Saturday, May 14, 2011

Ice Age Trail 50K 2011 Report

Saturday, May 14, 2011
La Grange, WI

On Saturday I completed my first ultra marathon, the Ice Age Trail 50K, which is held in the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest here in Southern Wisconsin.

Background: I have been running for over three years and have never run a marathon. I have ran too many half marathons to count, along with a bunch of shorter races. I am a trail runner; I have never had much interest in running a road marathon. Trail marathons are few and far between in this area, so it seemed logical to just skip the marathon all together for now and jump straight into a trail 50K. My training went fairly well this winter/spring and I wrapped it up with a 25 mile run on the race course 3 weeks before the big day. I felt prepared and ready to go.

Primary goal: To finish, whether I had to walk, crawl, or drag myself across the finish line.

Secondary goal: To finish in under 8 hours.

Dream goal: To finish in under 7 hours.

I woke up at some ungodly early hour on race day morning and ate breakfast, got my stuff together, and loaded up the car. It took a little over an hour to get to the trailhead. We got there and the start was already busy with lots of things going on as the 50 mile race had already started at 6am and was currently underway. I went to the bathroom twice, applied my vasoline, found where to put my drop bag and chatted with a few of my friends who were also running the 50K. About 10 minutes before the start, I realized that I was hungry and quickly scarfed down a honey stinger waffle. The RD had us all line up (approx. 150 people) and no one even got within about 10 feet of the line. One of the many reasons why I love trail races. He said a few words about the course and counted down 3, 2, 1 and yelled GO and we were off! I was running my first ultra!

The starting area, where we would pass through three times. Also where my drop bag was located.

The RD making a few announcements before we start.

And here we go!

The course can be broken down into 3 sections: a 13 mile out and back on the Ice Age Trail, which is hilly, twisting, and rocky singletrack (my favorite!) The other two sections are on the Nordic loop, a 9 mile undulating, wide, sometimes rocky ski trail. We would run the out and back and the Nordic loop twice for a total of 31 miles.

After fretting about the weather forecast for days, we were rewarded with chilly temps and on/off light rain. Running weather doesn't get any better than that. I opted for shorts, long sleeves and thin gloves, which turned out to be the right choice for me. I was neither hot nor cold through the entire race.

I started out running with one of my friends who is significantly faster than me. He just ran Boston last month. I kept asking him what he was doing with me and he insisted that he wanted to start out slowly. So we made our way on the trail together chatting easily. I was carrying my handheld, so we breezed right on through the first aid station. About 2 miles into the race the good trail (at least to me) starts. To get to the good trail, you first have to get to the top of Bald Bluff, which is the highest point on the course. It's a steep and very rocky climb. We got to the top and then cruised on down the rocky singletrack and continued on the Ice Age Trail. I finally convinced my friend to take off and leave me when there was an opening in the conga line, so he did. I passed a few people myself and then was running alone in the middle of the woods. Perfect.

Somewhere on my way to the turn around, a guy comes flying at me from the opposite direction. I assumed that this was the 50K leader who was already on his way back and give him encouraging comments. Then I was running alone again. Minutes went by and no one else came running toward me. I was confused; maybe that wasn't the 50K leader, but just some really fast guy out for a run on the trail. Maybe a mile or so clicked by and finally more racers were coming toward me. Turns out that the first guy was the 50K leader and was absolutely smoking everyone on the course. He eventually finished in 3:18 and beat the 2nd place guy by over a half an hour. Wow.

As I got closer to the turn around point, horseriders aid station, more and more people came running at me. We had to share a very narrow trail. I politely stepped off the trail for the faster folks and let them get by. The best part about this was getting to see everyone in the race. And everyone had an encouraging word for me as they passed by. I think I exchanged good jobs and looking strongs or some sort of comment with every single person. I also witnessed a woman fall and helped her up. Thankfully the trail wasn't too technical at that point and she came away with just a bit of dirt on herself. Sometime after this, I stepped off the trail to let a racer go by in the opposite direction and stepped directly into a big bush of thorns. I cut up my right knee pretty good. Blood was flowing down my leg, but I didn't want to waste any time to stop and tend to it; it would dry. I caught up to Norm Yarger and chatted with him into the aid station. I loved running with him and listening to him greet people as he knew almost everyone! To get to the aid station, you get to breeze down a pretty nice downhill. I came bursting out of the woods and got to see my crew for the first time that day. I grabbed a few squares of PB&J and orange slices. I ate and chatted for maybe a minute before I realized that I was wasting time and took off again.

Coming into Horseriders AS.

Aid station fare.

