Organizers behind the uber tough Squamish 50 running races are preparing to hit their stride in 2021.
The races, usually held over a weekend in August, were cancelled in 2020, due to the pandemic.
However, with loosening restrictions, the 50 mile, 50 kilometre, 50/50 (130km) and the kids’ race are set for the Oct 16, 17 weekend this fall.
(The 23 kilometre race is postponed for 2022.)
Squamish 50 organizer Geoff Langford says with a lot of planning, they are able to pull the event off even with some pandemic restrictions still in place, should that be the case, come fall.
"With some other race directors in B.C., we’ve developed a document that allows us to run an event with staggered starts, so people start one every couple minutes, ensuring our aid stations are distanced and nobody is touching anything — not having people gather either at the start or at the finish," he told The Chief.
By bumping the summer event into fall, they aim to draw back some of the participants from further afield than just our health region, as would likely be the case this summer.
"We were optimistic that we could’ve stuck with our regular August date, but the chances of being limited to just fairly local participants, we would be excluding so many people just from other parts of Canada or even other parts of the province from getting that event experience after not having it last year," Langford said.
"That was a big part of the reason to push to October to just ensure that we’re in a time period that’s way more likely to be able to have a more authentic event experience."
Surviving financially without the races last year hasn't been easy. Langford credits sponsors in large part for the race being able to hit the ground running for 2021."High up on that list is Sean [Daly] with Nesters Market in town who has been a huge supporter of our event and through all of this has just made it clear that he’s there and ready to support us as soon as we are able to get this off the ground," Langford said, adding that it also helped that a lot of runners were happy to hold over their race credit from last year, waiting for the race to be back up and — er— running this year.
"We're just going to have to operate with a very close eye on the budget and create as close to an experience as we usually provide for people and just get through to next year when things are hopefully more normal."
Langford noted the 2020 race was sold out when COVID-19 hit.
Participants from that race were given the choice to participate this year or put it off until 2022.
"So we have just over 800 people re-registered for this event and we’re just going to hold at that number until we know whether we can actually be allowed to have more than that," he said.After more than a year with things at a standstill, Langford said people seem anxious to get back to events like Squamish 50, even in terms of volunteering.
"We opened fall volunteer registration just this week [May 31] and we’ve been really surprised by the enthusiasm for that,," he said, noting there was a question of if people would be hesitant to volunteer due to COVID.
"But from what we’ve seen, the enthusiasm is there for that from the community so that’s really encouraging to see.”Langford has put on events for 20 years and has been involved with the Squamish 50 for a decade.
In that time he has weathered a lot of obstacles to putting on events, such as bears and the threat of forest fires, but the pandemic taught him that there are still curve balls that could come out of left field.
"We felt like we could, you know, we could conquer the world and then something you just don’t expect comes along — so it definitely taught us some humility and that we still need to be prepared for anything so, it’s a good reminder," he said.
"We could prepare for all those other things with insurance and contingencies but still things come out of the blue."For the 2021 event, there will be some unique experiences introduced that regular participants haven’t encountered before, Langford said.
With running in mid-October there’s going to be a lot more running in the dark.
Organizers are therefore ensuring there will be plenty of reflective flagging and other lighting aspects for runners.
When the races were held in August, runners were more focused on hydration and staying cool and sunscreen in October, Langford said, the focus is going to be more about keeping extremities warm, batteries for headlamps, and having hot soup at the aid stations.
"We're going to be doing everything we can to make the event exactly what they expect it to be and create that same experience that they’ve come to know from us. It’s all about celebrating their accomplishment and that might look a little different this year but we’re still gonna make it as rewarding as it always is."
For more about the Squamish 50 on their website.