One of my long-standing projects since moving to Squamish has been to run to Whistler. I finally checked this box, with the 2017 Tenderfoot Boogie.
The first Boogie, in 2010, saw 12 people and 3 teams complete the 50 mile marquee event, and a further 34 complete the shorter distances. 2011 was a bit smaller, with 32 people in total (28 finishers… 8 for 50 mile), but in 2012 the numbers were up and growing with 51 starters, 60 in 2013, 61 in 2014, 85 in 2015, and 115 in 2016! The 50km has proved to be the perennial favourite, with over half the total starting field in most years, though the 23km is often popular, too! The 50 mile distance was pretty stable at about 10-12 runners until jumping to 24 in 2015, 31 in 2016.
This year, possibly due to the heat on the day, the field was significantly smaller with only 55 runners: while all three ladies finished the 13km, all 20 runners finished the 28km course, all 19 finished the 50km course, and 13 finished the 50mile course, a record 6 DNF’d the 50 miler, and the Tenderfoot Boogie imposed what appears to be its first DQ (see commentary/rant later).
As I did last year, I helped sweep the first 20km with my friends “Ultracrazy” Chris and “Amazing Hair” Willa. The day started with waking at 3:30am to take Ultra_Pup for a walk (amazing and indestructible as she may be, 50 miles in the heat is a bridge too far for her furry little frame), got kitted up, and ran out the door, past MacDonalds (black coffee and a breakfast wrap is my very-guilty-pleasure race-morning ritual) and over the last 200m to the pre-dawn start in the road outside the Squamish Adventure Centre.
The ”gun” went (Gottfried muttering something about it being time for us to boogie), and we were off with all the speed and violence of a herd of turtles stampeding through honey. The three of us, having seen this movie before, made no effort to keep up with the tail-enders – we simply set a comfortable, all-day pace… just fast enough to stop us nodding off to sleep – and started picking up fist-fulls of flagging tape.
As is traditional in Brackendale, we had to rescue lost runners, who missed the pedestrian ally onto the rail tracks – luckily, though, it was only two runners this year, rather than the dozen or so in 2016! Note to runners: study the course map carefully, especially the first 10km, and carry a copy (for extra credits, upload the GPX file to a GPS app on your smart phone) – expect the course to be erratically flagged.
This formality out of the way, we continued our leisurely tour of peri-urban trails (Brackendale is infested with sweet little trails through every bit of green-space… well worth exploring!) until eventually reaching the first aid-station at the junction of Squamish Valley Road and Highway 99. Here we unfortunately dropped our first runner with knee problems, before continuing up the highway shoulder. After a few kilometres, we veered back onto trails, where Chris and Willa start reminiscing about “Cellphone Man” – the tail-end charlie from 2016 whose would have been significantly faster had he not been negotiating a business deal on said piece of technology. As we progressed, the trail weened itself off two-track and old road infrastructure, and became lovely, sometime technical single-track – this was some of the best running of the entire race!!
All good things must end, or at least pause, and after a long and enjoyable descent, we popped out onto the Paradise Valley roads, which we followed (still discussing Cellphone Man) to the second aid station. After filling our water bottles, and handing over the mantle to the second sweep, we started off on our own (we had confirmed with the Race Director that we could continue running after our sweeping shift!) and had soon dropped the tail-end knot of runners – consensus was that they had as much chance of beating the cut-off as Michael Flatley would have in the UFC.
By now the heat was ramping up, and there were frequent breathless sections shielded from the wind but not the sun. Willa was still dealing with a heat-related injury from last year’s Fat Dog, so we had to walk these hottest of sections, contributing to even more heat exposure. However, it was mostly pretty terrain, excluding the several sections on the highway (there, at least, we had the brief blessings of gusts of wind behind convoys and semi-trailers), and we made slow but steady progress.
Early in the afternoon, we reached Brandywine Falls at the 50km mark – a wonderful oasis we had been dreaming of for the past couple hours. After dispensing electrolytes and advice to some of the broken runners we found there, it was time to head out. Unfortunately, this is where Chris and Willa had to leave the party (some lame excuses about childcare and dog sitting…), and so I continued solo.
Although I had enjoyed running with them, this was probably a good thing, as the heat was becoming even more oppressive, and I needed to pick up the pace to get to the finish before everyone left. The next few kilometres took me through some crazy basalt lava flows, their dark skin baking the runners – some sections with hexagonal columns and causeways, others flanked by piles for rubble. I made a point of stopping at every water-source to wet myself as thoroughly as possible to control my heat. Top tip… once you have it dialed, you can wet every part of your body (except the feet – don’t do that!), have a drink of water, and return to the trail in 20-30 seconds feeling fresh, cool and relaxed (kind-of); this will allow you to run faster, with less risk of heat exhaustion, while having more fun – well worth the short breaks!
