A 2017 Squamish 50/50 race report

Team RunRun has a tradition of writing race reports, both as an opportunity for reflection, and to share lessons learned with other runners. I decided to write a longer-than-usual report because in planning for this race I felt there wasn't a lot of information out there. The only 50/50 specific info I could find was the Ginger Runner's Squamish 50/50 video, and Mike Wardian's iRunFar interview.

The 50/50 would be the first race to shift my mindset from "surviving" an ultra to really racing it

The 50/50 would be my first attempt at a "stage race" or multi-day event, and secretly I set a goal for myself to break the top 10. I knew the goal was lofty, but with a few races under my belt, I felt confident that I could do it. The first step would be to shift my mindset from "surviving" an ultra to really racing it. On top of that, my first 100 miler, Rocky Raccoon 100, left me hobbled for a few weeks, so I knew I needed to learn more about proper pacing and racing.

Training Philosophy

The training and build up was directed by my coach, Matt Urbanski of Team RunRun, followed the skeleton of Jason Koop's Training Essentials for Ultrarunning philosophy, with a focus on speed work and running form 4 months out from the event. In the buildup I PRed in both the 5km and 1/2 marathon that I used as tune-up races. Around the same time, I added twice weekly strength training with the help of Kevin Lantry at Riley Athletics. If you've read Koop's book you'll know he recommends against strength training, but I felt that my overall fitness was lacking and that I wasn't balanced as an athlete.

It took at least two months to adjust to the additional training load of lifting in addition to 2 - 3 quality running workouts per week, but by July I without a doubt felt increased power as a runner, and more importantly, I felt I could absorb more total training volume. While training for Rocky, going above 70 mpw left me feeling worn out until the next recovery week; with lifting I was able to consistenty hit 60+ mile weeks and one 72-mile week while also adding ~3 hours of cross training per week. In other words, I don't think I could have handled 3 additional hours of running, but I could handle better running while adding cross training.

One thing to be wary of is that lifting requires a much more careful taper. Doing a few strides a bit too fast is easy to recover from, but a poorly timed heavy workout can leave you sore for a week or more, and in my experience, negatively affect posture and running economy.

A Few Training Specifics

As Squamish approached, training shifted focus to climbing, descending, and power hiking. I live in Seattle and I'm a bit of a creature of habit, so I used several local trails for training. Some examples you may find useful if you also live in the area are:

With the training done and the taper tantrums in full swing, it was time for the Squamish 50/50 to start.

The Squamish 50/50 - Day 1 - 50 mi

Start

5:45 AM | 0 mi / 0:00 cumulative | 0 mi / 0:00 from last aid

Gary Robbins at race start

The start was pretty standard. There was plenty of parking, though don't try to arrive last minute, as the narrow road into the start means a traffic jam is likely. Our race start was delayed 15 minutes from 5:30 AM to 5:45 AM to allow everyone time to park and get settled before the race. The start was lively, with music, coffee, and plenty of bathrooms.

Start to Canadian Tire

As the course description suggests, the first few miles of the 50-mile race are flat and fast. I'd also say they're uneventful, but somehow, I managed to trip and slide face-first a few feet around mile 4, leaving me with grit in my mouth and a tight knee for the rest of the weekend, so really the best advice for this section is "don't fall." Assuming you can manage that, use the miles to warm up and practice managing your HR.

Aid Station 1 - Canadian Tire

6:37 AM | 6 mi / 0:52 cumulative | 6 mi / 0:52 from last aid

Skip it. Bring nutrition to go from Start to Alice Lake. Careful relying on crew at this aid station, as the line out of the starting line's parking lot may make crew late (though my lovely wife and crew chief didn't have any problems).

Canadian Tire to Alice Lake

Maxing out gain at Tiger and Rattlesnake mountains prepared my muscles for the elevation of Squamish, however, I soon realized I had no idea just how technical the descents would be

Less than a mile after the Canadian Tire aid station the course leaves the roads and heads up the Coho trail. This trail gets a bit technical, and there are a few small hills that you almost certainly will take too hard as the group around you tries to adjust from the fast road miles to the trail. Avoid pushing too hard here.

