I pop out of the bushes and onto a bit of a gravel road – I can hear people cheering. Is this the Quest University aid station already?
Indeed, as I turn a corner I can see that it is. People are clapping as I run up and turn to my left where there are now a million stairs to climb. But because I’m so excited that I get to see hubby here, I bound up the stairs (note, it probably looks more like a slog – at 53km into a tough trail race, perspective is skewed). There are so many people all over the green grassy hillside, but I don’t see hubby anywhere.
“Where u?” I text him.
“On my way” he texts back.
And so I sit down. What to do? Wait for him? I don’t know how long he’ll be, but I’m guessing at least 10 minutes.
I decide to wait. But maybe I’ll do as much as I can before he gets here, so a really nice volunteer helps me refill my water bladder and my water bottles. I eat an orange slice. I take the freezie offered to me by a young boy helping out – so amazing. Then I sit back down in the chair, slowly letting the ice cold freezie dissolve in my mouth.
Eight minutes later my phone buzzes.
“I can’t find AS??? At university?”
Um oh my. Oh dear. I’m exhausted and I don’t know how to help him.
“Yes but I couldn’t tell you where I am” I text back.
And because he has my food and I just really want to see him, I wait.But let me back up. This race began exactly 8.5 hours earlier at 5:45am. It’s day one of two – the 50 miler… Tomorrow will bring the 50km. These two back to back events comprise the 50/50 challenge. When I first heard of the Squamish 50/50 I wondered who in this world would do crazy things like that. And why.
Now I realize the who is actually me (I’m one of 131 runners signed up this year for the 50/50 challenge specifically). As for the why, well I think it’s because it almost sounds impossible – and for whatever reason I really like the sound accomplishing the nearly impossible.
The race was supposed to begin at 5:30am, but it appeared I wasn’t the only one to get lost trying to find the start area. Or maybe I was was – whatever the reason, the traffic to get into the parking area at the start was backed up maybe a kilometre, and hubby and I sat in traffic watching the clock ticking and thinking I’m going to miss the pre-race briefing. But as we parked and got out of the car, we heard an announcement saying the race start would be pushed back 15 minutes to allow everyone to make it to the start line.
On my way over I’d finally made the call to leave my entire hydration pack behind with hubby, with very clear directions for him to head straight over to Canadian Tire where the first aid station was to be and I’d pick it up from him there in just over an hour. Because the first 10km (6 miles) are relatively flat and very runnable, I knew it wouldn’t take me that long and not having my pack would give me an hour of freedom. I love my hydration pack – and it’s absolutely necessary for my trail runs, but I also like running as light as possible, when possible.
Before I know it, it’s time to go. And so off I go, pack-free and giddy and a little nervous! I placed myself right at the back of the about 400 runners here today, and the price I end up paying for that for that is having to walk a lot of the very runnable trails for the first few kilometres. Eventually there are wider sections of path and a few roads where runners can fall into their desired paces, which I do. I know a few minutes here or there won’t make a difference in the grand scheme of today, so all good.
I chat away with a few runners from about 3km in all the way until the aid station – the first 10km just fly by!! And as I run into AS #1, I see hubby there to my left. Yay! I run over to him and trade my headlamp (which had been mandatory at the start) for my hydration pack. I say hi to little Sparkle (in her bag on his shoulder) and kiss him and off I go. I knew from a Squamish Orientation run I’d done a few months earlier exactly what was coming up next – and I’m really glad I know.
Within a kilometre of residential side streets, we hit the trails (Coho Trail, to be specific) – much more technical than the first 10km and definitely no longer flat. And then we start climbing. Up up up. There’s runnable flatter sections but it’s predominately up. I’m in a train made up of dozens of runners – and it’s just perfect for me pace-wise. I usually feel so slow when I climb (I’m slower than all the gals I train with), but with all these runners around me at this pace I actually feel normal. A few runners pass me, but then the train pretty much holds steady all the way to the top. I’m making it sound like we hit the top in no time, which wasn’t the case at all – it took about an hour to cover the approximately 5.5km to the summit. I drink a lot of Skratch during this climb (I drink SO much when climbing).
