There was a short but steep climb out of the forest with spectators waiting at the top. I hadn’t seen spectators in a while, having just come off the single track trail Galactic Sheisse, the biggest climb and descent of the day. They cheered me on as I passed them and started down a f lat section of dirt road. More spectators, more cheering. I could hear music in the distance. Very soon I found myself coming around the corner of a building, and as I rounded it, the hillside below the Quest University aid station suddenly came into view. Cow bells and cheering erupted – over 200 folks sitting on the hillside and cheering every single runner. A surge of adrenaline shot through my limbs as I climbed the stairs up to the aid station where a large and enthusiastic group of volunteers waited to assist. Someone handed me a Freezie. Hey, it was trail running legend Ellie Greenwood who handed me that Freezie!
It was Saturday of Squamish 50 weekend, and I had just reached the 30-mile mark of the 50-miler. Originally a 63-kilometre race known as stormy (Squamish Test Of Running Metal, Yeah), elite ultrarunner Gary Robbins and Geoff Langford of Ridgeline Events took over the race late in 2011 and rebranded it as the Squamish 50. In that time, they have grown it into arguably the largest ultra trail event in Canada, with a combined total of over 1,100 runners between the four events: a 50-miler on Saturday, a 50k and a 23k on Sunday and a “50/50” for runners wishing to test themselves with both the 50-miler and 50k on back-to-back days!
Put together those 1,100 runners, their crews, friends and families, plus over 250 volunteers, and you have a few thousand people assembled in Squamish, B.C., for a full weekend of world-class trail running, food, drink and general merriment. With the start and finish lines set in full view of the massive 2,300-foot-high Stawamus Chief granite monolith, and several points along the course that offer views of spectacular Howe Sound, the runs manage to be quite scenic despite the fact that you spend quite a while climbing and descending single track trails in the heavily forested mountains north and east of Squamish. With the 50-miler boasting over 3,350 m of climbing and the 50k checking in with over 2,600 m, these are serious
mountain ultras. That said, the courses wrap around Squamish in such a way that crew and spectator access is easy, especially in contrast with some ultras where one needs to drive for hours and hike long distances to aid stations to see the action. The major aid station at Quest University (which is also the start of the 23k on Sunday) offers easy access and a comfortable atmosphere for crews and families. Other spectating points along the course are all within a short drive of the start/finish area.
The Squamish area has numerous activities to keep non-running friends and family members busy while you suffer on the trails. Riding the nearby Sea to Sky Gondola, hiking up the Chief or around Shannon Falls, or even driving an hour up the road to Whistler are all good options (although on a nice summer weekend these attractions can all draw significant crowds). With just a bit of research into the local scene you can find plenty of lesser known but stunningly beautiful hikes, mountain bike trails and other outdoor action.
Of course, the main reason to come to the Squamish 50 is to run. With challenges ranging from the 23k all the way up to the 50/50 (130 kilometres and 6,100 m of climbing), there are distances for all levels from noob to nutter. Swag is top-notch with T-shirts for all runners, medals for all finishers and, for those finishing the 50/50, the coveted custom trucker cap. I managed to nab one of those caps, and the feeling of coming down the raucous finish line chute and having Gary Robbins high-five you and pop one of those on your head is worth all the months of training. Wing Taylor is an ultra trail runner living in North Vancouver.
DESTINATION SQUAMISH, BRITISH COLUMBIA Squamish 50 DATE August 18–19, 2018 DISTANCE 23K, 50K, 50 miles WEBSITE squamish50.com