Race Report: Squamish 50 by Gina Giordano

The Squamish 50 mile race is held in Squamish, British Columbia, about 45 minutes outside of Vancouver on some of the greatest mountain bike trails on the continent. This East Coast runner experienced running, stumbling, sliding and hiking on these mountains. The race consisted of 90% single track and over 11,000 feet of climbing and descending.

My brother, Frank, suggested I do the race with him. It was going to be his first 50 miler and I’m always up for a challenge... so why not?!  But how was this flatlander Long Island girl going to conquer the Mountain Challenges of Western Canada?

First, I knew I needed to change up my current training. I wanted to find someone experienced with strength training and coaching for endurance athletes. I scoured the internet and found numerous coaches on the West Coast but decided I wanted someone from the North East who could help me pick trails to train on. I remembered hearing about Mountain Peak Fitness from Breakneck Ridge race, which I had raced in 2017, and decided to look it up. When I saw the website I quickly realized Coach Elizabeth was exactly who I was looking for. She assessed my strengths and weaknesses and quickly helped me get out of knee pain from a recent fall on local trails. GAME ON I thought.

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Coach Elizabeth gave me specific mapped routes of upstate NY, Massachuesetts and Vermont. I spent many weekends elevation training to prep for the big mountains. It was a very challenging few months for my mind and body adjusting to the technical climbs and descents. There was a lot of foot, and lower leg discomfort and it was a process to find the perfect sneakers. Thankfully we focused on hip, lower leg mobility and strength. She helped me navigate through all of my struggles and I got to the start line in one piece.

A couple of photos from our online training sessions.

A couple of photos from our online training sessions.

I went with my brother and my husband, Joe. The weather was nice from the start — about 60 degrees. We were possibly expecting rain in the afternoon and clouds, no sun. The humidity was high.

My goal for the race was a little loftier than my coach was thinking. I previewed the course in the beginning of June so I knew what I was up against. I made up a spreadsheet, which I did for prior ultra runs I raced. I input my time goals for each aid station with a prediction of 13 hours. Now only time will tell if this East Coast girl has enough grit to tackle the gnarly mountain trails of the West coast.

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The race started at 5:30am. My husband dropped off my brother and I at the start by 5:00am. This was a very well organized event — there were even real bathrooms! Gary Robbins, the race director, gave his famous race briefing at promptly 5:15am welcomed all of the different countries, gave us some history of the race and advised us of course markings and things to watch out for. Before I knew it, the race started!!! 

The first 6 miles to the AS1 Escape Route is a mix of flat wide crushed rock and road, and some single track trails. There were over 400 starters and I managed to find my place in the pack at the pace I wanted to hold to AS1. I read that this aid station is crowded and best to skip so I thought 1.5 liters of water in my pack at the start would be enough to get me to AS2 Alice Lake so I ran through and never checked my water level.

By mile 7 the course turns into the Coho Trail and the first climb of the day on Debeck’s Hill. This climb is said to be the most technical and steepest but not the largest at 1,000 foot elevation gain in 1 mile. I felt great striding up and passing lots of runners. I noticed I was sweating profusely due to the high humidity so I must have been drinking a lot. Before I got to the top, I ran out of water. I still had 3 miles to the next aid station at Alice lake. I tried to remain calm but my heart rate was up as I was descending and then there was a flat fast trail to AS2. I refilled my pack with water and away I went at 12 miles 2 hours and 30 minutes in. Up next  — AS3.1 Corners.

The next 5 miles roll into the next sizeable climb. Unfortunately, I was not feeling right. I’m walking and my heart rate feels off. Not sure if my watch was correct but it was reading 170! I decided to eat my banana and just let my body calm down. I was sweating so much, yet it was cool. I decided I needed more fluid and salt. I quickly recovered and was moving more swiftly again. I made it to the aid station where I had my drop bag. I also swapped out one of my sneakers for a larger size since my arch was bothering me. It is now mile 17, 3 hours and 30 minutes (right on time) and I see my brother! He is passing through AS 3.2 and is doing great, 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Up next for me is AS 3.2 Corners which is a 5 mile loop and includes a crazy technical descent on Entrails.

