Squamish 50 km Race Report

Alternate title: the most epic race report I’ve ever written! I thought about breaking this into two posts but decided not to so pour yourself a cup of coffee, sit back and enjoy ๐Ÿ™‚

Days leading up to the race…

I took all of last week off of work and Eric, my mom and myself left on Tuesday to head to the Pemberton area for a couple of days of camping in the mountains before the race (more on that later). This was mine and Eric’s summer holiday and it was quite a nice one! I’m also glad we got to the area early so I could get used to the slightly different mountain climate/humidity and have a relaxing few days before the race.

On Friday we drove from Pemberton to Squamish and got checked into our hotel room. We spent a few hours laying around our room and reading and then my mom and I went to scout out the aid station locations that they were allowed to meet us at the next day (they were only allowed to meet us at 3 out of 5 of the aid stations and the other 2 were off limits to crews). After that we got back to the hotel and I met up with a bunch of friends at package pick up including Kyria and Solana! We spent some time standing around and chatting and then my mom, my aunt, Eric, myself and Kyria headed out for dinner at the Watershed Grill. This is an awesome little spot to eat in Squamish with a beautiful view of the river and I quite enjoyed my prawn and salmon pasta also!

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Once we were done dinner we headed back to the hotel and I spent the rest of my evening sorting my stuff out for the next day along with my friend Carmine. We wanted to have everything organized for our crew so they would know what to bring when they met us along the course. I ended the day before the race with an epsom salt bath to soothe my muscles and crawled into bed around 9:30. I definitely had a bit of trouble sleeping though..

The race…

The regular 50 km start was at 9:00 am but with it being mine and Carmine’s very first ultra we decided to take the early start time of 8:00 am which was meant for those who thought they might be battling the 10 hour cut-off time. Because it ended up being a very hot weekend in Squamish nearly 100 people showed up for the early start time, though! Since I really ran this race from aid station to aid station that is how I will break it up!

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Start – Aid Station #1 (~8 km)ย 

The race started off at Alice Lake with about 10 km of mostly runnable trail. We went through/around the campsite first on some pretty single-track trail and past some pretty little lakes. Right off the bat I knew I was going to enjoy the beautiful, shaded, technical terrain.

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(above picture borrowed from Liz’ instagram account!)ย 

There was one set of switchbacks that were pretty steep on this first part of the course and if I hadn’t been told by Solana that it was the NOT the start of the big climb I might have thought it was! Luckily they were over in about 10 minutes and we were back to runnable terrain. There were some fun, mostly downhill, open switch backs right before we pulled into the first aid station as well and those were fun to run on.

Eric and my aunt had hiked the 2.5 km (it wasn’t accessible by vehicle) to meet us at the first aid station which was so great! We didn’t spend too much time at that aid station, just enough time to fill up our water, eat some food and say hi to them and we were gone again!

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Aid Station #1 – Aid Station #2 (~10 km)ย 

After the aid station we spent a couple of km on a logging road before taking a sharp turn back into the trail. I also knew from Solana that this was going to be the start of the big climb.

Carmine and I had decided our race strategy was going to be to hike this entire climb. We knew it was early in the race and even though there were some runnable parts we decided we would be better off just hiking the whole thing and not killing our legs so early on. I’m not going to lie, I had myself TOTALLY freaked for this climb and super worried about it but it was not that bad at all. The bad stuff came much later in the course and in hindsight I wish we’d taken advantage of the runnable parts of this climb and ran a little more since we couldn’t later on…

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At the beginning I felt like the climb was going by really slowly but pretty soon we got into a rhythm and got chatting with each other and others on the course. I figured the climb would take us 1.5 hours so imagine my shock when we reached the top in just over an hour!! We took a quick photo (that didn’t really turn out) at the bridge that signified the top of the climb and carried on our way.

