This last weekend was the first key race of the season; Ice Age 50 mile trail race out in Wisconsin.. one of the great things about running is the places it takes you. I drove out Thursday and drove for 15 hours in total from new Jersey through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin over the two days.
Ice Age was in the Montrail Ultra Trail Series this year and the top 3 spots are awarded spots in the Western States 100 miler, so that was a faint hope. The race preview on irunfar listed all those in contention so by last week I knew I had little hope of one of those spots.
On arriving at the course HQ on Friday I ran further than I intended but it was a glorious day, so did the first 9.1 mile loop on the Nordic ski trail; for those who have ran or skied on XC ski trails this was fairly typical ski terrain, lovely wide evenly surfaced trails with tight turns and undulating trails with sharp parabola-like sections. It was clear the start was going to be very fast but also potentially damaging to the legs with all the short sharp ascents and descents.
After registering I drove out to Otawa Lake Campsite and had a lazy night snoozing on the air bed next to a nice fire. The race started at 6 am so I was up at 3:30 am for breakfast, packing up the campsite and heading to the start. It was a cold morning but was due to heat up to around 70F later in the day so I started in shorts and a vest, with my number on the shorts so I could run topless if needed.
The start was pretty hectic, to be honest I've never known such a fast start, we set off at low 6's as a group of maybe 20 and within a half a mile I knew this was stupid for me so started hanging back.. within a mile I guessed I was somewhere around the top 15-20 and remained there for the first loop which I ran fairly much on my own, popping out back at the start averaging around 6:45 pace which I felt was about right.
The next section is an out and back on single track, rocky, undulating and narrow my pace fell and I really started to feel like shit. I felt so bad at one point I thought I was off route so was quite pleased to DNF... but then spotted a course marker so had to carry on.. here I was caught by a few runners, one of them I knew had just ran a 7:17 100km (Kevin), qualifying for the US team so I was pretty happy with where I was. I was just shocked how far down the field I was but I knew there was nothing to be done but run my own race and just see what happens. I was pretty sure a chunk at the front were running well under the course record pace so was hoping things would break up later and I'd move through the field, but I also knew from the irunfar preview there were a good number of quick marathoners up ahead for whom low 6's are easy miles.. so you just never know.
At the turn around point at around 21 miles I started to feel better, mentally you have taken a big chunk out of the race but you still have 50km to go and you are already fairly tired. Still early in the morning but nevertheless the sun was now up and it was really heating up and we were all sweating heavily. Through this section Kevin, and one other guy, and I stayed fairly close, I was taking longer at aid stations but then using him as a target move back up to him and we moved along nicely and at around the marathon distance I pushed on and soon caught one of the adidas runners who was clearly struggling. I was now around 10th and feeling pretty good.
Although it was only 70F, maybe even a tad less, early season heat hurts and with little shade from the trees, not much wind and sun reflecting off the rocks and sand it did feel hotter and people struggled more than you'd expect for that sort of heat.. but thats pretty normal for any early season race where temps get even slightly warm as we've spent all winter, especially this winter, running in cold temperatures.
The course is basically a capital T with a loop at the start so at the intersection of the 3 trails, aptly named confusion corner you head off north to do the last of the out and backs. I was fairly sure I was 10th but thought I should have been lower down but in the end a fair few of those ahead had DNF'd along the way. The last section has some good runnable trails but some fairly long continual ascents, nothing to long but with around 4500ft of ascent. The GPS showed slightly less ascent and less distance but I doubt the winding course under the trees was accurately captured. You are now in with the 50k runners so spotting other people ahead was difficult and I saw no 50 mile runners until mile 36 when Max King and Matt Flaherty came flying past, both were motoring and well under the course record.
