Ice Age is the race that made me an ultrarunner in 2013 and a race I love to go back to. This was my fourth time back, and third time running the 50-miler. I PR’d last year in 8:20 (you can read that race report here) and was hoping to PR again in 2019. My spring was very busy and left little room for the “extra” stuff that I feel like elevates training (strength, nutrition, sleep). But the training runs were there, I felt like my fitness was in a pretty decent place, and the weather and trail conditions were shaping up to be nearly perfect. Also, I know the course pretty well now and feel like that is such an advantage.
Although I PR’d by nearly 25 minute last year, I didn’t really have a great feeling race. I think I went out too fast and the last ten or so miles were pretty unpleasant, both mentally and physically. I had been in third all day and was passed at mile 40, which was pretty demoralizing. I was hoping to be a bit smarter this year. I made a plan to run by feel and hopefully, if it was in the cards, I’d have another PR at one of my favorite races.
I was super excited to not only run Ice Age again, but go with a bunch of friends. We had five women running Ice Age; some running their first trail race, going for PRs, or running their first ultra. We decided to rent a house and make a weekend out of it. No matter what happened on the trails, I knew it would be a fun weekend with trail sisters.
Ross and my parents were once again going to crew me. They’ve done this enough that I barely have to give them instruction. And Ice Age is a pretty easy race to crew so that’s always helpful.
The 50-milers started at 6:00am and while my trail sisters weren’t there (their races started later), there were still plenty of friends to see, which is one of my favorite things about Ice Age. After a few announcements, we were off!
Start to Hwy 12 (mile 17)
The first 11 miles are pretty gentle and runnable, definitely a lot of rollers but pretty flat compared to the rest of the course. Looking at splits compared to last year, I took the first 11 miles a tish easier than last year. I didn’t necessarily plan that but was just trying to listen to my legs. A few women passed me in this section, including two who I realllllly wanted to run and chat with but knew deep down I should just keep running my pace.
I came through the first loop at the start/finish area and was told I was ninth. I knew there were several women in front of me but didn’t realize there were eight of ’em! At this point last year, I was in third and I tried not to let that fact impact my running. I figured if I had a good day, I’d pass some OR I’d just get beat by a bunch of women who are faster than me (even if I did have a good day). While placing high is nice, it’s also something that I can’t really control most of the time so I try not to let that get to me. Don’t get me wrong – I think I am a competitive person but I usually don’t try to “race” until the second half or last third of the race (and sometimes not at all).
Anyways, after the easy-ish 11 miles and some chatty miles with a few new friends, we entered single track. The last time I ran these trails was in March for a training run and the section seemed really hard. I think the trail was a little soft and muddy and just sucked the energy out of my legs. I also remember it feeling challenging in 2018. But today felt great. I got through the single track and and made my way to some nice runnable trails along a few lakes. I knew it wouldn’t be long before I got to the Hwy 12 aid station. Soon, I heard traffic and popped out to the parking lot and aid station.
I try to be really efficient in aid stations and was in and out pretty quick and on my way to Race Lake.
Hwy 12 (mile 15) to Hwy 12 (mile 26)
The section out to Rice Lake has some technical sections and was fairly uneventful. This is the first out and back section, which is fun because you start seeing the fast folks and you get to see where you are in the line up. I saw a few friends and cheered them on. I was running with a guy who told me he thought I was in fifth, which seemed unlikely considering I hadn’t passed any women unless I did at the aid station and didn’t know it. We started counting and sure enough, by the time we got to the aid station, I was in ninth, but I wasn’t far behind a few.
I ran into the aid station and went right out, noticing I passed at least one lady at the aid station but I must’ve passed two. I was feeling pretty good and knew soon I’d be at the half way point. I was thinking I’d hit the half way point right around four hours, which I did. I started daydreaming of an 8:00 hour finishing time and then quickly realized how unlikely that was, even if I was having a great day since the second half of the race has more climb. It was right around here that I changed the display of my watch so it was only the time rather than pace and splits. I can get pretty negative in my head when I see splits slower than I think they feel (which happened at Ice Age last year) and just decided to nip that in the bud and truly focus on feel. I made my way back to Hwy 12 and the only thing notable was a fairly comical fall.
