|Inadvertently advertising the Squamish 50 race all day.|
As we snaked through the early kilometres I was joined by some friends, old and new. First was the little ball of pain in my left calf that had been accompanying me on runs for the past week or so. Shortly afterwards the inflamed right Achilles who'd been my run buddy for the last couple of months joined the party. Then the dull aching shins, with whom I'd not run for some time, entered the fray. None of this was hugely surprising, so I just plodded on, waiting for everything to calm down a bit. After a couple of miles, we emerged on to the only section of the race run on roads. It was a pretty gruelling three-mile climb, but the grade looked comfortably runnable. And it would have been had my right calf not completely seized up at this point. I slowed to a walk to try and give it a bit of respite. That didn't seem to help. I stopped to stretch it out. Nope, nothing happening. Bewildered, I plodded up the hill at a snail's pace, as other runners streamed past me. Still, it gave me a chance to enjoy the spectacular views over the island. Having already given up moving at a decent pace, I stopped by the side of the road for a pee-break, only for a fellow runner to encouragingly call out "It's like a penis, only smaller!". Thanks.
Finally, about 27 km and three hours into the race I realised that I was at last starting to feel good. All the aches and pains seemed to have receded into the background, I was moving a lot more fluidly, and not only was I passing more and more people, but I was surging as I passed them as the competitive jerk in me wanted to break their spirits a little. I posed cheerfully for a photo when RD James Varner popped up; the distraction was enough for me to take my eyes of the trail and promptly rolled my glass-like left ankle on a rock seconds later. I swore, hopped around on my good foot and limped along for the next ten minutes, annoyed at myself for being so stupid.
After about another fifteen minutes, I spotted a familiar green shirt ahead of me. Nick doesn't really consider himself a serious runner, but a couple of weeks earlier he'd run a 1:22 half-marathon. He frequently leaves me in his dust when running uphill and had surged ahead in the early stages of the race. After those disastrous early miles I seriously doubted whether I'd see him again. "Nick!" I called out cheerfully, happy to see my friend. "Barry", he replied flatly without turning round, his voice that of a broken man. I caught up to him just as we entered a small aid station - basically a pick-up truck with a selection of drinks in the back. He sat down on the back of the truck and told me that he was in trouble. I tried to encourage him to join me for the next section; he said he needed five minutes to recover, but I could tell his day was over. He'd run a strong first half of the race, but perhaps his lack of experience and endurance training had finally caught up with him. I'll be honest and admit that part of me was relieved to have caught him, but I'd much preferred it if he'd been able to carry on and at least finish the race. Just not ahead of me.
After a couple more kilometres I came to the next major aid station manned by North Vancouver ultrarunning legend Gary Robbins. Amber and Julia were waiting there and it was great to see them again in much higher spirits. I appraised them of the Nick situation and then quickly headed out to what I knew was to be the most unpleasant section of the race. There are no words to do justice to the horror of the Powerline climb. It's very steep; at times you're scrambling up a near-vertical grassy bank, it's exposed and it seems like it's never going to end. Somehow, with the sun beating down on me on that early February day, it felt like the middle of summer. Still, I'd climbed it once before and I was determined not to whine about it quite so much this time. I trudged up it stoically, exchanging unpleasantaries with other runners as I passed them or they passed me. After a number of false dawns, the climbing ceased and there followed a couple of miles of delightful downhill trail. It took a little while for my legs to re-adjust to running once more, and I decided not to push too hard as I knew there was another big climb coming up.
Arriving at the start of the climb up Mt Constitution I noticed a sign helpfully stating "Summit 1.2"; so a couple of kilometres to the peak. Not so bad, I thought and started to climb. Somehow, after the ordeal of Powerline, this climb seemed a delight and the time seemed to fly by. I emerged on to a short section of road and soon arrived at the next aid station. I paused here, not to take on food or water, but because the views were simply jaw-dropping.
|Seriously. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama.|
|Why yes, I am having fun. Photo credit: Glenn Tachiyama.|
Once again, I was distracted by my own sense of vanity, and while trying to look photogenic failed to notice a large branch to my left which I promptly slammed into my arm.
|Nah, that didn't hurt. (Ouch ouch ouch ouch ouch).|
The trails continued flowing downhill for several more miles and I found myself thinking that I could carry on like this all day. I was now 46km into the race and feeling fantastic. It did cross my mind that I should probably be feeling a little more tired than this if I was truly racing, but I was just glad to be finishing strongly. I passed a few more runners who wished me well, then emerged on to a road near the start of the race. Rather than a pancake-flat finish, the course had a couple of minor surprises left with a couple of small climbs before the final sprint down a grassy bank to the finish line.
In case you can't tell, I loved this race. I'll be there next year. You should too.
Links:Official web site.
Results on ultrasignup.com.
Glenn Tachiyama's photos.
My Strava activity for the race.