I actually fancied Matt to catch Max as Max was clearly hurting, you hear people say that the quicker runners don't suffer, it's just rubbish - Max seemed to be in a world of pain and pushing on. I thought Matt looked fresher but in the end Max dug in and won in a new record of 5:42, taking 12 minutes off a 26 year old record.. not often you see that much taken off such a long standing record, hugely impressive. It's like someone suddenly taking 7 minutes off the Jura or Peris records.. probably one of the best runs I've ever seen. Matt was also a good 4 minutes inside the old record, so another class run.
Each aid station was well staffed with a range of jelly baby type things, pretzls, crisps, P&J sandwiches, water, heed, coke and other energy drink stuff.. by the 36 mile one I was pretty much not communicating and just biting the centres out of the P&J sandwiches, grabbing some banana's and heading off. I was carrying a 500ml water bottle which I eventually emptied out as it was additional weight. there were also few gels to go at.
From 33-38 I was struggling with a nerve issue, I think the 14 hour drive had aggravated my piriformis issue so I was getting a sciatic type pain/numbness down my right leg which was concerning but there was not much to be done, my plan was 1200mg (the RDA) of ibuprofen, in 3 400mg tablets at 20, 30 and 40 miles.. (if hydrated enough) and stuck to that. Hydration wise I'd stopped for 3 toilet breaks so I was pretty happy with how hydrated I was.
At around 37 miles the other leaders started coming through and I worked out I was 9th and just before the last turnaround I saw 2 other runners, one clearly struggling and one seemed to be going well. After a quick stop with some language confusion.. 'water or heed?' me: 'water' them: 'water or heed?' I think I need to work on my yank accent... I set off and soon saw other runners coming towards me.
I reckoned I now had 2-3 runners within 5-10 minutes behind me and 2 runners within 3 minutes ahead.. Everytime I passed a runner I'd check my watch and guessing we are all running around an 8 minute mile work out the times I have to make up or keep.. soon enough I caught C Fred Joslyn, he's a 2:17 marathoner but was clearly in trouble (chatting afterwards he'd developed hamstring cramps at 35 miles) and pushed on with the vague hope of catching Jason Wolfe (top US ultra runner).. Zach Bitter was in 6th and he was way off but 7th was still on if I could catch Jason..
I also knew Kaci Lickteig was around 5 minutes behind, she was looking so fresh and happy, with her was Kevin so I knew I needed to push on and try to catch Jason just to keep my place. Around 43 miles I finally saw Jason and this gave me a kick and I was feeling good and expected to breeze past him as I was definitely running quicker at that point but he responded and picked the pace up, eventually I got past and hoped he'd drop off but he surged past again and this time opened up a bit of a gap on a climb from the next aid station. This is why I love racing the competitive ultra races, having these battles late on in a race, it just makes it more fun. Eventually I caught him and this time really pushed hard on the descents, I never looked back but when you passed others on the 50km they'd cheer so I tried to listen and eventually seemed to open up a gap. The course then joins the ski trail and it's a last 1.5 miles back to the race HQ to finish 7th in 6:36, 2nd in my age group. Jason took 8th and Kaci 9th overall, in 6:41.
In that field I was happy in 7th, I thought I'd be quicker but Zach Bitter (another top US ultra runner (6:44 100km runner, US 24 hour champ) was 6th in 6:19 so even if I'd ran the time I'd wanted I was 7th, but the top 10 were all well known top runners. Great runs from Max, Matt and Kaci who all ran under the previous records.
It's a superb race, very well organised, well marked, great aid stations. Definitely worth a trip, it's probably not an area you'd ever see without the race yet is a beautiful area. Thanks to the RD and all the volunteers involved. A tough run, plenty of good running but regular more technical sections or short sharp ascents and descents prevents you really getting into a rhythm.
The results article is here: http://www.irunfar.com/2014/05/2014-ice-age-50-mile-results.html#idc-container
Strava details here: http://www.strava.com/activities/140024108/overview
Some pics of the Ski loop and camping are below..
Next up Cayuga 50 mile trail race in NY state in 3 weeks, US 50 mile trail champs. Certainly not 100% yet, but fairly happy with that run.