My spring target race was the Ice Age 50 miler in Kettle Moraine State Park up in Wisconsin. As most of you know and experienced firsthand, this past winter here in Chicago was brutal for running. The past few years, I’ve been focused on stairs so I didn’t have to worry about braving the elements to get in long runs. Boy, did I pick a bad winter to return to running!! I swear, every time I planned to finally get out there, it was snowing or 0* and I’m not even joking. For a while, I was feeling a lot of pressure to hit the pavement and felt behind in my training. I finally told myself, I had to start getting in my long runs no matter what the conditions were. Those first few winter runs were rough, I couldn’t handle my usual long run pace, was getting dropped by my running friends, I was feeling sluggish and tight, and just felt like my energy levels weren’t there. Everything just seemed like it took more effort than it should, honestly, I was feeling kinda discouraged. But my body started to adjust after a few weeks and I started to get into a groove. My training was finally falling into place! During the winter months, I did plenty of treadmill training so I was getting in a lot of hill / mountain workouts plus was hitting the stairwell once a week where I focused on 1-step running with no rail to simulate running up a steep hill.
I’d been playing around with my training plan and decided that after my base building phase, I’d shoot for 4-5 weeks at 50-60 miles/week and then 4-5 weeks at 60-70 miles/week followed by a 3 week taper. I kept playing around with my long run schedule too. During this training cycle, I didn’t really have any back to back long runs (i.e., 20/20, 20/18) but I had plenty of 20-25 mile runs followed by 10 milers. I got in a few trail runs although not as many as I would’ve liked considering the ground was frozen and covered in snow for the longest time!
For the most part, I was feeling strong during my long runs and most of my training. I got in two training runs up on the Ice Age course which was awesome. One weekend, we did the back half of the course – polished off about 23.5 miles and the following weekend got in 34-35 miles. It was great running on the actual course, gave me a glimpse of what I had to look forward too. I felt really good on both of my runs so that gave me a mental boost and some added confidence.
2 weeks out from Ice Age, I ran the Earth Day 15 miler; I figured it would give me some time on the trails. The course was tougher than I expected, it was mostly single track which I lack experience on and there were lots of little changes in elevation. I’m not scared of elevation, nor do I ever shy away from it but this race caught me off guard! The course consisted of a 5 mile loop that I had to run 3 times, my legs just weren’t responded on the hills and my time got progressively slower each loop. Plus I’m not used to racing on trails especially single track. I ended up winning for the females and was pleased with my race even though it was a bit slower than I anticipated; it was a great run and it made me realize what I need to work on post Ice Age.
By the time my taper started, I was feeling strong and confident. Most of my long runs were successful and I was feeling good during my weekday runs as well, I even tossed in some quicker miles and the faster leg turnover felt good. When I first started thinking about Ice Age, I set a goal time of 9-9:30 (approx. 10:45-11:30 pace). I knew that it would take me longer than my first 50 miler (8:15) because the Ice Age course is more technical and has about 4,000 ft elevation gain (plus the same amount in elevation loss). After crushing my long runs and getting a glimpse of the course, I decided that my original goal was too soft based on the fact that I did 23 and 34 mile training runs on the actual course feeling strong at a pace much quicker than my initial goal time; my training runs were at 9:45 and 10:25 pace, respectively. After much deliberation I decided to set my sights on a finishing time of 8:20 (10:00) to 8:45 (10:30 pace). I didn’t want to start off too aggressive and set myself up for failure but I didn’t wanna go too easy either, this was my first time racing Ice Age. I’m confident in my long run ability but I’m not sure how to actually race a distance of this magnitude!!
My usual pre-long run routine consists of a giant salad for lunch and sushi for dinner, followed by a banana for breakfast. Since we were heading up to Wisconsin the night before, we had sushi on Thursday night then Friday I fueled up with a sweet potato, quinoa, raisins, sunflower/pumpkin seeds, almond butter and honey. I think this combo might be a new pre-race favorite! The race starts bright & early at 6 AM so we were up at 3:45 and to the start by 5:00. It was a big chilly (mid 40s) and I was shivering as we stood around waiting for the gun to go off. I kept going back and forth on what to wear, it was going to be a sunny day with a high around 70* but it was starting off a big chilly. I figured I could start with a long sleeve and ditch it when I got warm but at the last minute, I decided to go with arm warmers and gloves instead – it ended up being the perfect combo.
|Ice Age Elevation Profile - Lots of look foward too!!|
Course Description - Section 1 - Nordic Ski Trail to Confusion Corner
The total distance on the Nordic Trail is 10.6 miles. The 9.08 mile loop is very representative of the glacial topography and natural diversity that you can expect in the Kettle Moraine. As a cross country ski trail, it provides every type of terrain imaginable for skiing. The trail or tread on the Nordic is very runnable. There will be sections in the pines and meadows that you will want to develop some speed.