I gave myself 1.5 hours for this loop since descending is not my strong point. I did ok but I noticed I was starting to feel fatigued. The next section is the biggest climb of the day and I am definitely thankful for the break from descents. This section ends on a crushed rocky road that goes uphill to AS 3.2 Corners. It is very exposed but no sun today so not an issue. I am really excited as I am approaching AS 3.2 Corners 8 minutes ahead of schedule. Great time for me to check out what the aid station is offering. I had some salted potatoes and watermelon. I didn’t want to make the same mistake I made in the morning and run out of water, so I decided to fill my pack to the brim and carry some electrolyte drink in a 20 oz flask. My decision making at mile 23 was poor but I had plenty of fluids this time. Up next Galactic Scheisse a 3 mile climb with 2,500+ elevation gain and a 4 mile gnarly descent.

The road to Galactic is a wide crushed rock path as I leave the aid station for about a half mile or so. Everyone around me is walking. I do for a bit to let food digest and then slowly jog to the trail entrance. It is a big forest that starts with single track and a few switchbacks and then turns into a bushwack for a bit, then a washed out rutted trail turns technical with a fast 1k to the top. The climb feels never ending because I’m carrying 5lbs of water but it is not as technical like the east coast and the prior climbs of the day. A few beautiful viewpoints on the way up make it worth the trip. 

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After arriving at the top and passing many runners I find myself on some steep technical downhills that I am very hesitant on. Next stop AS5 Word of Mouth, mile 30 – 7 hours and 15 minutes in.

I decided I had enough fluid and fuel so I skipped this aid station but headed the wrong way. The volunteers quickly caught me and sent me off with a trail guide. It was a cute Golden Retriever who had a bandanna around his neck and lead me for about 7 minutes. Then I looked at him and said “thank you” and he disappeared. It was amazing. This section I was hoping to make up time but it was technical descent the whole way so I needed all the time I planned for it. Up next AS5 Quest University mile 33 – 8 hours in.

The run into Quest was amazing! Crew and spectators are allowed and there were plenty of them all lined up cheering you the whole way in. You feel like a rock star. The volunteers were amazing too. It’s easy to get caught up and lose a lot of time here. I was already 15 minutes behind and I spent 5 minutes here but it was worth it. A volunteer sat me down and my husband came over with my drop bag. They were very attentive.. gave me what I asked for.. full pack of water and half flask of coke. I grabbed my cliff blocks and caffeinated spring gels for the final 17 miles. A volunteer explained the course to the next aid station which was only 5 miles away and my husband reminded me that I gave myself 2 hours for that section. I explained to him if I did that, its for a good reason.

Out of Quest there was a long road that had a decent incline up to the trail. I remembered this section well from my visit in June. It is a series of switchbacks some parts runnable but never ending...you can count up to 20 and you probably have 20 more. I saw a bunch of mountain bikers here. I felt confident on this section with the exception of a few very steep wooden ramps I would have to run down. I was doing great on time and made up the time I lost at Galactic finally. That pumped me up. I hit AS 6 Garibaldi 38 miles – 9 hours and 45 minutes.

This next section I made sure to give myself ample time of 2 hours for the 5 miles since it is very exposed and if it was a sunny day, that could be brutal. This section also is very rocky and technical. It had a climb for about 2 miles and then a downhill to the final aid station. I was super charged through here hoping to get some extra time for the last section which everyone complains about how difficult it is so late in the race. I knew I didn’t give myself enough time if I wanted to reach my goal of 13 hours. I made it to the final AS 7 Farside with an extra 15 minutes – 11 hours and 30 minutes in. My brother, who finished in 9 hours and 40 minutes, 14th overall, was surprised to see me so soon. I grabbed some food and took off with a coke and a pocket full of gummies. Not my whole foods style this race but at this point I was just  focused on hitting my goal and my last conversation with coach was that I may need some quick sugar and I knew there were 2 technical climbs left Farside and Mtn of Phlegm.

Only 7 miles left on this epic adventure. I had a rocky first half but everything has fallen into place for this last section. All I could think of is that it reminded me of my local mountain bike trails that I love with the ups and downs and squiggly trails. I was playing leap-frog with a few ladies and we had some nice banter back and forth. After about 5 miles of technical single track you start the descent down a bunch of stairs wooden and rock. Just what your quads want at this stage of the race... NOT! Then you hit a flat trail and out to the roads to get back to the finish line. I was chasing the clock. I thought I was running 7 minute miles, it was such a push but I was lucky if I was in the 9’s. I made my goal of 13 hours by the seat of my pants and won my age group. I got the famous big hug from the race director Gary and a photo. This East coast girl found out she had the grit to conquer Squamish. What a relief!

This was a beautiful mountain race on some of the most technical trails in Western Canada. The course was well marked and well organized. I would highly recommend it. Special thanks to Coach Elizabeth for preparing me for all this gnarly terrain. Next up the Yeti 100.