First off, Ice Age is a great race. It was my first 50k and ultra in 2013 and since then, I’ve been back twice. I ran the 50-miler in 2015 in preparation for Burning River 100 and again in 2018 as an “A” race. The trails themselves make this an awesome race, but the race director (Jeff Mallach), the volunteers, and post-race party bring it to another level. It’s really like a big party with all your trail friends.
The course is essentially a loop, and then two out-and-backs, meaning you get to see lots of people throughout. I really like this aspect – you get to cheer on friends and see the top runners (which is also helpful if you’re watching placement). And not to mention seeing friendly faces can be really helpful if you’re in a low spot. The course is deceptively hard, I think. Not a lot of long climbs or descents, just CONSTANT up and downs.
I had a pretty solid training cycle, kind of piggy backing on my Chuckanut 50k training. I was feeling pretty good and excited to see what my legs could do. I was hoping to PR (8:43) but really wanted to break 8:30. I thought maybe if I was having a really, really good day I could break 8:15 but thought that might be a long shot so didn’t want to get my heart set on that and then be disappointed.
It rained a whole bunch leading up to the race so the trails were a little soft with some muddy/slippery sections but overall in pretty great condition. The weather was perfect – 50s and overcast.
Ross (boyfriend) and my mom and dad were my crew, as they have been for several races. (THANKS!)
Race start – mile 9
The first loop is on the Nordic trails and is pretty runnable. My plan was to run a bit quicker than my overall planned pace to take advantage and bank some time. I mostly hit 9:00s or a little quicker. I felt pretty good and ended up running with a guy I met at Chuckanut (in Washington state!) named Russell. I also ran a bit with my friend Jeff, who I met at Ice Age three years ago, and his friend Tom. We chit-chatted and the miles went by fairly quick. As I was heading to the mile 9 aid station, someone told me I was in third place. Hmm.. ok. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to know that or not but I tried to put that in the back of my head and keep running my race.
I saw my parents at the mile 9 aid station and grabbed new water bottles and gels. I was trying really hard to take very little time at aid stations and think I was pretty successful.
The photos below show a hilarious exchange when my dad couldn’t find my gels in his huge pockets. The looks on our faces crack. me. up. Thanks to my mom for capturing this special moment between a father and daughter.
Mile 9 (start/finish area) – 17 (Hwy 12)
We had a few more miles of fairly flat running so kept the quicker pace going. After a few miles, we crossed Highway H and hit the Ice Age trail and some nice single track. I was ahead of a few guys and listened to their convo for a bit and eventually jumped in. One of the guys, Bill, had run this race several times. He knew the course well and let me know what was up ahead (even though I’ve run this race and Kettle Moraine 100 which is on a lot of the same trails, my memory sucks so the preview was helpful). We eventually caught up with Jeff and Tom, and the five of us ran together until the mile 17 aid station. They were a lot of fun and I was really enjoying myself. One funny tidbit – Bill apparently has a thing for number palindromes and he mentioned how his bib number was a palindrome (212) and I realized mine was, too – 424, double his bib number. Bill was pretty psyched about that and we all thought it was a little freaky and hopefully a good sign for the day.
We opened up a bit when we were running flatter trails by Lake La Grange. Bill said the aid station wasn’t much further.
Mile 17 (Hwy 12) – 26 (Hwy 12)
We rolled into the aid station at Hwy 12. This is the same location for an aid station at Kettle Moraine 100, except it’s mile 75 and 85. I was looking forward to running these trails on much fresher legs! I knew it was a bit more technical than the rest of the trail.
I left and unfortunately, lost the fellas. It was four miles to Rice Lake and then four miles back. This is the first opportunity you get to see the folks in front of you coming back toward the start/finish. I was curious to see how far back I was from first and second female.
The trails were pretty rocky but they were much better than the last time I was running them at Kettle! I eventually saw first female and she was looking very strong and way ahead. Second female was a bit behind, but also looking strong. I also saw a few guys from Iowa City (Jasper and Mark) and they were looking good. I got to the Rice Lake aid station and just turned right back around. Heading back out, I’d also get to see close fourth place was to me.
It didn’t take long to see not one woman, but a string of them! It was super awesome to see but also made me a little nervous (in a good way, like a keep your butt moving kind of way). I had a blast seeing other runners on the way back to the aid station. This is why I love out-and-back races – the good vibes are endless. I knew several people running so I always knew there was another friendly face on the way (shoutout to Tanya, Michele, and the QC-TURD(s) group!).
While climbing up a hill, I heard cars and knew I was getting closer to the aid station. I got to the top and saw the parking lot. Woop! I had a bit of a downhill and then saw my crew again. I picked up what I needed (and FINALLY remembered to give them my gloves I had shoved in my waistband since mile three) and skidaddled.
