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 13 May 2014

Ice Age Trail 50 Mile 2014 - Running with the Pixie Ninja, Ian Torrence and other Stars of Ultra Running on the Stomping Grounds of my Youth

 The sport of trail ultra running has been growing by approximately 66% a year and many athletes are concerned this growth could have a negative impact on the sport. This weekend in La Grange, WI, the only changes I saw were positive.

First of all, it was exciting and educational to read irunfar's preview before the race. That gave me a much better sense of just how competitive it would be. With multiple women who had qualified for the Olympic Trials (Larisa Dannis and Kaci Licktieg), Kate Pallardy with a recent 1:17 Half Marathon PR, Gina Lucrezi the NCAA Div 2 National 1500 meter champion (sponsored by Pepsi!), Alisha Damrow with a recent 6:40 50 miler on roads and Maddy Hribar with an 18 hour 100 miler at Pine Creek. It seemed impossible and comedic that Meghan Hicks added my name to the race preview!! These ladies - and others I have failed to mention - are phenomenal runners!

Here we are in our bus-boose with both boys on the long drive from Duluth, MN to Hartland, WI. SR and I of course filled the hours with talk of ultras: drama and strategy and what would the next day bring? I also have a vague memory of going to McDonald's.

For those of you who read Danish, I wrote a little about my preparation for the race on Team Salomon's website.

7 AM race start, I said hello to Ben Trok, Chris Rubesch, Zach Bitter, Roy Pirrung and Ann Heaslett. Great to see so many familiar faces. As I mentioned in the blog title, I grew up just over a half an hour's drive from the race start. It was fun to see all the locals in awe of the stars. And heck, some of the locals have become stars, too. It is simply fun to see excitement growing around the sport of ultra trail running.

And right from the start, the air was electric. There were photographers and fans everywhere along the first Nordic Loop. It's just over 15 km of cross country ski trails with some steep rolling hills.
This was around mile 2. Females from left to right Kaci (aka The Pixie Ninja) behind me, Kate Pallardy, Gina Lucrezi, Larisa Dannis and Maddy Hribar.

We ran the first 10k together in 48:06. This was a nice start and good way to get to know all these gals, who had all travelled long distances to race. It was fun to hear their stories and discuss our shared passion. Larisa had just run a 2:44 at Boston and was pretty excited about that! Kaci, the Pixie Ninja, was remarkably humble and had a positive energy about her. We all had to compliment her on her awesome performances at Rocky Racoon and Lake Sonoma. 

Nicholas Wied was exactly right when he wrote in his race recap for irunfar that this year the race was about speed. I was a few minutes behind these ladies when I came through a half marathon (after the beautiful and technical single track had begun) in 1:42. I can't emphasize enough how important speed training is for ultras. I could not come close to competing with world class ladies like these if I were not doing regular speed work. A half marathon on hilly trails in 1:42 had to feel comfortable and it did. I kept feeling like I was holding back and getting ready to unleash the beast. 

Awesome shot of my legs taken by Ali Engin, who was crouching down on the ground by Rice Lake.

The trails get more and more technical and the hills steeper the further you get into the race. The first Nordic loop the easiest, the middle out and back harder and the last out and back the most challenging. Yet - and I mean this - it was all so much fun! 

But with increasing difficulty in mind, Kaci Lickteig still managed to run a negative split. And that is evidence for me that- like every other running distance- just about every single record is set with a negative split. It is the best way to run a race. Ultras, as we are learning, are not exceptions to the classic rules of long-distance running.

I, however, did not run a negative split. I managed to keep my tempo reasonable with a 6 min/kilometer average, though the first 44.5 km in four hours.

I came through the marathon distance in 3:47 - and at the 26 mile aid station, there was Timo Yanacheck (director of the Mad City 100k), smiling and cheering. He's a great guy and that was sure uplifting! 

Following that aid station, I reverted to my old trail running habit of CCU (controlled continuous urination) thinking there was no one behind me (glad I was diuresing). Well, my hearing has been damaged by too many years of loud rock music and suddenly a rather good looking fellow was indeed right behind me, my compression shorts still dripping. I don't know if he saw it, but anyway, we ran the next 5 or so miles together, over the now hot and sunny prairie, switching off taking the lead. When I saw SR for the first time, he said, did you see who you were running with? I was clueless. That was Ian Torrence! Ha. Sorry, Ian.

