Ultra Trail Running Tips
A few weeks ago, we gave you an overview of the Squamish 50 ultra trail race, and this time around, we reached out to Race Director Gary Robbins, and Arc'athlete Adam Campbell, winner of last year's 21k distance, for a few tips.
My advice for first time trail runners would be to try to have fun and to embrace the differences that are trails vs roads. You'll get muddy, you may slip and fall a time or two, and you may find hurting muscles that you've never fully used in road running before. If you are prepared for a slightly different challenge, though, you're likely to love the differences of running through the forest vs running on pavement.
Jumping up from a marathon to a 50k can be done relatively successfully. Runners should always keep in mind the rule of specificity, though. Some 50k ultras are very flat and hence very road-runner experience friendly. A 50k like we are presenting in Squamish, however, with almost 10,000ft of climbing and descent, will require you to spend time conditioning your legs for steep, technical climbs and your quads for sustained multiple-kilometer long descents.
The Squamish 50 is a tough race and should not be taken lightly. Running 50 miles is never easy, but add in 12,000 feet of climbing on a twisty, rocky, rooty mess of a trail (most of which is very tight singletrack) in the middle of the summer, and it becomes exponentially more difficult. Although the course is incredibly beautiful – taking in some of Squamish's most legendary trails with some spectacular mountain vistas and incredible forest setting – it's also relentlessly undulating. The footing is never sure and the technical, switchback nature of the course means that you'll have to be very focused for the duration of the event.
A lot of runners get caught off-guard by how technical the West Coast trails can be (I liken it to doing 50 miles of plyometrics) and this can have a significant impact on muscle breakdown. I'd strongly advise anyone looking to race the event to spend as much time running on technical trails as possible – specificity is key here. This not only conditions your body to the rigors of moving over relentlessly uneven terrain, it also allows you to learn how to fuel properly while paying attention to the trail.
We all know that you race an ultra as much on your stomach as you do on your feet. What I mean by that is that your ability to absorb calories and your attention to nutrition while running will not only allow you to maintain a faster sustained pace, it also helps you focus, which is critical to helping you dance across the course.
I would recommend practicing your fuelling strategy at least once a week in training, if not more. This includes not only the equipment you'll use to carry your fuel, but also what sort of foods and drinks work for you while running. Something that may taste good while sedentary can wreak havoc on your stomach after a few hours of running in the heat. It's also important to know that you can "train your gut" to absorb more calories, so in this case, the old adage that practice makes perfect is true.
Most importantly, though, remember that racing is a celebration of sport. We all train hard throughout the year and race relatively infrequently in comparison. Enjoy being out there and testing yourself amongst a group of likeminded people. Make friends along the trail, soak in the beauty of Squamish, and thank the volunteers, race organizers, local authorities, and sponsors who allow the races to happen. I look forward to seeing you out there and best of luck with your last few weeks of preparation.