This past weekend I did something I never really thought I would do: I ran (and finished!) what is considered an ultramarathon and four days later I am still recovering.
The Ice Age 50K took place Saturday, May 11. I started my race at 8:15 a.m. and finished it seven and a half hours later. I wasn't the fastest out there, but I wasn't the slowest either (although I almost was). How do I feel today, four days later? Well, I don't have any post-goal blues (mostly because I have another goal coming up in September), but I am not super exuberant either. "Content" is a pretty good description of how I feel. In some ways that are hard to describe, I feel that I did what I needed to do. For some reason that I still don't really understand, I felt compelled to try running this event, and I did! It was hard, and very challenging, but wonderful at the same time. Rather than intimidating me, like my first marathon did, I feel like I want to run it again!
So, the Ice Age Trail races are put on by the Badgerland Striders Running Club, and it is considered a pretty tough event in ultra circles - at least here locally. The 50-miler is part of the Montrail Ultra Cup series and the top two male and female finishers of the event receive automatic entries into this year's Western States 100, so it attracts some serious competition. Of course, none of that impacted my race whatsoever, but it is an interesting tidbit to share. Besides the 50-miler and the 50K, which I ran, the event also hosts a half marathon. The event is a lot of fun. The trail is beautiful, and the volunteers are great!
I traveled down to the La Grange area on Friday with some friends - Peeps A., C., and A2. I knew about a half dozen other people doing this event, as well, so getting into town on Friday we had decided to get together for dinner the night before. Not much to report there except for the fact that the establishment we chose had some strange rules of conduct listed on their menu (no talking on cell phones, people sharing checks must sit shoulder to shoulder, etc.) The food was decent but the atmosphere lacked a certain je ne sais quoi
, shall we say.
Settling into the lovely Hampton Inn, Peep C. and I set three alarms so we would wake up in plenty of time to get ready. As it turns out though we were awake before any of them. After getting up and showering, breakfast in the hotel was oatmeal with the chia seeds and unsweetened coconut I had brought from home, along with a sprinkling of brown sugar and some fruit. OJ and coffee completed the pre-race meal.
Arriving at the start line about 45 minutes early, we had plenty of time to get to the packet pickup and get ready to go. Weather-wise, it seemed that we wouldn't have been able to ask for anything better. It was chilly at the start with a high of only mid-50s forecast, so I went with my running skirt, short-sleeve shirt, arm warmers, calf sleeves, and my feather light rain shell. Rain was predicted and indeed standing near the start line the skies did open up briefly and we were treated to a heavy sprinkle. Quickly thereafter though the sun came out and I decided to shed the jacket and stuff it in my start/finish drop bag, which we would see again at miles 13 and 22.
|Hamming it up with the gals...Before the race.|
Standing at the start waiting for the 50K to begin, I can't say I really had too much going through my head. I really didn't look at this race as one long distance, but rather had already broken it down into more digestible chunks. It helped that the race can be looked at in three sections fairly logically - the 13-mile roundtrip out-and-back to Horserider's Camp, and then two 9-mile loops on the Nordic Trail. I just determined that I would mentally approach one section at a time. Breaking it down even further, back on Wednesday before the event, Peep C. and I had devised a plan that would allow us to tackle the run even more - walk breaks every 20 minutes. Those were designed more with the idea to ensure we were eating adequately. So, really I never had to think more than 20 minutes at a time.
Starting out at this race, I knew that C was planning on doing an 11-minute run pace, plus the 2-minute walk breaks every 20 minutes to eat. Plus, she wanted to walk the hills. This all jived very well with what I wanted to do, so I was determined to stay with her as long as possible. Because C's watch died the morning before the event, I think she wanted to run with me for a while too, so that I could pace. However, since I hate referring to my watch for pacing, within the first half mile I found myself handing my watch over to C. That worked out well, because with one exception for the rest of the race, she kept our pace more or less honest, while I wore my trusty Galloway interval timer to call out the 20/2 intervals.
The weather for the most part was really just perfect. If it had been a bit warmer or cooler, I don't think I would have been as happy with the day. For the most part it was cloudy, but the sun made frequent appearances. The rain held off except for a couple of drips here and there (and that could have been from the trees.) The wind, while quite gusty, wasn't that noticeable in the woods.
Getting started, the first section of the Ice Age 50K is by far the hardest in a running sense. It is an out-and-back 6.5 miles each way to the Horserider's Camp trailhead. These 13 miles are the most technical part of the 50K and is the only part where we were following the Ice Age Trail itself. It includes very few flat sections, but what it does offer are miles of hilly rock and root strewn single-track as well as a climb to the top of Indian Signal Hill (or Bald Bluff), the highest point on the course. (C was very excited about this section because of its significance as a Native American spiritual site. Apparently, it attracted people from as far away as Illinois and other Wisconsin areas. We ran on the same trails that they traversed hundreds of years ago.)