Hwy 12 (mile 26) to Emma Carlin (mile 40)
I got to Hwy 12 and actually had to wait for traffic for about 20-30 seconds which happens. I rolled into the aid station, grabbed some gels and a swig of coke. I left the aid station just a few seconds behind another woman, Holly, who I wanted to run with early on, and ran with her for a bit. She had to go to the bathroom and we parted ways. I think I was in sixth at this time.
Holy cow, knowing the course was SO helpful. Just being able to mentally prepare for what was ahead and strategize is such an advantage. A few miles later, I caught up the other gal I wanted to run with, Kelly. I ran with her a bit and we talked races. We’re both running Superior 100 this September so it was fun to connect about that. I got ahead at the next aid station, around mile 30. I was feeling pretty strong and motivated. Once I got to mile 35ish, I was feeling so good and my head was in such a good place. At one time, I thought “Wow, I only have about a half marathon left”, which is a total 180 from last year when I was struggling haaard. Volunteers were telling me how strong which was another boost (and could’ve been a big ol’ lie they tell everyone 😉 ).
I felt like I was running pretty strong and was nervous that was going to bite me in the butt the last ten miles but just kept running by feel. As I got closer to mile 40 aid station, my friend Jeff saw me (who ran Ice Age in eight hours on a training run!) and seemed pretty surprised to see me so close to him. As I got closer, I saw two women heading my direction and realized I had closed the gap between us considerably (1 and 2 were waay ahead of me).
Emma Carlin (mile 40) to the finish
I got in and and out quick, determined to catch at least one female. After a few miles, I finally caught sight of fourth. We were in the section of the course that had some pretty decent climbs, which is not my strong suit. She said I looked a lot better than she felt as I passed her. I think me passing her gave her the motivation she needed to kick into gear because on the next climb she passed me right back – and then effin took off!! This was probably mile 45 or so, and my legs were definitely tired. I could still click off decent miles on the downs and flats but those climbs were just killing me and the last ten miles are not flat. I just could not keep up with her. In hindsight, I wish I would’ve tried harder. When she demolished me on the hills, I thought “DAMN, there she goes!” and I wish I would’ve thought “DAMN, maybe I can do that, too!” and tried to hang on. But I didn’t. Maybe next time. I continued on with my race, thinking maybe I’d catch her but I never saw her until the finish line.
By this point, I thought a PR could happen but it still wasn’t inevitable. I was hoping my watch was off by a bit in mileage and I’d get a little cushion but realized that was not going to happen (darn accurate watches!!). The last 1.5 miles are flat until the last little section to the finish line. Last year, I feel like I kinda phoned it in so was prepared to finish as strong as I could. About half mile or so out from the finish, in a wide open prairie section, I caught sight of a blue shirt and realized it was the woman who was in third all day. I turned up my headphones and tried to reel her in. I saw her start to walk a shorter climb and knew if she kept that up, I could catch up. Then I saw her turn around and see me and she took off. I still tried as hard as I could but she beat me by about 30 seconds.
I crossed the finish line in 8:19:43 in fifth place. Last year, I ran 8:20:36. So not even a one minute PR and really isn’t much of anything in the context of 50 miles. I was hoping closer to 8:15. But even though though my time was essentially the same, the way I felt and the way I executed the race was like night and day. I felt strong all day, I stayed positive, and ran my own race. I’m pretty happy with my race this year.
And what made the race even better? Celebrating and supporting my friends. We hung out at the finish line/post race party for a few hours, cheering friends in and celebrating PRs and new race distances. Not to to mention, Ice Age does a great job with their post race party so it’s a place you actually want to stick around after you’re done.
It’s hard to imagine not running this race since it’s been such a big part of my race calendar the past few years. I really do love this race – it’s a super fun reunion with ultra friends and a great introduction for new trail runners to experience what the trail/ultra scene is all about. Huge thanks to the Ice Age RD Jeff Mallach and the volunteers for making the Ice Age experience one of the best.
A few other thank you’s: my coach, Matt Flaherty, who’s helped me become not only a faster runner, but a smarter runner. And of course, THANK YOU to Ross and my parents, sacrificing ANOTHER day to cheer me on and hand me gels.