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Next came the STEEP, ROCKY, ROOTY downhill. Holy technical batman!!! We ran this as much as we could but we are both definitely a bit slower on the technical downhill having not trained very much on it and a lot of people flew past us at this point. I could not believe how fast some people were going down the hill! We really had to watch our feet at this part because one wrong step would send us flying.

Aid Station #2 – Aid Station #3 (~5 km)ย 

We reached the second aid station at about 17-18 km and I sent a quick text to my mom and Eric letting them know we were 5 km from the “halfway” aid station (actually 23 km).

Not going to lie I was a bit disappointed with the second aid station. I was really hoping for some chips or potatoes and all they had was gummy bears and gels and they also told us they would have to ration our water because they were running out! What?!?! Thank goodness the next aid station was only 5 km away because I barely got enough water at aid station #2 to last me.

The next 5 km were pretty tough on both of us. My legs were feeling really fatigued from all the downhill and Carmine was cramping. Some friends caught up to us (like Solana, Kyria and our friend Neil) at this part of the course so we chatted with them a bit before letting them on their merry way. At this point I didn’t even care that we weren’t even halfway through the course all I focused on was getting to the third aid station where I knew our crew would be waiting with ibuprofen for my aching legs! I couldn’t believe my legs were aching so much so early on in the day but luckily they loosened up later.

Aid Station #3 – Aid Station #4 (~11 km)ย 

We pulled into aid station #3 about 4:20 into the day. For an extremely hilly 23 km I was very happy with that as I figured it would take us closer to 5+ hours to make it to this halfway point.

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We took a nice long break at this aid station – about 15 minutes! Our crew had new camelback bladders filled with ice water for us and I changed my socks, sports bra, tank top and hat because I was already SO sweaty from the humidity. We then refueled as best we could at the aid station, snapped one more photo and we were off again.

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Once we left quest we had a bit of a climb up a paved road before entering the trails again. Now I knew there was another big climb coming up but based on the elevation map I did not think it would be as bad as the first. How wrong I was. In my opinion the second climb was MUCH harder and it felt like it dragged on much longer than the first. However, it was more km, lots of switchbacks out in the sun and other than the last 10 km I would say the 11 km between aid station #3 and #4 felt like it took the longest.

There was also a loop at this part where we passed a volunteer who said if we didn’t see her again we were lost. We did not expect the loop to be as long as it was and we didn’t see her again for well over an hour! Let me tell you I was happy when we finally DID see her again and she told us we only had 1 km to the next aid station.

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Aid Station #4 – Aid Station #5 (~8 km)ย 

Shortly after seeing her and a bit more downhill we came out onto another logging road with aid station #4 ahead of us. And they had potatoes! And chips! And cookies! And watermelon!

Needless to stay we spent a good 5 minutes at this aid station stuffing our faces ๐Ÿ™‚

This is where i need to toot the horns of the amazing volunteers! They were so very helpful with filling up hydration packs/water bottles and being encouraging to the runners. I felt really really awesome when we left the 32 km aid station and Carmine and I kept saying to one another “just a loop of walk in the park” to go (an 18 km training loop we do lots in Kamloops).

And this is where it started to go downhill… Shortly after the 32 km aid station we got dumped out of the beautiful, tall shaded trees into the sun. It was 3 pm at this point, the hottest time of the day, and was probably about 28 – 30 C (82 – 86 F). The sun was beating right on us and it was dusty and hot. We climbed out in the sun for a good 20 – 30 minutes and the longer we climbed the hotter I got, the weaker I felt and the slower I moved. I’ve never been so sure I was going to throw up on a run before (luckily I did not).

At this point I just wanted to get to the 40 km aid station where I knew we’d see our crew again. These 8 km took a long time to pass and I spent most of it just focusing on the next aid station and willing it to be here. After a bit more time in the shaded trees I finally felt like I’d recovered from the uphill climb in the heat when they dumped us out of the trees into another non-shaded part. At least this was a downhill portion of the course. At one point on this part Carmine slipped and fell in front of me and then I slipped and fell when I was watching her fall! Obviously both of us were a little out of it and ready for a rest.

