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Forum: Ice Age Trail Run
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Topic: 2009 Recap - Running My First 50 Miler
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Posted By: Webmaster Mary Posted: May 11, 2009 Reply
Jul 6, 2009
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Mary and Friends (71 photos)

About 8 years ago, I volunteered to work at an aid station for the Ice Age Trail Run.  I worked at Jeff Weiss' aid station #8 at Young Road for 2 or 3 years in a row.  I loved working at this aid station.  I loved seeing the runners, their crew, chatting with other volunteers, and the Kettle Moraine area.  I never ever dreamed I would one day be visiting Jeff's aid station as a 50 miler participant.
About 2 years ago, I started running with and getting to know a group that calls themselves the Armelian Marathoners.  Its a group of friends that run most Saturdays together, and have about a half dozen social events per year.  I became an "official member" last summer.
A little over a year ago, my running friend Bob (Armelian) tried to talk me into doing the Ice Age 50 miler.  I was signed up for the 50K.  I think my response was "I have absolutely no desire to be out there for 12 hours."  I ended up DNFing the 50K with a knee problem.  But little did he know, that his suggestion planted a seed in my little brain which would lay dormant for about 6 months.
After Lakefront Discovery at the end of October, hanging out with my Armelian Marathoners, the subject of Ice Age came up.  There was a handful of our group planning to do the 50 miler.  I just kept saying, "Let me finish a 50K first."  And the little seed fought me to sprout.
January came around.  I had survived my fall marathon, and finished 2008 without injury.  By the time February came, I had a decent winter running base, and decided I would put the Ice Age 50K on my calendar.  Itching for spring and to get out on the trails, I decided to do the John Dick 50K.  Well, I decided to do 30K of it.  (For those that don't know, John Dick 50K is a 10K loop, and its completely no shame of doing 1 to 4 loops, and calling it a day.)  After 3 loops, I felt really good, so did a fourth.  After 4 loops, still felt really good, so started a fifth.  And poof, just like that, I had completed a 50K.  Hmmmmmm.
Okay, Ice Age 50 Miler, you're on.  By mid February, the number of Armelians planning on doing the 50 miler was down to 3.  Dennis, Jim S, and me.
By the end of March, the Ice Age trail and Nordic ski trails were ready for runners.  Dennis and I decided to train on the trails together.  We spent most of the following Saturdays and a handful of Thursdays on the various trails in the Kettle Moraine Southern Unit: Ice Age Trail, Nordic trails and Scuppernong trails.
The Ice Age 50 mile course begins and ends at the Nordic trails parking log on Highway H between La Grange and Palmyra.  It starts with a 9 mile Nordic ski trail loop.  The trail here is wide enough to run in small groups side by side.  There are rolling hills, meadows, pine forests.  The footing here is very gentle.  After the loop, the course ventures north and connects to the Ice Age trail for 2 out and back legs.  The Ice Age trail is rocky single track, and very technical.  Most sections are single file, and though the scenery is beautiful, your eyes need to be focused on the ground ahead of you to carefully navigate the rocks, roots, ruts and ridges.  It is also very hilly.
The Ice Age trail section is comprised of 2 out-and-back legs.  The first leg heads southwest to Rice Lake, and the second leg goes to the Emma Carlin trails parking lot and back. 
Aid stations are about every 3 to 5 miles, offering water, sports drink, snacks, friendly faces, and encouragement.  There are 2 bag-drops where your gear is taken to a spot on the course, and one at the start/finish/mile 9, allowing you to bring any food, fluids, clothing, eye drops, tylenol, that you will need along the way, over and above what is offered at the aid stations.  The bag drops are both located where they are accessed twice - once on the way out and once on the way back.  This allows us to have about 8 to 11 miles between bag drops.
Running 50 miles takes a fair amount of planning.  Ice Age has a strict 12 hour time limit, and we plan to use most of those 12 hours. 
Weather and nutrition are the biggest issues.  Weather in Wisconsin in May can be anywhere from about 35 degrees with wind and rain, to 80 degrees with sun and humidity.  The weather can also change quite a bit in a 12 hour period.  Running apparel that is comfortable at 6am is not likely to be comfortable at 11am, or 3pm.
Consuming fluids, nutrients and calories during a 50 mile run is the other big issue.  During a 12 hour time period, most humans will eat 2 or 3 full meals totalling about 2000 to 2500 calories.  Running 50 miles demands a lot more energy than a typical work or play day.
Our Ice Age day began at 4:30am, when Dennis arrived at my house.  We packed up our bags for the bag drop.  We figured that 2 of us looking for 1 bag would be better than each of us looking for our own bag.  We packed candy, Gu, HEED, extra shirts, gloves, sun screen, eye drops, and tylenol.
Husband Bill drove us to the start.  We took our gear to the bag drop transport areas.  Saw Don (Armelian) who was volunteering, and Jim S (also running) and his sister who would be crewing for him.  We waited in the shelter, trying to stay warm.  Just before 6am, it was time to head out to the start.
Dennis was very nervous about the 12 hour time limit, I wasn't.  His goal was 11:59:59.  I didn't really have a number in my head, but figured something around 11 hours would be great.
The first 9 miles were cold, windy and rainy.  After the first 9 miles, I put on a dry shirt, and the rain stopped, and temperature-wise, I was comfortable for the rest of the day.
At each bag-drop, we picked up HEED, candy and Gu.  We also grabbed some goodies at the aid stations.  Feeding a tummy that is bouncing around inside a runner is a delicate task.  Too much, too little, wrong combinations, or for no reason at all, things might not stay down.  Too little, and you won't have enough energy to finish.  The idea is to eat a little bit of something every couple miles.  A cookie or 2 at this aid station, a handful of preztels at the next aid station.  We carry the candy and Gu to have between aid stations, and drink a little HEED about every mile.  
Bill was at or near the major aid stations (there are 3, but we go past each of them twice).  We saw him at mile 9, 17, 26, 36, 44.   (Start, Finish and 9 are at the same point.  17 and 26 are the same point, and 36 and 44 are the same point.)  Neighbor Jim (Armelian) was at a minor aid station at mile 24.  That was a total surprise!  It is so cool to see a familiar face at an aid station.  Dennis (who is 5' 5") ran over to Jim (he's probably over 6 feet tall) and jumped up to hug him.  It was very funny.  His feet were off the ground.
Bill went home for a bit between 2 major aid stations to feed the dog, get a shower, and a bite to eat.  We would cover 11 miles during this break.  We saw him again at about mile 36, and Neighbor Jim was there too.  I think NJ was hitting the coffee too hard, he was really pumped!
From about mile 40 to 43 I felt pretty crappy.  I was pretty sure I was going to barf.  I could tell Dennis was feeling really good, and so he completely carried the conversation.  I did manage to tell him I was completely happy doing all the listening for a while. 
After the major aid station, a potty break, and a quarter of an orange, I started feeling better, and my tummy calmed down.  I checked my watch and I told Dennis we had a chance of breaking 11 hours.  He didn't really believe me.  He knew we were on pace, but figured the last few miles would contiune to get exponentially harder, and we'd just keep slowing down more.
Dennis took a hard fall around mile 45.  Hit is face and neck on the ground, and even had dirt in his mustache.  I tried to help him up, offering a hand, but I couldn't pull him up, fortunately, there was a guy right behind, who offered another hand, and we both pulled him up.  Not that he couldn't get up on his own, its just the SOP when someone falls in a trail run.  You give a hand and pull them up.  We stopped a minute or so, and then walked for a bit.  I brushed the dirt off his face and mustache, and in my complete lack of medical training what-so-ever, attempted to assess if he was okay.  I asked him his name, phone number, how many fingers am I holding up I got a funny/smart-ass answer for each question.  So, figured he's just the same as before the fall, so he must be fine.
About mile 46 we climb a big hill to the highest point in Walworth County, Bald Bluff.  There is a gorgeous view up there.  We come down the other side of the hill, arrive at Jeff Weiss' aid station, a spot that brings fond memories of volunteering.  Then climb to what has to be the second highest point in Walworth County.  As we come down that hill, we have less than 2 miles to go.  We still have a very reasonable chance to break 11 hours.  Dennis is getting really excited and giddy, like a little kid in a candy store.
Back on the Nordic Loop after crossing the last road, we have 1.5 miles left.  This is a relatively gentle section of trail.  We are both feeling pretty good, and able to maintain a steady strong pace.  We are comfortably on pace to break 11 hours.  From January to this point in time, we have spent nearly 400 miles and 73 hours together, and for the first time ever, we both stopped talking.  After a few minutes one asked "wanna talk about something?"  "Sure, you got a topic?"  "No"  "Ok".  "Know what? I think we covered everything."  Actually, I think we were both just tired enough, and we simply enjoyed just being there.
Though we know this section of trail pretty well, its still hard to know exactly when the finish comes up.  Its not in sight until the very very very end.  We know its getting close.  We can hear some spectators.  We come around a corner, with maybe a quarter mile left, we are greeted by 4 Armelians: Neighbor Jim, Eco Chuck, Bill J and Louise.  They gave out a huge cheer when they saw us, and I damn near cried.
We continued strong through that last stretch to the finish.  10 hours and 57 minutes.  We were greeted by Spreadsheet, who also ran it, and finished in 9 hours 54 minutes, Gerta (wife of Eco Chuck), Husband Bill, Jan (wife of Dennis) and Alex (youngest son of Dennis).
After a change of clothes, we enjoyed our post-race meal with friends and family,  recapping the day.
I loved every minute of it.  I am especially thankful I had Dennis to share the training and the reward with.  I could not have done it without him.