At about the midpoint for this section you'll hit the Debeck's Hill climb. This is the steepest climb of the whole weekend, so take it easy. Maxing out gain at Tiger and Rattlesnake mountains prepared my muscles for the elevation of Squamish, and I felt good hiking this hill and passing people as I went. However, as soon as the trail summits and starts to descend, I soon realized I had no idea just how technical descents would be. I would soon learn even bombing down Poo Poo Point was too easy and over much too quickly compared to Squamish.

Once onto Jack's trail it's easy rolling into Alice Lake.

Aid Station 2 - Alice Lake

7:55 AM | 12 mi / 2:10 cumulative | 6 mi / 1:18 from last aid

If you have crew, I'd suggest transitioning to "middle of the day" running here (i.e. "hot" [of course, check the forecast]). You won't see your crew again until Quest University, which is a few hours and large portions of exposed trail later. If you don't have crew you'll be transitioning at your drop bag at The Corners.

Alice Lake to The Corners #1

This section has small rollers and is comparably easy. Hit this section hard and you should be able to make good time.

Aid Station 3 - The Corners #1

8:55 AM | 17 mi / 3:10 cumulative | 5 mi / 1:00 from last aid

You'll hit this aid station twice during the day. If you didn't have crew at Alice Lake, get ready for "middle of the day" running. Otherwise consider skipping it. I drank some Coca-Cola here as I had to start managing stomach bloating, but keep this aid short otherwise.

The Corners #1 to The Corners #2

If you want to be competitive at Squamish you must be prepared to throw yourself down a 20%+ grade and hope for the best

This sections feels like a bit of a slog. The climbs aren't as steep as Debeck's Hill, nor as long as the upcoming Galactic climb, but you probably will hike a little bit. Descending the Entrails trail is crazy, at least twice I considered just sliding down on my butt, and this was also the first spot where I had to step aside to let faster descenders by.

At this point I started to identify runners into one of two camps: those that had run the trails before, and hence could descend with speed, and those that couldn't. I placed myself squarely in the second group.

I tried to make the official training / reconnaissance runs, but life and family responsibilities got in the way. However, if you want to be competitive at Squamish I think you should try to run the course ahead of time, but you must be prepared to throw yourself down a 20%+ grade and hope for the best.

Once off Entrails, it's a gentle uphill on the service road back to The Corners. Some people will be hiking back to the aid station; run this.

Aid Station 4 - The Corners #2

9:56 AM | 23 mi / 4:11 cumulative | 6 mi / 1:01 from last aid

Take as much time as you need here. From here you climb and descend Galactic, the longest climb on the course, so you want to be comfortable. Additionally, depending on the conditions, it may be possible to skip the Word of Mouth aid station and roll all the way into Quest.

The Corners #2 - Word of Mouth

Leaving The Corners, you'll be on service road for a few minutes before starting the Galactic climb. The first third of the climb was too steep for me to comfortably run, so expect some hiking. Don't feel bad about this! Everyone else is hiking as well. Somewhere in the second third of the climb it flattens a bit and you may be able to run efficiently.

When you think you're nearing the top you've still got a third of the climb left.

The descent isn't as steep as Entrails, nor Debeck's Hill, but it is long. The trail also rolls a bit more than I expected, so avoid the mental trap of thinking "this must mean I'm almost there". You'll know you're at Word of Mouth when you hit exposed service road, though not before hitting a few trails that look like they might be service road just to throw you off.

Aid Station 5 - Word of Mouth

11:55 AM | 30 mi / 6:10 cumulative | 7 mi / 1:59 from last aid

It's just 2 - 3 miles from Word of Mouth to Quest, "rolling downhill", and not exposed, so skip this aid station if you can. I stopped to refill water, which was turned out to be unnecessary.

Word of Mouth to Quest University

Public service annucement: when a volunteer tells you the next section is "rolling downhill", he or she means "you will likely fall and roll the rest of the way down the hill." This section is about as fast as the last half of the Galactic descent, so keep expectations in check and you'll be at Quest soon enough.

Aid Station 6 - Quest University

12:27 PM | 33 mi / 6:42 cumulative | 3 mi / 0:32 from last aid

This is another crew access (and drop bag) aid station, and a good spot to regroup; this appears to be the aid station where runners dwell the longest, so if you forgot to pack something or need some help, this is your best chance to do so. However, be wary getting sucked into the picnic vibe and spending too much time here.

