"There's only one hard and fast rule in running: sometimes you have to run one hard and fast."

Monday, May 11, 2009

2009 Ice Age 50 Mile Race Report

"I love reading your blog. Now I know why people slow down to look at car wrecks." - Anonymous reader of this blog at the Chippewa race

It's impossible to describe this year's race without thinking back to last year's, when I went out way too hard (sub 8 minutes/mile for first 13 miles) and paid for it with dead quads and a long death march to the end. [2008 report] This year, recovering not from winning a 50K, but from finishing two 50K's and my first 100 Mile in less than a month, I planned to go out much slower and, though fully expecting to trudge to the finish line, to start the trudge as late as possible.

I didn't sleep well the night before driving down to the race and got maybe an hour's sleep the night before the race. [Note to self: for Kettle Moraine, drive down in the morning, nap in the afternoon.] It was cool, rainy and very windy and decisions had to be made about what to wear; Bill Pomerenke quipped "The orange shirt or the green one?" as I brought almost nothing to the race and the others in the cabin (Matt Patten, Jim Wilson and Bryan Erickson) were taking extraordinary - to me - precautions against chafing. No compression shorts, lubricant or taping for me; just put on the clothes (the yellow shirt over the grey, Bill) and go.

I skipped breakfast, except for a cup of coffee. Even that required comment, as Matt pointed out how much coffee I drank the year before. As it happens, I got a caffeine withdrawal headache during the race which was cured by drinking Coke. I also got hungry about 2 hours into the race, which was a bad sign; I like to eat 4 hours before a race and thus hate 6 AM races like this (perhaps this is why I do better in shorter races in April and October).

I stood at the start between Deb Vomhof and Kathleen Rytman, both veterans of the race and favorites among the locals; I'd run part of last year's race with Kathy, but she didn't remember me. I'd decided to wear my jacket for the first 9 mile loop, as the rain felt cold and I thought it'd help keep me from going too fast.

The race can be divided into 5 ten-mile sections. There's a loop, then an out-and-back 10 miles each way, then a second out-and-back 10 miles each way. In last year's report, I mentioned that I had no idea what the names of any of it were; I now blame Matt for that, as he calls Highway Z "Emma Carlin," Horseman's Park "Palmyra," (Someone-or-other's) Mountain "Ball Bluff," Young Road "Maragaritaville" - actually, that one's pretty common - the first out-and-back to Rice Lake "Whitewater" and I don't know what others.

I ran with Matt for the first loop on the Nordic Trail, a non-descript, wide and rolling ski trail. I was wearing my Garmin, partly because I currently have no other working watch, but mostly to check to keep my heart rate low. I was aiming for 135-138 and we were running at a pace that for me was 140-141; fast, but not too bad. We ran a bit with Kevin Grabowski, which was alarming, as I expected a top-ten finish for him, but there were at least 50 people ahead of us, so I felt okay with my start. Matt was looking for sub-9; I was hoping, if two weeks recovery were sufficient, for sub 10 [full disclosure: goal 1 was last year's 10:09, goal 2 was Julie Berg's best here of 9:59]. I always start too fast, so being even with Matt made sense here. We discussed how we thought Wynn Davis would do; we both had some inside info and we agreed that he'd do well if he let someone else lead and not push the pace early.

I was heating up rapidly, so I dropped off my jacket in my (one and only, empty) drop bag at the second aid station. I'd discover about 7 minutes later that I'd accidentally turned off the Garmin in so doing, messing up all the data for the rest of the race. The next few sections were unremarkable; my heart rate was slowly climbing; 142 became 148 by the next aid station, where I intentionally backed off a bit. I fell in with Ken and Steve Plumb. Ken's easy to pick out at races (look for a huge red beard) and we chatted as we approached the one steep hill just before Highway 12.

I had a bit of a sandwich and some Coke here (drank Gatorade most of the day) and headed out to my least favorite part of the course. From aid station 5 to 6, it's just technical enough that, if I don't watch every single step, I'll crash; it's not hard, I just dislike it intensely. From there to the first turnaround at Rice Lake, I was counting the runners on the way back. Zach was in the lead (he'd win in about 6:20), looking like it was easy. Wynn was next, so I felt he was following the plan I'd created in my head for him, and he looked good. The next two - Stuart Kolb was one of them - were close, but there was no one for miles behind them. Kevin was 13th, Matt was 36th, I had myself 56-58, as I lost track. I had slowed badly in this section.

On the way back, I ran with Rytman and Aaron Benike. We leap-frogged the whole way. A guy caught up to me and I recognized him as Jeff Mallach, from his place at Chippewa and race photos, not from having met; I introduced myself as his competition in the masters division of the Fab 5 Fifties race series. I also mentioned that I wanted to take off more clothes, but didn't have a drop bag; he let me use his - how can you get enthused about racing a guy who's making it easy for you?! I had a fall at 27 miles, banging my right funny bone; the whole arm went numb, so I didn't know if I was really hurt or not for about a mile.

I spent forever trying to catch a guy in a green shirt, just so I could say I passed someone in the last half of an ultra. My record's intact - I have never passed anyone in the second half. Nothing remarkable for a long time after this. Slowed from 12 to 14 minute miles through the end of the out-and-back.

