Sunday, March 25, 2012

Why can't I run the Ice Age Trail everyday?

So, today I had nine miles on the schedule in preparation for my May half marathon coming up.  As luck would have it, Hubby was planning on heading down to run the Ice Age Trail in Kettle Moraine's Northern Unit - about an hour from home - with another ultra runner type for an easy, four-plus hour trail run.  Seeing as my parents had agreed to watch the kids for the day, I decided I would tag along.

I knew from the start that I would not be running with Hubby or our friend, Mike.  They are way beyond my level of running.  However, I was excited to get on the trails for the first time this year and to see what this particular portion of the Ice Age was like, and if that meant running alone in the woods for a couple of hours, so be it.

When I mentioned to Mike on the drive down that I wanted to do nine miles, his response of "oh, so about two hours?" seemed off the mark.  I let it slide, though.  I didn't want to start bragging about how nine miles should only take me about an hour and forty minutes, after all.  Likewise, I shrugged off his comment that nine miles would feel more like fifteen.  I mean, I had run trails before, and sure they are a little tougher, but how bad could it be?  Well, as it turns out, this was no walk in the park.

The Ice Age Trail is a 1,000-mile footpath that highlights Wisconsin's Ice Age heritage and scenic beauty.  The portion of the Ice Age Trail that is in the Kettle Moraine Northern Unit is considered a moderate to difficult course that "follows sinuous eskers and tumbled moraines descending into bogs and deep kettles." (Source:  In everyday language, that means there were a LOT of ups and downs - steep ones.

After saying good-bye to the big boys in the parking lot of Mauthe Lake Recreation Area, I gathered my supplies: a handheld bottle with Gatorade, one Triple Berry GU, some dates, my camera, and my phone.  I was so anxious to start out that I forgot all about the banana I had planned on eating before running. Although my tummy reminded me of that about fifteen minutes into the run, it wasn't worth turning back for it, so I would just have to make do.

Within the first half mile of trail I was already smitten with the beauty of the place.  Deciduous and pine trees stand shoulder to shoulder in a landscape alive with sound, scent, and visual abundance.  Being that it is still March, most of the trees were bare of leaves giving me a nice glimpse into the surrounding landscape, which rolls and climbs, dips and falls toward lakes, ponds, and swampy lowlands.  Frogs provided a musical backdrop to the dramatic and primitive sounding calls of sandhill cranes reverberating through the hollows.

In the 4.5-mile stretch (which I did out and back), I believe I crossed three roads, but aside from a couple of cars driving by on those roads, I did not see a single person the entire time I was out.  In fact, I barely saw any wildlife.  I saw some geese flying overhead and two sandhill cranes.  But it wasn't until the last couple miles of the run that I saw my "greatest find" - a bushy-tailed fox.  The only reason I saw him at all was because there wasn't any cover in the woods for him to hide behind.  I would have loved to get a picture, but he saw me about the same time that I saw him.  And, apparently, he didn't want to have anything to do with me, because faster than I could pull out my camera, he turned tail and ran.  Before I knew it, he was gone.

The trail itself seemed pretty technical to me.  It was at turns muddy, grassy, and rocky.  Leaf litter did a good job of hiding rocks and tree roots, and I managed to turn my ankle once before I realized I would have to stop gawking at the landscape and pay more attention to where I was putting my feet.  Then there were those steep climbs and descents, which I found very challenging.  I ended up walking most of the steeper hills and a fair amount of the downhills, too.  Otherwise, though, I felt pretty good with the steady clip I was able to maintain throughout the run.  In a way, I feel I redeemed myself after my doomed Ice Age Trail Half Marathon last year.  Running that while sick, it took me 3 hours and 15 minutes to cross the finish line.  At least today's nine miles in two hours showed me that I am better than what that time last year reflects (though I think I could do better still!).

In the end, today's trail run was amazing.  I will agree that running a trail like this one is really taxing.  So, yes, I can see where, physically, nine miles would feel like fifteen.  (In fact, I feel I may have tweaked every injury trigger point my body has.) However, mentally, those nine miles felt more like five.  Whereas on the road, when doing a longer run, I always feel ready to be done in the last couple of miles, the last couple of miles from today's run left me feeling sad that the experience was almost over.   Really, I just can't wait to get back.

To end, here are some photos from today's run.  They don't do the trail justice, though.

Start of the trail for me. 
Following a ridge line.
Running along a "saddle" between two lower lying areas.
One of many uphill battles
Rocky uphill trail
More rocks
Mossy rocky part of trail

Thankful for the trail markers.  No getting lost

Down we go
Nice views
Favorite stretch of the trail
Boggy approach to river
At the end of a trail run, muddy shoes mean a trail well run!
That's all!


  1. Thanks for the descriptive trail journey...I loved the photos, too!
    Muddy shoes are my favorite part though. My short muddy run today pales in comparison...sadly only 20 min in the woods and the rest on the sam old boring roads.
    Might just be a road tip to the Kettle in the future for me :)

    1. Ann, definitely get down there if you get the chance. If you enjoy trail running at all, this is an amazing one to be on. Very challenging, but rewarding. And, I agree! I love the muddy shoes, too, although I have to admit that I don't like cleaning them off after. :)

  2. Gorgeous! Trying to catch all the beauty without tripping is the hardest part of trail running! That and the hills. Roads aren't as interesting, but I feel slightly less likely to trip if I look at the scenery.

    1. Agreed, Yo! I think that's part of the reason why I feel less guilty about taking walk breaks on the trail. It just seems to be the thing to do. I don't want to miss the scenery, after all, and as I found out (yet again, because it isn't the first time I have tripped on a trail) I need to slow down to really be able to look around.

      I imagine you would have some pretty good trails out where you are at, hopefully you are able to enjoy them as well!