I had one energy low at around the point of this picture - between 35 and 40 miles - I didn't realize this was a big net uphill section until I turned around. It helped immensely that SR was out there constantly popping out from behind trees and cheering me on. He gave me the impression all day that I was solidly in 5th place - both 4th and 6th females a significant distance away. 

Photo by SR. This is about when the temps reached 80F (27C) and I was in a serious meditative state: concentrating on keeping calm with a low heart rate and constant focus on short, fast steps. 
The race strategy SR and I had laid out was- run your own race and there will be carnage among the top females who start too fast. Well, I held up my end of the deal, but there was no carnage at the top.

I felt great the last 15k. I thought I was just cruising, but it turn out ran it in 1:40. Ha. Well, good enough. It is strange what feels like a fast pace at the end of an ultra.

I think I almost tripped here and was quite glad SR captured my clumsiness - although, I didn't fall once the whole race. I should probably note that SR fell getting out of the way for a runner and ended up with a bloody knee. 
Chris Rubesch, running in for 10th guy, looking cat-like as always.

Kaci going for her win and course record. She always looks so relaxed, yet she ran these last 10 miles in 72 minutes. That is the same pace Matt Flaherty (Salomon), who took second, ran the last 10 miles.

To add a twist, with just 1.5 k to go, I spotted a woman right ahead of me. She was walking. What?! Is this my chance at a WS entry spot and sudden fame? I passed her and she did not put up a fight...??!! I really wasn't sure if it was Gina Lucrezi, but it looked like her hair and tank top. Anyway, I ran the last kilometer in 4:48 and was happy to realize I still had a lot of energy, though it helps a lot to know it is almost over!

Finish time was 8:01:00. A 38 minute trail 50 mile PR. I ran the race I knew I could. Turns out the woman who I passed was running the 50k. One place away from a Western States ticket (!), but I could not be happier with my race.

About to pass out waiting to thank race director Jeff Mallach for this absolutely fantastic experience.

Pure bliss. With my calves up, the nausea and light-headedness disappeared within 10 minutes. Finally- I could soak it up- FINALLY an ultra without hip problems or right leg pain. And thanks to Nic Giebler for letting me use his cooler to put my feet on - you are not only a great chiropractor Nic, but you save poor souls from the sequelae of exercise associated postural hypotension.

When I was out on a training run before Worlds with Ben Nephew he said "be smart and run races that play to your strengths". I didn't realize how wise those words were, but Ice Age Trail was exactly that kind of race - lots of hills on single tracks with no asphalt. It is thrilling to make such a big improvement and I consider this a better performance that Fyr til Fyr 60k in 5:14 because there I got lost and my right leg cramped up at the end. At Ice Age Trail, it all went right. Yet, I feel there is a ton of room for improvement: my technique still needs work and my speed work continues to make me faster.

We probably all stand to learn a lot from a gal like Kaci. She lowered Cassie Scallon's old course record by 5 minutes and Cassie had lowered Ann Trason's by 18 minutes. 

Kaci is a physical therapist who has taken ultra running by storm this year and, when I asked her a bit about her background, she replied with the following:

"I was a walk on for a D2 school (University of Nebraska-Kearney) and ran cross country and track for 2 years before going to grad school. I was a "long" distance runner. So, for track the 5K-10K. I am not an elite marathoner. I did qualify for the Olympic trials for 2012. I ran a 2:44:14 at CIM. One thing for me is that I have never been "blessed" with pure talent. I have had to work my butt of to be where I am. Running is such a passion of mine and I am a very driven Type A person. I always want to better myself and keep achieving goals I set."

Kaci seems very down to earth and honest. I have to note, though, that all the girls I was competing against ran track in college. I have a bit of an inferiority complex because of this and wonder if I still have a chance to get that speed they developed in their teens and twenties. It is an interesting experiment and I am glad I have coach Ole to help me with this. My sense is starting to tell me it is not too late to go back and train my legs (and more importantly brain) to run fast in my thirties after all.


I had 2 Clif Bars and 1 Vitargo Energi Kakan bar before the race. They seemed to sit well. I drank half all-natural tropical juice and half water out of my bladder and bottles and refilled my Salomon soft flasks with gingerale or coke at 3 aid stations after the 50k. It was hot and I was thirsty. I only ended up eating half of a Vitargo protein bar and that seemed to sit well in my stomach. Again, I prefer my energy from liquid and am pretty amazed by the low amount of calories needed to keep my energy up. I think the low carb diet, not eating on or after my runs and loading up on energy pre-race all helped.

