May 19, 2012

Ice Age Trail 50 - All Aboard

Well it has been a long time since my last race in March.  In my quest to get competitive ultramarathon experience this, I decided that the Ice Age 50 would be my best chance at qualifying for the Western States 100.  I took two days off work to head to Milwaukee, Wisconsin for the Ice Age 50.  The initial four hour drive took me along the Eastern border of Glacier National Park.

With Lisa just starting a new job, there was no way we were driving to Wisconsin.  Instead I chose a form of transportation that I have never taken - the train.  My trip started when I caught the Amtrak in Shelby, Montana.  

My initial thought was that the train would be so much faster because it travels a straight line and doesn't have to stop for sleep, intersections, traffic, gas, food or bathrooms.  Somehow it takes 18 hours for the train to go from Shelby, MT to Milwaukee, WI.

I heard the familiar whistle of the Amtrak train and hopped on curious to see what train life is all about. 

The train was pretty empty in the backwoods of Montana.  My experience on the Greyhound in major cities told me that this would soon change.

We picked up several oil workers in North Dakota.  The Montana newspapers have been buzzing about a new oil discovery in North Dakota.  Workers are flocking to North Dakota via the Amtrak and creating temporary cities while the oil is flowing.  It made for some interesting conversations.


The scenery was beautiful as we made our way slowly through the prairies and grasslands of North Dakota and into Minnesota.   

Eventually we made our way to the Mississippi River.  Amazingly the train ran on the banks of the river.  It looked like the train could tip into the river at any time.  Beautiful.

On there train there are two options for food - neither optimal.  Amtrak has a restaurant car that takes reservations and serves normal restaurant food at 5 star prices.  I avoided paying $30 for a meal and the awkwardness of eating dinner alone on a train with fancy table clothes and waiters.  Instead I headed to the food cart on the observation car.  The options were not healthy but were quick and less expensive. 

After a restless night of Canadian fire fighters drinking, singing and constantly yelling "Eh", I was ready to get off the train.  Around 2 pm we arrived in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Dave and Andrea were waiting for me outside the Amtrak station.  We stopped for dinner at a brew pub and then headed toward the hotel.  I took a quick 30 min run down some residential street, did some strides and form drills and headed to bed early.  We would be waking up at 4 am the next morning - probably a record for Dave!  

At 5 am we rolled into the Kettle Moraine State Forest parking lot where the race starts.

I put on my bib number and stretched nervously knowing that my summer of racing would depend on my performance today at the Ice Age 50.  

Dave and Andrea would be my lifeline for this race.  Their ability to get to the aid stations and keep me fueled and hydrated would be critical to my race performance.   At 5 am they both must of have been wondering "why the hell I am out here".

The course starts off with a eight mile loop that is mostly grassy hills.  The first six miles were easy until Tim Olson and Zac Bitter made a strong move right before the aid station.

I knew that this course was going to be brutal on the legs with all the constant ups and down and the Midwest heat.  I swallowed my pride and let them go while promising myself that I would see them again.

I was running high six minute pace and tried to stay relaxed.  When we hit the first turn around I was in 4th place.  Zac looked strong, Tim looked like he was struggling and Michael Owen was charging. Right around the halfway point (25 miles) I hit a bad spell.  Mike and I caught Tim and were trading 2nd place back and forth.  Around 30 miles I started feeling better and made a big push forward.  Since the first turn around I was told Zac was 1-2 minutes in front of us but looking good.  About 3/4 of a mile from the second turn around (40 miles) I saw Zac coming towards me.  I ran out of water about 2 miles before the turn around aid station which forced me to spend 4-5 minutes at the aid station.  My goal of winning was over but the point of coming to this race was qualifying for WS100.  I had the benefit of passing the field on my way back towards the finish.  Mike looked exhausted but Michael Arnstein was looking smooth.  I pushed on the last 10 miles knowing it was my race to lose. I threw everything I had into those last 10 miles and was moving pretty well.  Unfortunately my hamstring was not enjoying the hot weather and reminded me with two bad cramps.  Nothing worse than sitting on the side of the trail unable to run knowing full well that the field was gunning for you. I hobbled and skipped down the trail until my hamstring loosened up and then take off again.  This repeated a couple time on my way to the finish.  

Passing the 50k and marathon runners made it difficult to determine who was behind me.   Is that guy behind me in my race?  

Finally, the finish came out of nowhere and I was done.  No more worrying about my hamstring or being caught.  My time of 6:14 was the 4th fastest ever and a 1 hour and 45 minute personal best for 50 miles.  Congratulations to Zac who ran  a strong race and will head to WS 100 with me in June.  Without all the elevation gain and loss of mountain ultras, I felt pretty good after.  No soreness or blisters or black and blue toe nails.  Maybe my body is getting used to 50 milers now.

Dave, Andrea and I relax a little before driving back to the Amtrak stations.

Ultra races love their belt buckles.

The 18 hour train ride back to Montana was long and painful but better than driving!  The four hour drive home was beautiful as I skirted along the borders of  Glacier National Park,  the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the Rattlesnake Wilderness.  

I made it back home to Missoula just as the sun was setting over the mountains.  It feels good to be back home after a long trip of many miles.  After a couple days of active rest, I will finish my downhill training before WS100.

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Originally from Strongsville, OH, I spent 8 years in Raleigh, North Carolina and have since recently moved to Missoula, MT. I have been a runner all my life and have recently started pursuing ultra marathons. Any excuse to be outside and on the trails.