the finish line! Ohhhh what a glorious moment. It was actually. The sun was just peeking through the trees and over the top of that rock as I crested it and it was beautiful!
One last bit of downhill that I don’t remember much of except that it was like ouch ouch ouch… gingerly stepping down…
And then a couple km of pavement to the finish line… my watch died. I knew I was just over 12hrs when my watch died, so I actually ran those few km with out stopping once because I just wanted to finish and keep my time as close to the 12hr mark as I could. It wasn’t a fast run by any stretch of the imagination, probably a 6:30/km pace. But I kept running, kept moving, onward, on the black, seemingly never ending Tarmac… until I could hear music and cheering and an announcer calling out finish times! I turned right into a little grassy park, running between fences lined with cheering people and smiling faces, around a little corner… and across the finish line into a finish line hug from Gary Robbins… legendary trail runner, champion of all other runners and race director of the Squamish 50.
It’s taken me months to process it and I don’t even know what emotion I was feeling as I crossed that finish line. I want to say it was overwhelming joy and gratitude and thankfulness to have finished the race so successfully for my first ultra… but the primary emotion was mostly gratefulness to not have to run a single step further? Relief?!!! I want to say that I was ecstatic. And I was. But it took a few minutes to sink in… months actually. And now when I look back, it’s an overwhelming mix of gratitude, joy, pride, thankfulness, humility…
My official finish time.
Grateful. So grateful. How did I, a baby trail runner, manage to pull that off?! Well obviously I trained harder than I have for anything else in my life ever, but also, I didn’t falter once in my faith in myself to actually complete the race (Well, actually only one or twice, but never during the race!). Most of all, I had incredible people supporting me and cheering me on the whole time!!! I’ve spent years witnessing extreme pain and suffering, so it puts all of this into perspective for me, motivates me, inspires me, and what I experienced was really just minor discomfort and a minor challenge with huge payoff!!
I see every day the struggle people go through to survive, the mental, emotional and spiritual battle of trying to accept circumstances outside our control with grace and dignity… and every day I get to witness the beautiful depths of our souls.
And so, I don’t want to minimize at all what my patients go through because it is far more than we will ever experience as ultrarunners on the trails, but I am still blown away but what we are all able to accomplish and the great depth of emotional and mental strength we all have inside and the battles we all go through on our journey to a 50k, 50 mile, 100 mile finish line. To any finish line actually – not just ultramarathon finish lines. However, running for this long takes great physical strength that we all are so incredibly blessed to have and to continue to develop further, and I think that none of us take it for granted at all! But it also takes so much mental and emotional strength and while we are all motivated by different things, running for this long makes us all delve deep into what it is that makes us want to run this long and far and what/who it is that motivates us! It really is a beautiful journey, to see and experience what we really are capable of as runners and in life.
So, I bent my head to accept my medal… the weight of the finishers medal on my chest… feeling so proud but also so humbled…
Finally, looking up and moving away from the finish line, scanning the crowd for my friends… only to spot my parents and little brother standing right beside my friends!!!!!
And then tears came… happy tears. Grateful tears. I tear up now again just thinking of this moment. A big, tight hug from my dad and the little wink and pat on the shoulder that he gives that means a combination of “I love you” and “I’m proud of you!” My family has always been so supportive of me even though some of the decisions I’ve made in life have taken me down paths they find difficult to support… and though the running is one they don’t fully understand… they knew how important this day was to me and they were there to support me 100%. It meant the world to me to have them message me regularly throughout the day, cheering me on via text message, but to see them at the finish line of my first ultra marathon when I completely wasn’t expecting it, that might be the greatest part of this whole race for me. Even my friends at work – who drew a picture to show support – and texted it to me mid race, were so wonderfully supportive and amazing!! (a couple days later, on my first day back at work it was even still there!!)
Going back to the finish line… Jenny was there with her medal… she’d finished just a few minutes ahead of me! And Katrina… with hugs… getting ready to run her first ultra marathon the next day! Other than hugs and some pictures and some brief conversation, I didn’t get a chance to really hang out with the girls as they were eager to head off to sleep for their 50k races the next day… totally understandably so. And while I wanted to hang with them, I also really wanted to spend time with my family too! Celebrations with the girls could happen the next day at their 50k finish line!
