Friday, August 22, 2014

Athlete's Corner: Squamish50

Squamish 50/50 race reports 

from Marie Boucher and Andy Healey

Squamish, BC, Canada - photo from Squamish50 FB page

Race Concept: Cumulative times for the 50 mile and 50 kilometer events on back to back days.
When: Saturday August 16 (50 mile), Sunday Aug 17 (50 km), 2014
Where: Squamish, BC, Canada
Distance/Elevation: 130 km, ~ 6096m / 20,000 feet of vertical climb and descent
Time limit: 16 hours (50m), 11 hours (50k)
No. participants: 75 max
RDs: Geoff Langford and Gary Robbins
50/50 Results: here  Full results and iRunFar race coverage interviews: here

Marie finished in: 21:37:44 and Andy finished in: 21:37:00

Marie Boucher
Andy Healey - photo by Carolyn Kelly-Smith

Chloe: You have been racing ultras for some time now, including up to the 100 mile distance. What was the appeal with this 50/50 event? 

Marie: Squamish 50/50 was my goal event this year, and I have been excited about attempting my first “stage race”.

Andy: I have yet to tackle the 100 mile distance, but ask in a month and I should be singing a different tune. I wanted to do this race for a couple different reasons. First and foremost, I love the Squamish 50. The race directors, the volunteers, the people who run in the race and the people who come out to support everyone are all the best. I've got a tonne of friends who were planning on running various distances and/or volunteering, so I knew it would be the party of the summer and I would have been a fool to miss it. This was my third time taking part in the race, I've done the 50 miler for the past two years and when the option of the 50/50 was announced, I figured I had to do it. It was a big challenge, it was ridiculous and I love trying things that I'm afraid of.
Shortly after registering for Squamish, I found myself signing up for the Pine to Palm 100 miler in southern Oregon and I realized, that as absurd and potentially pretentious as it sounds, the 50/50 would be a perfect training run. Last but certainly not least, was the hat. I've been coveting those sweet CMTS trucker hats all year and the lure of a super rare limited edition 50/50 finisher's hat of my very own was too strong to resist. I suppose I'm a sucker for a sharp looking accessory. 

Chloe: Did you feel ready, how did you prepare for this?

Marie: I ran White River this year and finished third in my age category, so I felt confident my training was sufficient. My training was not without many visits to my physiotherapist but it was consistent. I ran three to four days per week, with one or two long runs. All of these runs were with my running mates and trusty dog Marlee. I biked to work twice per week and went to several spin classes. I also lift weights four days a week along with core-specific training. I changed my diet just over a year ago, leaning towards a vegetarian plan and juicing. This change helped to provide more energy and nutrients; it took two hours off my 100 km time.
I was forced to change my footwear to Saucony from Asics because they changed the model I was previously using. Paul Slaymaker, the owner of the Runners Den in Port Moody helped me with this decision and the fit.
Gail Forshaw, an accomplished ultra runner whom I’ve had the pleasure of training with for years, has taught me how to endure distances from 50 km up to 100 miles and helped me prepare for this 50/50.

Andy: I've felt good about my training all year, with everything falling into place. I'd been ramping things up since winter, first with DiezVista 50k, then the Vancouver100 and now the 50/50, all leading up to Pine to Palm. I've avoided injury and stayed super consistent with my training. I don't follow a traditional training plan - I realized years ago, these just add stress to my life, so I simplified.
My work and parental responsibilities allow me two full-days a week (during the school year) to run as much as I want, and I can sneak-in a long run early Saturday or Sunday. My long runs are anywhere from three to six hours, with the occasional all-day peak bagging or backcountry mission. Lots of hills, and quick shorter runs here and there. I don’t have lofty race goals other than just doing it. If I was more competitive or something, I'd change things up but as it stands, I'm happy to continue as is.
In terms of preparation of my nutrition and fueling, my mainstays are always almonds and dates. Along with that, I packed some avocado, a couple Eat More chocolate bars, a couple granola bars and I had a burrito in my drop bag at Quest for the fifty mile day.
For the 50k day I just ate aid station food and my granola bars. The first day, I had mostly just water in my bottles and the second day I started with watered down mango/carrot juice and topped it up throughout the day with everything from aid station Heed to creek water. Like most people, I drink Coke at aid stations but never in real life.
On the 50 mile day, I wore my old school Nathan double bottle belt, and on 50 km day I had a single handheld bottle and a smaller bottle tucked in the waist of my shorts that I used for dumping creek water on my head. I planned to wear the shoes I had been training in, but they had a critical failure and blew apart on a peak bagging mission to Mount Capilano a week before the race. So I wore a brand new pair of Altra Lone Peak 2.0's straight out of the box. It should have been horrible, but it was great! You know the old saying, "Nothing new on race day... except for the most important piece of gear."

