Up Route 12, 90 miles northwest of Chicago lies the tangled, rolling course for the Ice Age Trail 50. For the past 22 years they've run this race, sometimes as host for the USA National 50 mile trail championships. Some of the country's best ultra runners live nearby and consider this their home course. Others travel in from states far away such as Arizona, Georgia, Florida and New Mexico. Most consider this a springtime ritual.
Of course there are new faces at the starting line every year. Brian Connelly and Eddie Dettling are members of Run Chicago, the group that (wife) Michelle and I train with. Brian became amused after hearing some of my ultratails and registered for the Ice Age 50K early in the year. He and Eddie talked it over, decided that the 50K wouldn't be enough, and then switched to the 50-mile race.
Ultra friend Michael Davenport and I were going for our eighth 50-mile belt buckle. We're both enroute to the Western States 100 that takes place later in June. This year Michael is attempting the ultra grand slam. His summer schedule looks like this… Western States 100, Vermont 100, Leadville 100, Wasatch 100.
The Ice Age 50 Mile race started at 6:00am in pleasant weather conditions; 50 degrees and overcast. Michael and I got out quick but comfortable. I was surprised to find Eddie in our pack around 4 miles. He's never run beyond a marathon -but- it turns out he has run a lot of marathons -and- has competed in IronMan triathlons with a pr of 10:02. Fast Eddie and I finished the first 9.5 miles together in 74 minutes (my fastest split ever for that loop).
I pulled back for a safer pace, making sure to force down power gels every 45 minutes, and happily met Michelle at aid stations. She made sure to replenish my supply of calories. As I made my way down to the south turnaround (around my 21st mile) Michael was already heading back (the 23rd mile of his race). He was in the 2nd pack of runners, which didn't startle me. What did was Eddie, trailing that pack by only a couple of minutes… "Go get 'em, Eddie".
I circled the lake at the south turnaround and made my way back north. It's fun as you get to see others heading the opposite direction. I took attendance… Brian was looking fresh. WS veteran Lisa Stranc and ultraman Rob Apple were enjoying the trail. Lisa's husband, David Bliss was not far behind. Beverly Schulz had flown in from Tucson, AZ and was running strong. Last time she attempted Ice Age she broke her arm in a fall around 30 miles, gutted it out to the finish only to have her heart broken as she came in over 12 hours, denied an official finish and belt buckle. Bev's husband Carl threatened divorce if she ever attempted Ice Age again.
My race had gone well through the 26.5-mile station. I'd stuck to my plan of eating as much as I could get down. Somewhere around 29 miles some suddenly came back up, though, forcing me to slow for about half a mile. I met up with Michelle at the 30.8-mile station for calming cokes and succeed salt tablets. My watch read 4:53 and it was easy to calculate that my pre-race goal of sub-8 hours was slipping.
Checking again at the 40.3-mile north turnaround my watch showed 6:39. Could I cover the last 9.7 miles under 81 minutes? Sure… if the last 9.7 miles were run on the flat trails of Chicago. But this is the Ice Age Trail and I knew it would take all I had to get back in 99 minutes… for a pr. So that became my in-race goal, sub-8:18. I went hard all the way back, stopped eating, ran up every hill, pushed recklessly on the down hills, and paused only long enough to exchange pleasantries with Michelle at two aid stations. At 47.4 she saw how I was running and estimated my finishing time, but didn't tell me. I pumped it up to 8:16 pace for the last 1.6 miles and came in 8:14:22, just as Michelle had computed, and a new pr by 3:40.
By then 23 runners had already completed the 50 mile race and the day had turned terrific for spectating… ~70 degrees and sunny. Michelle spread a blanket by the finish line and we watched the runners come in with Eddie and Michael & Kris Davenport. Michael finished in 8:05:43 for 21st place. If they had a rookie of the year award, Eddie would have won it. He raced his first Ice Age 50 in 7:44:26, for 12 place o/a and 3rd place in his age group. First timer teammate Brian ran an impressive 9:22:22 for 62nd place and claims he will run again. Beverly ran strong too, and got herself a pr of 11:04:36 for 2nd in her age group (don't tell Carl).
There was a great run for 1st place where Steve Szydlik edged out Stuart Kolb by 3 minutes in 6:29:18. Wisconsin's own UltraRunning Magazine's "Ultra Runner of the Year", Ann Heaslett came in 7:35:04 out-dualing strong challenges from Carolyn Smith, Ragan Petrie, and Donna Perkins.
Want to see more? There were some outstanding individual and team performances and you can view results from all of the Ice Age Trail races at the official Ice Age Trail 50 website: www.iceagetrail50.com.