The second out-and-back starts up the most memorable hill on the course, where there had been some controlled burns last year, but this year looked like a "scorched earth" policy of a despot. The race needs to be either two weeks earlier or two later, as running for hours through someone's old campfire is not what I call scenic. I had little memory of the course after this from last year, but everything came back as I saw it, from the trees cut nearly through next to the course (and it was windy, so you thought about them) to the giant ant hill (about 5 feet across) to the mud hole just past where the 50K runners turn around in their race (none of them got muddy).

At Horseman's, I died. 7 hours. From there to the end was a continuous slowing (mile 47 took 19 minutes) and I just looked for familiar faces, like Casey Lopez, Jerry Heaps, Doug Thomas. Deb Vomhof, when she saw me called, "That's three changes of clothes!" Yep, I'm all about the fashion. She looked like she was having a good time. There were times when I had to check to see if my survival shuffle was faster or slower than walking. Sometimes I did something halfway in between. I thought hard about this, as in three weeks I'd be doing 100 miles on this course and wanted to know just how slow I'd go. My heart rate continued to drop, reaching 115 by mile 45 and averaging 132 for the race - if I'd started at 135 and maintained, maybe I'd've been alright.

Finished in 10:41:25, 119th of 203 finishers.

Stuck around at the finish line, wearing Matt's extra clothes - I really brought NOTHING - waiting to see if the others trying to run all the Fab 5 races would finish; all were doing their first 50 miler (and their third ultra ever, all in one month)! I'd seen Bill before I got back to Horseman's and thought he'd have a shot at finishing if he didn't end up walking. He made it! As the clock got very close to the 12 hour cut-off, in congratulating Bill, I missed Dan Mattimiro coming in. Today, in looking through results, Jesse Price made it... in 11:59:59!

These guys are something special. That's why we end up loving these races we hate.

There's some photos of me (#5's not bad!) by Bill Flaws of Running in the USA: 1,2,3,4,5,6


Glaven Q. Heisenberg said...

Geez, I hate them too, just from reading about them!

Congrats on a successful race and a great report!

Hey, if that 11:59:59 guy had taken two seconds longer, would they REALLY have given him a DNF?

People have killed over less.

Or so I imagine.

Good job, brother!

Matthew Patten said...

I'll give you a hint....

Horseman's / horseriders is where you hear the horses.

I only call the aid stations what I call them from listening to the locals.

I will make sure to rename all of the stations for the 100.

I will also pack extra clothes for you.


30 hours is not really a generous cut for the 100.

Jean said...

Steve, I don't know how you run those distances week in and week out like that. Amazing job! I hope you can get some recovery and rest in there somewhere. I wish you continued success and good health. Take care!

Kel said...

Great run, especially considering your Gnarly schedule. You little Bandit, you!

Wayne said...

Congrats, Steve!

Do you really plan to run/walk the Superior 50K way back by me?!?!

nwgdc said...

I've been looking forward to this report since Saturday. Despite the struggles, it's a lot of fun to read about them. You're truly amazing!


Helen said...

Yeah do take some time off!!! Although... we'd miss the race reports. Nice job once again.

johnmaas said...

I found humor in the opening quote...
Kind of feel drained just reading about what you've been doing to yourself lately.
Congrats on another ultra finish!
You are doing quite well on the fall count.
Get some much needed rest now.

Karen G said...

Congratulations on your finish.

Beth said...

Congrats on another exciting race and great race report. What an adventure. Sounds like a great group of people, too. Nice job!

SteveQ said...

On further consideation, Justin Youngblom is the only person I've passed in the second half of an ultra.

Gavin/Glaven: Yeah, one second more is a DNF. He made it by chip time, too, not by race clock, so he thought he hadn't.

Wayne, I'm feeling sprightly today. 6:30 may be in the cards Saturday.

Dave said...


I ran Ice Age with my heart rate monitor one year - and had a great finishing time and little slowdown. I actually worked to keep my heart rate below 132 for the first 17 miles or so. Going up the rocky hills toward Rice Lake, I climbed to about 140. It never hit 145 until mile 34-ish on the uphill. It hovered around 150 from about mile 44 through the finish - but at that point; it was just "gut it out". I felt better later in the race than in other efforts that way. I had to hold myself back on the Nordic Loop though - and let my friends go.

So... I agree with your final musing.

brent said...

Nice job Steve...way to hang in and collect another finish!

Londell said...

I am in awe and envy your success and perseverance. But please rest and take care of yourself!

nwgdc said...

I just went through this and read it again. Fantastic writing. Keep running only so long as you keep writing reports.
And I've been told about 100 times to 'lose the HR monitor!'...that it's somehow not 'pure' running if it's on and running.
I say screw that. I am not smart enough to pace myself. I need that little number to make sure I keep myself in check!

Wayne said...

I don't know why exactly, but I like the black hat look. :)

SteveQ said...

Wayne, it's probably that the hat hides the bald spot and keeps the long hair in place - or that you root for the villains in westerns.