Chloe: So, how did it go?

Marie: Race day was only one sleep away and I was lined up, to get my race package and it was that moment I felt nervous for the first time. I started doubting myself and questioning my training and fake injuries were popping up in my legs as the line moved forward. This happens all the time pre-race and funny thing is each time these fake injuries seem so real. I wondered if I'd get blisters, if my IT band would hold, if my ankle would swell again etc... it would be interesting to know what goes on in all runners heads in the package pick up line.
So back to my hotel to eat my pre-race meal of steamed yams, parsnips, sweet potatoes and carrots with some BBQ chicken and salmon. I slept well and was at the start line with no (real) injuries. I put myself at mid pack as usual and let the speedsters go. I knew what was ahead and wanted to conserve my energy for the first big climb of the day.
The weather held up and gave me hope that the blisters would not get me. As we all ran through these incredible trails of Squamish I began running with a woman who was attempting her first 50 miler. We ran together for most of the day and exchanged stories which helped pass the time.
Lots of roots and rocks to climb or jump over which made this course to me extremely difficult. At the second last aid station, I ran with a different woman who had travelled from Arizona. I always find it more memorable to run "with" someone in any race. I simply called her Arizona as we tackled the rest of the day. She pushed me on the flats and I helped haul her butt up the hills. It seemed to be working for both of us. As we finished the 50 miles we made a promise to both show up the next morning for the 50 km.
The 50 mile day went as well as hoped, meeting new people, sharing stories, and finishing healthy. I went back to my hotel and jumped in an ice bath and drank tea. After 20 minutes of torture in the bath, I forced down my pre-race meal, drank a litre of E-Load and went to bed. Slept like I’d run 50 miles, woke up, oatmeal, peanut butter bagel, and headed to the 50 km start.
There was Arizona as promised, so I knew this day might work-out. We stuck together throughout this very difficult course pulling at each other when needed. It made a real difference having that camaraderie. This was one of the most difficult courses I've ever run. Thankfully the weather was nice to help make the finish line more of a possibility. Arizona (Kristina Sladi) and I crossed the finish together to tie for third place. We were very happy it was over and Gary was waiting with a big hug for both of us.

Andy: I can say it now that it’s over without jinxing myself: I had two completely perfect days.
My friend James Clarke and I arrived in Squamish on Friday night, picked up our bibs, goody bags, and stopped at the jar store for cooking lagers then to Alice Lake and set up camp. I fried up beans and rice, ate burritos, drank wobbly pops and was snuggly in my sleeping bag by 9:30pm. The morning was as customary, coffee blended with butter and coconut oil, a banana and peanut butter for breakfast, though really missing my Vitamix.
The 50 miler start line was dark, I was seated at the back and didn't get chance to see friends or international superstars. Gary Robbins gave our pre-race talk and the man who started ultra running in Squamish, Paul Cubbon, the first race director for SQ50 (originally STORMY) did a strip tease of all the race shirts since 2001.
I intentionally started off slower than what felt right. I trotted along the first 10k or so, eventually catching up to friends, enjoying the easy pace and conversation. Linda Barton-Robbins, a wealth of knowledge and experienced with long races was with me. I knew our normal pace to be similar, so I was keeping her within sight. We passed the first aid station, dropped off headlamps, said hi to volunteering friends and headed into serious trails. I got ahead on the first descent too quick, but dialed it back.
I breezed through sections of the courses, where, last year I suffered and was in trouble with blisters or other issues too early into the race. At Quest, I sat and ate a burrito with avocado. I purposefully took my time fueling up knowing the next section to be brutal. The plan for the 50 mile day was to make it in one piece to the next day’s start.
Things rolled nicely on. Because I did most of the orientation runs and ran the race two years in a row, it felt I had good knowledge of the course.
The only real problem was with peeing, because I wasn't. At aid station seven, I got expert help from the We Run Mas crew, who sat me down and forced me to drink a bunch of water and Heed and ... one large, freezing cold can of German radler! Before I knew it, I was in Gary's loving arms "nice work" to which I replied "only 50k to go..."
The next day’s 50k start was nice because it was light and we could see faces of friends and international superstars. Right from the start we formed a great back-of-the-pack 50/50s group consisting of myself, James, Linda and Paul.
We took it out super mellow, shooting the breeze and laughing at how ludicrous this was. We stuck together until Galactic, where James and I started passing people on the way up and a tonne on the way down. I couldn't believe how great I was feeling. When we got to "SLOW! DANGER!" signs, we pretended they meant that going slow was dangerous so we bombed it and had a blast.
I felt like a champ as I hit the final road section “looking good, only one kilometre to go,” said the course marshal. A couple seconds later, I heard behind me “looking good, only one kilometre to go!” I turned around there was a fresh looking 50/50 runner right on my heels, then passing me. Another quick shoulder check and there was YouTube sensation The Ginger Runner. “No way,” I told myself, “No Californian is getting me, not now...” And so I put the proverbial hammer down and finished my race strong, proud, sore, tired, happy and ready to run a hundred miles in a month.
I gave Gary a second stinky, sweaty hug in as many days and finally got my new hat.