Quest University to Garibaldi Road

Congratulations! Your day has just begun. The climb up Debeck's Hill was the steepest, Galactic was the longest, but the climb up the Climb Trail is the toughest. It comes at the no-man's-land point in the race where fatigue has started to mount and motivation has started to dwindle.

The best way to keep track of progress on this climb is to count switchbacks: count to 20, keep counting, lose count, start over at 0 and count to 20 again. Early in the climb you'll pass under some mountain bike bridges; get a good look at them now, I'll explain why later.

I had to use a mix of hiking and running in this section, but don't walk the whole climb as you'll lose too much time. Instead, run what you can, and be prepared to alternate running and hiking what feels like every few feet.

Once you reach the top, the trail takes a hard left and starts down. Remember those mountain bike bridges? Well you're about to get another good look at them; the course heads almost straight down the hill you just climbed, this time sans switchbacks, then up and over the bike bridges. Despite being a bit terrifying in the moment, the scene of flying up and over these bridges while runners pass underneath is a really unique experience, so savor it.

The best part of this section is once you start down, it really is "all down from here" to Garibaldi Road.

Aid Station 7 - Garibaldi Road

2:07 PM | 38 mi / 8:22 cumulative | 5 mi / 1:40 from last aid

The section from here to Fartherside is tougher and more exposed than the distance suggests, so spend an extra minute here if you need it.

Garibaldi Road to Fartherside

This section doesn't have any particularly notable climbs or descents, but the trail conditions feel a bit rockier and more technical here than anywhere else (may also be due to fatigue), and several exposed sections can get very hot. Just keep your head down and grind. You'll know you're close to Fartherside when you transition to service road near power lines and a water pumping station.

Aid Station 8 - Fartherside

3:28 PM | 43 mi / 9:43 cumulative | 5 mi / 1:21 from last aid

"Welcome to Fartherside." Those four words from a volunteer, who happened to be sporting a grass skirt in the Tiki-themed aid station, were my favorite of the day. After the exposed trail, Fartherside feels like a little oasis (which added to the Tiki vibe). You're about 7 miles from the finish and one climb left, so you probably don't need a full load of gear, but the first few miles are slow.

Welcome to Fartherside

Fartherside to Finish

As you leave Fartherside, spirits may be running high, and you'll want to tell yourself "just a quick climb up Mountain of Phlem and down into the finish!" This is a lie. I left Fartherside with a goal of pushing up the Phlem climb and felt spent before even starting the climb. The first mile of this section is a gentle but consistent climb, followed by some rolling with net downhill. That was not Mountain of Phlem. Next, you'll climb some more, pass through some exposed trail, and pass a few buildings. That was still not Phlem. A bit further down the trail you'll trade wide switchbacks and brush for a straight climb up and exposed rock. Now you have started the Mountain of Phlem climb.

I can't stress enough how important it is to be patient up until this point. I was too eager coming out of Fartherside, and this small climb and the subsequent descent where much more difficult than necessary.

The final descent starts steep, then flattens a bit before hitting a series of rock, followed by wooden, staircases. Once you hit the paved path you stay on it (save for a small section that's still very flat).

I've heard others warn not to push hard as soon as you hit pavement, as it's still 2 - 3 miles to the finish, however I respectfully disagree. After hours of hiking, climbing, and stumbling, it feels awesome to really open up on the pavement. Additionally, getting to "go hunting" late in the race is a great morale booster.

Finish

5:07 PM | 50 mi / 11:22 cumulative | 7 mi / 1:39 from last aid (Activity)

Just finishing day one feels like an accomplishment, but I can't say I was super thrilled with my time. Looking at previous years' finishing times, I guestimated that to be well positioned for a top 10 finish, I'd want to finish day 1 in the 10:00 - 10:30 range. 11:22 put me in 19th place, and the idea of going back out for day 2 is really daunting!

In any case, Congrats! You're 5/8ths through the event. Soak in the finish line festivities, but don't take too long, as recovery for tomorrow starts now!

