Photo from Mount Royal, Frisco, Colorado.

"That is happiness; to be disolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." - Willa Cather

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Glacial Trail 50 Mile

I have these vivid memories of running ultras 5 or 6 years ago, where I would see the lead woman (Helen Lavin (now Scotch) at Voyageur, Meghan Hicks at Chippewa come to mind) returning on an out and back course and thinking to myself how extremely easy the race looked for them. They appeared so poised, beautiful, radiant, as if an ultramarathon were an effortless, yet fully satisfying walk in the park. ("One day I will get there!" I assured myself triumphantly!)

Fast forward to two days ago. I'm running the Glacial Trail 50 Miler and see Michael Borst after the turnaround, leading for the men, making it look absolutely easy. I didn’t know, but he had run the first 25 miles is 3:06 (edit:it was actually 3:15). On that course, that either means you are insane (and you will go down) or insanely good (luckily for him it was the latter). He was named second place young ultrarunner of the year last year, so it was honestly quite an honor to watch him in action (Did I get that right? I’m pretty sure I read that in Ultrarunner Magazine’s Year in Review. And wasn’t Jake Hegge, also of La Crosse, fourth?).

Back to the race... After the 25 mile turnaround, I was the lead woman. And let me tell you… I WAS SUFFERING! Everything hurt. I had only slept two hours because of stomach problems that kept me awake (I kept thinking that all of my headstands caused me to get extra air in my colon--- you know, the very logical things that cross your head as you are half asleep). During the race, the thought of pretty much any food nauseated me, so I once again survived on soda and potatoes (honestly, that was the plan anyway) and my right hip was bothering me. I thought, if there is any woman close to me after I turn at 25 miles, I am going to drop. Then, four minutes after I had turned around, there was the next woman. Too close for comfort, but suddenly, I looked in my bag of tricks and I gave her the biggest, warmest, most confident smile I have ever conjured and she… looked like she was suffering. BAG OF TRICKS, folks.

But let's rewind to the start of the race.

I have gotten slightly smarter about this stuff. Or rather, my life revolves even more fully around ultras. I have a suitcase packed and ready to go at all times with all of my essential ultra running gear. It sits there in my closet.

What I wasn't prepared for was a cold race. Local forecast predicted 37 F in Greenbush at race start (6AM) so I cut up a pair of my mom's unmatched socks (I got permission)
I didn't actually use these because I found thinner ones, but this shows you what I did (highly complex art form, I know)
SR got up with me at 3:40 AM to drive to Greenbush. His race started an hour later, but he acted chipper and was encouraging as always.
The sock-sleeves added just the warmth I needed and were super easy to take off and slip into my backpack (much better than a long-sleeved shirt!)
Note the headlamp as well. It is a Petzl Nao. If you want credibility, walk into any trail outfitter store and ask for a Petzl Nao. When I asked for one at Trail Fitters in Duluth, SR had never seen anyone take me so seriously -ever. This headlamp creates so much light that when the sun actually is up, you will be longing to put your headlamp back on-- no joke. It's that good. SO good that I had two guys following me (very closely) just to suck off my light. This is one way you can attract men if you are single. Also, they can't see you (good for me since I more often than not have chocolate/mud all over my face), they can only see you are fast at running in the dark. I should add that it is also super light and you hardly notice you are wearing it. No, Petzl doesn't sponsor me (trust me, you would know); I just know I would like to know about it if I were looking for a headlamp for running!

As the sun came up, the woods illuminated and it was magical. There is no time or place on earth like the Northern Kettle Morrain in mid-October. It is stunningly beautiful with the hills, fallen leaves, million and one fall colors and sparkling sunlight falling in an ever-changing way, creating shadows and illuminations that will remind you how alive you are and how fantastic this life is.

Here is the route from my Garmin:

The Glacial Trail 50Mi/50k is run on the Northern Kettle Moraine Ice Age Trail. The Ice Age Trail Ultra is run on the southern Terminal Moraine and Chippewa is run on the more northern Terminal Moraine. These three Wisconsin ultras on the Ice Age Trail can be confusing, but you can't go wrong! They are all fantastic!

Back to the race...
I was caught up in it and let myself run fast with two new friends, nice men I never exchanged names with. One got ahead, one fell behind, but we had shared that magical morning.

I made it to the 50k turn-around (25k- I live to help the mathematically challenged ;o)) in 2:23. This was under Cassie Scallon's course record pace (in brief, too fast). Her course record was not a tenable goal. My goals were the following:

1. 50 mile PR (below 8:49)
2. Beat the second fastest female time on the course (Christine Crawford's 8:58) (edit: Christine's was the 4th fastest female time)
3. Win

I made it to the 25 mile turnaround in 4 hours flat. Things were looking ok, but I felt, well "dicey" seems like the right word. If a person can be described as dicey, that is exactly what I was.