Photo by Elaine Fung 

Chloe: What top tips do you have for others who are considering this race?

Marie: This race was very well run and the volunteers were great. I would recommend this race for sure. I had no down moments the entire race during both distances as I was not afraid to DNF. I didn't over think or become too worried about any one thing. I decided to trust my training and just embrace the day. I respect all courses but this one deserves more respect. I welcomed the challenge and was fortunate that all went very well. This would be my advice for anyone doing the 50/50 race.

Andy: If you are not afraid of demanding, technical, unforgiving days in the mountains you won't be disappointed with the 50/50. Everything about the race is top class. If you're not a cyborg like Michael Wardian, my number one tip is to start slow. There's basically no time for recovery between races. Don’t blow-up on day one or you’ll be part of the 50% attrition rate. Stop and fix problems before they start. Take that rock out of your shoe.
Big thanks to: Gary, Geoff and everyone involved with the race and behind the scenes. James Clarke, my camping comrade and race day co-conspirator. Major hi5s to the We Run Mas crew. I could never do any of this stuff without the support of my awesome loving family Jen and Sam. 

Andy's Blog:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Athlete's Corner: John Muir Trail

Solo fast-pack adventure – by Erin Donnelly


About the trail

The John Muir Trail (JMT) goes 338.6 km in California. It is almost entirely at, or above, 8,000 feet with thirty five per cent of the trail above 10,000 feet making it the highest trail in the USA. It begins in Yosemite Valley, crosses over six mountain passes and ends at the summit of Mount Whitney at 14,505 feet. Yosemite and Whitney portal are packed full of tourists so after spending your days socializing with chipmunks and hearing leaves blow in the wind it’s a bit of a sensory overload when you find yourself back in the Disney world of hiking.

The majority of people do the JMT from North (Yosemite) to South (Mount Whitney). This helps acclimatize to the altitude as you go. I didn’t really have any noticeable problems with altitude. Although, this didn’t stop me from using my sea level origin as an excuse to defend my desperate gasps for air when I was climbing with a Coloradoan. Fastest Known Times (FKT) are typically attempted in the opposite direction, because of the elevation loss. The Pacific Coast Trail (PCT) hikers are also heading North on their way to Oregon and beyond.

A permit is required for the JMT. These golden permits are in HIGH demand, especially to start from Happy Isles in Yosemite. Sixty per cent of the permits are available 168 days in advance and they fill up the day they are available. If you miss the boat on getting a permit in advance, the other forty per cent are on a first come first serve basis, and involve waiting in line at the permit office very, very early in the morning. A permit to start at Mount Whitney is a lottery (paid out in steep switchbacks not money).

Erin at start of Donahue Pass, Lone Pine, CA

The plan

I was unable to obtain the permit granting access to begin at the official JMT start point in Happy Isles. Instead, I had to start at an alternate trailhead and therefore miss out on about 13 km from the 338.6km distance. I was mildly disappointed, but I got over it.

The trail is usually hiked from July to September. Some hearty people, including the PCT hikers, hit the mountain passes in May or June when there is still snow. September would have been my top choice to avoid the bugs and to have less people on the trails. However, I went in late July since I have other races lined-up in August and September.

Getting to and from

Getting to and from the trailhead is more arduous than one would think. The best way to get to the JMT from Vancouver BC is to fly to Reno Nevada, take the Eastern Sierra Transit Bus to Mammoth Lakes California, then take the YARTS bus to Yosemite Park.

For the return home, the JMT finishes at Whitney Portal. From there hitchhiking to Lone Pine is the way to go … and if you’re lucky like me, a nice lady will pick you up and tell you all about the recent graduation of her grandson so you can just sit back and nod with a weary smile. The Dow Villa Motel in Lone Pine is a great choice. This is the hub of the Badwater Ultra, so be prepared to be blasted by ridiculous heat as you hobble around in search of victory ice cream.