We dumped out onto another logging road where a guy was there to tell us we only had 1 km to the next aid station. Thank god!

Eric and Jeanie were waiting for us about 800 metres from the aid station and walked us in which was so nice. Carmine and I were slowly jogging up this gradual hill and they were like “everyone had been walking this hill!” apparently the sun was hard on all the runners because they said every single person who came into this aid station looked dead tired!

Aid Station #5 – FINISH! (~10 km)ย 

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We probably spent another 10 – 15 minutes at this aid station. We CHUGGED gatorade they had brought for us, changed our socks again and just generally tried to cool off and recharge for the last 10 km of the race. Having done two marathons before I knew that the last 10 km of any long distance race is the hardest, but I really had no true clue how neverending and difficult this 10 km would be…

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Just as we were getting ready to head out again our buddy Norman walked around the corner! Carmine and I both started screaming “Norman!!!” He was doing the 50 mile race and we had been talking the whole time about when he would catch up with us!

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We decided to wait for Norman to refuel and rest a bit and then would head into the last 10 km with him. So after a few more minutes he was ready to go and we decided to tackle the last 10 km. Now, on the trails a HARD 10 km will usually take me 1.5 hours at most so I told my family to expect us in about 1.5 hours – which would put us right at a 10 hour finish time…

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We entered the trail again a team of 4 – myself, Carmine, Norman and another 50-miler who joined us named Andrew. It was obvious that Carmine was feeling ready to rock n’ roll as she took off ahead running strong and it didn’t take too long before Norman dropped back from us. So I ran/hiked for about 30 minutes with Andrew and we chatted about how his race had gone. We power hiked a few hills and then got a nice little downhlill to start cruising on. Andrew had done a few Ironman’s before and he said they didn’t even come close to how mentally grueling this 50-miler was for him! Him and his wife were running together but they had split up several hours prior to that.

Running with Andrew was really great and helped take my mind off of things but this is also where my mind started playing tricks on me. Because Andrew and I had been running and chatting and “cruising along” at a pretty good clip (or so I thought) for about 30 minutes I thought we’d gone further then we had. I kept waiting for us to dump out on the road like I knew we would but the next thing I knew we were dumped back out in the sun again. I saw Carmine up ahead of us and at this point I wish I’d taken a gel, dug deep and pushed but instead I fell apart. I wished Andrew a good finish and let him pass me and then slowed to a very slow walk, and that’s where I stayed for the next 7ish kilometres.

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I would say it’s probably pretty accurate that it was that dip at 43 km where I started feeling really sorry for myself because then we started climbing. Again.

There were a couple of climbs at this point in the race that were so steep I had to use my hands. I hadn’t really felt angry yet on the course, but at this point I felt MAD. WHY would they do this the last 7 km??

Several of the people I had passed in the last 10 – 18 km came back and passed me again at this point. All of them gave me encouraging words on the way which helped. I knew the last 2.5 km on the road would feel like torture but at this point I would give ANYTHING to see the road. I just wanted OUT of the trees.

The very aptly named Mountain of Phlegm came at this point which was basically scrambling up a very large boulder before we finally got to go down down down (at this point even the downs felt hard – I needed flat!) While I do remember the view from the top of the ‘Mountain of Phlegm’ being pretty darn spectacular I didn’t spend much time appreciating it.

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(The above photo is by Robert Shaer photography and was borrowed from the Squamish 50 Photo Gallery!)ย 

A lot of the downhill at this point included stairs. Nooo! Why! My legs were seizing up again and mentally I was done so I just took it really slowly down the stairs. It was around this point that a really nice lady who had done the 23 km and was waiting for friends came and started running with me and talking to me and encouraging me. She stayed with me until I got onto the road portion of the course and that was really nice. The last little bit of the course was all flat through a park and along the road. I quickly realized that I was more mentally done than physically done because running actually didn’t FEEL too bad when I really thought about it but mentally I just wanted to be done. Every fibre of my brain was screaming at me to STOP but my legs and body felt relatively good.

