August 19th, 2019
2002 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile
Saturday May 18th, 2002
UltraTails - 2002 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile Run
Ice Age Trail 50 Mile Run – Saturday, May 11, 2002 – LaGrange, Wisconsin
It was a glorious high lazy cloud agreeable Wisconsin day. Too bad it was wasted on packet pick-up. Too bad tomorrow’s race conditions could not mimic this day. I got to the packet pick-up barn near 8:00 p.m. as the proceedings were winding down.
There were the usual suspects… Setnes legends, Kris and Kevin working the UltraFit booth. Race directors John and Holly and kids checking in participants while packing and loading boxes of supplies. So many faces that I’ve seen each time at this event; some of those featured in the 60 page “year book” that John and Holly compile and distribute every spring.
My “ultra-ego”, Michael Davenport and his wife Kris arrived and we headed to the barn restaurant for dinner and strategy talk. Michael and I ran our first ultra at the 1996 Ice Age Trail 50 and finished within minutes of each other. We didn’t meet until 2000 but since then have run Western States 100 and Vermont 100 and multiple Kettle Moraine events together. He was set for a sub 7:30 while I was aiming for under 8:00. Based upon our spring training and recent races we were ready for these PR’s. Short of getting our times we were determined to finish so that we would stay on schedule to earn our 10th belt buckle in 2005. Only death, prison, or serious injury (e.g. sudden lose of limb) would keep us from “graduating” together.
Race day dawned with heavy skies, temperatures in the mid-40s, and the promise of rain by noon. As always the 50 mile event began at 6:00 a.m. with a 12-hour time limit. New for this year, the start was moved from a half-mile section of road to all trail -and- the post race barbeque was to feature grilled rainbow trout along with typical Wisconsin delicacies. Maybe that’s why it seemed to me that the pack started off like school kids getting out for summer. Michael and I set off conservatively through two miles together before he went on his mission. I maintained my steady pace and watched him move past some of those quick starters.
If you’ve never experienced the Ice Age Trial of Kettle Moraine picture a single-track that carves through forests of pine and oak with hills that have the sharp turns and volatility of recent stock market performance. And, as in the market, it’s the downs that hurt me the most. It helps if you have well-conditioned quadriceps and goat-like confidence to race down those hills placing your footfalls between the rocks, roots and loose gravel spots. Chicago is only 90 miles away but offers no comparable training terrain. The Ice Age Trail also has stretches of rolling grass meadow and flatter areas where you can get a rhythm going.
My long time handler/pacer and new bride, Michelle could not make this year’s race to crew for me. I tried to fool myself that it wouldn’t matter while packing my drop bags on race night eve. At 26.5 miles I retrieved an energy bar from a drop bag and noted my pace was right-on at 4:05. A volunteer told me that I was in 24th place. I topped off my bottle and skipped over some scat that was dead center on the trail. It looked human (!) but I didn’t hang around for advanced testing. Half mile later I tried to nibble on my energy bar… it was rock-hard. I attempted the other side, but again it was like biting a brick. I tossed those 250 precious calories into the woods and ran on.
Around 29 miles I caught up with race director Holly. I’m always amazed at how well she runs (which I see every year) after all that she does to make this race happen (which I can only imagine). Turns out this year she strained her back while performing race director duties and was advised not to start. But there she was, hammering away on the trail.
I came in checkpoint 30.8 feeling good with my fastest split ever of 4:47. Happily my legs felt strong and ready to get that 8 hour coveted mark. A banana and full bottle of Succeed sports drink powered me off. Running the next two meadows and over the carpet of pine needles in the following forest was ultra bliss. My party came to a swift end, however when the rain started.
For me that happened approaching the 33.2 mile aid station. The rain didn’t take long to penetrate whatever protection the forest had to offer. It was also cold and distracted me from getting more calories at that station. Entering the station at 37.2 miles I was pushing hard on the inside but slowing and shivering on the outside. My hand was loosing grip on my water bottle, which I surely would have lost, if not for the sticky Succeed residue. It was noon, 40 degrees and raining steadily. I was only slightly slower than planned but all that mattered was finding my drop bag. That took over four minutes with the help of two aid station volunteers. Once found one helped me cut three holes into the drop bag for an instant cinch-sack poncho. I should’ve eaten more (again) but instead jettisoned my water bottle and left the station trying to generate and capture some heat.
Heading out to the far north turnaround point I saw Michael on his way back. There he was running in a singlet, soaked but running well. Seeing him like that made me feel even colder. Then the gritty Tom Bunk ran by me. Later Tom told me how he only had two 20 mile build up runs for this years race. I was being passed frequently at this point and recognized that I was way behind in food intake. At the far checkpoint station I asked for soup or anything temperate but wound up settling for a pretzel rod. Slamming three cups of cola gave me a false sense of warmth in the back of my throat.
The last 9.7 miles were a slow shuffling blur of rain, wind, mud and the struggle to keep moving forward while maintaining verticality. My internal dimmer switch was dialed all the way down. However, every time checked I had not sustained “sudden lose of limb” so no way was I going to drop out. When the finish line finally came (at 9:03) I was grateful to get my 7th buckle. Then it was right to the car for engine warmth and dry clothes. I dozed off for an hour then woke to call Michelle and give her the race update. We agreed that next year she will crew -and- I will get under 8 hours.
Wobbling into the post race barbeque at 5:30 p.m. I was saddened (but not surprised) to find the grilled rainbow trout was all gone. Settling for a brat and beer is not considered a consolation in Wisconsin and it all tasted great while sharing stories of the days events with the congregation. Even under the days extreme weather conditions there were some remarkable performances in both the 50 mile and 50 km events. Thanks to all responsible for this fabulous annual event, the helpful volunteers, and the glacier that gouged out this trail so many thousands of years ago.
...copyright 2002, Bill Thom
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