The way back to the start clicked by pretty quickly. I enjoyed the singletrack, ate a gel, and looked at my Garmin for the first time all day. Approximately 8 miles had gone by. I had a fleeting thought about 23 miles left to go, but pushed that out of my head. It wasn't worth it to think about that at that point in the race. People seemed to be settling into their pace. I was running with a woman who I would run near through almost all of the rest of the race. One of my other friends also was also running slightly behind me at this point. About 10 miles in, he caught me and we chatted with our new friend until we reached our starting point and next aid station. We rolled into the start/aid station, which is where our drop bags were also located. My crew was on the phone with the other part of my crew who were lost and attempting to find the race, so she didn't have my tupperware full of gels like I asked her to have ready for me. I ran to go find my drop bag to reload my handheld with my gels. Did that, got my bottle refilled, ate potato chips, M&Ms and more oranges and started out on the first loop of the Nordic trails. 13 miles down, 18 left to go.

I was sort of dreading this section, honestly. I don't care for the Nordic trails as much; I prefer the singletrack. Not to say that this loop isn't beautiful, because it is, but it also sports a wicked section of roller coaster hills that are relentless. They don't ever seem to stop. I experienced the lowest point of my race here heading into the hills. I knew they were going to suck on the first time around and be very painful on the second time. I sung songs to myself in my head and tried to get myself pepped up. My friend was running slightly behind me, so it was helpful to know that he was back there. The start to the next aid station on Nordic is about 5 miles, which is the longest stretch between aid. A friend who had the course before told me that you get done with the hills and start wondering, "Where is that damn aid station?" And indeed, those were my exact thoughts. Where is the damn aid station?! Ahhh, finally! There it is in the distance. I know that you're supposed to not worry about the cumulative distance in an ultra, but instead just focus on getting to the next aid station. I understand that this is helpful in a way, but when I would finally get to an aid station, all I could think of was how I needed to get out of there because it felt so wonderful to just stop, eat, and chat with the volunteers. This aid station was especially nice because it was tucked in the middle of nowhere after a long stretch of nothingness. They also had flat coke and ginger ale, which I loved. The sugar gave me a nice boost. I ended up drinking some sort of soda at almost every aid station.

After the heavenly middle of nowhere aid station, it was only 2.3 miles to the next one. There's a pretty sweet section of flat running surrounded by pine trees on your way there. It's beautiful and I attempted to pick it up a little here. As I rounded a bend, I could see my full crew (now un-lost) and canine crew up ahead. I yelled HEYYYYY into the woods and they turned and saw me coming. I reached them and petted the canine crew for a few seconds before everyone jogged into the aid station with me. Quick cup of coke, more oranges, a few pictures and I got out of there; only 1.5 miles back to the start and done with one loop! This section is easy to gain some time on and I reeled in a few people who were walking.

Heading into the AS with the crew and canine crew.

Bye, see ya in a while!

On the Nordic loop heading back to the start.

I made it back to the now-beginning-to-get-busy-again start area. 21 miles down, 9 left to go. Faster 50Kers were finishing now, along with the 50 mile leaders. My crew was here again, but still not quite up to speed on getting me my gels, so I ran over to the drop bag again and got them myself. This was my longest stop by far. I grabbed some gels and peanut butter crackers. Ate the crackers and talked with my crew and explained the blood on my leg. I think they were concerned that I had fallen. I shoved the remaining crackers into someone's hands and decided that I should made a quick bathroom break. Bathrooms were only 50 ft away and no one was in there, so at least it was a quick stop. Ran back to my crew, told them I'd see them in a bit and then headed over to get my bottle refilled. A few more potato chips and oranges and I was back on the trail. This stop was probably about 5 minutes, way too long.

Back on the Nordic loop and I had a "Get 'er done" mentality going. That section of rollercoaster hills was looming in the distance, but at least I knew that once I ran them, they were over. Did they hurt that second time around? Oh yeah. I was going much slower on the downhills at this point, gingerly picking my way down instead of flying down like I could before. Ouch, ouch, ouch, my hips and butt were hurting. My friend who was behind me would catch up to me on the hills, but I would lose him on the flats. He said his IT band was hurting on the flats. We cruised together for a while on the hills; it was great to have the company. I choked down a gel while walking up a big hill. They weren't tasting very good anymore, but I knew that I needed the electrolytes. Somewhere around the marathon mark, things started to hurt. My right hamstring was aching and my feet just felt beat up in general. The distance was starting to take its toll on my body. We finally came into the heavenly middle of nowhere aid station together. I downed a ginger ale, chips and more oranges. I think I went through about 3-4 whole oranges by the time the race was over. I found them very refreshing after the soda and chips.

