My Ice Age 50M Race Recap
This year I turned 40!! Which meant I needed to tackle something epic – a 50 mile race!!!
I knew I wanted the Ice Age 50 mile to be my “first” because I did the 50 km up there last year and it was incredible! The race is so well organized, I loved the course (close to home but felt worlds away), and seriously has the best volunteers!
I set a calendar reminder for 12pm-noon on December 10th, 2017, to register (the 50 mile is one of the oldest, continuously run ultras in the U.S., and sells out QUICK). And then boom – it was happening – I was registered for my first 50 mile!!!! I was “SCITED” (scared and excited) to quote my friend and fellow coach Denise Sauriol!! Let the training begin…
Training for the Ice Age 50M Race
Before I started training, I researched a ton of 50M training plans, and ended up falling in love with Krissy Moehl’s book – Running Your First Ultra (thanks to the rec from my trail running buddy Charlotte). My training officially started Dec 1st, 2017, and would cover 24 weeks til race day! My training consisted of 4 days a week of running and 2 days of strength. You can follow my training on Strava.
-Monday miles were usually around my marathon pace or under, a pace quicker than my long run pace, but not tempo pace
-Wednesday miles were either Speed Workout or Hill Workout
-Friday miles were my Long Run days out on the trails (starting at 10 miles and working up to 28 miles)
-Saturday miles were my *Sandwich Run days typically on the 606, or Lakefront Path (starting at 6 miles and working up to 15 miles)
*sandwich runs or back-to-back long runs are designed to get used to running on tired legs to mimic the fatigue you’ll experience on race day.
Race Day Prep
The Day Before:
The entire drive up it rained, hard. By the time we got up to Packet Pick Up, it was in the 30’s and had turned into a wintery mix. At Pack Pick-up they display all the previous belt buckles, all the records, and years with special stories. My nerves were high, but it was inspiring to see all the history.
My Race Gear:
Edge Tech Trucker Hat
What I Packed:
In my hydration vest, I had the following:
-bladder filled w/ Skratch (lemon/lime flavor) (https://www.skratchlabs.com)
-phone in a Ziploc bag
-iPod & headphones (to bust out as needed)
-Becca’s Bites (choco cherry & lemon coconut) (Becca - my trail running buddy and crew on race day – her energy bites are all I use!)
-SaltStick caps (http://saltstick.com/product/saltstick-caps/)
-travel size Trail Toes (seriously the best anti-chafe, anti-blister, anti-you name it balm)
-emergency meds (Advil, Imodium, Gas Ex, Tums, Ginger Chews)
-toilet paper, baby wipes
-eye drops, extra set of contacts)
-emergency first-aid mini kit (band-aids, pre-cut moleskin, anti-biotic ointment, alcohol pads)
-ziploc for trash
In my drop bags I had extra of everything I carried in my vest plus:
-other snacks (saltines, ginger ale, Justin’s almond butter, Nuttzo2go, Enduro Tap)
My crew consisted of my amazing friend Becca who gave up HER Saturday to crew me (and hang with Gwen while Bill raced the Half Marathon – Becca was a lifesaver, I felt super lucky to have her there, she ran this 50 as her first last year) and my fam – Bill & Gwen.
I also had a crew bag that contained:
-refills/extras of everything I carried in my vest
-other snacks (saltines, ginger ale, Justin’s almond butter, Nuttzo2go, Enduro Tap)
-extra t-shirt, shorts, compression sleeves, socks, shoes, wash clothes, rain jacket
-back up phone charger
-first aid kit
-sunscreen, bug spray
-duct tape, scissors
The night before the race, I laid out my race gear, and got my breakfast prepped.
I laid there trying to fall asleep, heart racing, and an overwhelming nauseous feeling in my stomach.
Race Day Morning
My alarm went off at 4am 😳
My plan was to run the runnable, hike the uphills, and cautiously run/hike the downhills.
For nutrition, the plan was eat 1 energy bite and take 1-2 salt caps EVERY 45 mins, and stick to it! And plan to eat what sounds good when starting to crave real food (there is nothing better than a gooey PB&J and a Ginger Ale!).