Mile 26 (Hwy 12) – 40 (Emma Carlin)
I typically have a low moment right around the halfway point and sure enough, I started to get a little negative. The usual thoughts went through my head, mostly “my legs are getting tired and I’m only half way done” type of musings. I also grabbed my headphones at the last aid station and tried to zone out to the music. Sometimes the right tunes can really put a pep in my step. Usually it takes about five miles to get out of the funk but not this time. I started feeling really slow and thinking I was fading. I kept seeing my overall pace creep up higher than I wanted it to.
But then something magical happened. I came to an aid station and it said I was at mile 33. My watch wasn’t even at 32 yet. Hooray! This meant that I wasn’t going as slow as I thought AND I was on mile closer to the mile 40 aid station, where I would get to see my crew and begin the home stretch to the finish. I made a mental note to stop focusing so much on the damn watch. Running by effort is a lot smarter anyways and watches are unreliable. Not to mention, the dumb watch was the reason I was in a low spot to begin with.
Either way, I felt a lot better. As I got closer to the Emma Carlin aid station at mile 40, I started seeing the fast folks. Soon, I saw first female and she had made her way up to sixth place overall. Woohoo! I was pretty pumped for her and added to my new found joyful attitude. I saw my IC pals. Jasper was looking good. I saw Mark a little later and he told me his race was over and he’d be taking it easy on the way back.
I was getting closer and closer to the aid station (which still felt like it took forever to get to) and all of the sudden, a woman BOUNDED past me. Literally, just floated on by looking fresh as a daisy. I felt no sense of competitiveness, just “well, there goes third place.” It was a bit demoralizing. I got to the aid station and tried to be quick. I think I got out less than a minute after third place but knew there was just no way I’d catch up if she kept that pace up.
Mile 40 – 50
Eventually, I saw fifth place heading toward Emma Carlin and felt like I had a decent amount of cushion and there was a little voice in my head saying, “you could prooobably just take it pretty easy in, if you waaaanted.” But then I got pretty annoyed with myself. just because I lost the podium doesn’t mean I should stop racing the clock. I still had goals I set out to accomplish that had nothing to do with placement. (And even though this didn’t happen, you never know what is happening in front of you and you might have a chance to pass someone.) I decided to try and run the last 10 miles as well as I could. And you know what? I started feeling a ton better.
My coach, Matt Flaherty, had sent a text the day before that had said (among other things) “be tough” and as simple as that sounds, just thinking of that concept was really helpful. Anytime I felt like I was phoning it in, I’d challenge myself to run stronger. I’d ask myself, “Can I run stronger?” The answer was always yes. I wasn’t hurting, I was just tired. There was no reason to lallygag. I ran every hill the last 10 miles except for the super steep ones and felt like I continued to run with purpose.
In that last ten miles, I saw lots of friends and they kept my spirits high. There was a group of runners from the Quad Cities that were all running together and it was so much fun to see them throughout the day.
I eventually got to an aid station and thought the sign said the finish was 3.5 miles out. Crap. I thought we were less than 3, maybe around 2.5. I had accidentally stopped my watch at mile 40 and it was off by over a mile to begin with, so I didn’t really know for sure how much longer to the finish. I was pretty disappointed to see I was still 3.5 miles out because that meant I was going to be REALLY close to breaking 8:30, like it might not happen if I didn’t really move. And I wasn’t sure if I COULD really move at mile 47. I ran right through the aid station and saw Mark right after. He started running with me and I asked him if hew know how much farther to the finish. He said 1.9 miles. WHAT?! Really!? I must’ve read the sign wrong! Yay! That really boosted my mood. Mark and I ran together the last few miles, which were pretty darn flat through tall, lovely pine trees. Looking back, I’m kind of mad at myself for not running stronger on that section. It was definitely doable.
Mark told me stories of past times he’d run this race and that helped the time go by pretty quick. We soon hit the trail that leads you back to the start/finish and we pushed up the hills. Not much farther. I soon saw a red Saucony flag and knew we were VERY close. And then the most beautiful sound of all – finish line cheering and the voice of the finish line announcer.
We both crossed the finish line in 8:20:36. For as disappointed as I got during the race, I was pretty darn happy with my finish. I found out that third place female finished in 8:05 (!!!) putting FIFTEEN MINUTES between us in the last ten miles. What a strong performance. First and second female had awesome races, too – 7:29 and 8:00.
I know at one point I was only a few minutes behind second place female so this tells me either I faded quite a bit or these gals finished really, really strong – or a bit of both. Either way, I essentially did what I wanted to do so I am pretty happy with how everything turned out. I was also able to meet first and third place females after the race and they were both super awesome and gracious (and fast!!).
I’ve said it countless times and I’ll say it again: thanks to my parents and Ross for spending a day on the trails feeding me sugar and keeping my spirits high. This sport would be so much harder without this crew.
I want to reiterate how much I love this race. There is a reason it sells out crazy fast! Thank you to everyone who makes Ice Age the great race that it is – the race director, runners, and of course, the volunteers. I’ll be back!