Leading up to the race, I had only one panic attack 3 days prior to the race. Butterflies started. Nausea set in. And the mantra of 'What the hell have I gotten myself into, and why didn't I train harder?' constantly played in my head. I thought mantras were supposed to be positive. I went into this race with two goals. Beat the cutoff and get there before the beer runs out. One out of two ain't bad. Lesson learned. You must train to get there before the beer runs out. But I'm charming. And I have good friends with great husbands who always seem to have a beer for me at the finish line. Plus, there's a pub down the street where you can get even MORE beer.
Instead of the usual 3 hours of interrupted sleep, I managed a solid 6, only tossing and turning a few times, to wake at 4am full of energy. No jitters. No butterflies. Just a cold shower, a banana and a pancake sammich, and I was raring to go. It was odd to get to a start line knowing so many people lining up, yet see no one in the pre-dawn light. I went into this race blind, having never run in Squamish. I also went in thinking I was running 5 short runs between aid stations, with a final 10km to beer. Both of these factors played a huge part in my positive mentality throughout the day. At no point in the race did I think how long I'd been out there nor how much longer I had to go. Not once did I think of the km's gained or the km's yet to come. I was always just running whichever short run between aid stations I was at in the race, never running more than a 10km in my head. This worked beautifully. I had no stress. Not once did I get into a negative moment, thinking I just can't go on. Not knowing how long the climbs were, I just kept plugging away, one step after the other. I never had that 'Omg...I still have another 1/2 hour on this hill' because I had no clue how long that hill was. Slogging my way up those two major climbs was so worth it when I saw the downhills I was about to take on. Since breaking my ass in Diez Vista 50, I still hadn't fully regained my downhill swagger. It used to be my bread and butter. Where I could be guaranteed to make up the time it takes me to climb. But my confidence was still iffy. I still had visions of the ground giving out, my memory blacking out, then sitting dazed on the ground. That first beautiful 3000 feet of descent made my day. There were a couple of moments where I had to stop, look, 'That way. No. Hmm...that way? No. How the hell do I get down this?' only to think, 'Just fly.' So off I went. Confidence regained. Full throttle achieved. Swagger back. It was awesome. I pulled into the 2nd aid station raving about that descent. I was just so excited to be flying downhill again without a care in the world.
Right about when I pulled into Quest my legs started to object. On the climbs, my quads would spasm. The descents, my hamstrings would spasm. And I think merely not to feel left out, my inner thighs, shins and calves would take turns spasming. So long as the muscle groups kept taking turns, we were going to be just fine. That next bit of climbing was just as bad, if not worse, than the first. And by the top of the climb I wasn't sure how I was going to manage to run back down. But then I looked at the start of Angry Midget and my eyes lit up. The first few metres my legs objected greatly, but I was having no part of that. Once again, I took off and flew down the mountain to the next aid station, where I ate far too much, far too fast, forcing me to hike the next section of rolling runnable singletrack.
About 4 km before the final aid station I started to lose it. The physical aspect didn't phase me. My legs were on autopilot. Mentally I was still so giddy and high. But emotionally I started to crack. I wanted desperately to cry. Every time I took that first step from hiking to running, I moaned out loud in utter despair. At one point I had two 50/50 runners go by me, looking fresh as a daisy, within 5 minutes of each other. Both taking the time to talk on their cell phone. That's where I almost did the infamous toe pick to face plant. Instead it was the toe pick, followed by 5 scrambling 'I WILL NOT FALL I WILL NOT FALL' crazy ass steps back to the staggered gait. Pulling into that final aid station was such a relief. For those last 4 km of fighting tears, I kept thinking, 'I just need to get to this aid station. If I can get to this aid station, I've got this in the bag.'
That last 10 km to beer is a blur. Still fighting tears, still moaning out loud at every step from hiking to running, knowing this was mostly downhill in comparison to the first 40 km. My hands were so swollen I kept thinking of the guy in Big Trouble In Little China who blew up. At about halfway I started to hear this slow, repeating clap. It would go for about 6 claps, then stop. Start back up for another 8. Stop. After 10 minutes of not seeing anyone, I started to think, 'Oh dear god...please be a person and not a bear popping its jaws.' Finally I rounded a corner and saw them. Men. Not bears. The man lower down the hill pointed up to the right and said, 'That's the top of the climb, then 4 km downhill to the finish.' I would rather have taken the short cut up to the left, directly to the 2nd man, but what's the fun in that. Up to the top I went, out onto that massive rock, where a breeze kicked in just as I stepped out, forcing me to just stop in Mountain pose, get it? ;) and soak it all in. Four. Km. To. Go. Downhill. I've got this.