At the top a short path leads to a gravel road, called Debecks Hill. Maybe rocky road is a better description. Steep, rocky, treacherous road – haha. Some runners start flying down, others are very cautious. I’m somewhere in the middle. Needless to say our train gets completely broken up and as I make my way down this very steep decline with plenty of loose stones to slip and slide on, I eventually find myself alone. After 1.5km or so of this, the pink markers direct me off onto a single track trail. Which starts out nicely and immediately gets very technical. I cautiously jog my way down the steep dusty slippery bits and run over the roots and rocks. After about 2km of this I know I’m getting close to Alice Lake and AS #2 at the 20km (12 mile) mark… And indeed there it is!
As I run out of the woods into the parking lot I see hubby right away. I get the water in my hydration bladder topped up. Then hubby points me towards bathrooms – the only flush toilet I’ll see on the course! I think I cut in line (I’m sorry to those waiting if I did) because in hindsight it dawned on my that males and females may have been sharing one line for both bathrooms – but maybe not… But anyway!
Afterwards I ran back over to hubby and with a big smile I hug and kiss him and I’m off again – still feeling great. It’s around 8:30am, nearly 3 hours into the race. I do know I need to eat some calories soon though – the one Huma gel I’ve had and 2 servings of Skratch so far are okay, but technically not enough. But this is me – I think I’m going to love eating on the trails, but then my stomach never actually loves eating on the trails. So I never really want to eat anything when I’m running. It’s only out of necessity of course that I do. Plus I’m a sports nutritionist, so for crying out loud better practice what I preach (lol).
Anyway, thanks to the orientation run, I know what lies ahead. Alice Lake has some pretty rolling runnable trails and I’m mostly on my own through these. I scarf down another Huma gel because it’s all pretty runnable so I don’t want to chew anything yet. Eventually I come out to a bit of a road and turn left, which eventually leads to a climb. I grab my snack bag and eat a bit out of it, chasing it all with plain water. But it’s a relatively short climb, maybe 15 minutes, so I tuck my treats away again. At the top, there’s some really cool (but very exposed to the sun) relatively smooth dusty dirt trails that snake in and out for maybe a kilometre, right up to AS #3, The Corners. I’ll see this aid station twice – now it’s time for a 10km loop that I recall has some good (although not super crazy) climbing in it.
I fill up on water, adding Skratch to the water in my bladder – I’ve got both a bladder in the back of my pack as well as 2 water bottles in the front (the bladder holds 1.5 litres but I try to only fill it to the 1 litre point and always have Skratch in it, and the 2 front water bottles hold 500ml each of just plain water). I grab one slice of water watermelon, down it, and off I go.
This loop, which includes a trail called Entrails, is nicely runnable for the first few kilometres, and even once we turn up into the trails I’m able to keep running for a bit, but then yup, there it is – a climb. I climb and eat.
Candied ginger. Picked up on a whim (saw them in the grocery store and even though I’ve never wanted the crystallized ginger I’ve brought with me in the past, I thought maybe this non-crystallized ginger would be better). Chocolate covered espresso beans. Also picked up on a whim. So much for don’t try anything new on race day. Even worse, I’ve tried chocolate covered espresso beans once before with not so great results – but for whatever reason I stubbornly decided I wanted to try them again this race. And fruit drops. Now those are tried, tested and true! Unfortunately, I don’t want any of my chocolate tart cherry energy bars. It’s funny, so far what I think I’ll want and what I actually want never perfectly align on race day. And although they’ve worked beautifully in the past, those bars never end up appealing to me either day.
It’s a short climb, and I run again, food in hand just in case there’s another opportunity to eat… It’s runnable trail for a bit – I pass a girl walking, and then it’s time to go technical downhill. Girl passes me back. I tuck my food away so I have both hands free in case I fall. I’m just so cautious on the technical downhill. I mean, I love downhill and if it’s a bit technical I’m all over it. But this is really technical and I’m slowed right up. But I’m following two girls who are the exact same speed as me, so I’m feeling not so bad after all.
It goes on forever… Eventually all the trails begin to feel ridiculously long. And then finally I pop out on a gravel road we must climb. Wish I could run it because it’s not technical at all, but the climb is just steep enough that nope, I’m power walking it. Up up up. And back into trails. And around and down through some technical stuff – and then it starts to all mash up in my brain.When I finally come out onto a road I know it’s straight up what would be a runnable gravel road if it wasn’t so long and part of a such a long race. Right back to The Corners Aid station! A quick refill on just some water and I’m right back out on the course. Here it’s a gravel road with just a bit of an incline so I run it – and pass a number of runners along the way. A few nice downhills, a few walking ups… And all of a sudden there are arrows all over the place pointing to the left. Shoot. I know what this is and I’ve never done it before.
It’s the trail I keep referring to as galactaca but is actually Plastic Scheisse which climbs to Galactic Scheisse and tops out at over 3,300 feet. I begin climbing and quickly realize I’ve got a few climbers following me up. They are happy to let me lead, but I get stressed when leading because I always worry I’m too slow and holding everyone up, so after about 10 minutes I step aside and let them pass. They slowly disappear off into the distance ahead of me.
I text hubby to tell him I’m moving at the pace of a turtle, up an incline that’s like the Grouse Grind only smoother (obviously no stairs – just a steep path up up up). My GPS clicks over, telling me the last kilometre took 19 minutes. I keep climbing. And climbing. Phew! My GPS tells me another kilometre has gone by, in 20 minutes. I eat the remainder of my candied ginger, espresso beans and fruit drops. Still climbing. An 18 minute kilometre. It never ends!!!
Finally it levels out a tiny bit, but is still predominately up. A few downs, mostly ups. It gets a bit technical. Bridges, narrow paths, rocks, roots. It’s remote up here! And then after about 4km of mostly up, it’s finally time to come down. A rather rocky path which I carefully make my way though. Which gets smoother – and then rougher again. I come to a point where I turn right and it’s relatively flat for a bit… But upon being directed to turn left, it’s like the path just drops away from my feet. This happens a few times on this trail and at one point I find myself clutching onto a tree as I hoist myself down this technical crazy trail.
The crazy stuff passes but it’s still more technical than I’m used to from the North Shore. And it seems to go on forever. Finally I pop out of the windy technical trails onto a service road that leads up to AS #4. I text hubby to tell him I made it to the fourth aid station. It’s 1:30pm. I’ve now been out here for nearly 8 hours. I think the next aid station, Quest University is 5km away. That’s where I’ll get to see him next. And then I dive back into trails, that are up and down and go from kinda runnable to quite technical and back again. This race truly is all trails though. I’ve never done one like this where there really are no real road miles to help speed things along a bit.
Which brings us to AS #5 at Quest University, which is 53km in (33 miles). I arrive there at 2:08pm. Well there’s no way AS #4 and AS #5 are 5km apart!! And that’s when I text hubby asking where he is. And he tells me he’s enroute.
Had this actually been a race I was RACING, I’d have simply let him know it’s okay, I’ll just grab whatever food from the aid station and continue on. But in truth this is a training run (for Rio del Lago 100). And I want to see him, and at the end of the day what does 20 minutes or so really matter?
Finally hubby arrives at Quest just before 2:30pm and I go through the food he brought, choosing what I want. Problem is I don’t really want anything – I’m getting tired of food and only grab my second bag of ginger, espresso beans and fruit drops, plus one extra gel and a package of cranberry bison pepperoni sticks – and leave everything else behind. I hit up the portapotty, and then with one last good-bye – I’m finally leaving Quest, at 2:37pm. I jog down the hill, and then up along the paved road straight – but very quickly my jog turns into a walk. Even though it’s so smooth I just can’t run the hill. The paved road turns into a gravel road – and finally I’m directed left back into the trails. With more straight up.
So I begin climbing, mostly walking as I’m trying to wolf down the 2 bison pepperoni sticks hubby had brought me. They had not been on my list of foods to bring me, but he’d grabbed them anyways and probably because they are so salty, they actually appealed to me most of all the food he’d presented me with. Yup, so much for following my own advice! More new food. But they go down okay, and actually squash my hunger. It’s really annoying to be hungry and yet your stomach not really want you to put anything in it. So it was a relief to be able to digest the pepperoni well. Who knew?
A girl I know passes me as I chow down on my pepperoni. We chatted briefly way back at the very beginning of this race, around the 3rd kilometre – it’s nice to see her. Although I think she’s vegetarian so I feel guilty eating my meat sticks and make a joke of it. I’m not sure she finds it funny. She disappears.
