Nick Elson brought his A-game to the 2014 Squamish 50 Mile, running a smart effort from start to finish. In the following interview, the Squamish local who is crossing over with great success from climbing and ski mountaineering talks about his multi-sport background, how he strategized and enacted his race, and where we’ll see him next.
Be sure to check out our results article for the full story on the Squamish 50 Mile and 50k.
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Nick Elson, 2014 Squamish 50 Mile Champion, Interview Transcript
iRunFar: Meghan Hicks of iRunFar, and I’m here with the winner of the 2014 Squamish 50 Mile. I’m here with Nick Elson. Congratulations!
Nick Elson: Oh, thank you.
iRunFar: How’s it going?
Elson: It’s going very well, thanks.
iRunFar: We’re a couple hours after your finish. It looks like you’ve had a chance to clean up and rest and eat. How’s the body feeling?
Elson: Better now. Yeah. My legs were pretty worked at the finish. I had a little bit of a lie down and it’s improving.
iRunFar: You crossed the line pretty strongly. Your legs didn’t look too worked.
Elson: Yeah, I mostly had trouble on the climbs towards the end. When I’d take some big steps my adductors were cramping. I was trying to keep that at bay for the last 20k or so.
iRunFar: Well, that’s kind of interesting to keep at bay for so long.
Elson: Yeah, I’ve had this issue in the past. I haven’t been running ultras for that long. I don’t have that many miles in my legs, I think. It’s getting better. I had the same issue 40k into a 50k race last year, so this time I made it a little further.
iRunFar: You made it further. Yeah, you are new to ultras, but you’re not new to sports. You come to us from, I hear, climbing and ski mountaineering.
Elson: Yeah, and I did run a bit growing up. So I’m not just starting running.
iRunFar: Okay. Are you being modest about that or did you do just recreational running when you were in high school?
Elson: I did run a little bit of track in high school and a little bit at university.
iRunFar: I’m told you live basically just down the street from where we’re doing this interview at the finish line.
Elson: I live literally right there a half of a block away.
iRunFar: You’re a recreation-town dweller. You came here for the mountains, for the trails, for the sound.
iRunFar: Where do you hail from originally?
Elson: From Campbell River on Vancouver Island.
iRunFar: And you came here just for sports?
Elson: Yeah, pretty much. I’ve been a climber for a very long time, so originally I moved here for the climbing.
iRunFar: There was the Chief that drew you?
Elson: Yeah, exactly. The climbing here is pretty world class, so that was originally it. Now I realize there are amazing trails and amazing mountains—really cool spots.
iRunFar: Coming from the U.S. and having spent time in the Sierra Nevada and Yosemite, we were joking that it’s like the Yosemite in the rain forest.
Elson: Yeah, it’s probably…
iRunFar: Big granite walls.
Elson: It’s probably the best granite climbing in North America other than Yosemite.
iRunFar: Except Yosemite. So tell us about yourself. You’re a ski mountaineer. You’re a climber. You currently hold the record for the ascent on Mount Rainier—the ski ascent is that right?
Elson: Yeah, that was this spring. I did that with my friend Eric. Unfortunately, on the descent my ski popped off. I didn’t step into it properly and it went into a bottomless crevasse. Eric [Carter] has the round-trip record.
iRunFar: Unfortunate gear issue.
iRunFar: This was your third ultra or the third one that you finished?
Elson: That I finished yeah. I tried to run this one last year but dropped with a foot problem.
iRunFar: So, Squamish 50 mile, was that your first one last year out of the bag?
Elson: No, I ran the Knee Knackering last year which is a pretty classic, local North Shore race which is actually quite similar terrain to this. It’s quite steep and rooty.
iRunFar: It’s knackering.
Elson: Yeah, it’s a knee knackering North Shore trail run.
iRunFar: So you started with that which was a 50k. Then you moved up to this one last year, but you had your foot issue.
Elson: Yeah, and then about a month ago I ran TrailSTOKE race in Revelstoke which was about 50k.
iRunFar: Rumor has it you raced Max King to the end of that race. Rumor has it that he said you worked him over pretty good.
Elson: Oh, yeah, the terrain there suited me pretty well. I spend a lot of time in the mountains, so the more technical stuff and the hiking and that sort of thing suited me quite well. I don’t quite have Max’s speed on the smoother stuff.
iRunFar: Yeah, he got you on the smoother stuff at the end.
Elson: I was pretty thrilled to be sharing some kilometers out there with Max. I got to see how it’s done. It was great.
iRunFar: So looking at your race from the outside in, you ran with the lead pack from the get go. Then as things sort of thinned out today, you and a couple other guys remained. So looking from the inside out, how did the first half of the race go for you?
Elson: It was good. No one… I was a bit worried that some of the faster guys would go crazy on the first 10k which is pretty much dead flat.
iRunFar: Super flat.
Elson: I don’t have a ton of speed on that stuff, but actually it was pretty relaxed there.
iRunFar: It was a very moderate 43-and-a-half minutes for the first 10k.
Elson: Yeah, I was quite happy with that.
iRunFar: Runnable for everybody basically.