Down I went. Still fighting tears, telling myself 'You can not cry. You are so damn positive right now, if you cry it'll bring you down.' Then I came across a tiny climb. 'Those bastards said 4 km downhill. DOWNhill. Not UPhill.' And then the stairs. I remembered hearing Mike Wardian bug Gary about the stairs after finishing the 50 miler. And Gary said 'More than 5, less than 200.' I kept thinking there must be more stairs than Quest. Why would anyone talk about the stairs if it were just the ones at Quest? But then of course, I only had about 3 km to go. Who would throw stairs in with 3 km to go? Riiiiiight. Gary would. So one hand on each railing, pep talking myself out loud each flight. 'You can do this. At least they're going down. You don't have to climb. One step and then the next.' Well, except for that one that went back up. Bastard. Dodging the climbers on that last descent to the parking lot, where a lady picking blackberries said how awesome I was doing. I yelled thanks, big smile, then stopped, back tracked. 'Wait. Blackberries.' She held out her container and let me go to town. Onto the road, through the park where I almost jumped in the river for a cool down, along the train tracks, down the road, only to hear 'WE'VE GOT A RUNNER COMING IN! IT'S BARB WILKINS!' Pace picks up, Smile gets so big I think I may burst. Not a thought of crying or pain enters my head. My hand is getting ready to reach into my pocket for the $5 set aside for my beer, as I run into Gary's arms for a great big hug. He's saying something, and all I can think and say is 'I really want a beer.' And then, what I NEVER want to hear at the end of an ultra again. 'They ran out of beer.' I look in a panic to where the tent used to be. Key words. Used to be. The look of utter despair and tears must have come back to my face, because in a heartbeat Gary added 'We've got a few cans and bottles here. We'll get you one.'
To complete a 50 km race in 10:55 shows you several things.
- This course is brutal.
- I was definitely under trained.
- I must strength train.
- And I am f*cking awesome because I did it.
Now to thank the scads of people who got me from the first km to the last km.
- The Volunteers. Wow. You showed up and KO'd any and all volunteers I've ever come across before. Coming in to every aid station as I was still taking off my vest, you'd be coming at me with water asking what I need refilled and with what. You'd take my vest, let me feed, then bring it back to me filled to the rim. You'd make me laugh. After gorging on piece after piece of watermelon, you'd joke with me that I could take a whole one with me. You never once mocked me for eating That. Much. Watermelon. You'd show me the way. You'd cheer and yell for me. You'd clap, shake bells, and most importantly, you were not a bear. And to see Alaia out there in the middle of the forest, yelling 'Where's your skirt!?' to me as I came by, brightened my day. And the gal at the final aid station, who pulled the Buff out of my pack, loaded it up with a ziploc full of ice, then moved my phone to a different pocket so the ice wouldn't melt all over it. You made the next 5 km refreshing.
- Linda and the unnamed man. Going up Galactic I thought it would never end. But to hear this constant chatter behind me gave me something to focus on instead of the painful slog up the mountain. Then to see those bright smiles once they caught me encouraged me to keep up with them. They had both run the 50 miler the day before, and for them to be this cheerful and happy could only inspire me to pick it up.
- Alanna. Seeing you come up Galactic behind me, all I could think was OMG! DEJA VU! It's Buckin' Hell all over again, except this time I feel amazing. Let's fricking do this thing! To run with you for so much of this race was incredible. We managed to keep each other out of our own heads and just enjoy this 50 km slog. I was so happy to run into you, and then to run with you.
- Gary and Geoff. You run one hell of a race weekend. From the movies which only inspired me more for Sunday's race, to watching the 50 milers come in Saturday afternoon. From getting the bathroom at the start of the 50 km race unlocked ;) to the great big bear hug at the finish. And when I came up to chat with you later, you ensured I had gotten a beer and even offered me your last gluten free can. Bless your sweet twisted heart. And the course marking!! I don't think one would see that much pink ribbon at a breast cancer convention combined with a 6 year old's princess party. It was insane. Every now and then I'd wonder if I had taken a wrong turn due to the fact that I hadn't seen a pink flag or surveyor's tape in, oh...100 metres.
- Margaret. You inspire me. You went out of your way to take care of us Friday, when you yourself were running a 50 mile race in the morning. And then you were the first face past Gary I saw. Thank you so much for seeing me across and getting photo proof of it! You remind me to embrace our backyard and play in it as much as possible.
- Dianna. Seeing your face at that final aid station lifted me up. Knowing you had already run that day, and yet were back again at an aid station goes to show exactly the type of person you are and why we all adore you so much. To be able to explain to a familiar face that I want to cry but I'm just feeling too positive, and for it to make sense.
I swore I didn't need to come back in 2015 and do it again. But who am I kidding?