I tried to push my brain aside and kept moving at an albeit very slow pace. Finally I came up one last little hill and the volunteer at the top told me I had 500 metres to go. It certainly felt like more than 500 metres but I knew the finish was in sight.

I came along the road and saw Eric standing on the side and I tried to smile at him though he told me later I gave him a rather painful look. I had been crying on and off for about 30 minutes at this point and when I saw the finish line the tears started flowing.

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I crossed the finish line and ran right into the arms of race director Gary Robbins. I am pretty sure he saved me from collapsing right then and there and that huge hug at the finish line was just what I needed. Tears were streaming down my face at this point. Apparently Gary was hugging and high fiving everyone as they crossed the finish line! What a great thing for an RD to do!

Solana, Dianna, Candice, Nikki and other friends were also there to meet me at the finish line and there were many hugs all around. Then I went to see my family and some of my other local running friends. It was so great to see them since they had done all the training with me and knew how hard I had worked for this. It all just felt so surreal. I couldn’t believe I was DONE.

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Carmine did AMAZING and really flew the last 10 km finishing with a time of 10:07 – not bad considering she had just decided to run the race 1.5 weeks before and Kyria, who is speedy speedy, also did phenomenal and came in around 8 hours. It was great to see them both at the finish line!

To get a really good idea of the trails we were running in check out this awesome video that Arc’teryx made!

ARC’TERYX 2013 SQUAMISH 50 from ARC’TERYX on Vimeo.

My final results:ย 

10:20:37, 18/21 females aged 20-29. 139/160 50 km racers

Yup, I was towards the back of the pack. But you know what? I really don’t care. This was my first 50 km race, my first ultra and many many people were saying that this was the hardest ultra they’d ever ran – or very close to the hardest. Since this was a first year course they had made the cut-off at 10 hours but since people were crossing the finish line right up until 12 hours after the race they posted on their website that next year the cut-off for the 50 km will be 12 hours. That is a pretty generous cut-off for 50 km so that would tell you how difficult this course was. I would say we easily hiked 50% of this course between the steep, long climbs and the steep, long descents.

Words cannot even express how happy I was to have my friend Carmine by my side for 40 km of this race. This race honestly didn’t start to feel hard for me until after km 32 and it didn’t start to really suck until the last 10 km. I know this is because I had a friend by my side and I can’t even imagine doing something like this alone.

I also can’t imagine doing it without our amazing crew. The two aid stations where they had ice water and a change of socks and just hugs and support for us was invaluable. I left those two aid stations feeling so refreshed and ready to go. Knowing we’d see them is what kept me going a lot of the time. And they also gave up an entire day – and weekend really – to be there with me/us and I’m so so grateful.

And the amazing ultra/trail running community? Wow. There are no words. I’m getting teary eyed just typing about it. I can’t even begin to count the number of people who gave encouragement on the course – even the front runners who were passing us early on. And the amount of people we had chatted with, even for a few moments on the course, who came up and hugged me afterwards. It was so special. What an incredible community.

Thank you to all my readers for your support and words of encouragement over the last several months of training. This has been the hardest thing I’ve ever trained for. I had so many tough runs and so many doubts about whether I could really do it. But once I was out there? There was no way I was quitting. Not once did I think during that day that I wouldn’t finish. It’s just not in me to quit once I get going.


And now for the real burning question; will I do another one?

Hell yes.ย 

46 Responses

  1. Wow, Amber! I am always so impressed with you and your level of dedication! It has definitely inspired my own level of running and kept me motivated and still going at times! Congratulations on such a great race and experience! I cannot wait to read about what you tackle next! ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Sherry Sim says:

    With a running community like you have….and sounded like was at Squamish….why wouldn’t you do another at some point….Rest Relax and Relish! Congratulations again Amber!

  3. Lauren says:

    What an awesome race report, Amber! Love hearing all the details. It is so nice to have a crew out there supporting you on the kinds of runs, especially when the aid stations aren’t stocked too well. Sounds like a grueling course, for sure! Great work!!

  4. Mandy says:

    Way to go Amber! It was so inspiring to read about your training journey and then to hear all about the race. Way to push through the mental and physical challenges. Enjoy your rest. ๐Ÿ™‚
    Also, such a small world – I know Liz (Instagram photo) & met her through running here.

  5. Andrea says:

    Wow! I’m really impressed, I was already reading along your training posts and wondered how the race would be, like trails, refuelling stations, etc. I don’t know if I would have had the courage to take place. My farthest runs are around 8km.

    And you look really happy at the end of the course, well I think that was after you gathered some strength again, but you can really be proud of yourself!

  6. Amber, you are SO inspiring! Congratulations on this amazing accomplishment. You train so hard and you deserve every moment of savoring this awesome achievement. Thanks for the Wednesday morning inspiration to get moving (on a day I hit snooze on my alarm 3 times!)

  7. abbi says:

    Congrats to you, great job on what sounds like a very tough race! I completely understand the feeling of just completely and totally mentally done for the day, it is tough to just keep going. I know you put in your heart and soul for training for this race and it paid off!

  8. Becky says:

    I’m so proud of you!!!!

  9. Abby Nastase says:

    Wow! Congratulations!! That is amazing!! Seriously – 50 Km ALONE seems pretty much impossible to me. But you did it on mountainous terrain like that!? You should be feeling so accomplished. That is pure evil that they would put such steep terrain in your last 7 km of the race. How sore is your body this week? Way to go!

  10. Kelly says:

    Wow Amber, I don’t know what to say other than you amaze me with both your physical and mental toughness. I clearly would’ve been mentally done well before this point (maybe around 8km haha). You did an awesome job pushing through and I knew there was no chance short of a really bad injury or something that you would not finish!
    I can’t believe you are already saying you will do another one. Amazing ๐Ÿ™‚
    Thanks for writing such a detailed account, I enjoyed reading about your whole day. AND please thank your mom for posting the photos to facebook throughout the day. I was checking them on Saturday ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. Amy says:

    Oh my gosh you just wrote a really good race report. I got all teary reading the last part of it like “I WISH I WAS THERE TO GIVE YOU A HUG!” I know you have been training for that for so long and I cannot imagine running for over 10 hours, so CONGRATS ๐Ÿ™‚ Sheesh just reading that felt draining.

  12. Leigh says:

    Congratulations Amber! It sounds like it was a tough course, so good for you for sticking with it and finishing! Seeing friends/family on a race course is so awesome too!

  13. Lindsey says:

    Umm AMAZING!! Good for you times 1000 ๐Ÿ™‚ I teared up at the end of your post, I cannot imagine how emotional it would have been for you.

  14. ris says:

    Wow Amber congratulations! You are so awesome!

  15. erin says:

    amazing job Amber! i too did slightly tear up at the end of your post! i’m glad to see that you rocked it!

  16. Katrina says:

    Beyond awesome Amber!!! So proud and happy for you. I scrolled to look at all the pics first before reading and I was tearing up and the hug at the end, WOW! What a great experience that must have been, one day maybe I can cross that finish line too ๐Ÿ™‚

  17. Sarah. Mc says:

    Amazing job. Be proud you deserve it.

  18. LG says:

    Oh my goodness that looks like it was SO hard!!! Thanks so much for sharing – very inspiring, Amber!!!

  19. Jess says:

    Amazing job Amber! You must be so incredibly proud of yourself! Your race reports are one of the most motivating things to get me running. I think you should do a post about AFTER a race like this… that evening, the next day, what you do for recovery, etc. Again, great job!

  20. Jen says:

    I love this post., I teared up twice while reading it!!! You are so determined and should be VERY proud of this HUGE accomplishment. Not alot of people in their lifetime can say they did this but you can! Very proud of you my friend! XOXO

  21. Heather says:

    Congratulations!!! I am so happy and proud of you! You are a total inspriation to push and fight through the mental suck of that race. Now rest rest rest!!!

