To sit down and write about this event was more difficult than I anticipated. So many emotions and lessons to unpack as I reflected back on the experience. Many of you know I race a lot and many of my events are in preparation for a “big” or goal race. The past few months of training have been in part a precursor to the Ice Age Trail 50k. My heart has been gravitating towards a new challenge in my running adventures and the trails have been calling me. In signing up for this event I knew I would physically be taking on a challenge that was brand new for me.
I have run a 50k in the past, but I did not have a ton of experience on technical trails. The Trailbreaker Marathon in April was an eye-opener for me. I have the endurance to take on 31+ miles, but I did not have the strength to tackle the demands of a technical course. Back to the drawing board. Working with a former student, who is now a personal trainer, (Robby VanderMeuse – check his fitness page he is great and also a runner) I added strength and conditioning to my routine to prep for climbing the hills. I was also sought out advice from runners who had taken on this event and been successful in completing it. Melissa, a fellow teacher and runner, gave me great advice for the downhill portions of the course which were steep – serpentine. I will be honest, I had to look this one up and was really glad I did. Going from side to side down the hills made a huge difference. I had more control especially on the last loop when my legs were tired and beat up. Robin, another running friend, (we ran together at the Phoenix Marathon) suggested picking up trail shoes. After a bit of research I settled on the Altra Superiors. I found the Altra comfortable and similar to the Skora Tempos I had been running in for the past few weeks. The last bit of advice I was given was to wear a hydration vest since the aid stations were spread out and at irregular distances. I have trained with both the Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP2 & VP1, but chose to go with the single bottle system since there would be stations available to fill up my bottle. I typically can make it 10 miles with a 24oz bottle of Tailwind on long runs before I need a fill up. The VP1 would give me enough for each loop and the back pockets could hold the 4 sticks of Tailwind that I would need. Since we circled back on to “base camp” twice I also had the ability to stop at my gear drop bag if I needed any additional supplies. Even though I was prepared and packed up by Wednesday I was still nervous…so much so I unpacked and repacked my gear 3 times, just to make sure I had everything I needed or could possibly want. I knew full well I would not use many of the items that I brought, but Shannon once told me “better to look at something then look for it.” Looking back at all the work that went into getting ready for this event I truly am grateful for all the wonderful people I have in my life that make running cool races like the Ice Age Trail 50k.
Before I knew it race weekend was here! After work on Friday I packed and headed down to Elkhorn with my dad and son who would be cheering and crewing for me on Saturday. I was excited to have them with me. After a good night of sleep we were up bright and early to go pick up my race packet and get the lay of the land before the event began. Badgerland Striders sure know how to set up a smooth event. We were in and out within 5 minutes and able to set up at the 50k bag drop station. After meeting up with a few runners (Shana & Shelia) we headed back to the car to stay warm…it was chilly (40 degrees). A few minutes prior to the start the race director gave us a few instructions and runners chatted around the campfires set up. I was able to touch base with the Milwaukee Running Festival race director, Chris, who was also running the 50k. It was nice to hear that one of my favorite marathons was on schedule for an awesome turnout in 2016 with registration soaring (check my race discount page for a code to save a few dollars on registration). We were asked to get behind the finish line as this was also the start line. Moving towards the back of the pack I ran into Dom and his friends. We had met at the Elroy Apple Dumpling Marathon and also the Milwaukee Running Festival Marathon, it was nice to see a familiar face who had run this before and was a seasoned on this course. I slide in to the group next to Dom and his friends Casey and Beth, just like that we were off!
Photo Credit – Bill Flaws
Loop #1 (13 miles) – Quickly after taking off the condensed group thinned out, which was great since the trail we headed onto was extremely narrow with steep banks on either side…not a whole lot of room to move around. I was glad to have Dom and his friends near me, they had awesome and advice and stories that made the miles fly by. Trail running is a new challenge for me and I loved soaking up all their knowledge. My strategy from the get go was to walk the hills and stay focused as to not fall. That plan worked beautifully for approximately 4 miles. As we headed up make shift stairs I stumbled a bit but was able to stop myself with my left hand to prevent total disaster and a face plant. The runners around me were awesome and helped me up so I could keep moving. Casey took the lead as we climbed and Chris helped joke around to about my gracefulness, this is why I am falling in love with trail running…it was a group effort to keep everyone moving forward. The care and concern was real and authentic, I was thankful for the support and did not notice how hard I hit my thumb on the railroad tie stair. It wasn’t until the aid station turn around that it occurred to me that something was wrong. I went to unscrew my bottle and fill it up with water problem being I could not move my thumb. Not good! In trail running though you will fall and the goal is to get up and keep going. I had worked hard to get ready for this race and I was not about to give up. The pain was manageable, I had the use of my right hand, and people who were willing to help me at aid stations, I was not throwing in the towel so early. Back on the return trip I was determined to pay more attention to the trail. Several others around me had also stumbled as the trail was a bit squishy due to the rain the night before. It was not sloppy like at Trailbreaker, just a little soft. I’m pretty sure as soon as I made my mind up to stay focused I tripped again. This was a much more dramatic episode in comparison to my earlier oops! My toe hooked on a rock and from there I flew forward like Superman. When I finally made my descent to the ground I slide face first until I came to a stop on a tree stump. I had dirt from head to toe, but was no worse for the wear. Again the runners around me came to my aid, helping me to my feet and brushing what dirt they could off. I was impressed that my glasses on my head and bottle in my vest stayed put. It wasn’t until I showered back at the hotel that I realized I had a bruise on my thigh where I hit the tree stump. My 1st trail battle scar! Usually things occur in threes, but luckily fall number 2 was it for me. As we continued to progress through loop #1 our group spread out a bit. I pulled into base camp (start/finish line) with Dom. We headed to our drop bags. I shed my running vest (jacket) and grabbed water from the aid station before headed out for loop #2.
Photo Credit – Bill Flaws
Loop #2 (9 miles) – I thought Dom was behind me as we headed out of camp, but I was wrong. When I looked back a few miles in I did not see him. This left me alone and in unchartered territory. The trail for loop 2 and 3 were the same. They were very different than loop 1, not as technical or narrow. I was more at ease on this part of the course and could spread out. Melissa had given me the heads up that there were several hills on this portion and to not get to comfortable. She was not kidding! 2 miles in the “kettles” began. I stuck with my strategy of walking up hill and using this time to hydrate. I zig-zagged down the hills and pushed myself on the flat portions. I got into a good groove, but made sure to pay attention to the course so I was prepared for loop 3. Pulling into the 1st aid station on loop 2 I was greeted by awesome volunteers. We had to check in at this station as it would be come a cut off location on loop 3. Since I could not get my bottle open (my hand was rapidly swelling) a volunteered offered to do so for me and also put more Tailwind in. I was grateful with how quickly they were able to get me out the station and back on the course. Couple more things about the course: it was very well marked with colored flags, aid stations were well stocked, volunteers were ROCKSTARS, each aid station had a sign which indicated the distance to the next station, and the hills were no joke. Back on track to finish out loop 2…after leaving the aid station I had 2.3 miles to go to get to the next station. This portion of the trail was extremely hilly with steep climbs and equally taxing descents. When I pulled into the next aid station it felt like I had traveled further than 2.3 miles. The course difficulty was starting to catch up to me and my legs were tired. Thankfully from this portion of the trail back to base camp was approximately 1.5 miles and for the most part flat. Rounding into the start/finish line I was greeted by Bill Flaws taking pictures for Running In the USA, the online resource he and his wife Mary operate. I was happy to hear that Mary had a great time running the 1/2 marathon. Shortly after chatting with Bill I pulled into the bag drop area which was mile 22. I was cold at this point (temps had dropped at bit and the wind picked up) so I grabbed a layer to throw on to warm up. The volunteers at the aid stations once again helped me fill my bottle up. I cannot say enough wonderful things about the people that came out to help put this event on – simple put, they were AMAZING! I was able say hi to my dad and son before heading out for loop 3.