At this point, I knew the end was near. Only 4 more miles! A little less than hour and I'd be done. I was getting so close. I lost my friend for good at this point as I tried to kick it into high gear. I kept looking at my watch, wondering if there was any possibility that I could break 7 hours. I knew that I was going to be close, but I also knew that it just wasn't going to happen. I'd have to run sub-10 minute miles, which would normally not be a problem for 4 miles, but that ain't happening for me at the end of an ultra. But I still wanted to get as close to 7 hours as possible, so I ran. I ran some of the hills and realized that it actually felt good to run uphill, as those muscles hadn't been used much. So I ran some of the smaller uphills. I think it's important to note that I passed at least 5 people on this last loop, but no one passed me. I felt like I was running at a screaming pace, but would look down at my Garmin and see a 10:30-11:00 pace. Good enough. I was back in the pretty pine trees and looking for the next aid station and hopefully my crew. I debated if I should even stop. My bottle was full enough, maybe I'd just snag a quick cup of coke. I saw my crew and decided I wasn't stopping. I yelled something about keeping going and I'd see them at the finish. Who needs coke? I was ready to be DONE.

I got a little emotional in that last mile. I could run. I was running! I had ran 30 miles and I could still run! I guess I don't know what I expected to happen after 30 miles, but it amazed me that I could still move as well as I did. A 50 miler who was on his way to the finish (about a 9 hour finish for him; he was way out of my league) caught up with me and we talked for a minute. He asked if this was my first ultra (what, did my half marathon shirt give my noobness away?) and I replied that it was. He told me congratulations and I got a little emotional again. This was it, I was going to finish. He eventually breezed ahead of me and I was alone again. A few spectators appeared and I thought I could hear something in the distance. Almost there. An older gentleman who looked like a runner asked me if I was familiar with the course. Yes sir, I am. He pointed at the bench just ahead. "That's 5 minute bench. 5 more minutes and you're home." I thanked him. 5 minute bench, I love you. I heard the finish line and the crowd yelling. I got teary eyed. But what I thought about more than anything in those final few minutes was, "I get to stop running soon." I rounded a corner and there it was. Those orange cones leading to the red finish sign. The crowd was awesome and I finished with the best ultra-sprint I could. To me, this was better than Boston, better than New York, Chicago, London, or any big road marathon. I saw my crew and my dogs and smiled and smiled and ran across the line and...stopped. I could stop running now.

Official finish time of 7:07:39. The course has +/- 4,500 feet of elevation according to my SportTracks.

Almost there!

Finishing strong.

I had my hands on my knees and tried to help the guy with my gaiters so he could cut my chip off, but I don't think that I did much. I saw Thom waiting for me at the end. He gave me a hug and someone gave me my finisher's key chain. We talked for a minute before I needed to go find my crew and canine crew. I wobbled around, happy to not be running, but also in need of a place to sit down. My crew found me and I stood there, half bent over with my hands on my knees. My mom kept asking me if I was okay. I replied that I was fine, I was just tired! After walking around for a bit and walking my parents to their car, I was able to grab some food and beer and SIT DOWN. I really wanted to stay longer and hang out because the atmosphere was so much fun, but I was ridiculously cold. I could not stop shivering despite my jacket and gloves. So unfortunately we took off shortly after I ate. But what a day! Ultra runners are some of the most awesome people I've had the privilege of meeting. Every single person was friendly, helpful and supportive. After I finished a guy asked me if I ran the 50 mile or 50K and I replied that I was just a slow 50Ker. He told me, "There is no such thing as a slow 50K." Maybe that's debatable, but a nice sentiment nonetheless.

The finish.

Shirt and finisher's key chain.

The aftermath: I still have all ten toenails. I acquired my first blister, which was small and has since come and gone. We had to stop 2 times on the hour drive home so I could pee. I was surprisingly not very hungry that night. I ate one piece of pizza, a few breadsticks, 2 beers and felt stuffed. I crashed shortly after 10pm, and woke up at 6am starving. I made myself scrambled eggs with spinach and waffles and ate and went back to sleep for another few hours. I then made up for those lost calories over the next two days.

Clearly I handled my nutrition well. I never bonked, never had any sort of swelling or felt like something was off. I drank water when I was thirsty and consumed the following: 3 Crank E-gels, many cups of coke/ginger ale, lots of oranges, some potato chips, a few crackers, a few squares of PB&J, and a small handful of M&Ms. The only thing that was slightly wrong was in the middle of the second loop, I felt a little woozy. This happened while walking; when I ran I felt better. I don't know what that was and it passed fairly quickly.

I had an awesome first ultra experience. Will I run another one? Absolutely. I plan on getting a few more 50Ks under my belt before I go for a 50 miler, hopefully in 2012. I do think that I could easily have a sub-7 trail 50K in me; I wasn't that far off on this one. Will I ever run a road marathon? Yeah, probably someday. It's just not very high on my list of priorities. Next stop: Moose Mountain Marathon, which I fully expect to be a lot harder than this race. I can't wait to see what the Superior Hiking Trail in Northern Minnesota can dish out.

No comments: