The John Dick 50K is a casual no frills event. It is run on a 10K course that follows a snowmobile trail in the Kettle Moraine. One manned aid station is at one end of the course, and an unmanned aid station is at the other end.
Runners have the option to run the course 1 to 5 times. Those that do all 5 loops are considered 50K finishers and are listed in the official results. At the manned aid station, runners check in, and tell the volunteers whether they are heading to the finish, or continuing an additional loop of the course.
Training partner Dennis and I signed up for the John Dick a few weeks ago, and have been running on the course once or twice a week since the beginning of January. Each time we went out there, there was new fresh snow that gave us an incrementally more rigorous training run. We thought this would be great preparation for race day.
Keep in mind, it's a trail run, in Wisconsin, in February. We all go into it expecting the worst. Footing can be anything, temperatures can be anything.
Tuesday before the race, southern Wisconsin was hit with a blizzard that dumped 16 inches of new snow, on top of several inches of existing snow.
Dennis and I started the race with the hopes of doing all 5 loops, but would not be upset with doing fewer. We'd play it by ear.
As soon as we got onto the trail, we experienced abusive footing. Though it was groomed and packed for snowmobiles, it was like running in baking soda. It was significantly more challenging than the conditions we found on any training run, one of which I had said was like running through quicksand.
Not only was there absolutely zero traction and no push off, but your feet would not slide out from you in any predictable direction. At least when running through sand, your foot slides out behind you, in a rather smooth motion. But today, our feet would slide out backwards or sideways, and in a very jerky motion. It was like every few steps, someone was shoving you off course from the side. We could get no momentum, no rhythm. Every single step was like this.
As we got to the aid station the first time, we grabbed a couple snacks, made a potty stop, and headed out for our next loop. The cumulative foot traffic did not improve the course. The rugged footing was physically tiring, and mentally frustrating.
As we got to the aid station the second time, the volunteers informed us that half of the field had already called it a day. For some odd reason, this made us feel better.
During that 3rd loop, I really felt like I had had enough. Tired, sore and frustrated, 3 sounded like a very good number to me. At one point, Dennis looked down at his garmin, which reported we had 15.5 miles done, and he said 'Hey, we are half way done.' I told him 'I've got some really good news, I am pretty sure we are a LOT more than half way done.'
We got to the aid station at the end of the 3rd loop, and told the volunteers we were done and heading back to the finish. I went and made a potty stop, and came out, looked at Dennis and said 'You want to do another loop, don't you?' I could just tell. We know each other pretty well. We told the volunteers we'd be doing one more.
Its about a mile from the aid station to the point on the course where you peel off to go to the finish, so I had one mile to decide whether to go to the finish myself, or continue loop 4 with Dennis. I was beat. I was frustrated. I was cranky... er.
I decided that I would rather do another loop with Dennis, than proceed to the finish without him. We trudged through that last loop doing a lot of walking, which was even difficult itself.
According to the race director, Robert Wehner, this year's conditions were the worst conditions they have ever had. The winning time was 40 minutes slower than the previous slowest winning time. The completion rate was the lowest they have ever had. 74 starters, and only 24 finishers. Generally they get a completion rate of 50 to 60%.
I feel no shame in completing 4 out of 5 loops. It took us nearly 8 hours, which is about the same pace as the last 25 miles of the Kettle Moraine 100 miler we did last June. It might have been the worst 25 miles I have ever run, but I still got to spend the day with one of my favorite people.
We plan to do it again next year. Maybe conditions will be even worse.