Yesterday Hubby and I decided that we would go down and join the Milwaukee area running club - the Badgerland Striders - in their 35-mile training run on the Ice Age trail. This of course is in preparation for the Ice Age 50 Mile event coming up in a scant three weeks. Have I mentioned that I am running my first ultra there with the 50K event? Crapola.
I have not been able to get a lot of time in on the trails this spring, so the idea was to go down, try to get my last long run in before tapering for the 50K (somewhere between 20 and 25 miles), and hopefully build some muscle memory or something.
|Me after the run. Can you say "done."|
The training run started from the Nordic trailhead in the Southern Unit of the Kettle Moraine in La Grange, Wisconsin. Since this is over a two-hour drive for us, that meant getting up at 3:45 a.m. to have breakfast, get dressed, make coffee (for me) and get out the door. By 4:40 a.m. we were on the road, stopping only to pick up a friend also doing the run. And, after getting turned around on our directions once or twice, we finally rolled in to the parking lot at about 7:20 a.m. with the run scheduled to start at 7:30.
This was just a training run, so it was fairly loosely organized. The number of cars in the parking lot was no clear indication of the number of people there. I suspect a good number had gotten an early start on the trails. We signed in quickly, hit the restroom, got our stuff organized, and then it was time to gather at the trailhead for some last words. Since I was still fiddling with my handhelds and second-guessing if I should take only one or both, I missed those last words, which were no doubt wisely said, but I imagined they contained some helpful tidbits like how to not get lost on the trails, etc.
After I finally decided that I needed the two handhelds and tracked down the event coordinator to ask about how not to get lost on the trails (follow the signs that say N2 - not N1 - and then the white arrows), I finally got underway.
The course for yesterday's training run consisted of one almost 10-mile loop on the nordic ski trails (thankfully not covered with snow) and then a 25-mile out-and-back. The only water drop (an unmanned station with water and Heed) was going to be located at 9 miles out on the out-and-back, meaning we would hit it twice.
Originally, I had intended to do two loops on the nordic trail to get 20 miles and then, if I had anything left over, head for the out-and-back for some extra miles. Really, though, all I wanted was five hours spent on my feet regardless of mileage.
So, that was my original plan. At the last minute, though, I reconsidered my plan and decided to do the out-and-back section instead of the nordic loop. I decided this for a couple of reasons, but mainly because I reasoned since I am going to do the nordic loop twice during the 50K, I didn't want to do it twice yesterday and then be bored by it. (Get out of town! A 10-mile loop in a trail ultra can't be boring, can it?) The out-and-back section is actually part of the 50-mile course, which means I won't see it on race day. And that meant that if the training run really went in the toilet for me, I could at least comfort myself with the fact that it wasn't part of my race. (See, there is a method to the madness.)
Since most of the 50-mile runners were doing the 10-mile loop first before hitting the out-and-back, I was on my own for about the first 10 miles of my run.
Starting out, the temps were cool but pleasant, the sun was looking like it might actually make an appearance, and the trails were nothing short of breath-taking and peaceful. It was the first real spring-like day we have had this year, and I felt really blessed that I could enjoy it out on the trails.
That was the upside of things. The downside of things was that as far as the running went yesterday, I was really off. I can't explain why, but I knew within the first three miles of yesterday's run that it was going to be a slog. My legs just felt heavy. I don't know if it was the series of races I have done in the past weeks, my training progress to date, the fact that I didn't sleep well, or what, but I really was struggling.
To make matters worse, my stomach wasn't too happy with me. Perhaps it was the early morning that threw me off, or it could have been the decision to have lentils the night before for dinner, or perhaps the coffee I had nursed all the way to the run that morning was to blame. Whatever the case may be I started out feeling none too perky. Nutrition-wise, I clearly didn't think things through as well as I would have liked. I brought my faithful Clif Blocks with me and planned on eating two blocks every half hour alternated with dates. I don't know why that sounded like a good idea at the time, but it did. And, it wasn't too bad. So, at thirty minutes, I had two blocks, then three dates, then two blocks, two dates, and then I was down just to blocks. Why eat so often? Mainly on the advice of an Intro to Ultras book I had recently read. Did it work? Sort of. I thought I was doing okay, but since my day was off anyway, it is hard to tell. After the run, an ultra friend of mine listened to my list of food intake and seemed to think I was a little light on the calories, so I might try to figure out how to tweak this while not introducing anything too new come race day.
So, add to the heavy-legged feeling and the stomach woes the fact that this trail was just plain HARD, and I knew I had the makings for a really crappy day.
