Confession: After running in B.C. I never want to come home.
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I’ve been an ambassador for the 5 Peaks Trail Race Series since January of 2015. Through the race series, I came to win a contest to go on a trip of my choice in North America. While I’ve always wanted to race along the trails of the western United States, I wanted to cross the finish line of a race and see a friendly face. I ended up in British Columbia running my longest trail race to date: the Squamish 50’s 23K distance.
The hardest part of preparing for this mountainous British Columbia race was, well, the lack of mountains in Ontario. While I have hills in my Toronto neighbourhood, I don’t have the opportunity to power hike for 15 minutes straight or run downhill for a kilometre over technical switchback without pause. Instead, I aimed to do stairs at a nearby stadium, hills once a week and focused on sprinting downhill as fast as I could. Still, I knew that nothing could prepare me for real mountains.
My friend Rachael, also a runner, had recently moved to Squamish so I was lucky enough to stay with her. She took me through the map in advance and happily turned her kitchen over to me the night before as I made my pre-race pasta. Another friend who works for the race series in B.C. lives in Squamish and was running the 50K so it was great to finally meet her in person. Friendly faces in place, I geared up for my destination race.
On race morning, the air was crisp and fresh and smelling of pine. There was a slight breeze as we set off on the mainly single track trail with some small sections of gravel road. The elevation was 1,000m total and so sometimes I was throwing my body down hills that wound around like a roller coaster. Other times, I power hiked up and over boulders surrounded by shoulder-high grass. I ran over wooden footbridges and through lush forests covered in vibrant green moss. Though I was terrified of wildlife, I only saw bear scat (though a few black bears were spotted on course by other runners).
One of the things that struck me about this race was the team environment throughout. I saw a difference in my fellow runners in this part of Canada. If I was approaching someone from behind, it would take mere seconds for them to offer to move to the side so I could pass. If I stumbled and another runner was nearby, they would shout to see if I was OK. About half way through the course I shared a package of pink lemonade Stingers with a fellow runner as he “didn’t want to eat them all and that would be a waste.”
About four kilometres from the finish, I saw my friend Rachael. She told me if I picked it up, there was a chance I could finish in the top 10 women. It was the push I needed to make it through the final descent. I passed two women on my way down and just before the last three kilometres in town, came upon another woman standing drinking the last of her water. “Come on, girl! Let’s do this!” she said as she took off with me down the hill into town.
At that point, not only was it my longest trail race ever, but it was also my longest race, period. I had never raced anything longer than a half-marathon and the mental fatigue of 20K of technical trail had set in. The idea of running three kilometres of road to close out the race was disheartening. Before the race, Rachael had told me I could likely do the 23K in under three hours. I looked at my watch for the first time in the race and saw 2:35. I took a deep breath and decided to grind it out. I finished in 2:49 as the 11th female. “You really helped get me through the last 3K,” my new friend told me at the finish. “I wanted to walk but didn’t want to let you pass. I’m competitive like that.” We laughed. I could totally relate.