Photo Credit – Bill Flaws
Loop #3 (9 miles) – I’m a newbie at trail running, but I have run loop courses in the past and have come to learn to pay extra attention on the first go around so I can use that info to help me through the following attempts. Being that I was tired and starting to feel the pain from my previous falls I knew I was in for a fight over the last 9 miles. To my advantage though I knew where the flat portions were and what to expect with the hills. My strategy going into the final loop was to push it on the areas I knew were flat and take my time on both the up and down hills. When times get tough I try to give myself a small manageable goal or reward. Going into the initial portion of the loop I was going to reward myself with the Run Gum I had in my pocket. This may seem silly, but I had been drinking fruity flavored Tailwind and was looking forward to the fresh minty taste of the gum. Plus it has a caffeine kick that I needed at this point. I was also able to look around and enjoy the beauty of the course now that I had a feel for the area. Runners were quite spread out along the course and I ran solo for the remainder of 1st section up to the aid station. Filling up at the aid station I popped my gum in, tossed my trash in the garbage bin, and got back at it. The next section was rough. I had climbed onto the struggle bus and had to fight back the pain. My hand was throbbing and my legs were screaming. Weirdly these are the times that I savor running. In the moments of struggle I find out truly what I have deep inside me to keep fighting. Running has taught me about who I am as a person and given me the opportunity to challenge the demons that used to hold me back. Earlier in the week my Grandmother Lorraine passed away. We had a deep, special connection that was unique. As I pushed through the physical and emotional pain I could hear her voice telling me to “suck it up”. She was a tough cookie and a badass before the term was popular. As the tears streamed down my face and I began to choke up I realized that this race was more than just checking off an event on my “must run” list – it was about making peace with the loss I had experienced and celebrating her spirit. I pulled into the next aid station with a renewed sense of purpose. I checked in and headed out. 1.5 miles to go. I was no longer crying which helped to fill my lungs and add strength to my legs. With a new attitude I was ready to finish this race up…then it started hailing. After a few choice words slipped out of my mouth I began to laugh. Skip this part if you don’t believe in “signs”, but for me the hail was totally a gift. A sign from my Grandmother that I was tougher than I realized. She had an interesting sense of humor and hail would be something she would totally find funny. I finished up loop 3, grabbed my key chain/finisher medal, and headed towards my bag. I typically stick around and enjoy the after party, but I was cold and sore. We headed out and back to the hotel for a much needed shower.
Ice Age 50k will hold a special place in my heart. I learned a lot over the course of 31 miles, one of the greatest lessons is that I could not do what I do running(wise) without individuals supporting me. I have one of the best group of people a person could ask for around me. My family (especially Derek, who supports the countless hours I spend training) and friends mean the world to me, I’m blessed beyond belief. When asked why I run my answer has always been – “because I can.” Running is a gift, it helped me become the person I am today. I may not always be able to compete, but until then I am going to keep pushing the envelope to uncover as many adventures as possible.
PS – Thank you to all those who inspire me and fuel my desire to do crazy things, many of which I once thought were impossible!
Key Gear Used:
- Trail Toes Cream – kept my feet blister free all day.
- Orange Mud HydraQuiver VP1 – with several aid stations a single bottle was effective and light to carry.
- Tailwind Nutrition – hydration and fuel in one.
- Altra Superior 2 Trail Shoes – stability and control was key on challenging terrain.
- Oiselle Volee Singlet – positive vibes and mojo helped to keep me moving forward.
- Salt Stick – kept the leg cramps at bay.
- Zenash – kept my legs warm on a very chilly day.
- Buff – kept my neck warm and doubled as an awesome snot rag when I ran out of tissues.