I reach a point where it flattens out a bit and then cross a service road into some more runnable trails. I’m liking this! I run. I catch the girl I know and we chat. After a bit she stops and I continue on alone. And then the climbing begins again.
So I climb. And keep climbing. And climbing and climbing and climbing. My watch beeps at me, telling me it’s low on battery. How annoying! The sole reason I purchased this Suunto Sparten Ultra watch was for it’s claims it can last 24 hours (oh, and it looks pretty – haha). I’d even changed settings to ‘good’ instead of ‘best’ GPS signal, to hopefully get 18 hours of battery life. I’ll later see I started the race on a different setting, the wrong one, one that was still set to ‘best’ – argh.
I stop and lean up against a rock, taking my pack off and fishing out my charger. I remove my watch from my wrist, plug it in, and then do it up onto the back straps of my pack. The girl I know passes me again, asks if I’m alright. I call out my annoyance with my watch as she disappears ahead of me. I put my pack back on and keep going up.
I think to myself this climb is worst than galactaca (aka Galactic). I try to zone out, ignore the growing pain in my feet and just keep moving forward and up. Up, up, up.
Finally I hear cowbells. I see a volunteer! She says, it’s all downhill but be careful it’s slippery. Indeed it is. And here we go again – finally here is downhill but it’s really not very runnable. It’s so frustrating. I just want to make up some time by utilizing the downhills, but that’s virtually impossible. My feet and legs are sore and tired so I’m extra careful. I do manage to get into a rhythm though, and start moving a bit faster. I see the girl I know once again. Her knees are killing her and going downhill is not working well for her at all. As I pass her we exchange a few words – and that’s the last I see of her. (Later I’ll find out she gets on quite well despite her knees, finishing mere minutes after me.)
I get to a wooden bridge/ramp (there are many of these on the course) but this one is quite steep on the way down – I have to stop and kind of walk sideways down it. Only a few minutes after that I’m spit out onto a service road and after 400m or so jogging up that, there is AS #6 – thank goodness! I’m 62km (38.5 miles) into this thing and it’s now 4:40pm. I’ve been on my feet moving forward for nearly 11 hours. I pour a baggie (2 servings) of Skratch into my bladder and a volunteer pours in water and does it up for me. And that’s it – I’m off again.
Lesson learned – never pour Skratch into the bladder first! The powder got into the tubing and my first dozen sips are extremely strong, ha. But all good – I’m just happy that this drink, with 21g carb and 370mg sodium per serving, is still appealing to me and I’m onto my last baggie (therefore, took in 8 servings over the entire course). As I hit a climb, I pull out my baggie of ginger, espresso beans and fruit drops. But stuff them away again after only a few – my stomach is meh. I hear a volunteer tell the guys in front of me to be careful, a motorcycle just charged out of the path we’re now entering. Oh… Okay. I’ve been getting out of the way of mountain bikers for the past few hours – but more and more it’s taking serious energy just to step off the path!
Somehow I eventually find myself in a bit of a train with a few other runners. We are very quiet. Everyone is in their own pain tunnel. I heard one runner say ‘pain tunnel’ earlier. I’m trying to focus on the light at the end of the tunnel – the spot where the pain ends. I tell myself I can endure the pain in the now because I know it will end and I will be stronger for it.
One of the girls in our train asks how much farther to the next aid station. Someone says 3km. She asks how far that is in miles. No one can tell her. I try to do the math in my head but nope, I have no idea either. Also, at this point, distance doesn’t really matter. What matters is how many more climbs? How much more technical descent? Are there any runnable parts? No one really knows. We just keep moving forward. My back kinda hurts. My shoulders and neck kinda hurt. I’ve got a bit of a headache. My feet are killing me.
I find myself running with a guy from Edmonton. He tells me he’s fueled with 16 gels so far today! He tells me this because I’d just mentioned trail running demands real food and he was like, nope, I’ve got an iron stomach. All gels. My stomach churns at the very thought. I’ve had 3 gels today, and I can tell you with certainty I’ll be having no more. I’m vaguely nauseous. Yet at points I’ll be struck with a pang of hunger and have to slow down to eat some ginger or espresso beans or fruit drops. I’ve been ever so slowly working my way through that snack bag full of them.
