On Saturday, May 13th, I ran the 2017 Ice Age 50 Mile Race. I cannot believe that it actually happened and is over! I had been training for months leading up to the race, and it was the most amazing running experience I’ve had so far.
Training for Ice Age 50 Mile Race
I began training in January for the race. At first, I felt lost, but quickly developed my own training plan, based on research and input from friends who had either run ultras before or who were coaches themselves. My training consisted of 6 days a week of running, 1 day of yoga and 2 days of strength. My weekends were mostly back-to-back long runs with as many runs on trails as possible. You can see my training here or on Strava.
Race Day Prep
I was allowed three drop bags for Ice Age: one for the start/finish area (mile 9), one for Highway 12 (miles 17 & 26.2), and one for Horseriders Camp (miles 37 & 43). In the morning, there were tarps for us to place the bags on and volunteers transported them to the designated areas.
I chose to only pack two drop bags for the later parts of the race. For fuel, I put some sweet potato cookies, crackers with almond butter, extra cherry bites, some dried mango slices, a Huma gel packet, and baggies of Nuun performance. I wasn’t exactly sure what I would need, so I just put a little of everything that I had trained with.
Other things I included were extra socks, a buff, a towel, chapstick, gum, mints, sunscreen, some vaseline/body glide and bandaids. I separated everything into Ziploc baggies for easy access.
My parents and little brother were my crew. They had a cooler and another bag full of foods similar to what I had in my drop bags. I also gave them a foam roller, extra pair of shoes, a hat and sunglasses. My mom (former nurse) made a first aid bag that she carried around on her back. At first I was worried because they were all new to the ultra world, but they were a fantastic crew!
Ice Age 50 Mile Course
The Ice Age 50 Mile course is broken into three sections. The terrain is mostly single track dirt paths, all rockier than what I trained on in Chicago. There are parts of flat open prairie, pinewood and hardwoods, with constantly rolling hills and some pretty steep climbs. The entire 50 mile course is marked with yellow flags, and there are volunteers at any possible confusion areas.
Race Day Morning
We stayed in a hotel in Fort Atkinson before the race, about 25 minutes from the start. I woke up and used their mini kitchen area in the lobby to have my pre-race meal: avocado and peanut butter toast with mangos and strawberries, plus glass of black tea.
We arrived at the start around 5:45am for the 6am start time. It was packed with runners and crew- there were about 250 participants in the 50 mile race. I got my drop bags to the tarps, took a pre-race selfie with my parents, and lined up at the start!
The first section of the Ice Age 50 Mile race is the Nordic Trail loop to Confusion Corner, about 11 miles long. This section is very runnable, with wide horse trails and few tree roots or rocks. The trail is mostly grass. It’s surprisingly hilly though; I felt like I was on a roller coaster!
This loop was “crowded.” I say that in quotes because compared to marathons it was deserted, but compared to the rest of the race it was busy and I actually talked with some people. I made sure to walk most of the hills, but I definitely went out too fast. The first of many lessons from the day.
The next section is an out-and-back from Confusion Corner to Rice Lake, about 22 miles total. “Confusion Corner” is where two trails (The Nordic and Ice Age) intersect. There were 3 volunteers there with flags directing runners to make a 180 degree turn onto the Ice Age Trail. The trail turned into single track, with lots of roots and rocks. Almost immediately, the crowd thinned out, and quickly I was alone. I plodded my way through to Aid Station 4 where I said hi to my parents. I had been drinking a lot of my Nuun Performance and eating some cherry bites so I didn’t stop to get food here. Definitely should have. Another lesson from the day.
Not much else happened in this section except more running alone between the aid stations. At station 5, Lydia and Shawna surprised me! I was SO excited to see them, as you can tell from the picture below:
Since this part was an out-and-back, the lead runners ran by as I was still on my way to Aid Station 7. That gave me motivation, just like during the Mag Mile Half Marathon, and I counted my place among the female runners. 8th place at the moment, not too bad! At Aid Station 7, I was greeted with another surprise visitor, Jess! She had driven in all the way from Milwaukee to see me for a total of 5 minutes. I was so touched and still am!
Then more running alone. More peanut butter sandwiches and cherry bites. More Nuun Performance and water because it was hot. On my way back towards Confusion Corner, I was stopped for a long time trying to cross Bluff Road.
Miles 24-33 were pretty rough. I reached Aid Station 6 again (24.4 miles) and started to feel drained of energy. My pace slowed even more. It didn’t help that I had to pull over on the trail and find a place to go to the bathroom. Not too easy to do when the trees are skinny and far apart! When I made it back to Confusion Corner, the volunteers told me to drink some Coke at the next aid station (#8, 33.1 miles into the race). I did and holy cow it was magical hippie unicorn potion! I felt better IMMEDIATELY and was ready for the final section of the race.
The final section of the Ice Age 50 was another out-and-back from Confusion Corner to Emma Carlin to the finish. There are 3 aid stations. The terrain is similar to the previous part, however in this section, runners experience the highest climb of the course and the views are breath-taking. Well, I can say that now that I’m not actually running it now. When I was faced with getting to the top of this guy, I felt otherwise:
At the turnaround point, mile 40, my friends Annabelle and Cindy were there to cheer. The heat was worse at that point. Annabelle got this great shot of my brother feeding me watermelon and my mom dousing water on my head.
By now, I was pretty low on energy and did a lot of walking. My crew was going to meet me at the finish line, but I ended up texting them and asking them to come to the 48.5 mile. I needed the motivation if I wanted to keep my place (now 6th woman). It made me so happy to get this response:
After hugs at that final stop, I headed for the finish line. A few small hills later and I saw it appear out of the trees. I sprinted towards it (probably more like an uncoordinated sloppy trot) and crossed with a huge smile on my face. I DID IT!
I ended up finishing in 9:26:10, was 6th female overall and 1st in my age group! When my mom saw that they give out belt buckles at the end of ultras she said, “Well no wonder they do, after running 50 miles you need something to hold your pants up!” Love her.
I am so happy I chose to run the Ice Age 50 mile race. Part of me still can’t believe it’s over. My goal was to finish the race and earn my buckle. For months I put in the work. I had many incredible good training days and plenty of bad ones, fears of injury, peace of mind in the trails, struggles with my eating disorder, laughs and miles with new trail running friends, worry about if I was doing it right… the training had as many ups and downs as the actual race! But it was worth it. I feel like a whole new person!
Has anyone else had a training cycle or race experience that profoundly changed them? Anyone thinking of entering the ultra world?