So after a finish line beer with my dad, I went for dinner with my family. You’d think that after burning nearly 8000 calories I’d want to eat everything in sight, but I was too tired to eat much… and I was stuffed after a slice of bandera pizza bread and a quarter of a salad. Ridiculous. But I’d really not put any type of substantial food in my stomach for about 16hrs and it had had a solid shakeup… so small frequent meals??
Eventually, tucked in bed, I fell asleep, but it was a less restful sleep than I’d anticipated. I’ve never had restless legs before but my legs and feet post race just didn’t know how to be still anymore!!
Day 1 post race
I woke up around 9 am. I bounced out of bed, and then almost fell over. My mind had a lot more bounce in it than my feet/legs did!!! But, surprisingly, though my feet were achy and tender, the rest of me felt pretty good. And within minutes of waking up, that excitement of accomplishing something so wonderful the day before hit me again!
I headed off to Quest University shortly after to join my friends from the Abbotsford Trail Running Club who were manning the aid station there for the 23 and 50k racers.
When I arrived, I was bummed to learn that Katrina had run through moments before I got there and I just missed cheering her on! But I got to see a bunch of other friends through, cheer on multiple 50/50 racers who were pushing through their second consecutive day of ultra racing, and crew for my friend Jenny when she came through… still smiling and looking strong on day 2, over 100km in (in 2 days!). It is exciting to me to see what we’re capable… especially when we have amazing supporters like every racer runner the Squamish 50 (any distance) does… whether it be family or friends or the incredible volunteers and crew!
I was constantly reliving my experience that morning/afternoon as I chatted with various other runners/volunteers/friends… The runners high was not receding but only building as the day went on… and as subsequent days went on. Until about a week later when the post marathon blues set in… although I think with an ultra marathon the post-ultramarathon blues are twice as bad as the marathon blues are!!!
Eventually… back at the finish line again to cheer for my friends coming through and many of the other 50 k, 50/50 finishers. Finish lines are great!!! Seriously though… who doesn’t love finish line vibes?! Whether you’re racing or cheering… it’s always good!! The best in people, in humanity, are visible at a finish line! We all have our strengths, our battles, our reasons for running… and the culmination of that all at a finish line results in beautiful moments!!
I was able to watch both Katrina and Jenny cross the finish line – Katrina finishing her first 50k – her first ultra marathon, and Jenny completing the 50/50 for the first time. Both huge accomplishments!!!!
Katrina had brought champagne for me the day before for the finish line… but it didn’t seem right to open it and celebrate until all 3 of us had finished our races… so at the finish line… with all 3 of us finished the biggest races of our lives… I popped the top on that champagne… such a fun and happy moment!!!!!
I’ll forever be so grateful for these 2 wonderful women who included me in their training runs(even though I’m slower than both of them!) and in their lives… their friendship is a beautiful thing and I can’t wait to see where we run and race next year!!!
And really, I can’t even begin to express enough how thankful I am for the Abby Trail Running Club and the friends I’ve made through the club, all the runs, all the beers, all the chats about life and races and training and all the advice… I’ve learned so much from everyone in the club (and in this whole running community,) and it’s made a world of difference in my training and in how the race went down for me. I value their support and friendship so highly!!!
And so eventually… after celebratory post race beers and snacks in Squamish… we headed back home… filled with the joy of running in such a beautiful place in the world, racing and pushing our bodies to accomplish something great, and the love of a community of phenomenal athletes and their supporters!!!
So grateful for this opportunity… and the journey has just begun!!!! Can you guess what is next?!
Well, there were a couple months of recovery. The race was harder on my knees than I anticipated so I really did have to take quite a break from running… spend some time cross training… pulled out of my last 2 “B” races of the season to avoid further injury…
But… October came around and some gorgeous fall weather… and the mountains, the outdoors called to me… and feeling physically and psychologically ready… I started running again!
So, 24days into a November run challenge, feeling strong and ready to take on the world of ultra running, I signed up for the 2018 Squamish 50/50!!!!! So… follow along to see how training for 130km goes!!!!
I’m so excited to see how this second season of trail running plays out… so much opportunity for growth!!