Miles 0 to 10.6
The first 9 miles of the course are pretty runnable with a few steep inclines so my goal was to finish the loop in about 1:20-1:30, I wanted to start off conservative and at a pace that felt comfortable. The gun went off and everyone darted off the line, after a couple of miles I found myself running totally by myself. Hmmm, this isn’t what I was expecting. In my mind, I envisioned making friends with other runners shooting for the same finishing time and chatting away for those first 9 miles. I could see people in front of me and behind me but felt like I was in this little no man’s land bubble. A couple of miles in, I realized that I forgot to set out my drop bags. This wasn’t a huge mistake but I had my extra gels in there, I knew the race was providing Hammer products at the aid stations but I wasn’t sure what flavors they’d have and my goal was to be almost entirely self-sufficient during the race (i.e., provide my own supplies). I checked my watch and I was cruising, I kept reminding myself that when I came through the first aid station (start/finish area) that I needed to let Brady know that I forgot my bags and that he needed to get them from the car, grab all the snacks and carry them with him to each of the aid stations. I told myself it wasn’t a big deal and there was no need to get frazzled about it, I came through that first loop in 1:15 (8:20 pace, bit faster than my goal time). I found Brady and I immediately started talking rapidly about my drop bags and I knew I was coming off frazzled but in my mind there was no need to be but I was in such a hurry so I just blurted things out then said “got that??” as he looked at me with a blank look on his face before I darted off. I was feeling good at this point, as I should be considering its only 9 miles into the race. I thought to myself, ok this is when the fun begins!
Course Description - Section 2 - Out to Rice Lake and back to Confusion Corner
Expect rocks and roots on steep climbs and descents as you scramble up and over eskers. Enjoy very runnable stretches through pine forested areas, meadows and by wetlands.
As you cross Highway H, you will be running through several miles of pine forest until you approach AS4 at Duffin Road. From there, the terrain changes to twisting and turning trails up and over hills until you close in on La Grange Lake. Running around La Grange Lake is enjoyable with longer vistas available and good footing until you leave the lake and climb to AS5.
South of Hwy 12, you’ll find mostly tight single-track trail with plenty of rocks and even a few stairs to help you up and down the hills. The southern terminus of the course (and turnaround) is near Rice Lake.
Miles 10.5 (AS3) to 13.1 (AS4)
This is when the course starts to get technical. I came down into the aid station at mile 13 and saw Brady and my parents. At this point, I didn’t really need anything. I quickly filled my bottle with water and took an electrolyte capsule. My plan was to stay on top of my nutrition and hydration, during my 2 other ultras; I had problems with crashing and wanted to avoid that this time around! I would take ½ a gel every 20-25 minutes so I would finish one every 45-60 minutes along with taking electrolytes as well. So far, I was on top of it. During my first 50 miler, I neglected to grab snacks which meant I ran out of water and gels which caused me to crash and forced me to walk. This time around, I decided that I would constantly keep my pockets filled, I had 2 pockets in my shorts, 2 in my tank and 1 in my handheld so I was totally stocked up and good to go! I came through the 13.1 mark at 1:50 (8:23 pace).
Miles 13.1 (AS4) to 17.3 (AS5)
For the next few miles, I was still cruising along solo. Every now and again I’d catch up to a few people. I ended up following Alisha Damrow before passing her and picking up speed. Somewhere during that period, I rolled my ankle and went down. This section was mostly covered with leaves so it’s hard to see what is lurking beneath them, I assessed my fall and seemed to be ok. I started running again, my ankle was sore and a bit stiff, my knee was dirty but seemed to be in decent condition, I just pushed on and the paint went away. I came through mile 17 at 2:34 (8:54) with a pack of girls; we were in 9th – 11th place. I stopped to fill my bottle and grab a couple of gels. I tried to scurry out of there to stay with the pack but I got stuck at the street crossing, shucks!