While this was an amazingly scenic part of the trail, the need to watch your footing was very high. I am quite pleased that I didn't trip once during the entire race. In fact, I never even caught my toe on anything. I can't say the same for A2, who took a significant fall as we were heading into Horseriders. Seeing as the Horseriders aid station had a wash station set up (marked as such), I think that falls on that section of trail are not that uncommon. While the fall looked pretty scary and she definitely came away with a cut on her forehead and a bruised shoulder, a minute or two at the wash station and some borrowed Tylenol seemed to set her to rights.
|Aid Station at Horserider's Camp turnaround|
|Who knew! There are actually horses at the Horseriders' Camp.|
After grabbing a banana and refilling water bottles at the Horserider's aid station, we made the turnaround and headed back on the technical trail we had just come in on. The same rocks and roots, the same climbs (albeit from the other direction), and the same peaceful beauty. Following C and A2, I felt I could zone out a bit and just enjoy the running. (That was preferable to when I was in front and I got poked fun at for the way I looked like a football player going through tire drills. I really didn't want to trip.)
Like clockwork, every 20 minutes C and I would walk and eat. For me, two Cliff Blocks. For C, dates or dates stuffed with pumpkin seeds. When we happened by aid stations, I helped myself to orange slices (they were delicious!) and occasionally bananas. The aid stations also had chips, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, m&ms, cookies, etc., but really all I wanted was oranges.
Coming off of that first technical out and back, I felt really lighthearted. The hardest part of the trail was behind me and I was looking forward to the fact that I only had two loops to go on the Nordic Trail. I think at one point the thought slipped through my mind that that really equated to 18 miles, but I slapped it back down rather firmly and tried not to think about that part.
When we got back to the start/finish, it was time to assess the old drop bag and see what, if anything, I had brought that might be useful. I grabbed the rest of my Cliff Blocks and my Gu Brew powder and got rid of the sunglasses I had carried on my head because I decided I didn't need them. Then I grabbed the first of the few things I was really glad I had packed - my cookies, the homemade walnut/oatmeal/chocolate chip cookies I had baked a couple days before. I had stashed a Tupperware of them in my drop bag and when I got to the start/finish area, they just sounded really good, so I ate one. I also stuffed one in a plastic bag along with some dates into my jog bra for the first loop.
So, off we went on our first stint on the Nordic Loop - technically easier than the out-and-back footing-wise, as it was mostly pine-needle covered terrain and grass. The Ice Age 50 website describes this part of the trail as such:
The Nordic trail is very wide and scenic. This 9.0 mile loop is very representative of the glacial topography and natural diversity that you can expect in the Kettle Moraine. As a cross country ski trail, it provides every type of terrain imaginable for skiing.
The trail or tread on the Nordic is very runnable. There will be sections in the pines and meadows that you will want to develop some speed. Easy on the feet, joints and with towering trees all around, you are preparing yourself for a great race. Many areas that were rocky have been wood chipped over to help skiers save their equipment.
What they fail to mention is that the hills on this section are brutal. They are steep and they are frequent. Frankly, I don't see how skiers ski on it, but that's probably just me.
About a third of the way around that first loop is when I started to feel my spirits flagging a bit. I was tired, and I was only half way done! The grade on the uphills was killing my ankles and the downhill pounding was causing my knees to start complaining. I know that doubts are all a part of running ultras and that you really have to fight through them, and I was prepared for that. I didn't realize though that they would start in so early. Having C there to give me a little pep talk helped and it wasn't long before I started bouncing back a bit mentally. Time to switch off the brain again and just not think about how much further I needed to go. Really, at this point, I just wanted to finish that first loop and get to the drop bag again. (Clearly, I needed more cookies!) I figured once I started out on the second loop, the mental hurdles would be done. I have no commitment issues during a race and if I know I am on the path towards home, then I know I will be good.
For the most part, I was very lucky to have someone to run with during this race (thanks, C!), but somewhere towards the end of that first loop I did find myself running alone for a stretch. A2 and I had dawdled a little too long at one of the aid stations (darn those orange slices! they sure tasted good), and C decided that she had to keep moving. As she walked off, she shouted over her shoulder, You'll catch up! Sure,
we responded. But then we didn't. Walking out of that aid station we found ourselves walking up a hill. By the time we crested that and got around a couple of curves and another hill, C was gone. (She had decided she wasn't waiting any longer.) I can't say exactly how long we lost her for but at one point we passed a gentleman on the course who, apropos of nothing, asked us, Do you know C?