At 5am I met Daniel (this amazing fellow runner from South Dakota who was nice enough to drive me to the start) in the lobby. It was cold out and raining. We packed up his car and started the 20 minute drive to the Start area. I was humbled by his kindness. Long story short, I didn’t have a way from the hotel to the start. The race director posted on the Race Facebook page for me, and Daniel was nice enough to respond and offer to give me a ride. He wasn’t racing for a few hours, and still agreed to wake up earlier and head over to the start early with me. It was so nice chatting, it helped ease my nerves. I thanked him profusely and he summed up why I love the ultra/trail running community, he’s like “no problem, it’s what trail runners do!”
Ice Age 50M Course
The 50 mile race begins in the Start/Finish area at the Nordic Trailhead in the Kettle Moraine Forest. The terrain consists of mostly single track dirt, rocky and tree rooted trail that runs through pinewoods, hardwood forests, and rolling prairie lands, a little bit of everything.
Once I got to the start, my nerves eased away. The energy was electric!!! I forgot how much I love that feeling!!!
The 50 mile course is marked with yellow ground flags and can be broken into three basic sections:
Section 1 is the Nordic Trail Loop to Confusion Corner (about 10.7 miles down, only 39.3 to go!). You run a clockwise loop and pass through the Start/Finish area again around Mile 9. Then, you continue in a clockwise direction to AS 3 again (1.6 miles) and cross Bluff road running up the horse trails for .5 miles until you reach Confusion Corner. The Nordic trails are very wide, scenic and very “runnable” (mostly grass with only a few rocky or tree root covered areas) but still quite “hilly” especially coming from Chicago.
This loop was familiar, I had run this loop twice during the 50 km last year, so it was nice to start on a section I was comfortable with! I was well stocked with my hydration vest, so I settled into a pace, and didn’t need to stop at any of the first aid stations (AS). We rounded the corner back to the Start/Finish area and I stopped quickly at my crew backpack and dropped my gloves and picked up arm warmers and extra socks (just in case) so I’d have them for the rest of the day.
Onto the Ice Age Trail single track!!!
Section 2 is an out-and-back from Confusion Corner to Rice Lake (AS 7/Mile 21.7) (this stretch is about 22 miles total, Miles 11-33). Once you take the hard hair pin left at Confusion Corner, you are on the Ice Age Trail. The trail is marked with yellow rectangular blazes on the trees. The course is single track from now on until you return to Confusion Corner.
This was trail was all new to me (exciting!).
This section had a little of everything: constantly changing scenery, trail direction, elevation and grade along with the types of trees and ground cover – it’s beautiful!! I had to catch myself several times not getting lost in looking around too much and keep my eyes on the road!
The trail had rocks and roots on steep climbs and descents as well as stretches through pine forested areas, meadows, and wetlands.
I found myself running with a couple of guys, Todd and Gus, that were from around Chicago too, they had done their first 50 at Ice Age the year before, so it was fun to hear their experience last year to this year. This is what I absolutely love about trail racing …the camaraderie…it’s so fun to meet new people, hear their stories, and learn about them and their backgrounds. Since this was an out and back, we were starting to see some of the leaders cross paths with us on the single track – everyone exchanging “good job” “nice effort” “keep it up”. It is really heartwarming to see everyone cheering each other on!
I hit the Highway 12 station, which was also the second drop bag location (AS 5). I refilled my pack with the help of an amazing volunteer, grabbed more bites and was on my way.
The stretch to the Rice Lake turnaround was full of twists and turns on gorgeous single track trail, lots of steep climbs (which meant a lot of power hiking).
I was super excited because I would get to see my crew (Becca & Gwen) for the first time of the day at Rice Lake (AS 7/Mile 21.7)(the first turnaround and Southern end of the course).
As soon as I got to the station, Gwen asked, “Mom, I see Oreo’s over there, can I have one?” I laughed, it wasn’t “hey Mom, how are you? Great job!”, it was all about the Oreo’s.” 😂
I hooked Gwen up with an Oreo and some Gummy Bears, and hooked myself up with a PB&J and some Ginger Ale! (it’s funny how they always taste the best during a race)!! And I was back on my way to Confusion Corner.
I got to see Becca & Gwen a couple times over the next few miles. It was always so nice to know I’d see familiar faces. Becca was amazing – whenever I reached a station they were at, she asked me what I needed, and was a huge help.