Miles 17.3 (AS5) to 21.7 (AS7)
During this section, ame a few sets of stairs (railroad ties on the course), yay, stairs!! I really wanted to power up these things but my better judgment told me I still had plenty of miles to go and should ease up a bit. I came into the turnaround spot around 3:20 (9:12 pace), at this point I had already seen all the leaders fly past me and I knew I was 9th or 10th for the female. I saw my friend Meredith Reshoft (another top vegan ultrarunner from Chicago who I ran with during my 35 mile training run), she looked like she had taken a beating. I chatted with her briefly, making sure she was ok. I had been alternating vanilla and apple cinnamon Hammer gels so Brady loaded me up with the cinnamon ones and I filled my bottle. I think I spent too much time loitering at this spot, I seemed a bit distracted, I saw Alisha come and go then Brady pushed me outta there, in 9th place.
Miles 21.7 (AS7) to 26 (AS5)
|Me and Brady at 21 mile turnaround|
After leaving the turnaround at Rice Lake, I quickly caught back up to Alisha and we played leapfrog for a while. We were with each other as we passed AS6, 24.4 miles – I wasn’t sure if I wanted to stop, I kinda hesitated. Alisha took a brief stop so I did too, I filled my bottle and took some electrolytes. We darted off through a flat section in the pine forest. As we approached a climb, I saw Meredith out of the corner of my eye. Shortly thereafter, I took another tumble. This time scraping up my right side and I felt my calf knot up, I assessed the situation again – I was worried about my calf popping. I massaged it a bit and started to run again, it seemed to loosen up a bit. I was covered in dirt and my shoulder was scraped up but I felt ok. Within in the next couple of miles, I fell again, once again feeling my calf tighten up. I knew I needed electrolytes, that my body wasn’t responding, it was getting tired and dehydrated and I wasn’t picking up my feet like I should. As we came down into the aid station at mile 26, we picked up the pace and I passed another girl. Brady and my parents were concerned about my fall; I told them I was dirty but fine. I frantically told Brady that I needed electrolytes bad, he stood there searching in the bag of snacks until I said, I don’t need them I have them here in my bottle. I took a couple and wanted to restock my gels because I knew once we got to mile 30, I would have 10 miles without seeing my crew again. I wanted vanilla gels, he pulled out a handful of every kind, plenty of cinnamon ones but I wanted vanilla, I was getting crazed at this point and just kept repeating, vanilla, I want the vanilla. Brady and my mom both looked at me in confusion and panic, one of the aid station volunteers said I’ll go get one, don’t worry. I was like no, I don’t have time, forget it since the other girls had already left, I was falling behind. I started to take off and as I exited the aid station, he handed me 2 of them. Great, now I was carrying these gels in my hand. I hit the marathon mark at 4:06, 9:23 pace.
|Running strong with Alisha Damrow & Meredith Reshoft close behind!|
Miles 26 (AS5) to 30.2 (AS4)
Meredith and Alisha left the aid station before me so I was anxious to catch up, which I finally did. At 30 miles, the hills were zapping a bit of my energy but overall I was feeling pretty good. I was power hiking the steep hills and charging up the little ones. The plan at 30 was to take 100 mg of caffeine and then I’d take another 100 mg around the 40 mile mark. Brady stood there armed and ready with an array of Hammer gels but of course I didn’t want any. All I could ask him was what are my stats?!? He’s like what do you mean?? I wanna know what place I am and what my pace is, he looked at me totally caught off guard. Ummm, you’re still in 9th or 10th and right now your time is 4:50 so estimated finishing time of like 7:50-7:55. I responded with ok, thanks, can you please have stats ready at mile 40. I took off across the street and up a hill. My average pace for 30.2 miles was 9:36.
|Refueling at Mile 26|
Course Description - Section 3 - Out to the Emma Carlin Trails and Back to Confusion Corner and into the finish on the Nordic Trail
Once you reach Confusion Corner you continue on the Ice Age Trail by going straight across the horse trail. You are on a high esker with nice views to your left and on your way to AS8. You now have run 33.9.
From AS8 you begin your climb of Indian Signal Hill (Bald Bluff on the map) to the highest point on the course. At the top, enjoy the view and the significance of this Native American spiritual site that (according to settler accounts in the mid-1800′s) attracted Native American peoples from as far away as Illinois and other Wisconsin areas.
