Running the Arc’teryx Squamish 50 23k


On Saturday, the 10th of August, I ran in my first ever race, road or trail, the “Squamish 50” 23k. It’s called the Squamish 50 as the main race is 50 miles long, but they also offer variants of the course that are 50km’s and 23km’s in length. Spring, the other half of pebbleshoo, ran in the 50km, a mammoth achievement, and will be posting her thoughts on that also.

If you’ve been following this blog you might remember I posted about my reasons to run this race back in January, you can read that original post here: Twenty Three

Well, did I hit my goal of losing 23lbs in weight? No. I did not. I’m around 15lbs lighter. I guess something changed between writing that initial post and actually running the race. Weight loss is still happening but I don’t frequently monitor my weight so it isn’t like I’ve set weight loss goals and am keeping track that I’m hitting them. I imagined I might lose around 23lbs by the race simply by being very active. I guess my body is happy with its current weight and doesn’t want it to drop much lower for now.

Another aspect is that I don’t like feeling hungry. It’s an unnecessary mental distraction. Since January and when I wrote that first post about signing up for this race I’ve been doing a lot more Skiing, Mountain Biking and Rock Climbing, as well as some Backpacking and Mountaineering. Primarily though, compared to the last 3 years, I’ve cut back on Backpacking and spent a lot more of the Spring and Summer Mountain Biking and Rock Climbing. Generally, when my body is losing weight quickly, I feel hungry. When climbing it made me feel weak and when biking it made me feel shaky. This wasn’t good. I decided that I’d rather feel satiated and enjoy learning to get better at these activities than spend time thinking about food I could be eating.

Star Chek Arete

It seems to be working. I’m eating enough and I’m still losing weight, it’s just very, very slow. What has helped is that rather than reducing the quantity of food I was consuming I’ve changed the quality of it. I’m eating a lot more organic fruits and vegetables. I’ve cut out a lot of dairy as well, I consume no milk anymore (replaced it with Almond milk), I eat a little cheese and yogurt and trace amounts of butter. I’ve also cut back on wheat, refined sugars and canned foods.

You might have noticed above that I didn’t mention running as one of my Spring and Summer activities. Well, I’ve been really bad with my running. Since January I’ve probably ran less than 10 times. The town I lived in gets a lot of rain so I imagined on rainy days, when I didn’t want to bike or climb, that I’d get some runs in. By body runs hot so I prefer running in the rain as it keeps me cool.

Well, Squamish, and Southwest British Columbia, has had one of the driest and sunniest Springs and Summers to date. Every time I’d go to grab my trail runners my hands would inexplicably pick up my rock shoes of bike shoes. The weather was just too good to run, or so I thought.

In the last month though it has felt like the Universe was trying to tell me something. The front fork on my Mountain Bike suddenly exploded and then within a few days of that I wore out the rubber on my rock shoes. Now, when I went to go outside, only my trail runners where sitting there, pristine and shiny from not getting used.

I begrudgingly put them on and accepted that, if I was to run the 23km race pain free, I should start doing at least some form of running before it. I joined Spring on a few of her shorter runs and it felt awkward and forced at first but something changed after about the 4th or 5th 6km+ trail run. I was no longer thinking about the movements and planning my foot placements around rocks and roots, my mind had tapped into some primal reservoir of instinct about running in the forest and it suddenly became easy and, curiously, exciting and fun.

At the end of one run, a few hundred meters from our parked vehicle, myself and Spring started running full pelt. The hair on the back of my neck stood up and it felt like the brakes had been released. My heart switched gears quickly and began to beat hard, really hard, with each breath I was fully inflating my lungs and emptying them. The world felt like it was blurring at the sides and I began to smile as my eyes dilated. As we passed driveways dogs would start barking sensing the excitement or was it elation, coursing through our veins. As I collapsed at our car, heart still racing and hands slightly shaking I realized I had not felt like that since I was a child. At some point in the process of growing up I had stopped running without control and had told myself to run at an orderly, mature pace. I guess this pasteurization of how I ran is what led to me becoming bored of it a long time ago, in my late teens.

Running in the forest does something that running on roads has never done for me. It taps into that fight or flight part of my brain that reminds me why my body has evolved the ability to run like this in the first place. I believe this is why runners talk of a “running high”, something I had never experienced in my orderly jogs along roads and sidewalks. Running was used for survival, we needed this ability to chase down our prey to exhaustion and escape from danger. I started to feel the same clarity of thought that I get when climbing a hard rock route while running a technical trail. When I imagined a cougar or bear hot on my heels, a possibility in Squamish, my heart rate would increase and my focus on the trail ahead became clearer.

I’ve heard Hikers say to passing Trail Runners “What’s the rush? Don’t you want to take in the scenery rather than just running through it?”. It’s only since starting to run trails that I realize how inaccurate these statements are. When hiking, your mind has time to wander, you can think about your problems, and chores that need finishing and other aspects of your life in society. Your mind does not have time for this when you are running technical trails, it is only taking in the scenery around you. A trail runner might pass through the environment quicker but they see more. In the same way a climber gets to know intimately the details of a rock line a trail runner gets a more intimate knowledge of a trail and the environment around it due to having only a singular focus on it.