Top 10 results

  1. Max King (Montrail) – 5:41:07 (course record)
  2. Matt Flaherty (Salomon) – 5:49:13
  3. Brian Condon - 5:58:24
  4. Michael Owen - 5:59:56
  5. Matt Laye - 6:14:43
  6. Zach Bitter (Altra) - 6:19:52
  7. Ian Ridgeway - 6:36:18
  8. Jason Wolfe (AdiUltra) - 6:41:14
  9. Kevin Grabowski (Lapham Peak Trail Runners) - 6:49:51
  10. Chris Rubesch - 6:54:14
  1. Kaci Lickteig (Pearl Izumi) – 6:41:39 (course record)
  2. Kate Pallardy - 7:04:16
  3. Larisa Dannis (Altra) – 7:15:39
  4. Gina Lucrezi (PepsiCo) – 7:37:30
  5. Tracy Hoeg (Salomon) – 8:01:00
  6. Jessica Garcia – 8:14:48
  7. Maddy Hribar – 8:17:42
  8. Alisha Damrow – 8:34:33
  9. Erin Lumbard – 8:44:13
  10. Kristin Frey – 8:49:33

Congrats to Max King on beating the 27 year old course record and ALSO running a negative split. Matt Flaherty (Salomon) also came under the old recorn in 5:49
Congrats to Jeff Mallach on such a wonderful running event, which seemed to go flawlessly. The course was beautiful and the markings easy to follow.
Here I was shaking Jeff's hand at the awards, feeling giddy. Can you sense the love from the guy behind this camera? :-)

Thank you to the volunteers who smiled and cheered and pampered us runners all day. You have all done Wisconsin proud! Beautiful people, beautiful terrain - yes, this sport is cool.

Thank you most of all to my husband, SR, who crewed me all day and made me feel like a superstar. I could not have run this race nearly as well without him. It means the world that we share this passion - and I only hope one day I can support him as much in a race as much as he supported me on Saturday. 


Anonymous said...

It was wonderful to share some early morning miles with you out at Ice Age, and to high-five a few times on those brutally long out-and-backs. Huge congrats on your 50 mile PR! Never doubt your ability to keep improving. I picked up the sport after school, and only built up real speed in the past 1.5 years. I know you're going to go far in the world of ultrarunning. Hope to see you out on the trails again soon :)

sea legs girl said...

Hi Larisa, I am shocked you found my blog and very touched you took the time to comment. Congrats on your race on Saturday! You are a seriously strong runner. I just read your "background" on your blog and I can relate to just about every bit of it. I was not an active child either and amd also "Gluten free, paleo-inclined, and passionate about good coffee" :-). Funny that all of us who met so briefly the first 10k of IAT probably have a ton in common. Congrats again on Boston and I look forward to following along with your journeys on your blog- adding to my list now!

Meghan said...

Congrats Sea Legs! Of course you belonged on the preview. I don't think we realized you were racing. :) Based upon watching you race from afar these years and seeing your progression, I thought you'd finish somewhere 4th to 6th in the field, depending on how smart your first miles were.

One of my favorite things about your blog is that you tell us about the embarrassing things that happen to you on the trail, like peeing yourself when Mr. Torrence was just behind. It could stay a little secret out in Wisconsin forever but you share with us. It's so fabulous and forthright.

I'm happy for your race!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations!! This is a great race report for what sounded like an absolutely amazing race. In terms of your background/not running on teams in high school and college, I'd love to hear more about how you got started running in the first place, especially since you have demands on your time with a tough career and a family. I think getting started is more than half the battle for many people, but you clearly found a way to do it and make running an integral part of your life. I'd love to hear more about your background and how you balance so many miles with work, kids, and everything else!


sea legs girl said...

Thank you, Meghan :-).

Liz, you'd be surprised to know how few miles I run a week. Only one run a week longer than 10k. Otherwise I run 5 days a week and three of those are speed work, mostly on the track. My other main training is weight lifting/strength training and yoga. Sometimes I bike and swim. But my running takes up way less time now than it did 5 years ago. I got started in college because I couldn't sleep. Looking back, sleeping only 3 hours a night for weeks on end without being able to fall asleep may have been mania, but running helped me enormously. Back when I was 20 I would sometimes go out and run 16 miles at a time so I could sleep at night.

Anonymous said...

Wow, only three hours of sleep? No wonder you ran so much! That sounds stressful, though, and I'm glad it doesn't look to be the case anymore. Congrats again on an amazing race - it's really enjoyable reading about your training and successes!