Whistler Alpine Meadows 55 km

WOW. That was harder than expected. But also my first perfect race. For one thing, it was the only race this season due to my unfortunate injury in the backcountry in March (read all about it here). But also because nothing really went wrong. I was able to access that perfect flow mode for most of the race. Of course it was hard. And I had to re-push the ENDURE button several times.
Let me tell you a little about the course. Most 50 km races average about 1500 - give or take - meters of total elevation gain (about 5000 ft). That is vertical gain measured as if you took every meter of difference between lowest points and highest points of every undulation on the course and stacked them on top of each other and then measured them with a measuring stick. Well Whistler Alpine Meadows 55 km (WAM) has 3200 meters of gain. That is 1.5 Whistler mountains of gain. Just about exactly the same gain as going from Base Camp One to the top of Everest.
Michael Martin, my Phd student, did the race last year and he told the story like this "I did my first ultra in 6.5 hours and the next one (WAM) took 11 hours". Still before the race, I kind of thought/hoped that I could break 11 hours. You know with my greater experience. Well age doesn't work that way.

Here were my pre-race plans on little stickies.

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Lynne drove me to Whistler the night before the race and we picked up my race number and had a lovely dinner. She dropped me at the Whistler Athlete's Centre (which was perfect BTW - and cheap). I slept 7 hours and everything was great on race morning. Took a taxi to the start.

The early start. The RD (and my coach) Gary Robbins had arranged for people who might take longer than 10.5 hours (me!) to start half an hour early which gave us 12.5 hours to finish. The normal start folks had 12 hours to finish. All good.

We started with headlamps. I teamed up with Laddie who had done the race last year, seemed about my age and very experienced. Gary had warned me to take it out easy. Long day and all that. So I let her take off about an hour into the race. About then the elite men passed the slow train. Boy, they were fast. Lean and mean.

First early light in the middle of the first 12 km climb. Note how much higher we are than Whistler Village - where we started.

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Just kept climbing until we reached the first meadows.

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All smiles in the first quarter.

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Then glimpses of the alpine.

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Too much beauty.

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The alpine really does take your breath away.

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Still a lot of steep to come.


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This is for real.

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I guess I didn't see it coming.

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By this time, I had taken 44 photos. Sarah Thompson took the one of me above (before she passed me and finished an hour earlier overall) and then I made a resolution to stop taking photos. Turned out that that was the right decision. At this point, we were 20 km into a 55 km day and we had not covered half of the elevation gain. Oh Oh. The next 10 or so were downhill. Steep downhill all the way back to the village. Gary had warned me "don't crush this first downhill or you won't have the legs for the final half." So I jogged down, not feeling fantastic especially since 12 people (I counted) passed me on the descent.

By the time I rolled into Aid Station 3 at 28.5 km, I had only 30 minutes until the cut-off. By the time I changed my socks and replenished my supplies, I had 17 minutes until the cut-off. Which was depressing.

Long story short: I booted it out of the AS and leaned hard on my poles to negative split the race (i.e. finished the second half faster than the first half). On the way back up to the Alpine, I passed 20 people (no guff).

And like always when suffering, I felt the love baby. Love for Lynne, love for the Schuurman/Baehrs (and Visser), love for the people who are working for good in the world. That is where strength comes from.

And I had the legs. All those 14 run/hikes under the gondola this summer and pounding the 7 km down the FSR to the Mamquam. They paid off. After the last aid station at 40 km, I was high-fiving everyone I passed. It was a bit of slog to the finish but I knew I had it. Thanks Eric!


I love Gary Robbins' races because he makes you feel special with his egalitarian finish line hugs.


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Roxy has a message: "I'm the winner."

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Wow. That was hard. But good hard.

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In the end, the race took me 11:38 and I was 8th from last. Those 20+ people I passed… most of them didn't make the time cut-off.

Congrats to the amazing Squamish local Mike Murphy for winning the race.

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Thanks to Lynne for the finish line photos !

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