The terrain from AS8 to AS9 is constantly changing. Like the area approaching Rice and Whitewater Lake, expect narrow, single track winding up and over hill after hill until you finally reach AS9. There are some flats; but, they are few and far between
AS9 to the AS10 at the Emma Carlin Trail (turnaround) is also packed with hills; but, they tend to be less steep and there are more moderate shifts in the terrain as you pass by several wetland areas.
I started thinking about my estimated finishing time whoa?!?! You’ve gotta be kidding me, I was totally unaware that I was on this blazing fast pace. It’s hard to look at your watch during ultras because you have to pay attention to the trail and where you’re going so I could rarely look at my splits plus with all the twisting and turning, the GPS gets a little off as well. I was looking at total time and overall mileage so I knew when to take my gels but was clueless on average pace. I kept thinking to myself, you keep this together and you’re gonna come across the finishing line with an awesome time!! I still had 20 miles to go and approximately 3 hours of running, I started to do the math and thought about my previous training runs, how long does it normally take me to run 20 miles?!? I wasn’t sure on the actual pace but 3 hours seemed like a pretty quick time to get in 20 miles especially since it was the last 20 miles of a 50 mile race and there were lots of steep hills on the way! Shortly after I left the aid station at 30 miles, I started cramping up – first it was my quads, right by my knee. What the heck?!? I took a few more steps and the cramping continued, I started to walk and popped a handful of electrolytes. I knew that cramping can happen when you’re dehydrated and I knew that it can also happen from going out too fast in a long race. I’ve done 13 marathons and plenty of long runs but I’ve never had leg cramps before!! Plus at this point, it was full sun and it was starting to get warm. I kept on running, alternating it with walking when the cramps got too bad, dangit, this was a flat section too and I really wanted to pick up some speed. I thought walking up a steep hill might give some relief but I was wrong because then my hamstrings starting cramping!! After a few minutes, it was the calves turn to knot up into little balls. I reached the next aid station, drank some extra water and started up again. I had 4 miles to the next stop.
Miles 32.9 (AS8) – 37.1 (AS9)
This was seriously the longest 4 mile stretch ever!! There were lots of steep climbs and I was forced to intermix more walking than I wanted to as the cramps continued on. I latched on to a couple of guys from Chicago for a little while, ran with them, walked when they walked and chatted a bit. Seemed to help the time go by but at the same time, I wondered if they were slowing me down or if they were giving me an added break that I needed. They started to walk a gentle climb so I ran past them, they shouted some words of encouragement and I was gone. I kinda wish there were some mile markers out there or at least a sign saying aid station 1 mile, the time just seems like it was dragging and it was one turn after another and the hills were relentless. I finally reached the aid station; it had taken me over 40 minutes. My sense of urgency at the stations had waned a little bit, I wasn’t loitering and standing around eating snacks but I wasn’t rushing either, I usually filled my bottle, took some electrolytes and maybe part of a gel.
|coming out of the woods at mile 40|
I had another 3 miles to go until the turn around, 13 miles left in this race! I decided to check my watch so I could see how long it took me to get there so on the way back I’d know what to expect. I caught up to Stephanie Weigel and was running with her for a bit. It’s interesting in these races because you’ll run with the same person/people for a while, you’ll be ahead of them then they pass you – you play leapfrog for a while. Then you find someone else. I had the same experiences following her as I did the guys, I wanted to go around but if I went around I knew I’d cramp up and she would pass me again. I was trying to run the gentle climbs when I felt good but then I would cramp. It was tough trying to figure out how hard I could push myself without locking up. I saw people coming back from the turnaround so I asked a few them how much further it was, at that point it was still about 10-15 minutes away so I put my head down and just powered on. I reached the 40 mile mark in 6:48 (10:08 pace), the last 10 miles had taken me about 2 hours so I knew it was gonna take me at least 2 hours to get to the finish. I realized my fast goal time was out the window but I could still make it in 8:45 or at least sub 9! I told Brady I had been cramping and it was slowing me down. I asked him for my stats and he told me I was on pace to finish 8:20, I gave him a blank look and said – theres no way, I’m cramping and it’s gonna take me 2 hours but I’ll try my best! He told me just to do the best I could.
