This will be my second Squamish 50/50 and after completing both races last year and collecting a blue finisher’s hat, this year I will hopefully walk away with a green one. As of writing, there is only one person that owns the green hat. I heard that at this year’s event, there will be just thirteen people who have a shot at the green. If the attrition rate is as high as last year, there’s a chance I could be one of only ten or so people to have one. That’s a pretty cool club to be part of!
Anyway, last year’s race nearly killed me. It was the worst experience of my life. It took 14 hours to finish the race, just a bit more than that in fact, and I struggled massively with the heat. According to my Garmin Tempe sensor, it hit 38 degrees when I was passing through the cauldron!
Another big issue was my feet. My toes got so badly beaten up by the harsh terrain that I had to keep stopping and pulling off toenails that had slid out from underneath the cuticle. Not a great experience, let me tell you!
Anyway, without going into it too much here, I have made changes for 2017. I will go into the race much fitter and much better prepared. I have made changes to my nutrition plan and have changed my footwear. I’ll talk more about it in a later post, but for now, let’s have a look at the race details. This is from the Squamish 50 website:
Between the relatively flat first six miles and final mile, you’ll find over 3350 m /11,000 ft of climbing jammed into the remaining 43 miles of terrain. Your largest individual climb is 760 m / 2500 ft. This is an exceptionally difficult course made tougher still by the technical nature of a majority of the terrain. Throw in the fact that the back half runs much more difficult than the front half and you have yourself a nice little day of suffering. Thankfully we’ve made every effort to distract you with incredible scenery at every possible turn.
Your race begins at 5:30am, by headlamp. Ensure you’re wearing at least 100 lumens of light, as those are the rules of engagement. The world famous Chief looms above and on a clear night it’s nothing but stars and mountains staring down on our starting line.The first seven miles / eleven kilometers are flat, fast and twisty, as you make your way through the heart of Squamish and out to the hills and mountains that’ll dominate the rest of your day. Don’t get too excited and start off too fast, for you’ll be sure to regret that within a few hours.
After your first aid station you head through a small neighborhood to gain the Coho Trail. In previous years we’ve had kids dressed up in costumes high fiving runners, at 6:15am! This is one supportive and passionate outdoor community in Squamish!
Shortly after getting back onto the singletrack at Coho Trail you’ll start towards your first big climb of the day, up and over Debeck’s Hill, which presents about 1000ft / 300 meters in about one mile / 1.5km. As you ascend Debeck’s you’ll be confronted with some of the steepest terrain of the entire race, but you’ll be rewarded with views up valley and out over the mountainous peaks of The Tantalus Range. As you crest the top you’ll test your fancy footwork through some rocky terrain before it peters out into a 4×4 service road. On the way down you’ll pass by a historic Steam Donkey forestry relic. Feel free to stop and snap a pic.
You swing back onto singletrack after just a kilometer or so of service road, and then drop down a trail named Mid-life Crisis to intersect with Jack’s Trail. If your name is Jack please don’t read into this, we’re not saying you’re having a mid-life crisis Jack, but is this your first ultra? We’re just asking is all. Once you pop out onto Jack’s it’s flat and fast all the way to your second aid station at Alice Lake. There are flushable pit toilets to utilize if breakfast hasn’t been sitting well. Enjoy the feast of the aid station and proceed through Alice Lake Park to gain Four Lake Trail at the far side of the campgrounds.
You will first run past Stump Lake and then Fawn Lake before popping out onto the Bob Macintosh Trail. Turning left we head towards Dead End Loop, stay left on Dead End Loop to tackle your first sizeable climb up Made In The Shade to gain Ed’s Bypass. Drop back down to Rob’s Corners and enjoy the winding flowy slight downhill grade.
Your third aid station, and first drop bag location, will be located in between Rob’s and Cliff’s Corners. As a 50 mile runner you’ll be turning right to complete a 10km loop via Cliff’s Corners and one of your RD’s favorite trails, Entrails. This 10km loop is a mix of runnable and not so runnable for those unfamiliar with technical terrain. Once you drop down Entrails you return to the same aid station for a second time, via a very runnable double wide trail / gravel surface decommissioned road. Check back in at the aid station a second time, use your drop bag again, and then exit the aid station the opposite direction you did the first time.