At some point, FINALLY, we get spit out onto a service road. And I pull my phone out as it’s up and I’m walking. It’s 6:06pm and I text hubby to tell him I’ve got 11km (7 miles) to go!
“I’m at the last aid station”, I text and I add 2 huge smiley face emojis.
Then I message my run crew group conversation.
“Guys I forget why I thought this was a good idea” and add 3 tears streaming down face emojis. Then 2 laughing face emojis.
It’s with the encouragement of hubby and my run crew I keep moving forward, through AS #7 and onto the final leg of this race. It starts off not so bad – runnable stuff. My motivation is renewed because I’m close now! I’m gonna make it! Then there’s some climbing, but still not too bad. I notice the light is fading and it’s getting cooler. And then some more runnable stuff. I can totally do this. I’ve got this!
And then I start climbing. I thought this was supposed to be mostly downhill to the finish!! Yet there’s an awful lot of climbing here.
At 7:26pm I text hubby.
“So much climbing. I’m dying”
I finish off my baggie of ginger, espresso beans and fruit drops. I hear two guys who’ve just passed me talking. The one is telling the other exactly what to expect coming up. I listen as he describes the final steep climb we must do. At least I know to expect it now.
Luckily it’s pretty short. But I’m really short on strength. I’m losing it. So tired, so much pain. That’s okay though – as I summit a volunteer sings out, only 4km to the finish and it’s all downhill!
Oh that sounds lovely… But as I start making my way down, it’s kinda technical. I stop and take a breather. I disconnect my watch from the charger and put it back on my wrist. Okay, here we go.
And as I turn a corner I’m standing on the edge of a rock face – kinda like a cliff I must jump off now. In hindsight I may have gone the wrong way, but for now I sit on the edge of the ‘cliff’, and a tear escapes my eye. Then a few more. I tell myself to get it together and go to get down the rock face. But I stumble and slide down and as I do a few more tears escape. I stop, collect myself and continue. Within 2 minutes I stumble again and scare myself, knocking out more tears. Goodness me!
Wiping my eyes dry, I start running a bit. I see a text from hubby come through (on my watch – connected to my phone) that he’s at the finish line cheering and waiting and sending strength. I lose it, tears streaming down my cheeks. This time I just let them flow for a minute or two. And then back to business. Keep moving forward. I’m so tired. So much pain.
I reach a staircase and gingerly make my down, grabbing the handles full on. Another staircase and I’m on a gravel road. A volunteer sits at the bottom cheering me on. I try to say thank you, but as it squeaks out so do more tears. I turn a corner and there is park – there are kids and parents and dogs… One of them looks like Sunshine – and I lose it again. I think of Sunshine in doggie heaven and the tears are just flowing. Then I think of hubby and Sparkle at the finish line and for the last time I wipe my face clear of tears. I’ve got this!!
A sign saying 3km to go. A parking lot. I’m running by these, through these. I run down the side of a road, and turn left onto a paved bike path. I pass a runner who is walking. Volunteers point me down a side street, and then turn me left onto the home stretch. And then I can see the finish line, and I keep running – maybe a little faster even! Finally it’s onto the grass and I can see the finish – and then as I finally cross that darn finish line I just lose it all once more.
The race director hugs me and I tell him his race just broke me, and I’ve no idea what he said in reply. And my friends are there and it’s hugs all around – and then finally there is hubby. I hug him. I hang onto him.
It’s 8:10pm and after 14 hours, 25 minutes and 45 seconds, I crossed over 2.5 hours before the 17-hour cut off.
I’m so relieved it’s over.
Except it’s not over. I must get up tomorrow morning and do most of this course all over again.
Can you imagine? I cannot, but I know it must be done and so I must prepare for it best I can. I ask hubby for my recovery shake. He offers me tart cherry juice instead (I had failed to let him know how important it was to me that he bring me a recovery shake) so I drink up the juice. One of my friends kindly pushes me and hubby to get back to our hotel – she did this 50/50 thing two years ago and knows how important it is to get to bed as soon as possible.
Hubby draws an Epsom salt bath for me right away. Honestly, it’s glorious. Best thing ever. And as all the dirt of the day is washed off of me, my appetite kicks in. Hubby makes me a burrito bowl kind of thing – rice, chicken, romaine, salsa… Lots of white rice. Easy to digest. It’s so good. I drink kombucha with it. I pull on my compression sleeves. Oh that feels better.
