Running the Squamish 50 – 50 Mile

So I actually did it. It still feels a little bit like a dream really. The months of physical preparation, the mental anguish I put myself through, were finally put to the test on August 16th when I got to run the Squamish 50 (50mile/80km) trail race. There was so much trepidation leading up to this day, unsure I would actually be able to complete the full distance. The longest run I had done leading up to race day was 50km and I just hoped that race day endorphins would pull me through the extra 30km that my legs would need to carry me that day. But how exactly did the day unfold? My good friend and fellow racer Sarah toed the line with me that Saturday morning for the 5:30am start. We hugged each other, wished each other a strong race and didn’t see each other until the end. In my mind that morning, I had Sarah’s advice floating through my mind, “for your first 50 miler go uncomfortably slow for the first half”, hopefully this would help me reserve energy for the second half of the race.

The first 10 km was flat and despite the easy start to the race I forced myself to keep the pace I knew I wanted to hold. ALOT of people passed me and I tried to not let it bother me as I knew there was a good chance I could catch some of them on the second half and it also gave me a chance to find a rhythm; pacing is an art that I was hoping to master that day. The first aid station was 10 km in. Here I saw Solana & Jay, cheery as always, manning the station and cheering the runners on. This is when I first saw my personal crew, my favorite person and better half, Leigh. He was there with a “How are you feeling” “What do you need?” and with a few clicks of the camera and a kiss, I was off.

The next 10km had a hilly and technical middle portion. Sarah and I had actually discussed the previous night how we were not looking forward to this particular section as it seemed so brutally steep on the last training run. But this day it didn’t feel as bad as I had remembered, maybe because I knew there was so much more ahead of me that day. It was still steep, dry and dusty so there was some hard power hiking happening. Climbing is something I have the long gait for, so i was able to pass a few people in this section. Aid station 2 came up quickly after the steep descent down and I saw Leigh again waiting patiently for me to roll through. I was 20km in, feeling good and on target for time. It would be another 30ish km before I would see Leigh again. As I pulled away he said “You don’t have to run a fast race, just run a smart race”. I would repeat those words to myself throughout the day.

I didn’t spend much time at aid station 2, as the easy terrain ahead would be a good place to gain ground. With only 8km to go before the next aid station and on very familiar trails, this was an enjoyable section. It was on this section that I met Ethan for the first time. He was having a rough start to the race and I passed him on the steep uphill section near aid station 3. He was running the 50/50 option and he was going to make an amazing comeback later that day. It was also in this section that I unknowingly started pacing Marie, another 50/50 runner. She stayed behind me for the next 40km, and what an enjoyable 40km it was. She chatted and joked, inspired me with her stories of 100 milers and encouraged me the whole way. “Let the hill come to you, don’t force it, she will come to you”. “Chase the finish line, not people”. Just a couple of the quotes she shared with me that day. Everytime I asked her if she wanted to pass she said she wasn’t going anywhere, she was looking for someone like me all morning. I truly appreciate her experience and ability to make me laugh on the trails. She helped me to keep pace and encouraged me by telling me that I had the right attitude and that I was running a good race.

I rolled into aid station 3 knowing at this point that there was a 9km loop which would have me coming back to this point and right to aid station 4. My first stop here was hilarious. It was the first time I met Shawn, who was volunteering on Saturday and running the 50km on Sunday, and as I passed him my Salomon soft flasks he smiled. Little did he know how difficult they are to open and fill! As wonderful as they are to carry, they are a bugger on race day. He couldn’t get them open and I couldn’t stop apologizing, I felt so bad. Eventually we sorted it out, filled them up, had a laugh in the process, I got some snacks in me and I was off. I remembered this loop section being so enjoyable on one of the training runs I did; I was actually looking forward to it. Although on this day some of the sections proved steeper and slipperier that I remembered so it was interesting.The last 2 km or so of the loop was logging road (which in my opinon can be very demoralizing) so I had to mentally prepare myself to run this section no matter what, until I saw the aid station again.

Back again to see Shawn and have him fill up my fiddly water bottles. A few more snacks, jam a few gels in my vest and then off for the steepest portion of the race. I have to mention that at this point, around 42km in, I was starting to feel sore and my knee was making itself known on the descents. (Previous to the race I was having knee issues and after several physio visits and a full week off running, prior to the race, I was given the go ahead to race).I had to step very deliberately with my left leg to ensure my knee was happy. Generally it meant ensuring I stepped with my left foot perfectly straight; if I stepped down with it slightly turned I would wince with pain.This slowed me down quite a lot, but I figured it was better to go a bit slower, save my body and finish the race, than crash and burn. So a couple of km’s of logging road brought us to the entrance of the Scheisse, the biggest climb of the race. This is a long sustained hill, probably close to 5km in distance. I was starting to feel a bit tired during the climb, but tried to maintain a steady pace. Marie, who was still with me, commented on how she sets a goal of passing 10 people on hills as this is usually where people slow down alot. This actually helped to keep my mind occupied waiting to spy people ahead and keep pace. We ended up passing at least 6 people.

This section also had the longest distance between aid stations, 11km from aid station 4 to aid station 5 at Quest. And we noticed…it felt like an eternity between #4 & #5. Coming down the descent I started to feel like it was never going to end. I started to feel emotional for some reason and was fighting back a few tears. I think my body was tired and in expectation of what lay ahead. I was also thinking of seeing Leigh at the next station. But I gathered myself on the last few km’s and enjoyed the run up to Quest. Waiting for me there was Leigh and I even got to see Adam & Dayna which was a nice surprise to see a few more smiling friendly faces cheering me on. As I gathered a few snacks and Leigh refilled my water bottle, Marie came up behind me “Don’t stay too long” she said. I knew she was right, I didn’t want to get too comfortable. It was also at this point that Adam & Leigh reminded me that this was the longest I had ever ran. I was at 53km with 27km of unknown territory left. Off I went with Leigh close behind for a few seconds cheering me on.