You wouldn't think that getting lost would help matters. I did indeed get lost, and lost maybe 2-3 minutes, but this happening sure upped my adrenaline and suddenly I was flying again. It was just the pick-me-up I needed.

There is a section on the course, were you go through a large, open prairie over long grass with big hills and it is just a killer. It seems easy, but I was wiped after I ran it and downed all of my fluid (1.3 L to be exact: 2 500 mL soft bottles in front and one reserve 300mL soft in back). Just as I ran out of fluid, I ran over a road where SR had parked to meet me! He let me know he had won the 50k in an awesome 3:56!! If you look at these pictures, though, I am NOT happy. I am telling him I am out of fluid and 3 miles to the next aid station. He documented my suffering (there are so many reasons I love him). And he said he'd grab me a drink out of the car. Well, before you get your undies in a bundle, I refused the drink. I know you can't accept outside help in any athletic event, so why would I be an exception? (SR seemed quite amazed by my refusal)

Here I am refusing to accept the extra fluid from SR. I recall this as a major low in the race.
But low points are only temporary.
 I did survive (no one dies of dehydration in one day let alone a half an hour) to the aid station and filled up my soft bottles with half soda half sports drink. 

By the way the mud was from a fall when I was reaching to give a fellow runner a high five. You have to pay attention at every second during this race--- there are rocks and roots everywhere!

Ok, seven miles to go. I wonder how far behind the next woman is! I look at my Garmin, calculating the pace. I may not run a PR if I keep going the same pace or slower.
2 miles later, a blond, kind-hearted guy pops out from behind a tree and tells me the 2nd place woman is only 3 minutes behind me and looks strong. (this guy was SR of course). "No way!" I had not expected that, but I started to run like my life depended on it and I was doing sub 9 minute miles again. What a huge advantage to have SR there as my spy!

2 miles later, SR is back!! He reports the second place woman is now 5 minutes behind. I am figuring this must be Sarah Willis (Edit: turns out Sarah Willis was in 3rd and it was Wendy Lilly who was gaining on me, who recently took 2nd at the North Face Endurance Challenge in Madison). I had seen her name on the entrant list and knew she had been in the elite field at Run Rabbit Run and beat Jennifer Benna.

SR took the time to snap some pictures. It is hard to get an idea of how absolutely lovely the route was, but these pictures are a fairly nice representation.

At this point, with just two miles to go, I was pretty confident I had the win and the PR.
The last half mile is on asphalt through the town of Greenbush and the finish was actually really exciting. SR made it back to snap some pictures and I was immediately greeted by Rob Wehner, the outstanding race director and a good friend, who SR and I got to know well during Three Days of Syllamo. What an honor to win his classic, beautiful, challenging Glacial Trail race.

And for SR to win the 50k the same day. It felt like a fairy tale and we have lived in a happy bubble the last 48 hours. And the whole time we raced, the boys were happy and safe with my parents.

Yes, SLG, you can be happy now.
11 minute PR. (and look, I'm running at 1:25 min/mile: your typical shake out run while snapping photo)
A huge congrats to Michael Borst, who set a new course record in the 50 miler of 6:40, besting Jarrow Wahman's previous CR of 7:11 (gosh, Jarrow has been mentioned a lot on this blog over the last month!)

I have to say a huge thank you to all of the smiling, humorous, life-loving, supportive volunteers who spent their Sundays making this race possible.

There are A LOT of elements that come together to make running 50 miles on the Ice Age Trail possible: the volunteers, my parents, my husband, Rob Wehner, my coach Ole (who has helped me get stronger and stay uninjured!), the awesome support I get from Salomon Denmark AND you guys. Isn't it amazing the inspiration we can derive from other bloggers and runners?

And in summary: it hurt, it hurt just as badly as my first 50 miler and I had crises and they were bad. I guess even when you take first, these things don't go away. But this IS part of the fun. The uncharted territory of running ultramarthons in challenging terrain- as fast as you can. Pushing to your limits, learning how to keep improving, racing smarter, staying confident. I feel like I'm improving and gradually expanding my boundaries. It is an awesome feeling. The things I have learned from Ole have made me consider pursuing coaching myself. There really is a fascinating science to improvement and it is fun to see results.

Speaking of results, it has also been marvelous watching my mom's progress as a painter. SR and I are basically offering to pay my mom all the money we have saved to buy this painting she did of Christian and Mattias at Park Point beach in Duluth. She has really been focusing on the techniques involved in painting light. Oh, I just love it! She's not selling it, though.

It is fun to come home from a race with goodies and prizes, too. I love all of this stuff; I treasure it. I am not a lover of things, but these things I love, because I worked so hard to earn them.

