This was my third 50 miler, and second Ice Age 50 miler. Like last year, I ran the entire thing with dear friend Dennis Hanna. This was Dennis' second 50 miler also, and he has done the Ice Age 50K 3 times. We were joined this year by fellow Armelian, Neighbor Jim. (There are 3 Jims in our group, and since this one lives next door to Dennis, he earned the nickname Neighbor Jim.) This was NJ's first Ice Age.
We've been training on the Ice Age course quite a bit. The last many Saturdays have been spent logging 20 to 35 miles on the various sections. We thought we had experienced vast array of weather that mother nature could throw at us in Wisconsin in spring: cold, heat, wind, rain, sun, clouds.
Mother nature had 2 additional weather tricks up her sleeve on May 8th this year: hail, and then bombard us with all possible conditions repeatedly. Picture the kid, Russell, from the movie Up, at some sort of weather control booth, with buttons and dials for rain, wind, hail, clouds, sun and temperature. And he's just had a Snickers and a Coke.
Dennis and Neighbor Jim arrived at my house at 4:45 am. Husband Bill drove us to the start, what a trooper! We played "how did YOU sleep last night?" on the drive over. NJ - no sleep at all despite getting to bed at a responsible hour. Dennis - pretty good, despite going to bed around 11pm, and me, decent enough. I am a bad sleeper, so 5 hours for me is very good.
We arrived at Nordic before 5:30am. Stepped out of the car to get our shirts, bibs and chips, and were immediately spanked in the face by cold wind. This is May right? Yeah, it's Wisconsin. We took care of pre-race tasks such as putting our bags in the bag drop areas, and back to the car to stay out of the wind.
Side note - this year's race shirt is a dud. Too big, white, and the design looks like a coffee stain. Or actually worse.
We line up for the start just before 6am, listen to a very nice rendition of the national anthem, and shivered.
50 miles is too much for my brain to tackle at once. Dennis and I break up the distance into 5 manageable sections. The course starts with one 9 mile loop on the Nordic ski trails, then it has 2 out and back sections on the Ice Age Trail. Aid stations are roughly every 4 miles.
The first loop went very well. We felt good, and the weather was pretty consistent. It stayed cool, windy, and maybe a little drizzle. The section out to Rice Lake, our first turn around, was about the same.
Then Russell from the movie Up, was sugared-up and unleashed in weather control booth. Burst of hail, followed by warm sun, then cold wind, clouds again, then sun, then hail, rain, sun, warm, cold, wind, hail, wind, sun, hail, wind. You get the idea.
We'd warm up, think we could finally shed a jacket or shirt, then we'd get hit with the hail and rain again. Unfortunately, my hat was in the first bag drop, which we passed after nine miles. Fortunately, Dennis had an extra hat in the bag drop at mile 37. So I only had to spend about 15 miles saying "damn, I wish I had a hat". In all my planning, I forgot to consider how a hat would be a lovely device for deflecting stinging hail away from my face.
With two out and back sections, we get to see the other runners twice. It was nice to see familiar local ultra running veterans: Christine Crawford, Julie Treder, Kathy Rytman, John Rodee, Tom and Loraine Bunk. Aid station volunteers are friendly and helpful, and have the tough job of standing out there for hours. Tom Held of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was working the aid station at Horseriders. That was a pleasant surprise. We also saw Dave O'Brien and Husband Bill taking pictures at several road crossings.
Dennis and I finished in about 11 and a half hours. Neighbor Jim was just a few minutes behind. It was a tough day. 50 miles is much tougher than a 35 mile training run. We were greeted at the finish by Neighbor Michele (Jim's wife), Husband Bill, and our teenage son Danny! That was the best early mother's day present ever!
Oh yeah, falls. We all fell once. Dennis tripped over nothing, fairly early, when its still easy to get up. I tripped pretty late, on rocks or roots, and for a brief second considered staying there on the ground, as laying on a bed of rocks and roots was arguably more comfortable than running at that point. NJ reported falling very late, shortly after saying to himself "I got this, I just need to stay upright".
And I nearly fell off a cliff. Those familiar with the course - just after Little Prairie Road crossing headed to Horseriders - ya know that ridge, wide enough for one shoe, and steep drop offs on both sides. Yeah, I was futsing with something - possibly a Succeed caplet, I wasn't paying attention, and was a little stumbly from fatigue. Lost my balance a bit, and had to do that arm thing where it looks like you are trying to fly.
So, what did we learn today? The weather can always throw you something new, falling earlier is better than later, keep more hats in drop bags, and take your Succeed caplet before you get to the top of a ridge.