First, eat and drink as much as you can. Avoid Coca-Cola, as the caffeine may affect sleep. My wonderful wife and crew chief really shined here, helping me recover but not letting me be idle. The next few hours looked something like this:

  • Ate a protein bar (with the goal of preventing additional muscle breakdown)
  • Ate cookies, chips, pretzels, etc. from the finish line
  • Headed back to the hotel
  • Did a hot soak for ~15 minutes with Epsom salts (I planned on taking an ice bath, but it turns out those are really cold!)
  • Drank as much ginger ale as I could handle (for calories and to calm stomach)
  • Ate a foot-long sub from Quiznos (easy on stomach, more calories)
  • Ate more chips, salsa, guacamole
  • Laid out gear for the next day
  • Went to bed around 8:00 PM
  • Stared at the ceiling until 11:00 PM, as my HR was too high, and I was having thermoregulation issues (alternating chills and sweating, like I had a fever)
  • Ate another protein bar at 11:00 PM to help recovery and more calories

The Squamish 50/50 - Day 2 - 50 km

Start

6:00 AM | 0 mi / 0:00 cumulative | 0 mi / 0:00 from last aid

"I already bought you a damn hat, the least you can do is try to let me give it to you."

Before the start of Day 1, Gary Robbins provided a bit of wisdom (paraphrasing): "Most people who start Day 2 finish, but almost everyone thinks they won't before starting. After a few miles, you'll feel good again... I already bought you a damn hat, the least you can do is try to let me give it to you."

I can attest that when the alarm goes off my first thought was "shit". My legs felt tired, but not "damaged", if that makes any sense, but getting so little sleep gave me the feeling that a death march was in my future. Despite being unsure of myself, I got dressed and headed for the start line at Alice Lake.

Start to The Corners

Amazingly, after about 10 seconds of the ugliest running anyone has ever seen, my legs loosened up and I was back on 10:00 - 11:00 pace, which I was quite happy with.

Skipping Debeck's Hill and heading straight to The Corners feels great on Day 2. I was able to tell myself "Look! I'm already on our way to The Corners! I could basically walk from here and still finish!" This self-talk felt strangely comforting. Another game I played to help keep my mind active was to "subtract from the cutoff". The math was super sloppy, but the gist was that the first cutoff was at 12:00 PM at Quest, which meant I could do approximately 20:00 pace and still finish, therefore, every minute faster than 20:00 was "padding" I could use at the end of the race.

Generally, I would recommend against that kind of thinking, but given that the race starts on tired legs (and you're likely in a group of much fresher runners) my initial thoughts were mostly panicked and along the lines of "I'm not going to make it!" By "subtracting from the cutoffs" I could prove to myself that I was still making good time.

Anyways, back to the course. Like yesterday, this section is pretty fast and comparatively easy. Given that people are much closer together at this early point in the race, the single set of switchbacks is fun to look up and down the hill and see the long line of runners trudging. It'd make a great picture, but there's no time to stop for pictures!

Aid Station 1 - The Corners

7:02 AM | 5 mi / 1:02 cumulative | 5 mi / 1:02 from last aid

No loop today. It's straight from here to Galactic and on to Word of Mouth, so fuel up here. However, because this aid station comes much earlier in the race today, you probably want to hold off on switching to "middle of the day running gear" until Quest.

The Corners to Word of Mouth

The same advice as yesterday applies again. One thing I noticed though was that since the Galactic climb happens much earlier in the race today, it's quite likely you'll get stuck in a train of climbing people. Knowing this now I might have pushed the first section harder to position myself farther up in the group, as I walked almost all of Galactic climb today because there wasn't enough wide trail to pass people. I lost time here, but maybe saved my legs? Either way, something to ponder.

A view up the Galactic climb

Aid Station 2 - Word of Mouth

8:57 AM | 12 mi / 2:57 cumulative | 7 mi / 1:55 from last aid

You know the drill here. Skip it if you can.

Word of Mouth to Quest University

Particularly in this section I was passed by several runners. Starting at this point you should be into your groove for the day, and hopefully the lessons learned yesterday are helping. You have to run your own race, as the 50k runners are operating in a totally different world from you, and chasing them won't end well.

Aid Station 3 - Quest University

9:28 AM | 15 mi / 3:28 cumulative | 3 mi 0:31 from last aid

Same advice as Day 1.

Quest University to Garibaldi Road

While my advice is the same as Day 1, expect this section to go a bit better on day 2. The combination of coming earlier in the day, having the experience of exactly what is and isn't runnable, and simply knowing how long the climb is helps better set expectations.

Aid Station 4 - Garibaldi Road

10:54 AM | 20 mi / 4:54 cumulative | 5 mi / 1:26 from last aid

Same advice as Day 1.