I was nervously waiting to “hit the wall” (either physically or mentally or BOTH), but come 25 miles in I continued to feel strong as I reached the halfway point! I snapped a selfie and sent it to my mom so she knew I was ok and still smiling!!
When I hit 30.2 miles in (AS 4), I got to see Bill for the first time of the day and gave him a big hug 😘(he ran the half marathon that am). I decided to ditch my jacket and change into a fresh t-shirt for the rest of the race.
Section 3 is out-and-back from Confusion Corner to Emma Carlin Trailhead (AS 10/Mile 40.2) (and into the finish on the Nordic Trail, 33 some miles down, 17 to go!).
I had run part of this section before in the 50 km last year, so it was familiar (for better or worse).
The terrain in this section is very similar to the previous section, except with more intense climbs. You actually hit the highest point on the course, the views are spectacular!!! I stopped to take it all in and snap a picture!
I was excited to get to a road crossing where I’d run into an old cross country and track teammate who was a road marshall helping runners cross. It was so nice to see Kendra!
I was happy and surprised but still felt great at Mile 35 (the farthest I had ever run), I snapped a pic and sent it to Robyn, and she FaceTimed me and I got to say hi to Kelsea and the rest of my Edge crew…it was great to hear from them all and gave me a boost of energy!
I was on my way to Horserider’s Camp (AS 9), there was a lot of power hiking, being cautious on the downhills, and I tried to run any “flats”…which were few and far between!
I ended up running with a fellow racer Andy through most of this stretch, he was a seasoned runner, had done 15+ Ice Age 50’s, Leadville 50 and 100, so we had a LOT to talk about (mostly me asking him questions about all his past races – he was an ultra God – a seasoned veteran)… miles ”quickly” passed as we chatted!
I hit Horserider’s Camp, which was our third drop bag location, I refilled my Skratch, grabbed the rest of my bites and salt tabs, grabbed a PB&J and some Mountain Dew (I know crazy right, but it sounded like a good idea) and turned around! I was feeling great, in a very good spot mentally and physically, and I knew I’d see my crew again at Mile 40!
As I was running back, something seemed a little off, but I didn’t really put too much into that and kept plowing forward! I hit a road crossing where the volunteers were yelling “you only have 5 miles and some change to go!!!” I looked at my watch and it read 37 some miles and …no way this was right. I stopped and asked the man I had been running with what mileage he showed, and he was wearing an old school Timex Ironman watch, so didn’t have any mileage data. I was in full blown panic mode…My heart was racing…I knew I had messed up somewhere…
The volunteers, a couple with a dog, and another man all asked if I had hit the reallymuddy section yet? I said NO. They asked did you hit the last aid station which is like a party??? Again..NO…..
FUUUUUUUUUCK….. I turned around too early. I immediately called Bill and said “I f*cked up and have to back track.” I could hear through the phone the background was loud with music and people cheering. He talked to Becca and I could hear her say – “you have to go all the way to Emma Carlin”.
My adrenaline at this point was bubbling over…I turned around and proceeded to back track. I actually got back to Horserider’s in good time (this would end up killing me down the road but I didn’t know that yet). At each aid station they check in your bib number, as I went through I yelled “I was already here I accidentally turned around…I’ll be back!” And onward I trekked to Emma Carlin!! I had texts from Bill, Becca, and Shawna – “Go lady, keep your head up!! You can now brag you ran 55 miles 😂😘”. I needed the extra boost of confidence.
It seemed to take me forever to get from Horserider’s to Emma Carlin. I just keep moving forward, my legs were heavy but I couldn’t wait to see my crew.
I could tell I was getting close because I could hear the music in the distance. I made my way over a hilly stretch and could hear Bill yelling “GO KATIE!”
I finally got there and was like “F*CK” (Becca luckily got a photo of me mid-F bomb 😂).
(Ahhhh the Northern end of the course and REAL turnaround.)