As the course climbed towards Whistler, I slowly passed the tail-end runners, and the heat began to ease as the sun moved off its zenith and we gained altitude. I would definitely recommend that you explore the southern Whistler trail system – there are some real treats! After arriving in Function Junction, I nearly went off-course when the flagging ran out, but was saved by a marshal jumping out of her hiding spot behind a tree, and directing me across the highway – the last time I would come across my nemesis of the day! Then, with self-restraint that hailed back to Jason and his Argonauts passing by the sirens of ancient Greece, I managed to resist the urge to nip into Whistler Brewing, to arrive at the second last aid-station – within minutes of the cut-off. After hanging out and chatting with my friends who were running the station, it was time for the long, tedious climb up Flank Trail.
This climb is always at least twice as long as it was last time. Pretty soon you will be able to get a belt-buckle running uphill the whole way along it, I’m sure! However, eventually all things must end, and up turned to down… but wait… there was more up… then some flat… then some more up… but eventually the mountain got tired toying with us, and sent us pounding down the long descent to the final aid-station, where I hit up some more Coke, chatted to my mates, and had a long and confusing discussion with Gottfried about who was still on the course and what condition they were in.
As the temperature continued to fall towards comfortable, and the colours softened as the sun fell further behind the mountains, I made for the fun, twisty-turny 6km to the finish line. After crossing the line, I was rewarded by Gottfried firing up the BBQ to force-feed me burger patties while the last few people debated the pros and cons of distance running.
Eventually, it was time to hitch a ride with Andy and Bella back to Squamish, where I rewarded myself with a pint at Backcountry Brewing. Gonzo as this race may be, I think it will become a regular fixture on my calendar… after all, how many 50 milers can I do from my front door?
Postscript… Rick Mercer has his “Rant”, Bill Nye “Needs a Minute”, and Steven Colbert has his whole show… so I think I can jump on my soapbox from time to time… here goes!!
Soapbox #1. The flagging for this race is famously erratic. There were sections with well-defined trail and no junctions where we would get five or six markers in half a kilometre, then major junctions with no visible markings (generally, once you had chosen the right direction, and gone 50-100m, you would see a flag… but not from the junction) or long stretches with minor junctions and no guidance at all. While the Race Director might be encouraged to educate his flaggers better, it is recommended that runners carry either a printed map, or (better) have a GPS application with the course (downloadable from the race website… see our blog on our favourite running apps) and a spare battery, or (best) both. While I’m not aware of any runners getting lost this year, there but for the grace of Murphy… At the same time, take the official distances between check-points with a few grains of salt!
Soapbox # 2. The disqualification was a bit of a compendium of what runners should not do on course. I have not spoken to the runner, so only know the story from the Race Director and the volunteer marshal involved, but the short is that a runner passed a check-point after cut-off, did not have a headlamp despite the certainty of having to run into the dark, and was rude/abrupt/whatever to the marshal when informed she was being cut for safety reasons – and then proceeded to bandit the rest of the course. I’m not going to delve into this specific incident any more… but PLEASE, RUNNERS…
1. Obey course rules. If you are told you missed the cut-off, accept the lift to the finish in good grace.
2. Ensure you have the safety equipment. Just because it is a race does not mean you can go unprepared. On long races where you might be benighted if you are injured or get lost, you should always carry a head torch (the BD Storm is an amazing torch and weighs only 110g, $60) and a space blanket for emergency shelter (55g, $1.70).
3. Don’t bandit. Race directors put in a lot of effort for your pleasure and safety, generally making less than minimum wage (if anything at all) for their efforts. It is rude to free-load. Go run the course the next day, or the next weekend, or even better – vote with your dollars to help get more races. Bandit runners take up aid station resources, clog trails, and may endanger the race’s liability coverage or permitting.
4. Be polite to volunteers!! We all get tired and agitated, and we have all been a bit curt to a volunteer some time… but that doesn’t make it alright. These people are giving up HOURS and HOURS of their time for a cheap-ass t-shirt, perhaps an entry to a race they might never get around to running, and the pleasure of 30 seconds of your company. It takes zero time or effort to say thank you – even if you are just blasting past a marshal on a mad downhill! If you don’t have the breath to talk because you are overloading your lungs on a mad climb or trying not to hurl, a wave and a grimace trying to be a smile will be just fine – they will know what you meant. Don’t be a douche!