By Jennifer Copley (Last Updated 29 August 2016)
Description: The Squamish 23 is one of several events that are part of the Squamish 50, held in late August each year. Options include a 23 kilometer (14 mile) trail race, a 50 kilometer (31 mile) trail race, a 50 mile (80 kilometer) trail race, or a 50 mile race on Saturday followed by 50 kilometer race on Sunday (the 50-50 option). There are also some very short races for children.
The trails for the adult races are challenging and highly technical, and they include plenty of elevation gain (the Squamish 50 races are considered some of the most difficult in the world for their distance). The Squamish 50 events are part of the Coast Mountain Trail Series, a fun and well-organized series of races that are run on Vancouver’s North Shore and various places along BC’s beautiful Sea to Sky Corridor.
I did the Squamish 23, which in 2016 included the Climb Trail, Ring Creek Road, Fool’s Gold, Darwin’s Bridge Crossing, STP, Bonsai, Somewhere Over There, Powerline Road, Farside, Fartherside, S&M Connector, Endo, Seven Stitches, Pipe Trail, Mountain of Phlegm, the Smoke Bluffs, Logger’s Lane, and Rose Park.
Time: The time required to complete the course varies considerably based not only on fitness, but also technical trail running skills. The fastest time for this event in 2016 was 2:01:45 and the slowest finisher came in at 5:31:44. Given that the race cap was 300 runners and there were only 237 finishers, a significant proportion of the registered runners either didn’t run or didn’t finish.
Cost: Prices for the Squamish 23 range from $60 to $80, depending on how early you sign up (prices are higher for the longer distances).
Difficulty: This course is very challenging. There is a warning on the website that this should not be your first trail race. The course includes lots of uphill and plenty of steep, technical downhill studded with roots and rocks. These are not smooth, wide, flat trails. Except for a couple of brief spots where you run on roads or park trails, the trails are narrow single-track punctuated by slightly dodgy boardwalks here and there. Total ascent is 1,000 meters/3,300 feet and descent is 1,200 meters/3,900 feet. If you’re looking for a more beginner-friendly option, you could try one of the 5 Peaks races, which offer much shorter options (typically around 6-9 kilometers for the Sports Courses and 11-16 kilometers for the Enduro Courses) or the 13 kilometer Coast Mountain Cap Crusher race.
Required Equipment: Good trail running shoes, comfortable running clothes, sufficient water (there were only two aid stations, both in the first half of the race), carbohydrate gels or snacks, sunglasses, sunscreen if you’re prone to burning (most of the course is run in the shade of the forest, but there are some exposed stretches)
- The course is run over beautiful forest trails with gorgeous scenery throughout and some amazing open mountain views.
- There are lots of friendly, enthusiastic volunteers to cheer you on.
- The Coast Mountain races are well-organized, with plenty of visible flagging, so it’s impossible to get lost, even if you have very poor wayfinding skills.
- The Squamish 23 is less expensive than a marathon or even a half marathon (the workout it provides is closer to that of a full marathon, given the technical terrain and elevation).
- You’re allowed to use headphones, though for safety reasons, you’re required to keep the volume low and use only one earbud.
- The other runners are friendly and the overall atmosphere is positive and supportive (I noticed that whenever runners stopped by the trail side, others stopped to make sure they were okay and offer food and water in case they had run out of supplies).
- The aid stations were unusually well-stocked with better-quality food and drink than you typically get at these events. They even try to have ice available (though this is not guaranteed).
- Chip timing is provided.
- You get a good quality shirt, hat, and finisher medal.
- Both aid stations were in the first half of the course. I’m sure this choice was made due to logistical barriers, but having an aid station at 4.5 kilometers wasn’t particularly useful, and having no support in the second half (the last aid station was at the 12 kilometer mark) was a bit worrying.
- The race is a point-to-point rather than a loop, so you finish quite far away from where you start. However, they provide a shuttle service to bring checked bags to the finish line and runners back to the start area where there is parking and bus access.
- There are no washrooms along the course – only at the start and finish areas.
- No one else can pick up your bib for you. You have to do this in person, with ID.
- There is a higher-than-average risk of injury when running challenging technical trails, which is an issue with most trail races in the area, as we have some of the world’s most difficult technical terrain in BC.
- Local trail races have been selling out fast – the Squamish 23 sold out quite early in the season – so sign up well in advance.
- There are a number of campgrounds in the area if you’d like to save money on accommodations, but they often fill up quickly in the summer, particularly the popular Alice Lake Campground, so book early.
- Crewing is only allowed within 100 meters of certain aid stations (just the second aid station in the case of the 23 kilometer race), and anyone bringing you anything outside that area could cause you to be disqualified, so if you’re being crewed, be careful about the arrangements.
- There are strict time cut-offs, but if you don’t make the cut-off, volunteers will give you a ride to the finish line, so you won’t be stranded.
- Poles are not allowed for safety reasons, so don’t bother bringing them.
- There is no food for sale for spectators (post-run food is for runners only), but there are plenty of restaurants and other food vendors nearby.
- See the official Squamish 23 page for more information.
For more great running events in BC, see the main Activities page.
*Conditions, routes, and prices may have changed since the time of this writing.