Keeping the silent sports community informed and self propelled.
With equal measures of excitement and anxiety, I’m looking forward to the 30th annual Ice Age Trail 50 this Saturday. It will be my first attempt at running 50 miles (or any distance beyond 31 miles) and I don’t know what to expect.
Well, I expect to spend many hours running, walking, eating and hydrating my way along incessantly hilly singletrack. And I expect that it will become harder and more physically and mentally uncomfortable the deeper I get into the Southern Kettle Moraine State Forest.
Thirty years of runner discomfort has followed the brainstorm of Glenn Wargolet, then president of the Badgerland Striders, who originally thought to mark off a one-mile course in a Milwaukee county park and have people run it 50 times. But Tom Ulik, an accomplished ultrarunner, took Wargolet out for a run in the Southern Kettles, convincing him that was a better venue. The first running of the Ice Age Trail 50 in 1982 attracted 99 runners from around the country, and 75 ultimately finished.
So I won’t be the first to tackle the terrain, elements and one’s physical limitations. (As I write this, there’s a 60 percent of rain and temps in the high 40s forecast.) The largest field the event has ever seen - 610 runners (300 in the 50-mile, 180 in the 50K and 125 in the inaugural half marathon) – is expected. They won’t all line up as early as we 50-mile runners – 6 a.m. – but we’ll see each other on the various loops and return segments of trail.
As I take on my first IA50, I’ll be humbled by the thought of the eight runners out there with me looking to join the “500-mile club,” achieved by completing the long race 10 times.
Race director Jeff Mallach tells me there are four individuals registered to run their 20th IAT50. “In fact, Andy Arena will be running his 26th Ice Age 50-miler this year,” Mallach said. “If he finishes, he'll have more finishes than any other runner in the history of the event.”
Lorraine Bunk will also be running, and she already holds three age division records. “If she finishes, she'll be the first 70-year old woman to ever complete the 50-mile course,” Mallach predicted.
I will consider myself very fortunate to be in such company at so highly-regarded an event as Ice Age. One of the largest and most competitive 50 milers in the country, the event will also host Zach Gingerich of Aurora Illinois, who won more ultras in 2009 and 2010 than anyone, including last year’s 135-mile Badwater Ultramarathon.
“He won Ice Age in 2009 and has to be considered the favorite this year,” Mallach said.
But with automatic entries into next month's prestigious Western States 100 on the line for the top two male and female finishers, a real race will likely break out at the front. Ice Age is the penultimate event in the Montrail Ultra Cup Championship Series, making it a highly competitive race from year to year.
Mallach said the 50K field will include at least 10 runners capable of finishing under four hours, which is flying on such a difficult course.
But the event offers much more than glory for a superhuman few, Mallach said.
“What makes this event special, I think, is the unique beauty of the Southern Kettle Moraine forest; that the course is run exclusively on trails (the only roads on the course are those you cross); the friendly and knowledgeable volunteers (many of whom have been helping out for years, some for decades); and the runners themselves. I think there's a genuine affection for this race among its veterans,” Mallach said.
I’m counting on that community spirit, more than anything, to help me make it to the finish line. I’ll be focused on running from aid station to aid station, relying on the sustenance and encouragement I find at each. If I don’t thank everyone who lends me a hand, it may only because I’m too busy concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other.
So let me say this much in advance: Happy 30th birthday, Ice Age Trail 50. Save me a piece of cake. But I’ll settle for a BBQ sandwich and a beer to go with that hard-earned finisher's belt buckle.
Finish the 2011 Ice Age 50 Mile under 12 hours, and this belt buckle is yours.