Side bar

The JMT ends at the top of Mount Whitney. You still have 18 km of relentless switchbacks dropping over 6000 ft. I started blissfully blinded by my success. By the thousandth switchback, I was leaning on my poles and begging for signs of mercy. At the bottom is a café that features obnoxiously large pancakes, give yourself some time if attempting to eat these and be on guard for cute husky little thieving birds.


I mailed myself one resupply in advance to Muir Trail Ranch located close to the JMT, roughly at the halfway point. I carried five days’ worth of food, since I estimated approximately nine days to complete the trail. There are options for a resupply during the first half of the trail if you want a lighter load. The second half is more expensive and time consuming for additional resupplies.  I ate about 15 ProBars and tones of wraps with almond butter. I likely will not be eating foil packages of tuna or macadamia nuts ever again.


I started enthusiastically with 26lbs of gear, food and two 1L bottles of water. Water is plentiful on the JMT, which I filtered using pills. The ‘favourite gear award’ goes to my hiking poles, especially for saving my knees on the relentless descents. A bear canister is mandatory in Yosemite. These plastic tubs are heavy and big, but keep brazen bears away from your precious calories. My Go Lite Jam 50L pack fit the bear canister nicely. My tent could have been lighter, but I was happy having a freestanding tent (Big Agnes Fly Creek UL) in the thunderstorms. All the little things add up, so try to keep your pack as light as possible.


In addition to the standard safety precautions for any multi day trip, lightning is something to be mindful of on the JMT. Some of the passes are wide open and risky terrain in a thunderstorm. As I got higher it looked as though every tree had been struck at least once. The storms can roll in fast, so I was happy I spent the extra 10 minutes beforehand Googling what to do in case of a lightning storm.  

At first, I was telling people where I’d planned to camp for the night, since this is common trail convo. After a few days I realized that telling the man dressed in army clothes who seemed extremely intrigued by my solo status, that I was alone and where I would be, was not a good idea. I did feel perfectly safe as a solo woman on the trail though.

Mather Pass

Big Horn Plateau

Highlights and noteworthy

Each mountain pass revealed a new world of even greater beauty. I will never forget coming over Muir Pass. The landscape suddenly became rough surrounding me with craggy peaks. I camped up at surreal-looking Helen Lake and watched the sunset from there.

The scenery exceeded my expectations, with the terrain changing along the way from smooth and sandy, to rocky and rugged and back again. Crystal clear water, wildflower meadows, forested switchbacks, marmots everywhere. I was constantly excited to see what lay beyond every pass after the next.

I bumped into two women from Colorado who were aiming to fast-pack the trail in 7.5 days, and also the Hardrock 100 Ultra female victor who was exploring the trail over five days. We all shared the common Hoka bond that didn’t go unnoticed, as we parted in opposite directions.

I hadn’t anticipated for the weather to be such a factor. On days eight, nine, and ten there were thunderstorms, which forced me to do the passes very early in the morning to beat the bad weather. Sometimes it was unavoidable, for example I got hailed on going over Pinchot Pass. Day eight was sort of a low point. It poured most of the day and I didn’t want to stop to set-up my tent in the rain. I eventually had to give up and set-up in the dark wet night. On day ten I was stuck at Guitar Lake, from 11am onwards for seven hours, just four miles from the Whitney summit. It was raining hard and lightning all around. I thought it unwise to attempt the last summit in those conditions. About 20 other hikers ended up at Guitar Lake, stuck as I was, so that day actually got pretty fun.

My very favourite moment happened on the final day. I woke up at 2am and summited Mount Whitney to catch the sunrise. I hiked it under a beautiful star-filled sky alongside a couple from Aspen I’d met earlier on the trail. The energy was amazing and a great way to conclude my trip.


Helen Lake

Mount Whitney summit

Final thoughts

I enjoyed going solo, on my own schedule. It wasn’t lonely since the trail sees a lot of chatty friendly hikers. When planning out the mileage, take the weight-over-time into consideration and difficulty of running with a pack. My trip took a total of 11 days, 8-12 hours ranging from 14-28 miles per day. I rarely ran. I would feel it in my knees instantly. Instead, I kept it at a fast-hiking pace. Solo means that all the necessary gear is on your back.

I learned that good sleep does heal most of the minor physical, and all of the mental struggles, so being drained at the end of each day was okay. My main advice would be to take advantage of swim spots, take a dip and wash away fatigue and trail grime. Oh, and most definitely take time to stop and take photos.