Sometimes All You Need is a Finish: a Post-Race Reflection on the Squamish 50

Sometimes all you need is a finish.

This past weekend I ran, and completed, the Squamish 50K for the second time. This race holds special meaning for me as it was the first ultra I ever did, just one year ago. If someone told me that after completing my first ultra I would successfully complete one marathon, two more 50K’s, and The Coastal Challenge 230K Expedition Race all within a year I don’t think I would have believed it.

Looking back, I am incredibly proud of what I have done, but even with hindsight it’s easy to get bogged down, and since returning from The Coastal Challenge I have had a roller coaster of a year. After completing the expedition run, I remember believing I could do anything, and slowly but surely, as heavy fatigue and burnout began to creep in, I had to learn to manage my feelings of invincibility with reality. What ensued was a race calendar, that slowly chipped away, and felt like it was constantly moving out of reach.

It’s hard to explain why these races mean so much to me, and although I should feel fortunate that I am able to run at all, it has been isolating and difficult to deal with feelings of failure when I haven’t been able to accomplish what I planned to do. From burnout to a back injury, it would be an understatement to say I have been frustrated with my body, and I badly needed a win.

June held a lot of promise for a successful summer of running – I had a great 45K orientation run in Squamish and was feeling strong heading into the Capra Alpine Running Camp. The camp was very challenging, and I pushed my boundaries as a runner chasing Eric Carter, Nick Elson, Mike Murphy, and all the other very talented runners that attended up into the alpine. Climbing over boulders and boot-skiing down glaciers made for long, challenging days, and by the end of the camp I was feeling accomplished and exhausted.

Perhaps my back injury would have held off had I not pushed so hard during the camp, or perhaps it was bound to happen regardless, but two days after camp I found myself unable to stand up straight and earned myself the “worst back of the month” award at my chiropractors.

Leading into the Squamish 50 weekend I was really worried. After an intense month of chiropractic work, KLaser treatments, physiotherapy, and massage I was only 75% improved, and I had not had a run exceed 25K since before my injury.

After spending Saturday cheering on and fuelling the 50M runners as a volunteer at the Farside Aid Station, I went into the race on Sunday inspired by the many runners I saw push past their discomfort to complete a gruelling race.

The race started off really well – I felt strong and was on target with my goal pace. Although I had a small stumble down Word of Mouth, I made it to Quest with all of my toenails intact at 4:15 and was feeling optimistic about a new PR. The thing with ultras is that everything can change in an instant. Although I left Quest feeling strong, I was soon feeling encumbered by the smoke from the forest fires as I made my way up the climb to Angry Midget. Had I only been dealing with the smoke I “think” I could have made better time, but unfortunately, it was also during this climb that my back started to tighten. By the time I reached the descent I had stabbing pain in my left glute and felt my back spasming. Cue the waterworks.

As I hobbled down the descent, fearing that my race was over, the other runners around me were encouraging me to keep moving forward. One gave me some Aleve. I am still in awe of the generosity that other runners show towards each other during a race.

Coming out of the trees and towards the 32K aid station I took out my phone and tried calling a couple friends for encouragement. Both were out of service. Then I called my mom. From a place that could only come from a mother’s concern for her daughter she told me that I didn’t need to keep going. I was injured, and the smoke was dangerous, I could quit and no one would care she told me. It was the smart thing to do. The only thing stopping me from doing the smart thing was that I cared.

After consulting with my friend Dylan at the aid station, I took some time to stretch, eat, and refocus on the task at hand. Maybe it was my newfound drive, or maybe it was the Aleve, but my back pain started to dissipate. Although I knew my goal time was out of reach (it took me two hours to go 7K), I could still finish well before cut-off, even if I crawled. Instead what happened is that I flew. Well, what I consider flying when 32K deep into a tough 50K.

Before I knew it, I was seeing my friends smiling faces at Farside, which meant there was only a little over 10K to go. To my surprise, I was still able to kick into “high” gear and was able to take advantage of the flats and downs that would ultimately lead me to the finish line. My fastest recorded kilometer was the one that lead me to the finish line, and to my amazing coach, Gary Robbins.

Running the last 100m of the race was something truly special. When I ran this race last year, as my first ultra, I was overwhelmed at the fact that I did it, and now, with more experience and miles under my feet, I was again overwhelmed – although this time it was because I could still do it. It was comforting to know that even with all the set-backs that I still had the drive and determination to keep moving forward.

During the last 18K of the race, I realized that I wasn’t giving myself enough credit for my past achievements, and instead of reflecting on my journey as a whole I was concentrating on what I considered to be my faults and failures. This is part of the magic of ultra running and one of the reasons I keep pushing my body to be better, stronger, and faster. It is when you feel like you can’t go on, but somehow find the strength to keep on enduring, that you build character, find empathy, and are given a real glimpse into what you are really made of.

Post-race, sitting with my friends that cheered me in, and stuffing my face with ice cream, I took one small minute to reflect on the day and I realized that even though I didn’t make my goal time, I got what I needed – a finish.

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Thank you to everyone that makes the Squamish 50 such a wonderful event – you can be sure I’ll be back in 2019!

 

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