Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Week 50: Ice Age 50 Mile report

After a victory lap of sorts to visit family in northern Wisconsin and to tour as much of Chicago as we could in a day and a half, home was welcome. Because of the excellent Facebook reporting by my Gorgeous, lots of folks far and wide followed along the race, and now I get to tell the stories over and over as I bump into the people I work and play with and love.

I raised over $5000 for Team Fox and the Michael J. Fox Foundation, from more than 60 donors. To them I am grateful.
So, yeah, the raw data: I finished the Ice Age Trail 50 miler in 10:27:35, the farthest distance and the longest time I have ever run. I felt strong all day, starting out at as slow a pace as I thought I could maintain to hit my conceived of time, 10 hours. I didn't cramp and had no foot or stomach issues, I walked the major uphills but ran all the rest, I managed to say funny things at almost every aid station. I kissed my beautiful wife at several aid stations. I cried more than once, but a lot in the last mile or so, thinking of EO.
Early, or maybe late.
The stories are many, and random, and without transition.
Christy and I flew to Chicago on Thursday before the race, and headed north to Madison, Wisconsin, passing by the race start and finish area on the way. After a day of travel, my feet and legs did not respond to the twisting ups and downs of the first mile of the course. The next day I ran along the lakefront in Madison. A tweak in my calf made me limp back to our hotel. We walked a lot during the day, and it felt some better. The wind and cold were chilling.
We moved closer to the race start Friday night, passing through Whitewater, Wisconsin to pick up my race packet and to chat with folks. This is not a race with a lot of schwag, but with a whole mess of camaraderie. We checked into our motel in high spirits. My calf was still a little sore.
Dinner the night before with Jim Pasquale revealed a whole other set of similarities between us. We both turned fifty in August (I’m three days older), we both treasure our families. His kids are into the arts, and so are mine. I’m glad we shared as many miles as we did.
I slept well, without anxious dreams at all. The breakfast buffet was ready at 4:30 as requested, the drive to the race pretty uneventful. We even got a parking space in the closest lot to the start.
I got to the starting line a little before six. As usual, I chatted with whoever was around. The woman next to me turned out to be Janice Willey from Mount Pleasant. Jim fell in behind us, most of the South Carolina contingent. Christy was somewhere in the crowd.
Nordic Trail loop
This wide, smooth (mostly) trail was a real treat, and running with so many folks in good spirits, too. I just tried to stay in my zone, hoping to get to 30 miles feeling like I’d run too slowly, as I've read many times. I talked about my fund-raising, my goal to say something funny at every aid station, and got started with funny things. We passed a tall fellow taking pictures, and one of the many locals I ran with told me that he was a former race director, and that he has Parkinson’s. I told her I would stop to talk with him if we passed him again.
Sure enough we did: I pulled out of the group I was running with. “I hear you have Parkinson’s,” I said to him.
Will you be my girlfriend?
He looked at me with either a look of concern that I knew, or with the usual Parkinson’s delay. “Yes,” he said. I told him that my father had Parkinson’s, too, and that I had raised over $5000 for the Michael J. Fox Foundation. “Let’s have a beer after the race,” he said to me with a big smile. This remains one of the best parts of my run. Though I didn't see him later, I felt a connection and inspiration. The thought of John, and many others, especially my dad, fueled me like nothing else could.
I felt great throughout this loop, no pain in my calf, and energy from all around. As we pulled into the second aid station at the start/finish, I called out, “Who wants to be my girlfriend?” Christy stepped out of the crowd, and I went over and kissed her. “I’m Ned,” I said.
West Out-and-Back
Somewhere in here I started running with Beth Simpson-Hall. Beth has run 37 100-mile races in her long running career. She was at a member of the Montrail Racing Team at one point, and I tried to mine as much from her experience as I could. Every time I saw her a little ahead, or at an aid station, I felt like I was running right.
Through this section, I started to wonder about some of the expressions we use to describe things getting worse. “Things went south,” I've heard. So why is that so bad? And how about, “everything went downhill from there.” Downhill is good, I thought, and we even say, “It’s all downhill from here.” Yeah, I was busy.
"Hi, Gorgeous," at mile 30.5.
The best surprise of the day was pulling into the aid station at 13 miles, and finding my Gorgeous there. We had planned to meet at miles 17/26 and mile 40. This one was extra special. She filled my bottle with Perpetuem, and off I went. It was a real thrill to get to see her at the same aid station on the way back, too, at mile 30.5.
Twenty-six miles went by easily (5:08), and I pulled into the aid station feeling strong. Christy asked if I wanted to change my shirt, and I did—wow, that was awesome. All of a sudden I was toasty warm again that chilly day. I was clearly reduced to a very radical and minimalist set of needs.
East Out-and-Back