One final thought. I was just reading some guidelines about what to post on Facebook. It basically revolved around never brag and only write things that are interesting. I was thinking that if my friends never "bragged" about the things they were doing, the joy in their lives, their achievements, their happiness, Facebook, the blogging world and the world in general would just be a lot less interesting; so much of the color and wonder would disappear. I LOVE reading about peoples' achievements. I guess I just want to say --- take pride in what you do! Love what you do and tell people about it and the world really will be a better place. Or that's what I think :o).

I really regret that I didn't get any pictures of SR (especially considering he took such an incredible number of pictures of me!). I felt pretty terrible at the finish again, but didn't faint. I got something to eat and drink right away and put my feet up. Disaster averted. But SR had an awesome race, a lot of fun and no cramping. He started out slowly and gradually took the lead. I don't want to give too much away. I'm sure he'll be on that story soon.

I didn't listen to any music while racing, but I'll be back with more songs in a few days. 


Arnold Brame said...

Wow!!! I like your post. Were you sure about 3:40 AM to drive to Greenbush. Really interesting.

Health And Safety Consultant Peterborough

Julie said...

Can I just say, I love your race reports! Especially this one - YOU WON!! Congratulations! Someday I hope to be that lady in the lead that has people thinking, "how does she do it?" That trail looks so beautiful. Again, congratulations. It's been fun to watch your progression over the years via your blog as you went through pregnancy and then getting faster. (and faster and faster)
I agree about Facebook. Love reading about friends happy moments and triumphs in life.

Jacqueline said...

Awesome, awesome job out there. You make it seem so easy -- but I'm grateful you share your low points, so the rest of us know that's normal -- and that it passes. Congrats on a great race.

Olga King said...

That bag of tricks is something huh? Good thing you remembered! Proud of you sticking to the rules too. And yes, while I despise FB often because it seems everyone has flawless life when mine is f&*ed up, it is totally great to share in accomplishments. We just need both, may be, good, ugly, and exciting?

Karen said...

Nice job! I loved your long and funny race report. The trail looks incredible too. I miss fall colors!

I like your take on Facebook posts. If you want to brag about things, that's cool, it is more entertaining than the friends that just whine about how crappy their life is.

Jill Homer said...

I appreciate opportunities to read joyful writing about positive achievements as well. Congratulations and great report.

sea legs girl said...

Arnold- very sure about 3:40... why?

Julie, Thank you so much for reading along and being so supportive all these years! It definitely makes blogging more fun. THere is no reason you can't be that "lady in the lead"--- GO FOR IT.

Jacqueline, no it is not easy, but it sure is fun to push yourself to the limit. Your first ultra must be coming up soon!!??

Olga, I agree, I like it when people are real (and especially when they are happy). Flawless=fake and depressed :-(.

Karen- are there no fall colors there?! Time for a trip back to the midwest!

Jill- thank you.

Robyn said...

Wow, congratulations! And the trail looks incredible! I hope Wild Duluth is that pretty on Saturday.

sea legs girl said...

Robyn, it is gorgeous here right now! I will be marking the trails with Andy tomorrow, so I'll let you know how it looks :o). Hopefully I will get to meet you. Which distance are you doing? I am not sure what my volunteer activity will involve on Saturday, but maybe some function after the race. Good luck & have fun!

ShariH said...

What an incredible day for you! I love reading about your running. Congratulations!

Joy Schneiter said...

Thanks for sharing!! Read every word. As I recover from delivering kiddo #3, it's great stuff like this that makes me more psyched than ever to go PR at an ultra distance or two. Thanks again!

Anonymous said...

Tracy, I had to break it to you, but I don't think Arnold is real:)

Congratulations on the PR and the win! That is such a great course to have a good run on, too. I've never done the race but I used to do training runs there when we lived in WI, and I know exactly what prairie you're talking about. Ouch indeed.


Jan Mathes said...

Fantastic run, congratulation with your PR, looking forward to see when you break another of your records and thanks for the beautiful pictures

sea legs girl said...

Joy, You've got the talent and the heart, now get out there and set some PR's. The kids will be thrilled for you!

Alicia, regarding the existence of Arnold: while I agree that his primary purpose in commenting was to bring attention to his Health and Safety company, writing such an odd detail does speak to the fact that thre is indeed a human behind the "Arnold" facade. Man? Woman? First name Arnold? ... I don't know, but human for sure.

kelly said...

It looks like a beautiful race and congrats for the win! Awesome job pushing yourself!

sea legs girl said...

Thanks, Kelly! You would love it; very different from the West Coast. All ultra runners really should give WI/MN a try :o). Especially in the fall. You are very welcome any time!