You’re now on the Northside Connector gravel service road for a few kilometer, enjoy the last bits of runnable terrain before you head into the big nasty. Stay right at the Y split in the Forest Service Road, proceed approximately 1 km further until you can pick up a trail on your left named Plastic Scheisse. This trail is located just a few hundred meters after you cross over a prominent water flow in the FSR.
Welcome to your favourite part of the day! Plastic Scheisse climbs to Galactic Scheisse and tops out at over 3300 feet. Given that your starting line is approximately 600 feet and you’ve only gained a minimal total amount up until this point in time you should ensure you’ve grabbed ample supplies from your last aid station. The trail climbs at a steady grade that is indeed runnable by those challenging near the front. The total gain is over 2500 feet and it plays out over approximately 4 km of continued ascent. The great part about this climb, besides the challenge, is that it presents the most stunning views of the entire course, so it’s well worth your efforts! Multiple clear views are presented to break up your slog.
Nearing the top there are a few minor water crossings…NOW WITH BRAND NEW BRIDGES ACROSS THEM! Given that it’ll be August you may end up going for a quick dip to cool back down. There is a slight reprieve once you top out but shortly thereafter you are thrust into an equivalent descent. Trails you’ll run include Upper Powersmart, IMBA Smart, Fred, and Word Of Mouth. The trails will start off as average technical and proceed into greater technicality as your legs begin to bare more fatigue. You’re welcome!
As you exit Fred you’ll arrive at your fourth aid station of the day. Given that this is relatively close to Quest University this aid station will only be stocked with water, coke and gel.
Once you exit Word Of Mouth you’ll be at the approximate 30 mile point of your race at Quest University. A full aid station, full facilities and your other drop bag awaits.
Once you depart Quest it’s back to the climbing again. This time via Garibaldi, to The Climb Trail. Early in The Climb Trail you’ll pass a beautiful little waterfall and about a mile further along you’ll start to get some more open views back down valley towards Quest and across to The Tantalus Mountain Range. You are climbing on singletrack until crossing over The Northside Connector before linking up with the newly completed Upper Climb Trail. Climbing, climbing, climbing you’ll top out as you find A.M. or the non politically correct name of Angry Midget. A.M. is a wonderful fall line running trail and though you’re legs might be screaming you’ll likely be doing the same out loud as you enjoy every step!
At the bottom of A.M. cut left onto Ring Creek and follow it for a few hundred meters until you can cross over the Garibaldi FSR. You will access another aid station here. Once across the gravel road you’ll drop back onto singletrack. This will wind you down to a river crossing while using the ‘Darwin’s Bridge’. A short but steep climb awaits you on the other side and you’ll be taking your first right onto STP. From here to the finish you’ll be following the same course as every other distance.
You get to drop down STP, climb back up on Bonsai, drop back down on Somewhere Over There, and then hit your final aid station of the day at the entrance to The Far Side. Turn onto Fartherside and then S&M Connector. Enjoy this open slightly graded descent but don’t worry, you’re not done with your climbing just yet!
Crossing under the powerlines you take a left onto Endo but only briefly before you turn right onto Seven Stitches as you slowly climb up to Pipe Trail. From Pipe Trail you are closing in on your final climb of the day, up Mountain Of Phlegm. Don’t fuss over the name though, we’ve saved the best views for last! From the top of Mountain Of Phlegm, which is a short but steep climb, it’s ‘almost’ all downhill to your finish line.
Take Summer’s Eve into The Smoke Bluffs, blaze past the rock climbers and boulderers until you end up in the parking lot down below. It’s time to get those legs to turn over on some flat stuff finally, and you’re only a few kilometers from celebrating your achievement in our beer gardens!
Along the water, through Rose’s Garden, under the highway and down to Pavilion Park where you can finally lay down and call it a day!
In case you’ve made it this far and haven’t deduced this just yet… it’s NOT an easy course, but if you train hard you’ll be one of those receiving a finisher’s medal and finish line hug or high-five in August. Now stop reading this and get out there and RUN!
Image by Brian McCurdy Photography