After the 30.5 aid station, I was feeling pretty chipper, and reveling in entering my “Never-run-this-far” zone. But between 35 and maybe 45, I had a couple of low points. I realized that if I walked it in from there, I’d still be under the 12-hour cut-off. Then I’d run again, and realize that it felt no different running, and that I’d be finished sooner if I did. Each drop included a little boost, then.  
The aid station at Mile 37.5 was a party, even though here it had started raining, which at some point turned to sleet. They had music blasting “Margaritaville” when I rolled through. From there I had Buffet’s line, “It’s my own damn fault” stuck in my head. Uh-huh, I even paid for it.
Pulling into the aid station at mile 40.3,
the last turnaround.
The trail at the tail-end of the out-and-back seemed more difficult than the rest of the course. Twisting, rocky trail with the only real mud of the race slowed me to a more awkward gait. Getting to the turn-around at mile 40 felt great. I must have looked a little grim, though, as Christy seemed more concerned here. The combination of general fatigue, the difficult trail behind me and now ahead of me again, and a sudden distaste for more Perpetuem had me a bit battered. Besides that, I was getting emotional because I was so close to finishing the run I had been focused on for so long. I cried some. A man in a chair asked me if I wanted to sit down for a second. “You’re obviously not a runner,” I chided him, coming close to saying something funny.
Ten minutes out of the aid station I passed Jim going the other way. He was sky high, it seemed, a huge smile. I was thrilled to see him at that point. I babbled something about being ten minutes from the turn-around, and he babbled something about his quads feeling trashed. Our exchange lifed me almost beyond belief.
On the way back I kept running, and kept playing the little game with the up-hills where I would not stop at the bottom of the hill to walk, but a little ways up the hill. I felt so good I’d even go a little farther than the point I’d chosen to walk. I passed several others through here, patting them on the back and saying, “We’re doing it, we’re doing it.” We were doing it.
The finish
The finish.
I knew that just before the aid station at mile 47.5, there was the largest hill of the run. When I hit it, you’d think I’d be a little deflated, but it really picked me up. I knew that was about the last climb of the day, and that the subsequent downhill would allow me to pick up the pace a little again. I got to the aid station with different music now, but told them what I’d been chanting up until then. That got a little laugh. From there it was a short distance to Confusion Corner, a spot we’d passed through twice already. Another short jump brought me to the last aid station.
I had nothing funny there, though not from exhaustion. I cried a little, and because I’d been running by myself for a while, I told the aid station worker, through my tears, that I had worked so hard for this. She gave me the understanding smile I needed, said something like, “I know you have, dear.” Off I went with a handful of pretzels. A mile and a half to go, I knew. I cried again. I came to the mile-to-go marker that I’d seen on the way out and that I’d run on Thursday, and then very quickly it seemed to the half-mile marker. I was still by myself, though I knew there was someone fairly close behind.
I focused entirely on the thought that I was finishing, and that I’d been doing it for EO, and that all the folks who donated to Team Fox and all the folks that were following along on Facebook wanted me to finish, and that I was finishing. I couldn't wait to tell my mom. I don’t usually think of the things I do running as accomplishments, but this felt like one.
I changed clothes quickly to keep from getting too chilled. Janice finished not long behind me, then Jim a little later. At some point I ate a hamburger, and sat under the picnic shelter while a band warmed up and played. I listened to some of the faster guys talk about the race, and saw Cassie Scallon, who set a new course record for the women. I wasn't particularly coherent. I've described that state as a mix of catatonia and euphoria, though I’ll admit to greater euphoria that day. I usually like a nap after a long race, but this time I couldn't sleep. I chatted with Christy mostly, and then drove to Madison, looking forward to a shower.
I had run only slightly slower than the pace I figured I could run. I chose when to walk and when to run. I had no cramping, I ate and drank well, and I stayed positive. I never thought I couldn't finish, and I never got that point where you say I’ll never do that again. I seriously have no idea if I will run another 50-miler, but it certainly isn’t out of the question. I hobbled around for a couple of days, and was motivated to run (but not stupid). Christy and I walked and walked in Chicago, sometimes because we were lost (my fault, but that’s another blog).

I should mention that the race was extremely well organized and operated. Course markings were obvious at all points, and the volunteers were amazing, keeping our spirits up at aid stations, and making sure we didn't get killed crossing the roads. Big ups to the race director, everyone who helped out, all the spectators and the awesome running community up there in the great north woods.
I raised a lot of money, which, as I say, put my selfish habit to some good use. To all of you who read this blog, especially to those of you who gave money, thanks.


  1. Congratulations, Ned. Giant accomplishment that your dad would obviously be proud of. Super happy for you.

  2. Tim,

    Thanks for paying attention! I appreciate all the support I've gotten. Congrats on the Sage Burner/Growler madness--I look forward to following Leadman.