When we confirmed we did, he said, Well, she says for you to get your asses moving.
Ah, the love. All's fair in love and racing, though, so it wasn't long after that that A2 left my butt in the dust as I stopped to walk and eat my Cliff Blocks.
I have to say the little bit I was alone, I didn't mind too much. I reflected on the fact that I wouldn't have enjoyed doing the 20 or so miles up to that point by myself, or - rather - it would have been harder mentally, but at this point in the race if I had to press on solo then so be it. I could only shake my head at the fact that I didn't have my watch anymore, but then I did have the interval timer and that was good enough. After being on my own for a half hour or so, though, in the distance I caught sight of A2 and C. And, then it wasn't long before I caught up with C. As we ran into the start/finish area together, me looking longingly at the finish chute we were bypassing, we gave each other a high five on Part 2 completed.
This time at the old drop bag not only did I grab another cookie (those were really good!), but I also ditched my arm warmers and gloves finally. The final two items I was thrilled that I had thought to pack were Biofreeze and pre-wrap tape. My left knee was bothering me enough on the downhills that I thought I needed to do something. For some reason, before leaving for the race weekend I had found an unopened package of pre-wrap and thrown it in my drop bag. Getting to the drop bag, I grabbed it and wrapped my knee the way my PT had shown me well over a year ago. I wasn't sure if it would work, but I had to try something. That, and I slathered my IT band areas with Biofreeze (as well as my left achilles area). All dressed up, I was good to go again.
Heading out on the second loop with C and A2, I was mentally and physically kind of tired of running (I had already done some of the toughest 22 miles I had ever done), but really quitting was never an option. I wanted to finish this event. So, I fell into line behind my friends and, eyes glued to the feet in front of me, I just focused on getting into a groove again.
I thought mentally it would be hard doing that same section of the Nordic loop trail again, but really it was refreshing because I knew that everything I saw - every patch of trail I was running on - was the last time I would be doing it. And, really, it is super beautiful. On such a nice weather day, it's hard to overlook that.
It wasn't long before A2 took off and we never saw her again until the end. C and I, though, stuck it out together with our 11-minute-ish pace and walk breaks every 20 minutes (although by this point we were both tired of our respective food items). The hills seemed to get harder and the need to walk started on them earlier. The pre-wrap tape was like a miracle worker, though, and I am so glad I did that. My knee thanked me with every hill we did. It wasn't just the uphills that were getting to us, though, going down became harder as well, and towards the end we were both doing this sort of sidestep walk down the hills.
During those last five miles of the run, I kept wondering at the fact that I was running further than I ever had before, and as I approached the finish I did get a bit emotional. But not too bad. I think I was too tired for that. Crossing the finish line to a crowd of people cheering for you was just simply an amazing experience.
|Seconds after crossing the finish line.|
|At the finish...first time I have ever experienced the post-race chill, but I was freezing!|
As for the running experience specifically I think it went well. The 11-minute-ish pace suited me well enough, although I wonder if I couldn't have gone a bit faster. I don't know, though. I question if I hadn't held back at certain points, would I still have been running as consistently at the end? Also, the walk break every 20 minutes was nice too. I liked eating the Cliff Blocks (or fruit) so consistently. I might - in doing this again - not do the 2 minute walk break though. Especially during the first half, I am sure 1 minute would have sufficed.
Food-wise, like I said, I am happy with how I did. I might try to integrate more of those cookies, because I think they worked pretty well. Although, that one I carried in my jog bra? Yeah, I had that there for 18 miles and never thought to eat it. So maybe two cookies in the drop bag was enough. My tummy only got unhappy with me once - in that section I was on my own around mile 20. I ate a Ginger Chew candy though and it seemed to do the trick as I never had a real problem after that.
Hydration-wise, I carried my 20-ounce handheld the entire way. I used Gu Brew, because that is what I am used to and I find it doesn't cause tummy issues. I must have been hydrating well, because I had to use the facilities on both stops at the start/finish.
So, like I said, I am content with having finished. I was obviously slow, but who cares? I am not that fast anyway, and for a first time finish - on a very difficult course - I am happy with that. In a way, did this help me with my goal of making marathons seem easier? Who knows. What I do know is that my next marathon is supposedly going to be harder than this 50K, so I might have to save that test for next year. In the meantime, I am trying to recover. My body is definitely hurting more than I think it ever has after a race, so I am trying to take it easy and recover smartly. The friends I traveled down with are all following up this event with either the Green Bay Marathon or Half Marathon this weekend, and I am just in awe of them all. For me? I might try a little four-miler. We'll see. :)
|Received this keychain for finishing!|