  22. Stephany says:

    I’m just so impressed by you. Your dedication and your strength and your grit and your determination. You are SUCH a rock star! I can’t imagine being on my feet for TEN AND A HALF HOURS in the heat and going and going and going. Goodness gracious, you are an inspiration!

  23. Angela Heidt says:

    Way to go!! I could never do it, 10k trail races are my max. I get that some people enjoy pushing their bodies to the limit – I guess I’m just a wuss!

  24. Nora says:

    Congrats, friend. you are an ass kicker (or maybe I should an ultra race ass kicker).I knew you could do it. I bet it feels so good to have it completed ๐Ÿ™‚ Proud of and happy for you!

  25. Kara says:

    I can’t believe you did that race! (Actually, I can, but still – Holy lengthy race!) I swear I got exhausted just reading this, lol. You’re amazing for finishing – Congrats!!

  26. Shoshanah says:

    How amazing Amber! What an awesome accomplishment for you. I feel like I’m a little bit speechless, but overall I’m a little in awe of you tight now. Congrats!!

  27. Caroline says:

    Congratulations, Amber! You are simply amazing, enough said.

  28. Anais says:

    Amber, I’m so proud of you ๐Ÿ™‚ I got tears in my eyes and goose bumps reading your race report! (and I was soooo looking forward to reading it!). This is such an accomplishment. I’m so excited about our upcoming race AND who knows, maybe one day you me and Lisa will do an ultra together? To be determined… ๐Ÿ˜‰


  29. Amber, loved reading about your experience and your introduction into ultra. Seriously way to go and your honest evaluation of the experience was inspiring. WAY TO GO lady! You finished and you did the best you could in the moment and that is truly amazing. You seriously are such an inspiration. Much love to you and soak up this recovery week! I can’t imagine how much your body must need it!

  30. A hearty CONGRATULATIONS, Amber. What an accomplishment! I’m not one to really read race training or race report blog posts (it’s just not my thing), but I was eagerly looking forward to your thoughts about this race. I got the chills and teared up reading it; I can only imagine how emotional it was for you to write it. A 50km race is a big deal; completing a very challenging and technical 50km race for your first go at that distance is an unbelievable feat. Huge props to you! (And may the flatness of the Chicago Marathon make up for the fact that much of it is out of the protection of tree cover!)

  31. Britt says:

    I am so unbelievably proud of you! What an incredible accomplishment. You inspire me to keep moving, keep running even when it gets rough. Well done, lovely! Can’t wait to hear about your next big adventure (ironman?? ;)) after a little break from this one!

  32. Emilie says:

    Congratulations on your amazing accomplishment! I’d been eagerly waiting to read your report knowing you would do awesome! You are so determined and motivated and such a rock star! I love the photo of you with the race director – how cool of him to do that for all the finishers! Congratulations again!

  33. This was emotional to read and I found myself tearing up at a couple of different points so I can’t imagine how emotional it was for you to experience it and then write about it! I am SO proud of you and totally blown away by what you accomplished. I know for a fact that I could NEVER do a race like that. i am just not nearly mentally tough enough and I am such a baby when it comes to hills. And you climbed mountains doing this race! So hats off to you! And I think it’s great that you already know you want to do another one!

  34. Travel Spot says:

    Hell yes! I love it! I knew you would have to; you just have to let the dust settle a little. You did such a great job and I am so glad that I was there because you and your family were so fun and it was really neat to be a part of all the fun!

    I actually had about 9 months between my first and second ultra. I knew I WOULD do another one, but I was really having a good time enjoying running, and life and not just training all the time. So by the time I started training for my second, I was raring to go again!

    The trail running community is great, isn’t it? It’s such a small “family” and everyone really is so supportive, regardless of where they are on the results list or experience scale!

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