Leaving Quest meant it was time for yet another climb. Time to try to put some music in and power through the hills. In the end the music worked for about ½ hr and then I found it too irritating so turned it off. I have gotten so accustomed to running without music it sometimes proves to be too distracting on long runs. And then the emotions also started coming back. Trying to work through them I discovered that it was probably seeing Leigh that made me feel this way. I was so happy to see him each time, but because I had such a hard task ahead of me I needed all of my energy to keep me grounded in the race. I was the only one that could get me through this, and seeing Leigh, the one person I could truly be vulnerable around, brought me to a place emotionally I couldn’t afford to be at, especially at this point of the race. I secretly hoped that he wouldn’t be at aid station 7 (70km in) so that I could just focus on pushing through. Marie caught up with me again near aid station 6 and after a much needed few ounces of coke I was feeling right as rain again, well as good as you can feel 60km into a race!. There was even a 20 minute section where I kind of went numb, I couldn’t feel any pain anymore and it was glorious. But it was short lived, and the pain in my hips, knees and feet returned. However as the pain returned my mind felt more determined. If I remember correctly it was also at this point that Ethan made a comeback. I remember him passing and saying “I came back to life”. The up’s and down’s of an ultra are truly amazing!

Making our way to the last aid station we picked up a couple other runners, which I can only remember as Arizona & Kimberly, as Marie named everyone after their place of origin. We were moving well and continous up to aid station 7. But I knew, from looking at my watch that I wasn’t going to make it in under 12 hrs unless I really pushed the last section. Now I have to take a quick moment here to thank Tania Kumar for asking if I had received a water dunk yet. I hadn’t so I accepted. At the moment that they were pouring the water over me I was experiencing bliss, cold water running over my head and down my face, it was a pure moment of ecstacy. The sounds I made made everyone laugh and I couldn’t stop telling the crew how much I loved them. This was exactly what I needed to revive myself! It was right after this that I picked up my pace, the gas I kept in the tank from keeping a solid pace earlier, was now paying off. I left the ladies at the aid station and took off. I ran, hills and all, that last 10km. I even caught up with Ethan again, who graciously let me pass. My goal was to get to that finish line within an hour. I was hurting physically, but mentally I felt so strong through this section (It’s funny because this section during last year’s 50km was so difficult for me). Up, down, around and through the last section and before I knew it I was on the last 2 km stretch to the finish.I shoulder checked and could see Ethan gaining on me. He found his 6th gear and was pushing hard. He caught up to me and we ran neck in neck for the final kilometre. Knowing that it was my first 50 miler he cheered me on “Come on Spring, you’ve got a little extra left”. So I found whatever I had left and pushed as hard as I could. I could see Ethan just in front of me, but just couldn’t pass him and he crossed the finish line just 2 seconds before me. I crossed the finish line at a time of 11:59:17. It was a hard day, it was a long day and it was a fun day.

As soon as I crossed, tears started streaming down my face, I was crying but it was hard because I was so out of breath. Hugs from Gary, Geoff, Ethan and then I seen Leigh. I couldn’t breath, I was trying to cry, but all that was coming out was a strange gasping noise, I can only liken it to a wounded donkey. I felt so relieved and elated to have finished. Adam was such a good photographer (and friend) that he caught the moment on camera for us before he came to give me my congratulatory hug.

What a spectacular day it was! Alot of high’s and only a few low’s . I crossed that finish line with the thought that I couldn’t wait for my next 50 miler, so to me that was a GREAT race.

I have to say a big THANK YOU to my Leigh for crewing me that day. He was there with a smile and encouragement to keep me going. He has supported me with all of my crazy training and put up with more than a few post long run grumpy moments. Thank you for always believing that I had it in me and for pushing me to do more than I thought I could.

Thank you so much to all of the AMAZING volunteers. I didn’t think the race could get better but this year was incredible. The aid stations ran with precision and they did everything they could to look after you. Thank you so much to the Squamish 50 crew – you guys put on a world class event and an event that keeps me coming back every year for more!

Thanks Adam for accompanying me, and always smiling, on more than a few of my long training runs, even though you were only training for the 50km. And Sarah for all of the great advice on my first 50 miler and for being such a strong running partner. And to everyone I have had the opportunity to meet and run with over the last year, your advice, your smiles and your company on the trails is what made training so much fun and helped me toward a successful race!

Author: Spring McClurg

I moved to B.C. with my husband in 2010 after spending 6 years living abroad in Ireland. Originally from a small town in Alberta that was minutes away from the Rockies, I always knew I would return to the mountains one day. I love spending as much time as I can in the mountains, whether it be mountaineering, rock climbing or simply running on the backcountry trails. I love to challenge myself and seek out new experiences.

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7 Comments

  1. Congrats! What a great accomplishment! I ran the 50km in Squamish this year, but thinking I might do the 50 miler next year. Gulp.

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  2. Wow, Spring! You are such an inspiration! I am just seriously blown away by the mental strength (and obvious physical strength) you have. Congratulations on achieving such an amazing feat!

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  3. Wow thank you so much for the comment Kayla!! It was definitely an intense journey and one I would recommend to everyone.

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