From bed I instruct hubby on emptying my hydration pack and filling up everything to get ready for tomorrow. And then it’s bedtime. Thankfully I have no problems falling asleep, which is at about 10:45pm, and I sleep deeply.
The alarm goes off at 4:30am – and I’m up right away. I go into the kitchen to have oatmeal with banana and berries and a matcha, same as yesterday. But blah, my stomach is off and there is no way I feel like any of that. Instead I have one mini banana muffin and a sip of tart cherry juice. Well, that will have to do.
There’s a spot on my back that’s chaffed so I get hubby to put a special ‘second skin’ bandage on it. Amazingly, I didn’t chaff anywhere else yesterday – that is truly a miracle. Chaffing was my biggest fear – I usually chaff under my arms, bra line, shoulders where my hydration pack hits, and low back. Wearing all new clothes (that haven’t been washed a million times) appears to have mostly done the trick.
My baby toes are ridiculously blistered and there’s a larger blister on the inner side of my right heel. I limp around slowly as I get ready. Stuffing my poor feet into my trail shoes feels really awful. I wear the same shoes as yesterday because the only other pair I brought actually have a slightly smaller toe box, so yah that’s a no go.
And then it’s time to go. We’re off to Alice Lake for the start of the 50k.
Hubby and I arrive at about 5:30am, with a good half hour before the race is to start so I relax in the car for 15 minutes before heading out for the pre-race briefing. I stand at the start line leaning against hubby with my eyes closed – taking every moment possible to rest. And then before I know it, it’s 6am – go time. I place myself at the back and slowly jog off.
The first few kilometres are quite dark. I’m surprised no headlamps are required – if I was doing this for any kind of pace I’d definitely want my headlamp. But I’m moving very slowly in a tightly packed train of runners, and it’s okay watching for the roots going at that pace. This part of today is the most runnable part there is (other than the last few kilometres) – I know that now.
It’s a good 2km or so that we stay tightly packed and I’m happy to just follow the others. Eventually we begin to spread apart, especially as we pop out of a trail onto a more of a service road. Not long after, I’m alone. I’m hungry pretty much right away, but my stomach doesn’t really want any food either. So I try to sip some Skratch, but that’s not as appealing as it was yesterday. I eat a piece of ginger – and it’s okay. But then I put the food away again.
My feet hurt but surprisingly the ache from the blisters has dulled – or I’ve just accepted it. My legs are surprisingly okay. I mean not fantastic, but they are not really sore at all – just fatigued.
I hit the first climb of the day and take it easy. I know that once I reach the top, and the first aid station, that I’ll hit “galacata” soon after. But at least this time I know exactly what’s coming. The first aid station comes up quickly (it’s at about 8km in, so no surprise it felt like it came up quickly) and then after jogging down the service road with its ups and downs, there is the left hand turn into the Galactic climb. Oh my. Because this happens relatively close to the beginning of the race, I’m passed by hundreds of runners (in actuality, I was passed by maybe 20 runners – but I’m tired from yesterday so I’m already being dramatic).Amazingly I notice as my watch clicks over I’m going about the same pace up as I did yesterday, if not a bit faster! This is encouraging, so I keep at it. I eat some of my food – all the same stuff as yesterday, and chase it with water. I don’t really want it, but if I don’t eat it I get the weird hunger pangs that are annoying so I shove it down. After about an hour I reach the top and begin the treacherous decent. Funny enough it’s not as treacherous as yesterday. I mean, definitely still technical – but somehow not quite as bad. Knowing what’s to come really seems to help.
I make my way down the technical stuff and onto another trail and around, up, down to yet another trail. My memory had the next aid station showing up sooner – but no sign of it yet. I pass a girl who asks about the aid station and I tell her I’m in the same boat – thinking it’s any minute now. But there’s a lot more trail yet to go.
When the aid station finally shows up, I text hubby to tell him I’ll be at Quest University within the next 45 minutes or so. All downhill trails from here to there! My memory really deceives me though – as I start running again, away from the aid station, there is far more up than I recall. So I climb, and then descend on relatively technical trails and climb again. This part really seems to stretch on forever. Whereas yesterday time started moving slowly probably 4 or 5 hours into the day, today time has begun moving painfully slowly pretty much right away.