Elson: Yeah, so it was a big group. It’s fun to run with other people. Yeah, I was basically just trying to take it easy in the first half. Like I said, I haven’t got a ton of experience, so my pacing… I think in these things you need to run a lot slower than you think you should in the first half. Yeah I felt comfortable the whole time. That was pretty important.
iRunFar: I think by around 37k, that aid station where you came through aid station three for the second time, the lead pack and thinned to three. It was you and Ed McCarthy and Mike Murphy. How was the interplay with the three of you during the middle kilometers of the race?
Elson: We mostly ran together. I think Ed is quite good on the runnable uphills, and he’d try to push it a little bit. There’s quite a long runnable climb just after the aid station, but we all kind of hung in there. Mike’s quite good on the descents actually, and he started pushing it off the top of the ascent. I just kind of went with him.
iRunFar: I think when we saw you again at 40k… after that long 1,000-meter descent or whatever it is, it was you and Mike who had sort of separated yourselves quite a bit from Ed. Then at 50k we saw you again, and again you had separated yourself from Ed. When did you and Mike… when did you finally break away from Mike?
Elson: Well, there’s another decent climb after that fifth aid station, and I was feeling quite good at that point. You had just run 3,000 feet straight down pretty much. Aerobically it’s easy. You kind of feel great. Then you start climbing back up again, and all of a sudden you realize your legs are…
Elson: Yeah, a bit worked. Yeah, I sort of pushed it a little bit up that hill. In the end, I didn’t feel amazing there. I was just sort of grinding it out. There are a lot of switchbacks and it’s just quite runnable. It’s quite a long climb as well.
iRunFar: Then coming off that at 60k, you had a gap of a couple minutes to Mike. That just grew by a couple minutes at each aid station. The terrain from there out was still pretty beefy terrain.
Elson: Yeah, no big climbs but some short steep climbs. It’s definitely rooty and technical. I think at that point I was just running a bit scared but still staying relaxed and kind of try to feel like I’m cruising over the roots and stuff and not forcing it. That worked out okay.
iRunFar: You said at the end you were kind of hurting a bit on the climbs. Were you still feeling okay descending?
Elson: Yeah, I was feeling okay descending.
iRunFar: What about that last section from the final aid station to the finish. It’s not an easy finish.
Elson: No, it’s not. It felt like it went on for a little while. I run these trails all the time, and in my head it’s not very far, but when you’ve run 70k already…
iRunFar: It’s not very far on a good day.
Elson: Yeah, exactly. In training it’s not far.
iRunFar: Somehow there are more kilometers at the end of a…
Elson: I used to live literally there and run on those trails daily. It seemed like it was going on and sections I didn’t remember were appearing.
iRunFar: I forgot about that! So you’ve extended your ultrarunning range today by finishing your first 50 miler. I understand you’re going to sort of break out and join the national and international running scene by running The Rut?
Elson: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to it.
iRunFar: The Rut is a pretty interesting course. There are some heavily technical sections mixed in with some running. You say your skill base is in the technical stuff and your weakness is in the runnable stuff. What’s your mentality going into that race where there’s some really stiff competition and some parts of the course that really suits you and some parts that will challenge you?
Elson: Yeah, I think it should be a lot of fun basically. Yeah, I feel like I’m going to focus now a bit more on the climbing, the steeper climbing and descending and the technical sections. I’ve actually been trying to focus a bit more on the runnable stuff leading up to this race. Hopefully that will carry through. The Rut is thankfully a little bit shorter. I’ll try to work more on the climbing and just the fitness.
iRunFar: It’s going to be a different experience. There’s going to be 15 or 20 guys who are really capable of top-five, top-seven performances. Mentally, how do you approach that?
Elson: Hopefully I’ll just enjoy it. It’s a good experience.
iRunFar: Just stay chill about it.
Elson: Yeah, I tend to be pretty laid back. I get a little bit nervous before these races, but…
iRunFar: I don’t get that vibe at all from you.
Elson: It should be a lot of fun. It’s just good experience for me to race really strong competition.
iRunFar: Cool. Well, congratulations once again on your win at the 2014 Squamish 50 Mile.
Elson: Yeah, thanks. Thanks for covering the race. Everything I’ve learned about ultrarunning has been from your website.
iRunFar: I’m sorry about that. Hopefully you’ve been able to glean the advice from the interviewees rather than the interviewers.
Elson: No, it’s great. Thank you so much. It’s an honor.
iRunFar: I’ve got a bonus question for you. Squamish is a pretty sweet town. There’s a lot going on here. There’s wind-surfing; there’s climbing; there’s bums living in vans; there’s trail running; there’s obscene mountain biking. How do you rest in this town? I feel like I’d always want to be doing some sport here.
Elson: That’s a good question. I don’t talk about Squamish too much or there might be a max exodus from Boulder.
iRunFar: Yeah, it’s really… yeah, Boulder and Flagstaff, do not come here.
Elson: Yeah, climbing is a great rest-day activity. I do a bunch of climbing. I’ve even just got a mountain bike. I’ve turned Squamish local now.
iRunFar: All since you’ve lived here.
Elson: Yeah, well it’s a good way to hurt yourself as well, as is climbing. It’s great.
iRunFar: Well cool. Thanks for having the Squamish 50 Mile in your town this weekend. We kind of took over, didn’t we?
Elson: Yeah, it’s great.
iRunFar: Congrats again.
Elson: Oh, thanks.