A Race Like No Other – Squamish 23k Race Recap

Yes, I know it’s been a while since I took the time to blog about what’s been going on. Between a slight knee injury, work being insane, trying to follow my Beast Orders for Baker Lake and personal shit going on, life’s been fun. But this isn’t about that.

Tonight…. Tonight I needed to blog. I needed to put my feelings into words and write about what happened today and how I felt about it while it was still fresh and raw. Because I honesty never want to forget how I feel right now over everything.

Baker Lake will always be my #1 big race for 2014, but I haven’t really talked about Squamish 23k, which was race #2. Last year at this time, I was still not able to run, and had not gotten into the trail running community. I knew people on social media who were running this race in Squamish and I kept thinking “god that sounds so cool, I want to do that!”

So, naturally when friends of mine said they were going to run Squamish, I had no problems jumping on board with this plan. Realistically, the race is 23k. The elevation profile is roughly 1200 meters climbing and 1300 meters descend. And of course, like usual, I had no fucking clue what I was getting into. I didn’t look at a course map, check out climbs, or even know where the hell I was going.

A few weeks ago I went out with some friends and we did a training run, the middle 16k of the course. I felt great!! I thought it was going to be amazing. I knew I had 2k at the end on the road to do, but no sweat, I run roads. It took us 3:30 to run that section, so mentally I felt good. That is until I heard about the first 5k being a climb. With switchbacks. Uphill…

WHAT THE FUCK DID I SIGN UP FOR?!

Between my confidence being in the shitter, my runs being extremely tough, my knees causing me problems and people telling me I should drop out of the race, I was actually set on not running. It wasn’t until Thursday night that I was 100% sure I would run the race.

So I made some calculations, factored in the middle section at 3:30, the front climb being at least 1hr, and then the last bit being 20ish minutes to allow for tired legs. My goal? Well besides to complete the race, I wanted to be under 5hrs. I knew that the 50k was going on at the same time, so even if I was longer than that, I would still complete it.

I didn’t sleep Thursday night. Friday thankfully I got in 12 hours because Saturday I maybe slept 4. I was up by 3:30 am to carpool up to Squamish with Nikki, Jen, Nicole and Sonya. My gear was ready the night before so when Nikki arrived I was good to go.

I’ll skip over the pre race stuff, and into what I want to remember – the actual race.

I kept reminding myself this was a training run and I could do it in 5 hours. I made it clear to everyone not to expect me before then, and felt bad because I knew some would be waiting almost 2 hrs for me to finish. But I was scared, nervous and just wondering why I bothered to do this at all. A few friends/people I chat with knew my nerves and said I would do fine, but I wasn’t sure.

One of my friends from Chilliwack asked if I wanted a running partner but I knew he was quicker than me, so figured we wouldn’t run together at all. I planned on starting the climb with Nicole and just playing it by ear.

We left the start line at Quest, went down a small hill and then up a gravel road for a bit until we reached the trail head. So our climb started within the first 1.5k of this race, which scared the shit out of me. But then something really funny happened. I looked up and saw people walking. Lots of people walking. And I was able to pass a few of these people. The climb was pretty decent, with switchbacks and a lot of single track, but I was feeling ok… Which shocked me.

There were parts I could run, and I ran what I could. But I also took full advantage of finding someone to pace me up the hill so I didn’t burn myself out at the start. Nicole and Suzanne were behind me on the climb; while Nikki, Jen and Sonya were ahead. My friend Dan caught up to me and passed me within the first few km, so I didn’t expect to see him again.

I let the lady in front of me set the pace, and up to the first aid station at km 5, I went with her. Nicole and Suzanne had caught up by this point and we off and on switched who was behind whom.

After the first aid station, we were at Fools Gold parking lot and starting into the run I had done a few weeks ago. I knew there were climbs, but I also remembered that there was some pretty sweet downhill that I had felt confident on, so I planned on just letting my body do what it wanted to. At the same time, I knew Mt Phlegm was looming a good 13k down the road, and kept that in the back of my head.

I felt good. I was keeping a slight eye on my Garmin for my time and distance, more for my fuel, water and salt pills than anything else. And I felt ok. I felt good. And then I fell. The rain and dampness had caused the log boardwalks to become extremely slick. The first one I hit, I knew I shouldn’t attempt to run down the steep angle but I didn’t listen to reasoning. My feet went out from underneath me, and I went back on my ass hard. I braced myself with my right hand and snapped my neck back hitting my head on the top of the boardwalk. A girl in front of me asked if I was ok, and I yelled back yes! At least my ass was padded.

I got up, wiped my hand on my pants, shrugged it off and set about to keep going. I was ok. I didn’t swear, but I may have slightly peed myself. Hey, it was a hard fall!! I took the rest of the boardwalks easier and got a bit leery at some descends but still felt good. I knew I wasn’t far from Suzanne and Nicole so I was feeling ok.

