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ICYMI: You can get your heart racing this summer in Squamish

The Squamish50 and Hot on Your Heels are back.

Exercise is a great equalizer.

When you sign up to race a mountain bike down a serpentine forest road, or to pound your way through dozens of kilometres of Sea to Sky wilderness, it doesn’t matter if you showed up in a luxury sedan or in your bare feet.

The trail doesn’t care about your bank account, your marital status, or your social media accounts. All that matters is how far you can push your body, and how much you choose to achieve.

“We get a mix of everyone coming out to our race. We have people living out of their van all the way to some of the most successful people you’ll ever meet in businesses large and small. We have a broad spectrum of people all unified for the love of being outdoors and on the trails,” said Gary Robbins, founder of the annual Squamish50 race, which runs this year Aug. 17 and 18.

The Squamish50 is a gruelling network of trails with a marquee 81-kilometre route that involves over 11,000 feet of climbing and descent. With stunning vistas and snow-capped peaks, the course attracts repeat visitors from all over the world—making it an adventure destination for runners with a particular interest in this sort of punishing event.

“As the race director, it gets reiterated and hammered home when people come from all over the world and say how special the Squamish50 is—that they’d never run through a rainforest before,” he said.

“The forest, the moss, the greenery and the rain, these are things locals might take for granted but our participants often describe as their version of running through Narnia.”

Robbins is proud of the fact that their race is currently split evenly between male and female participants, as they’ve been working to establish the race as a welcoming and inclusive space for years now. The other number that is significant is that only 20% of the  runners are local, meaning the event is gaining word of mouth elsewhere—particularly among Americans.

“We want this to be a gathering of community, so that everyone can enjoy being part of it as a volunteer, a runner, a sponsor, a spectator. This is really the annual celebration of trail and ultra distance running not in B.C., but in Canada.”

No Boys Allowed

It was about 12 years ago that Melissa Sheridan noticed that outdoor mountain bike racing in the Sea to Sky Corridor skewed heavily male, and that there weren’t many opportunities for women to get involved. That’s when she formed Hot on Your Heels, an annual event coming up on July 6 in which men make space for the ladies to compete and play.

It started out pretty normal, but over the years it’s begun to evolve.

“That first year that I ran Hot on Your Heels, two girls put butterfly wings on their back. Then we had someone wear a pearl necklace and earrings, and it slowly grew until about 2017 a switch went off. Suddenly it was this costumed event, with people putting on a feather boa or a tutu,” she said.

“Suddenly, it’s not intimidating. It’s fun.”

The course is primarily blue level trails, with a few black ones that push the competitors. The course is approximately 20 kilometres and takes the average rider around three hours to complete it with stops along the way.

While the women ride, the male volunteers are also free to express themselves. Sheridan didn’t realize ahead of time that this meant many of them would strip into skimpy, hilarious clothing. Because the event has such a party atmosphere, she believes it makes the environment more comfortable for people who are nervous or who have never raced before.

“We saw women explode in numbers on the trails, and I don’t want to toot my own horn but we were a large part of that. Now we’ve had so many races in other towns contact us, like Vernon and Revelstoke and Nanaimo all the way down to Washington and even Australia,” she said.

“When you go up to the trails these days, it’s much closer to 50/50 male to female.”

The event is a fundraiser that has raised over $50,000 over the years.  This year’s recipient will be Indigenous Women Outdoors.

The event is capped off with an after-party at the Squamish Valley Golf Course.

“To get back to our name, Hot on Your Heels, we put on our high heels and dance the night away, celebrating what we did that day. All the women are all full of energy, proud of what they’ve accomplished, and the stoke factor is definitely high.”


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