At about 10:30am, about 23km (14 miles) and 4.5 hours into today, I finally pop out at Quest – the one and only aid station I’ll see hubby at. And there he is! Sitting on the grassy hillside with Sparkle, waiting for me. I’m so happy to see him and I run over, plopping myself onto the ground next to him. I’ve managed to finish my one baggie of ginger, espresso beans and fruit drops – but that’s it. Oh, and 2 servings of Skratch (I’d planned to have gone through 4 already).
Hubby fills my bladder with water and Skratch, and gives me the food bag to choose from. Same as yesterday, I only want the new baggie of ginger, espresso beans and fruit drops. Sparkle grabs it and runs off with it. It’s so cute I play with her for a minute, grabbing my food baggie as she runs off with it, and then giving it back to her to run off with it again. I don’t want to leave. I want to sit here with hubby and play with Sparkle.
But that’s not what I’m in Squamish to do right now, so I tuck my food away into my pack. I also grab the cranberry bison pepperoni sticks hubby brought again today, seeing as I’d wanted them yesterday he figured to bring more today. And I’m off. He walks with me as I make my way down the hill from Quest. With a hug and kiss I tell him I’ll see him at the finish line.
A moment later, as I’m climbing the road up to get back to the trails, he drives up beside me, window rolled down and encourages me. Eventually a car is coming behind him, and he takes off.
As I dive into the trails this time I know exactly what to expect. Here goes a lot of climbing. Which will feel like it never ends. Followed by the rather steep dusty slippy decline. Whether it’s because at this point I’m only 25km into my run today (instead of 55km like yesterday) or because I know what to expect, it isn’t as bad as yesterday. Don’t get me wrong, still tough. Still really, really tough.
I eat my bison pepperoni, but this time can only get through one before my stomach says nope. I chase it with water. Other than that, I have maybe one piece of ginger. Hardly any Skratch. My stomach is done. The climbing lasts forever. Literally. And then finally, about 2 hours later I reach the top.
As I begin my descent, I see a text from hubby come through.
“How’s my sweet wife doing?”
And because I’m ‘flying’ downhill I think I’ll wait to respond once I get to the bottom. It’s 12:30pm, 6.5 hours in.
When I finally get to the bottom and come out at the service road, I run up to the second last aid station. I top up my water, but don’t bother adding Skratch as I’d hardly drank any the last stretch. What I do need to fill up are my 2 water bottles, which I’d nearly emptied, as only water is appealing to me now. I sit down and go to text hubby – but realize there is no cell reception here. Nothing I can do – I stuff my phone away and with a sigh, push myself off the chair. How lovely it’d be to just sit a minute longer, but I really must go.
Back into the trails I go. I chat with a guy who’s wearing a 50/50 bib, but he didn’t run yesterday. Just today. We will play leapfrog with each other for the remainder of the race, and encourage each other as we do. My watch is bothering me. I keep trying to push it up my arm (but of course that doesn’t really work). My wrist feels bruised and the watch slightly rubbing it is annoying. Eventually I switch it to my other wrist and notice a bright red spot under where my watch had been.
Finally after about an hour of ups and downs through technical sections and relatively runnable sections, I get cell service again. I text hubby. He tells me I’m amazing, to keep it up. His words really do help. I keep pushing forward. It’s hotter today. I’m hot. My feet hurt. My body hurts. It feels as though the bandaid has come off the spot on my back that chaffed yesterday and is now rubbing on my raw skin. It hurts. I’m hungry but I can’t really eat.
But really, it’s not so bad. As I climb I think to myself it’s really no worse than yesterday. Well, other than the nausea. I suppose I get a fail for that one. My profession aside – at this point I’m just a girl who is still figuring out what food might personally work best for long distances. When it comes down to it, I know I didn’t experiment enough before race day. I mostly run fasted, hardly ever training my body to take in calories. Duly noted.
In ultra running, I get lost in my head a lot. Sometimes I’m asked what I think about for the hours I’m out there. I don’t really know – my thoughts just kind of bounce around and I lose track of time. The trails help because you need to be always focused on what is coming up in order not to trip. I like being in the trails just for being in nature too. There’s something calming about it even as my body is screaming.