I didn’t focus on my watch. I focused on my feet, the ground and half listened to my iPod which I had brought along with me. Since it was trails, I made sure to only have one earphone in and was always aware of my surroundings. At one point, after a good 10-15 minutes being alone on the trails I looked ahead and thought I recognized the person in front of me. It was Nikki!!! She was with two of her friends and she turned around and couldn’t believe I was there.

Now, this is where it all changed for me. I wasn’t far behind from NIKKI!!!! I had, without even thinking about it, allowed myself to keep a good pace and not be at the end of the pack. I was feeling good, I was feeling like this race was going to be a good one.

And then I had to go pee. Running down a gravel road I couldn’t take it anymore. So I ducked into the bushes along with another girl who was running, and we both peed. (Later on after Mt Phlegm when I passed her on the downhill she called out “yay! There goes my peeing buddy!” And all I could think is “I love trail runners) I snuck back out to find Nicole and Suzanne back in my path, so we ran together for a bit again.

Past aid station 2, where we stopped, quickly ate and got something to drink. Let me tell you, trail races have the best aid stations. Candy, cookies, chips, gels, salt pills, flat coke, fruit, it was brilliant.

We then hit another climb. I lost Suzanne and Nicole, and figured Nikki was long ahead of me, but ended up pacing with a young girl Candice. This was only her 2nd trail race, and we ran for probably an hour or so together. I could tell at some points she was having a rough go on the climbs, and didn’t want to leave her behind, not with Mt Phlegm looming in the distance. So I took it easy. I could feel my knees were sore, but I was still feeling good. So we chatted and ran and before you knew it, we were atop Mt Phlegm, where Solana and Jay, with their air horn were standing cheering.

I knew it was 5k to the finish from this point. I knew there was some bitch downhill sections, and my feet were killing me. I could feel every callous, every blister and the balls of my feet hurt like fuck. But I knew I had to keep going. I felt bad, leaving Candice at the top, but I had to keep moving. Nicole passed me at this point and told me I would catch her on the road. She was done and only running to finish as quick as possible.

I ended up passing Dan on the downhill walking. He had hurt himself and was taking it easy, and as bad as my feet hurt, I couldn’t give up. Each step was a grimace, each corner made me clench my teeth. But I wasn’t stopping.

I quit looking at my watch. I wasn’t fueling anymore at this point I was too close to the end. I was trying to get as much water in as I could, and just keep moving. I got to the bottom of the bluffs, and knew I was 2k from the finish. 2 glorious, flat, road km’s to the finish. And I couldn’t keep running. My feet were aching. My knee was sore, and after the cushy feel of the trails, each step felt like I was pounding on concrete.

I plugged both my earphones in, put my head down and kept moving. I could see the couple in front of me walk/running and knew I wasn’t the only tired person out there. I looked at my watch and realized with 2k left, I was sitting around 3:50 for my time.

WHAT?! How the hell did that happen?! It didn’t even dawn on me I had been out there for that long. My body did not feel like I had been moving for 4hrs, but yet I had been moving for ONLY 4hrs. I kept trudging forward, one foot in front of the other. Sometimes walking, sometimes running. Thanking the volunteers and trying to smile and cheer on other runners as they passed.

And then came the finish line. That glorious arch, with the ribbon guiding the way to my friends, and my medal. I came around and I don’t know if they announced my name, but I saw Jen up ahead and her eyes were wide and she had the biggest grin on her face when she saw me. I crossed, stopped my Garmin, and got a huge hug from the race director, Gary Robbins, and then got my medal.

I am sure I had a shit grin on my face, raised my arms with tears in my eyes and said “I did it in under 5 hours!!!” Jen gave me the biggest hug and told me I had just missed Nikki by 5 minutes. So I hobbled over to the car to get changed and hugged Nikki as well.

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Everyone was shocked. Nobody expected me in so soon, especially not 50 fucking minutes ahead of what I originally expected. Russ, another running friend, came up to me and said he couldn’t believe how strong I looked and when he saw me come across the line he was shocked that was me.

My confidence soared. I was, and still am, so damned proud of myself. I went out, I let my body judge how I ran, and I didn’t stress. I ran my race. No, I did not push it. I probably could have pushed it harder, but my knees were a bit unhappy at some points and why risk injury with Baker Lake so close?? This was my longest race ever. And I beat any expectation that I had for myself tenfold.

The best part? Hands down crossing that line and having Gary there to hug me. In the grand scheme of things, I am a nobody runner. I am your average go out and run a race person, who completed that run. Gary made me feel like I was 10 feet tall. And then having Jen there was amazing. Being surrounded by so many people who were so genuinely happy for me and proud of what I accomplished. It was amazing.

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Having my friends and family tell me they were proud of me when I called/text’d them over the race meant so much. One friend shocked me when they text’d “proud of u” because I never expected them to say it. It made me feel like I am stronger than I think and capable of so much more.

I couldn’t tell you how hard the climbs were, I didn’t notice it. I couldn’t tell you how technical the downhill was, I didn’t pay attention. Honestly I don’t remember most of the trails, it felt like no time passed at all. The km’s flew by, the time ticked away, and I just kept moving. And at the end, it was all me. I accomplished so much more than I ever expected possible.

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