Even though I visited the course a few weeks before race day and completed a 9+ mile loop comfortably, I had to really suck it up for this race! Hills, humidity, even a little heat made for a challenging half. The volunteer staff, along with the camaraderie of the other runners and overall laid-back vibe, made this one race that I will be sure to keep on my annual calendar.
The start / finish was located at the park shelter and picnic area at the trailhead, and trusty companion Zak and I had no problems finding a parking spot. We checked in at the shelter to pick up my race number, and when I showed my driver’s license the volunteer said “ya know, you don’t need to show me your ID. I trust ya!” She gave me my race bib, and tech shirt. The typical samples and coupons one would typically find inside of a race goody bag were simply left out on tables, so that each person could help themselves to whatever they wanted. I grabbed a bunch of Sports Authority coupons and some Zombie Runner pens.
Zak and I were lucky enough to catch the start of the 50k race. We were amused that there wasn’t any great fanfare, not even a starting gun sounded to begin the race. It made sense though, as we were at the edge of a pristine forest. The 50k runners seemed relaxed and happy to begin the race, many wearing huge smiles as they went through the starting chute.
After wishing the 50k’ers well, we headed back to my car for hydrating, caffeinating and stretching. I was pretty nervous to begin the race, but also excited. Soon it was time to head back to the starting area!
When it came time to start, the race director asked everyone to walk 25 yards or so past the starting line, and then on his mark we simply began the race. The first mile was pretty flat, and crowded. After 1.5 miles or so, the crowd thinned out. Since I’m on the slower end of the spectrum, I had a few runners as company, but they mostly kept to themselves. I didn’t bring my mp3 player, so I enjoyed listening to the birds, insects, and wind blowing through the trees.
There was nothing significant about the first half of the race – the miles passed by quickly and the course was absolutely stunning. Most people walked the steep hills. The aid stations (two) were stocked with Heed and water, and had snacks intended for those running the ultra distances. The volunteers were friendly and helpful with refilling my water bottle.
Coming through the first loop and passing the start area was great. I high-fived Zak and gave him my long-sleeved zip-up, stripping down to a tank top. The second loop of the course proved to be more challenging – my legs were tired, and I found myself wishing I had focused more on strength training and core exercises as I felt fatigued all over. The most thrilling part of this second loop was encountering more and more 50k’ers, as well as a few 50 milers. It was great to catch my friend Alice on the trail, who ended up finishing first in her age group for the 50k. I greeted most people that I met on the trail, and they passed along words of encouragement as well.
Some notable encounters included a woman who was running her first 50k, who slowed to walk with me on a particularly sunny section of the prairie. She was about 19 miles in, but looked like she had just stepped off a page of the Atheta catalogue. She had the cutest running outfit on! Another person I met on the trail was the winner of the 50k, who on his first loop sprinted past me, and on his second paused to say “Ciao” as he again passed. I noticed that he had massive salt stains on his shorts – I’ve never seen a saltier runner! It was cool to see what one of the physical results were of someone running so hard. The last interesting person I met was an Irish lady, also running the 50k. I was within the last two miles of my half marathon course when she met me on an uphill. I was stunned by her unique accent and reinvigorated by her cheerful attitude. She gave me just enough encouragement to pick it up and sprint to the finish.
The last quarter mile of the race was great – at the finish, an announcer greeted each person passing through and the spectator support was awesome. After I ran through the chute, I shook hands with the race director Jeff, and was presented with my finisher’s medal – on a keychain! How cool.
The post-race barbecue was excellent – lots of hot food options. I loaded up with vegetarian lasagna, a veggie burger, potato salad, pasta salad, chips and (of course) a beer. Zak ate more than half of the food, which was fine with me.
Overall, I’d give this race two thumbs up – it was a great introduction to the trail running / ultra community, and I couldn’t have asked for a more organized, yet laid back race. Kudos to you, Ice Age Trail 50!
The race also showed me that I have a lot more work to do, fitness-wise, before I should even think of registering for the Glacial Trail 50k this fall. I need to get stronger off the trail, and put in a lot more mileage, before I will have the confidence and strength to take on that distance. More on that to follow…