As I have said, the trail itself was challenging. Starting out, we headed out on the Nordic trail for about a mile and half before branching off and getting on the Ice Age Trail itself. This part - while beautiful - is quite technical. Any section that didn't have us going up or down some hill or other had us picking our way carefully, eyes glued to the trail, through rocks, roots and downed tree branches. I have never known a trail to be so exhausting just for the amount of focus it takes. I really envy those runners I saw who were just flying through these sections, obviously really confident in their footing. Since my fall last summer (and now a winter away from trails) I feel I was too cautious by far. In fact, for myself, I really looked forward to the brief welcome respites from the technical sections - a nice, long stretch through a pine-needle carpeted forest and another along the sandy paths of a lake.
Somehow, despite such a rocky start, I made it to the water drop at mile 9 and was able to refill my bottles. Around that time I got a sort of a second wind. I continued past the water drop but with three and a half miles to go before the official turn, I knew it probably wasn't the wisest choice to head to the end. My progress was just so slow that second wind or not I didn't want to get into a situation where I went grossly past those five hours I had hoped to run. So, somewhere between a half mile to a mile past the water drop, I turned around and headed back.
This is about the time I started seeing other runners, either folks who were just flipping fast or folks who had started out early. As I left the water drop for the second time, I ran into two gentlemen who had gotten an early start on the trail. We exchanged pleasantries and then went our separate ways. Heading back, after going up and over a series of switchbacks, I hit a smooth portion of the trail that followed along the side of the lake. I really struggled here for some reason, and it is here that those two gentlemen caught up to me. But, seeing as they were going a decent pace for me and were walking the hills, I naturally just fell in with them, and I am so glad I did, because they ended up pulling me along for about six miles. They were chatty fellows and I was amazed to find out that one of them holds the record for the number of Ice Age 50 Milers completed - namely 27. They were a great source of information and helped boost my confidence that despite how I was feeling yesterday, I would still do fine during the race itself.
Finally, getting back to the start area, I noted I had 18.2 miles on my watch with only 4 hours 25 minutes run. That really bothered me. Given the distances given for where the aid station was located, and knowing I had failed to start my watch at one portion, I guestimated my mileage to be closer to 19 miles or maybe even a little more. But it bothered me to have less than 20 showing on the watch, so for better or for worse, I headed out and back on the nordic loop for an even 20 miles on the watch. It was probably the longest two miles of my life but I did it.
In the end, I am guessing I did about 21 miles in about five hours, with the possibility being great that I am slightly low-balling those numbers. My pace was appalling compared to my average street running times - an average 14:30 pace on the watch. I don't know why it was that slow. Was it really the trail, which was very hard? Or was it that I just had a bad day? I guess I am not going to worry about it.
I keep thinking back to what a friend once told me - that if a training run isn't boosting your confidence about meeting your race goals then it isn't doing its job, and I have to say I am having a hard time deciding whether this did its job or not.
On the one hand, I am really happy I got out on the trails and was able to see what I am in for. It was hard, but now it won't be a surprise come race day. I think if you haven't run the Ice Age and you get out there expecting it to be like a lot of other trails then you are in for a bit of a shock. It's just so technical in parts. I am also glad that I chose not to spend my time on the nordic loop. From the few miles I saw of it, I have a good enough feel for what it will hold (plus, I am familiar with it from the half marathon I ran there two years ago). Compared to the more technical parts of the trail, it is pretty benign, and knowing that that will be the bulk of my race makes me very happy indeed. Also, I am happy that the time I did spend on the trails yesterday consisted mostly of a part of the 50-mile route - so not even on my race course. So, no matter how hard yesterday was, at least I can tell myself that at least I won't be dealing with that come race day. That happiness is bolstered by what my two gentlemen friends told me - that the portion I had run on the training run was actually one of the most technical parts of the 50-miler. Oh, I know I have some tough portions coming up on race day, but at least I will have had a taste of some of the hardest the Ice Age can throw at me.
I won't dwell on the non-confidence builders, but they include how long this took me (it's hard to imagine spending upwards of two or more more hours on the trail) and how horribly my gut did.
In the end, though, I guess I feel I just had a bad day, so I am not going to dwell on it. I did it. The longest long run is in the bag. The hip I worried about so much didn't peep too much so that is nice. Now it is time to taper. I knew when I signed up for this that it would be hard, and I imagine that was part of the allure. (Well, that and I just want marathons to seem easy in comparison.) Now I am just curious for race day to come and to see how it unfolds.
|Nordic trail looks benign enough. No pix of the technical trail, though.|