The Ice Age Trail 50 was my 11th ultra since January 2014, when I first embarked on my ultra journey. I do not use the word “journey” loosely, because it really is a trek, a campaign, a “voyage of discovery” in its true sense. There is so much to learn, mistakes to be made, fine-tune of training and nutrition, and what have you.
Although I’m no stranger to this distance, officially, this was only my second 50-mile race. Why? Well, quite simply, 100 miles has become my preferred distance. But, a girl needs a “training run” for the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Race, and Ice Age fit perfectly into my preparation for “the big dance” — plus, it’s within driving distance from St. Louis.
Aside from that, I belong to a running group called The Coyotes out that way, and not only do I have a strong support system but friends I wanted to see and catch up with. So, really, signing up for this race was a no-brainer.
Last but not least, a big appeal of Ice Age was its 35-year holding. The race was founded in 1982 and has become one of America’s classic ultra marathons.
Race: Ice Age Trail 50
Organizers: Badgerland Striders
Race Director: Jeff Mallach
Location/Course: The 50-mile course is basically a “T” with a 9-mile loop and then two out-and-back sections before you reach the start/finish on the gorgeous South end of the Kettle Moraine State Forest in La Grange, Wisconsin. The terrain is a reasonably challenging mix of runnable flats and hikable hills. Well-groomed dirt and grass trails make up the bulk of the course, which isn’t particularly technical despite numerous rocky ascents and descents. Speaking of ascents, there are a few relatively steep hills but nothing monstrous, so if you strengthen your core muscles and shore up your power-hiking skills during training, you should be fine. My Garmin Fenix 3 clocked 5,830 feet of elevation total.
Time Limit: 12 hours (50 mile)
Runner: Shalini Kovach
Crew & Support: Pat Graves. I must mention here that Pat has become my favorite crew ever! Seeing her at each aid station cheering me on is not only uplifting, but I look forward to the wild “aaaawwwwoooo,” something we do to recognize that a Coyote runner is on the trail or in sight.
Nutrition (approximately 2,200 calories):
Goals & Training
This is my third year running at Kettle Moraine State Forest, so I was familiar with the terrain and sections of the course. I’d run Kettle Moraine 100K in 2014 and was back for Kettle Moraine 100 Mile in 2015, except the last time I ran this section of the trail I had 80 miles on my legs and my hip flexor and quads were pretty much shot, so I had some not-so-pleasant memories of running this section of the Ice Age course. But, since then, I’ve changed my training, and the hope was that I would be on fresh legs and better able to manage my pace.
As far as goals go, in all honesty, one thing on repeat in my head was “do nothing stupid” simply because I was using this as a training run and didn’t want to come off the course with injuries or issues that I would not be able to manage come Western States. I went into Ice Age with a finish goal of 10:30, which meant I’d need to hold a steady pace and let that carry me to the finish.
To best relate my effort and how my race went down, I’m breaking it into five segments from start to finish. I was a little nervous, as I always am before starting any ultra, because of the unpredictable nature of distance running. I’m a firm believer that race day is anyone’s game, so I always go in with an open mind.
AS3 Bluff Road (mile 10.5)
I started the race feeling pretty good as the temperature hung around low 30s, way cooler than expected this time of the year, with overcast skies and a chance of rain. Perfect running conditions for me. As I made my way to Bluff Road aid station, I was running way faster than my anticipated pace — when I looked down at my watch, I was hitting a 10:30-11:30/mile pace. The little voice in my head kept repeating: “You need to drop pace. Go easy. You are here to enjoy this run, not fry your rear.”
AS7 Rice Lake (mile 21.7)
A little unsettled, I started to look around me to find another runner I could pace with so that I could slow down some and just keep it steady. This is when I happen upon “Pacer 1” as I like to refer to him, since I can’t remember his name to save my life. He ran rock-solid and had an immaculate pace! As Pacer 1 and I started to chat, I found out he’d just turned 50 and wanted to run a 50-mile race. He’d been a road marathon guy for years and, to his credit, had run 50 marathons in 50 states. I latched onto him for miles on end out to Rice Lake and back. This was the first out-and-back section of the course and the first turnaround, which in my opinion is a cool aspect of Ice Age, as it allows you to calculate exactly where you are in comparison to the rest of the field and gives you an opportunity to really gauge what kind of effort you’ll need to muster. I was holding steady at 12:00-13:50/mile pace.
Somewhere around mile 25, I dropped Pacer 1 as he was struggling to keep pace due to his quads being shot. With a pat on his shoulder and “good luck,” I took the downhill and was on my own again. The next 5 miles were pretty uneventful, except I spotted two peacocks in the woods while running. What are the odds of that? And, no, they were not turkey vultures; I’m Indian, and I know a peacock when I see one — it’s my national bird! I stopped to take a photo and felt a bit blah. My pace was steadily dropping, so I decided to run/hike for a couple of miles.
Confusion Corner (mile 32)
As I made my way past Confusion Corner for the second out-and-back section to Emma Carlin, I got passed by Laurie Tulchin. She was holding pace like a pro, so I decided to pace with her until I was out of my funk. As we ran together, Laurie commented that she sensed a bit of a New York accent, and anyone who knows me well can vouch for the stories I tell of the good old days in NYC, which happens to be home away from home. Laurie mentioned she was originally from Brooklyn but currently lived in Iowa, so on and on the conversation went.
AS10 Emma Carlin (mile 40.3)
Boom! Just like that we were at 40 miles. It’s amazing how quickly the miles fly when you’re having fun in the company of a seasoned ultra-runner sharing stories. Emma Carlin was the best aid station yet! It was uplifting, with loud music and a great vibe. Laurie turned to me and said, “Let’s go,” and we were off and running. I ran with Laurie for another mile or so, then I decided to split and took the downhill out on my own again, telling Laurie that I would see her at the finish.
I was starting to feel myself again, and as I ran I must’ve passed at least 12 runners between 41 and 45 miles. With 5 miles to go, I looked down at my watch and decided no more hiking. It was time to take it to the finish. Here’s how it went:
45 - 12:21/mile
46 - 11:44/mile
47 - 11:39/mile
48 - 11:29/mile
49 - 11:19/mile
50 - 11:15/mile
Finish (mile 50)
I was greeted with a loud “aaawwwooo” by Pat as I rolled into the finish. I’d managed to pass three more runners on my way in, with a negative split. I got to see Pacer 1 and Laurie finish, then hung out as we cheered other runners bringing it home. My official finish time was 10:22:44, making this a 50-mile distance PR for me by 50 minutes!
I came off the race feeling pretty darn good! Three things I can’t talk enough about when it comes to distance running are:
Four more weeks to the “big dance.” I’m nervous as shit.
Author: Shalini Kovach is the founder and lead organizer of Terrain Trail Runners.