My crew was great…I got a round of hugs…and pep talks…Becca’s like grab some PB&J, I’ll fill up your vest, Bill was like this is training for Leadville, and I don’t remember but I’m sure G asked for another Oreo 😋. Before I left, they did warn me that they heard heavy rain was heading in the area in 2 hours. I was like I have single digits left (9 miles and some change), I got this. Before I left, Becca looked me in the eyes and was like “F*ck ya! You got this girl!! We’ll see you at the Finish!”.
For a while I was on a high from seeing my crew, but then clouds started rolling in, the sky got grey, I was worried the rain would be arriving sooner than expected. My high was fading, my legs were heavy, and my quads and knees were now feeling my “mistake”.
The terrain was unforgiving. I was “running” the runnable stretches the best I could, and was power hiking all the uphills, but the downhills were painful.
I made my way back through Horserider’s for the last time! I was excited to yell to the volunteers that I was back on track.
At some point my watch crapped out, so from here on out I was going old school, no watch, no pace, no mileage. Aid Stations were my only guide to how many miles I had left to go!
I finally made my way back to the road crossing where I realized my mistake! The volunteers greeted me with a big hug and were like “you’re back!” The volunteers and others that were cheering yelled, “you got this, about 5 miles to go!!”
It was only 5 miles but it felt like I was making slow progress. Each step now was painful.
Luckily I started to run along with another woman Tricia, we were both starting to feel the effects of already running 40+ miles, and being on our feet for over 9 hours. We chatted about ourselves and our families and it thankfully helped the steps pass by a little quicker.
By now I was through the single track portion and back to the Nordic Trail, I knew that meant I was getting close to the promise land - the FINISH!! I had about 2.5 miles left to go.
I was determined, and tried to find a “3rd wind” 😛. I was giving it everything I had left, everything hurt, but I kept pushing. I started to re-live all those hard training runs, the runs in below freezing temps, in snow, in rain, on tired legs, on days where I didn’t know how, but I had found a 2ndwind. I rounded a bend and spectators were yelling "you are getting close"!
I saw the red Saucony signs that line the finish area. I WAS CLOSE!! I started getting teary-eyed. All the emotions, all the hard work, I was here, I was F*CKING here!!!
I spotted Bill and Gwen and was immediately smiling ear to ear. I grabbed Gwen’s hand and headed for the Finish chute. And boom…..I am a 50 miler.
And a proud owner of my first belt buckle (don’t mind I’m holding it upside down in the picture).
Final Thoughts and Take Aways
I am so happy I chose the Ice Age 50 mile race as my first 50. The race director and all the volunteers are seriously the best. I didn’t have a “perfect” training season, there were times I felt strong and times where I struggled. I doubted myself. I was nervous. I was scared. But crossing that finish line felt magical!!!
I was lucky to have many training runs with good trail friends and lucky to have advice from some friends who are ultra veterans. And lucky to have an amazing team behind me...thank you!
What I learned – I stronger than I think (mentally and physically). I can pee in the woods and not pee on my leg. I would entertain doing a 100 mile one day! And how incredibly lucky I am to be ABLE to do this!! SO DAMN LUCKY!
Some special thanks…
My husband who loves me and supports all my crazy beautiful dreams.
My daughter who I think has caught the “trail race bug” due to the amazing spread at aid stations.
My trail running friend and crew and energy bite maker Becca, for giving up her Saturday to help me achieve this dream (not only on race day but all the pre-race advice).
My Edge “family” (esp. Robyn, Shawna, Miana, Becca, and Alex, for all their advice and pep talks) – I feel so lucky to have found a home and a community that supports and pushes me to always keep dreaming and taking on new challenges. And to Becca and Alex for keeping me company on many a training run.
Dr. Ryan Verchota – for not only making sure I’m physically ready, but for keeping me mentally strong as well.
Mobile Health & Wellness – for the best sports massage around.
Cara Lindell owner of Kinetic Konnections – for resetting me and keeping me balanced.
Kim Victorine - so glad our paths crossed, for relaxing acupuncture, amazing Chinese balms, and moxa!
And to my amazing new friend Daniel Z, and fellow Ice Age racer, who woke up earlier than he needed to just to give me a lift to the Start. (gotta love the spirit of trail races!)
To all the amazing people I ran with – you are all inspiring, I loved hearing your stories! Can’t wait for next year!
And HOLY CRAP!!! Ultra Running magazine published my race recap - check it out here!