Garibaldi Road to Fartherside

Same advice as Day 1. Because you're hitting this section much earlier in the day, exposed sections likely won't be as hot.

Aid Station 5 - Fartherside

12:04 PM | 25 mi / 6:04 cumulative | 5 mi / 1:10 from last aid

Same advice as Day 1.

Fartherside to Finish

My favorite part of the day! With a much better idea of course for the final few miles, you'll be better prepared to push it when you need to, and know when to power hike. Also, avoid the mental psych-out of expecting Mountain of Phlem too soon means descending the back side should go much quicker.

Once you're on the road really try to push the pace. Despite a good deal of fatigue in the legs, I was happy to see I could average ~8:20 for the final two miles or so, even pushing to sub-8:00 for a few sections. While not speedy by any stretch of the imagination, after seeing 15:00 miles click by all day, 8:00 makes you feel like a track star.

Finish

1:33 PM | 32 mi / 7:33 cumulative | 7 mi / 1:29 from last aid (Activity)

At the finish line

I have some unfinished business with this race, so expect to see me lining up again in the future

As disappointed as I was in Day 1's finish, Day 2 went surprisingly well; Day 2 splits were consistently faster. I'm not sure if this is typical, as the second race is obviously shorter, but running on tired legs should somewhat cancel that out; it may be a good follow-up post to see how other 50/50 runners fare. In any case, I felt faster on Day 2. I think some of that came from gaining knowledge of the course and skill running it, and some came from beating my own expectations of being much slower on Day 2.

Overall, I moved up from 19th to 14th place, missing 10th by 45 minutes overall.

I was hoping to have a better wrap up here, perhaps talk about how I missed my original goal but learned so much about myself and so on and so forth, but that just wasn't to be. To be clear I did learn a lot about Squamish in particular and racing in general, but I have some unfinished business with this race, so expect to see me lining up again in the future.

Finally, I must thank everyone that helped get me to the starting line for such a wonderful event: my wife Amy Jerrett-Kotsenas, Matt Urbanski and the whole Team RunRun crew, Kevin at Riley Athletics, Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford, and all the volunteers.

In any case, enough about me: Good luck! When you finish, wear your new hat with pride!

Lessons Learned

I carried too much food

Partially that was because I didn't know how to pace some sections beforehand. Hence writing this race report in the hopes of helping people plan accordingly. The Ultra splits pace calculator, is also very handy, but if you're new to the race or the terrain, it doesn't help much if you aren't shooting for the median.

I ate too often on Day 1

I ate ~100 calories every 20 minutes, which has worked in training and in previous races, but from about The Corner #1 on I fought with bloating and nausea. Maybe the slower pace lowered my calorie requirements (though I would think the slower pace would lead to increased blood flow to the gut, which means better digestion, but ¯\_(ツ)_/¯). It could also have been more jostling than usual, or just one of those days. In either case, on Day 2 I cut my fueling in half from the start and felt much better.

I would have benefitted from the group training runs

Based on the improvement on Day 2, attending one or more of the group training runs on the course may have been the edge I needed to make top 10. It's impossible to know for sure, but attend these runs if you can.

My trails weren't technical enough

Even with the fast descent training of the Poo Poo Point trail, I wasted a lot of time and energy trying to carefully navigate the Squamish trails. In the future, I would practice descending on the Cable Line trail, and add both climbing and descending on the Section line trail on Tiger Mountain.

Splits

I've collected the splits for each section below to make it easier to plan

Day 1 - 50 mi

Aid station Miles Split Cumulative time
Canadian Tire 6 0:52 0:52
Alice Lake 6 1:18 2:10
Corners #1 5 1:00 3:10
Corners #2 6 1:01 4:11
Word of Mouth 7 1:59 6:10
Quest 3 0:32 6:42
Garibaldi Road 5 1:40 8:22
Fartherside 5 1:21 9:43
Finish 7 1:39 11:22

Day 2 - 50 km

Aid station Miles Split Cumulative time
Corners 5 1:02 1:02
Word of Mouth 7 1:55 2:57
Quest 3 0:31 3:28
Garibaldi Road 5 1:26 4:54
Fartherside 5 1:10 6:04
Finish 7 1:29 7:33

Photo credits to Amy Jerrett-Kotsenas, and ActiveSteve.