Miles 40.2 (AS10) – 43.3 (AS9)
Now I had just 10 miles to go, it seemed like a lot but at the same time, I was almost done! I just needed to make it to the next aid station which would take me about 30-35 minutes. I played leap frog with Stephanie some more, she was running up the little hills and I was powerwalking them but I kept catching up to her again, proves the point that walking/hiking up the hills (I tend to hike the steep ones, run the easy ones) is more efficient then running! I’d get a surge of energy and I’d pick up the pace then I’d ease up for the cramps. It was a vicious cycle. I got to the next aid station and had 7 miles to go.
Miles 43.3 (AS9) – 47.6 (AS8)
It was getting really warm and I was feeling drained. I was definitely being a bit more cautious during this part of the race, I knew my legs were tired and I wasn’t picking up my feet as much so when I’d hike up a hill I’d scout out the flat terrain and would start running after I passed any rocks or roots that might trip me up. Going downhill I was extra cautious, didn’t wanna bite it and crack my head on a rock. Erin Lumbard came flying by me right after the aid station and darted off up a hill, wow she was loaded with energy. At that same point, I passed Stephanie and never saw her again. At times it was lonely out there, might be running by myself for a while but you’d see people still on the way out to the turnaround, everyone super encouraging to one another. Not too many people passed me though; I was still hanging on to 10th place. The 4 miles were rough but I knew once I got to the next aid station, I was almost done!
I reached mile 47.6 and had only 2.5 miles to go!! The volunteers commented about my dirt covered body, I’m not sure how many people commented on my dirt. I fell, I’m ok, lets get on with this. Brady said at the 40 mile turnaround, he brushed a bunch of leaves off my back – no wonder people were getting a kick outta looking at me, haha. I filled up my bottle took ½ a gel. I powered up the last few hills and finally reached the street crossing and entered the Nordic trail, I shouted out how much left?!? 1.5 miles, ok, great, that’s exactly what I thought!! I knew I had to pick up the pace and finish strong, I looked at my watch and it was at 8:34 ok, how long will it take me to run 1.5 miles?!? I told myself 20 minutes, there were a few hills right before the finish. I could hear the music blasting as I picked up the pace. I came to the big hill; power hiked it then started running again. Geesh, this 1.5 miles seems like it keeps going and going. The music was getting louder; I kept looking at my watch to see how much further. I saw my dad on the side of the trail, I tossed my bottle to him and sprinted (or what seemed like I sprinting) into the finish as the announcer lady said “Kristin Frey from Schaumburg, and look she ran without water!” I stopped my watch – 8:49 (10:35 pace), 10th place!! I’d done it; I was under 9 hours and not too far away from my goal of 8:45. My legs were achinging, they felt all twitchy and weird and I was just feeling totally zapped. I knew that I needed to rehydrate and fuel but I just couldn’t get myself to eat or drink anything. I just wanted to walk around checking things out, I was worried if I sat down that I wouldn’t get back up!Afterthoughts
|my crew - Brady and my parents :)|
** I did a good job keep up with my fuel intake, rotated between vanilla and cinnamon gels; I like taking part of one then taking the rest 20-25 minutes later.
** Need to figure out electrolytes, not sure how quickly capsules dissolve and electrolytes enter my system. Plus need to get used to drinking straight HEED instead of diluting it with water.
** Aid stations, I could have multiple bottles that are filled and ready to go when I get there or have all supplies laid out so I can just grab what I need and go
** I don’t regret my race; I went for it and did everything I could. I might’ve started off a bit too fast but that’s ok, I’m still learning how to pace myself during ultras. I’m not disappointed at all, I plan to train hard and come back faster next year. One of my goals was to place top 10 and this year the field was stacked with all sorts of crazy wicked fast girls from all over the country vying for a top 3 spot so they could gain entry into the Western States 100 so for me to finish 10th overall with all those quick girls out there is a huge accomplishment. I was excited to see these girls in action, made the race more interesting.
**I need more technical trail experience, which is evident from my 4 tumbles. I need to learn how to run quicker on trails and I definitely need to work on my downhill technique because it’s pretty bad. Also need more ultra-experience so I can figure out pacing.
** Race Recap - http://www.irunfar.com/2014/05/2014-ice-age-50-mile-results.html
** Strava Data - http://www.strava.com/activities/141563750/overview