Finally I come upon the last aid station. It’s nearly 2:30pm. The same volunteer that helped me fill my water up yesterday helps me again today. This time filling up my two front water bottles – I haven’t been drinking from my Skratch so it doesn’t need to be refilled. And as I dive back into the trails, one last time, knowing what to expect in these last 10km is comforting. I know I am almost there, almost at the finish – but I also know it will take me likely nearly 2 hours to get there. So I set off, just trying to keep a steady pace. Climb, run, climb, run.
I pull my baggie of ginger, espresso beans and fruit drops out. But I eat only 2 beans and a few pieces of ginger. No fruit drops. I tuck the almost full bag back into my pack – and that’s the end of nutrition for me this day. I hit the steady climbing part of this section. Then another runable section. And finally, the last big climb.
At 3:45pm I’m at the top. With 4km to go, I’ve only got that treacherous decent that broke me yesterday. So I begin making my way down. I’m surprised to find it’s not as treacherous as yesterday. There’s more runnable sections than I remember. I think I might even be making better time on this section than I did yesterday! I pass a few runners. I make my way down the stairs. The volunteer at the bottom of the stairs cheers me on and I happily call out a thank you. There are no tears today.
I run through the park and by the climbing rocks and through the parking lot. Down the bike path and around the corner down the road. With 400m to go I see my friend and her little pug! I’m so excited to be nearly done. I call out to her that this is the most ridiculously crazy thing I’ve ever done. I’m so happy to see her! She runs a bit with me – and then I’m in the finishing chute. And within seconds I cross the finish line.After 10 hours, 21 minutes and 11 seconds I’ve crossed this finish line for the second and final time this weekend, with only just a little over an hour to spare before the cut-off (of 11.5 hours).
It’s over. I did it. A finishers hat gets put on my head. There are so many hugs. And then there is hubby. He takes me into his arms. I can barely stand. I feel so sick. So awful. I’m in so much pain and discomfort and I really need to sit down.I sit on a bench beside the finish line, nearly knocking over a lady also sitting there as I lose my balance. But I need shade, so we go over to spot to sit in the shade and I put my head between my legs and just breathe. Hubby offers me tart cherry juice, but I can’t for a second think of putting anything in my stomach. I think I’m going to die. I’m so nauseous and so in pain and feel so awful.
A few minutes later, I signal to hubby I want to go. Slowly we make our way to the car. Thankfully our hotel is close by. When we arrive there, the first thing I do is make my way into an Epsom salt bath. It’s magic. Just as it was yesterday. Within 15 minutes I feel human again. Another 15 minutes and I’m ready to eat and drink. I eat the hummus wrap hunny made for me. Later I drink wine and eat pizza (hey, just keeping it real!) and it’s divine.
And then it really truly hits me – I did it. Out of 131 runners signed up for the 50/50 challenge, I am one of the 72 runners who successfully completed it. I have the hat to prove it. I’m also darn sure I’ll never do it again!Am I stronger than I think? Yes. We are all stronger than we think. We are all capable of doing more than we think we can. Our minds limit us all too often.
My takeaway from this weekend is to never ever let myself think I’m smaller than I am, less capable than I am. I’m not entirely sure why I have to do these extreme endurance events to prove this to myself or why I appear to need to continuously prove this to myself (wasn’t completing my 100-miler last year good enough?!!) – but nevertheless, the feelings of accomplishment I get from pushing my limits and persevering appear to be worth it, every time.
I cannot finish this post without a huge shoutout to my biggest fan and greatest support – the love of my life, my hubby Jer. His constant encouragement and support of the craziest of my endeavours is more than I could ever ask for in life. May our adventures never end.
Run… Be it faster or farther, for freedom or fun… Just run…
That’s beautiful Sarah. What an amazing recap and so captivating! I must admit my favourite parts were the vegetarian (who probably just wanted a bite of that pepperoni stick! ;)), the emotional 50 miler finish and when sparkle stole your baggie (how cute!)! You are true inspiration, excellent writer and even better runner! Congratulations!!!
Oh aww thanks so much for this lovely note Tracy xo
Haha, omg those were some of my faves too 🙂 Thank you!!
Amazing!! Huge congrats and a super inspiring read!
This also makes slightly terrified for this year’s ultra challenge… SQ50k or 50m!?
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