All this understanding came to me just shortly before my race. I ran one final long run which was a warm down for Spring, a mere 11km’s on some technical trails with some steep uphill and technical downhill, and then, there I was, standing at the Start Line, listening to the count down. 4… 3… 2… 1… GO!

There is an energy in the air when running with a larger group, all motivated by a singular goal. Like I have previously stated, it taps into something instinctive that isn’t fully describable. Immediately I tried to stay ahead of the back 50% of the pack, not wanting to get bogged down on the narrow single track trails ahead. A front group pulled away. I was fine with that, I had no wishes to place in this race, just to enjoy the run and experience it with others.

The route climbed steeply right at the start, even runners with fresh legs started to walk it. I thought of Spring, when she would get to this point in the course she would already have ran 27km’s.

I felt good though. The running was intuitive, I’d fall in behind others and match their pace and footfalls and then overtake so that I could run without impedance for a while. Sometimes it was nice to draft behind other runners, sometimes it was nice to see nothing but empty trail ahead.

Around the 15km mark my legs started to feel heavy. This was further than I had ever ran before in my life and it was on complicated trails of steep uphill, granite slabs, protruding roots and elevated wooden catwalks usually used by Mountain Bikers. But I was having fun. The downhill sections were a blast, I’d take the brakes off and just flow through the obstacles. My speed allowed me to gap the sections of roots and rocks by just leaping past them. I felt my mountain biking had actually helped me through these sections as I’d learned that it is easier to just ride out the technical stuff than to try and go slow and navigate. My climbing I feel helped me by giving me better core stabilization as well to better shift my weight quickly and efficiently without losing speed or getting off balance.

There was one final drudge of uphill before the last section of downhill before the finish line. Everyone ahead of me was exclaiming “Are they kidding me? What is this uphill?”. I could feel it also, this was hard, my legs felt like wooden planks now. I spent a lot of time thinking about Spring when she’d reach this point, it was as much a mental as it was a physical struggle. When she would get to this spot she’d have covered ~46km’s of a hard, really hard course and need to contend with this wall of roots and loose earth. Once I topped out though I began to recognize the trails. I was in the “Smoke Bluffs”, a part of Squamish that I regularly rock climb. I let out a “WHOOP!” of joy as I knew that this was it, it was downhill and then flat to the finish line. One of the many amazing volunteers gave me a wink and a thumbs up. I ran with my arms out like an airplane through this final section of glorious downhill, as I did when I was young and didn’t know about, let alone care about, my gait or form. It was pure elation. It was a feeling of being unburdened by society and expected maturity, a feeling of just being present in the moment.

I crossed the finish line with a time of 2hr50 which doesn’t really matter but probably needs to be stated. I placed 11th in my Age Category and 35th overall out of 130 racers. For my first race I’m happy with those results, but I’m more happy that I finished still enjoying it. There was a worry in me that it would become so tiring and painful that any joy would get sucked out of it. Trail Running will definitely become one of my regular activities now. There are still likely 100’s of kilometers of trails in Squamish to explore and thousands if I think about all the trails in Southwest British Columbia.

More than anything though, what I have taken away from the past Spring and Summer of trying to do what I love more  and lose unneeded body weight is just how good I’m starting to feel in general.

“Most people have no idea how good their body is designed to feel.” – Kevin Trudeau

I used to feel lethargic in the evenings, starting at probably 5pm. I’d eat sugar or drink caffeine to offset this lethargy and feel sick. I had sore joints, stiff muscles and generally felt sluggish. When I’d see people who could stay active for every waking minute of the day I just couldn’t understand it. “I feel good so why can’t I be like them?”, I assumed it was genetics on the part of other people. You see, I say I felt good even though I suffered from feeling sick and sore a lot because that was the “best” I’d ever felt, so I assumed it was “The Best” anyone could feel. It’s only since changing my diet, pursuing what makes me happy and staying active that I realize how bad I used to feel. It makes me wonder if feeling as good as I do now will actually feel bad in the future as I get better.

Overall, I loved my experience with running the “Squamish 50” 23k. The organizers clearly love what they do and all the volunteers on the day were amazing. More than anything though I loved the process over the last few seasons of just getting better at what excites and makes me happy and running towards it, both figuratively and literally. If you have a chance, I’d highly recommend starting to trail run, push through that awkward phase at the start, it gets better, much better, trust me! If you live in the PNW of North America or like to travel then come run in the Squamish 50 next year, myself and Spring are already thinking about signing up again. Maybe the 50km for myself? Maybe the 50 mile for Spring? Who knows!

(Featured Photograph by Brian Goldstone)

Author: Leigh McClurg

I grew up in County Dublin, Ireland and moved to British Columbia, Canada with my wife in 2010. I fell in love with being in the Backcountry and Mountains that are all around me here and try to spend all of my free time exploring those wild places. My main goals are to chase happiness, see as much of this planet and its cultures as possible and grow every day through knowledge and experiences.

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