Sunday, August 23, 2015

Impostor no more - My Squamish 50 experience

By now I have about a dozen Ultras under my belt and although there was some chafing in the first one and some queasiness in quite a few of them, I couldn't help, but feel like an impostor. Why? I never experienced any of the Ultra running "rites of passage", like blisters, puking, debilitating cramping, lacerations and such.

That was about to change during this year's running of the Squamish 50 miler. This was to be my second 50 mile foot race. My first one, last year's Sun Mountain 50 miler in Winthrop Oregon (find my race report here), went shockingly well from start to finish without any issues whatsoever. Now, although there was no one single issue that slowed me down and made my plans go sideways at the Squamish 50, there were a few compounding issues that left me suffering in a fairly dark place for most of day.

Still having fun 20 k into the race (it's a smile not a grimace)

About half way through the race I developed some chafing on my thighs and later on in some other areas that shall not be further specified, but made the post race shower one of the least fun experiences of the day.

Furthermore my shins and calves were on the verge of cramping throughout the second half of the race. My shins on the uphills and my calves on the downhills, which had the added "bonus", that when I tried to stretch one of the areas the other one would immediately seize up.

Although I still didn't have to throw up I got to the point where outside of the aid stations I was hardly even able to tolerate water, leave alone food. Interestingly enough when stopping at the aid station (i.e. not moving) I was still able to take in some calories, although too much food at a time didn't work out so well either.

One other issue I dealt with were my lower abs which got really sore and hurt me quite a bit, especially on the downhills. Now this is an issue I have dealt with in the past, but never got quite as bad as in this race. This really upset me, because for the last 9 months I had been really consistent about adding some weekly strength and core work to my routine, which it seems did nothing to alleviate the problem.

Lastly my mental "fortitude" was such, that I was pretty much hosting an 8 hour pity party for myself. I got to the point where I was about 90 percent certain that I would drop at the 5th aid station about 53 k into the race. This was the biggest aid station of the day with lots of cheering friends and family. I continued mainly due to the volunteers doing a phenomenal job of pushing my sorry butt out of the aid station and back onto the trail. From this point forward there was a lot of hiking involved. My saving grace was that my friend Eric caught up to me at aid station six at around 62 k and we were commiserating for much of the remaining 18 kilometers. In the end I might have finished the race mainly, because I was too proud to ask for a car ride back to the finish line from any of the last 3 aid aid stations. In between aid stations there is not really a way to drop out anyway since you are in the middle of the forest. I violated the "beware the chair" rule and enjoyed a few minutes of chair time at each of the last two aid stations to "contemplate life", which seemed like a good idea at the time. I didn't have too much trouble getting back up either actually, so no regrets there.

I suffered through a 50 mile footrace and all I got was this T-shirt :-)

Overall this was probably my worst race ever in terms of my finishing time vs my initial expectations. It is also the one I am most proud of though, since I managed to stick it out and not quit although my body begged me to. I shed my "ultra-impostor" label and am now able to move forward. I think I still have a ways to go in terms of improving on my mental fortitude. After finishing this race, I have a hard time imagining how people are able to finish -let alone excel in- events of even longer distances. Ultras are all about managing your body, which I thought I was getting pretty good at. It's back to the drawing board now though. I need to take stock of what happened and try to improve upon a few things in my training and preparation.

Taking some time to get sorted out. At least my feet were happy.
Thanks to my Altra Lone Peaks 2.0 and gaiters.

If you are looking for a tough and beautiful 50 mile race with awesome support and course marking that makes getting lost near impossible, the Squamish 50 miler is for you. There are 50 k and 23 k options by the way, which now seem like incredibly appealing, more sane options to me. Co- Race Director Garry Robbins is known for designing  tough courses, but he really outdid himself on this one.

Happy running and racing,