What a great day and venue for a 50-mile trail race! The North Face race in the Southern Kettle Moraine (they call it “Madison”) is set in beautiful Southern Wisconsin (see KM post below), along the Ice Age and Scuppernong trail systems. This was my fourth, and supposedly last, North Face race, but I think I’m rethinking that now; I have some unfinished business.
Cutting to the chase, I ran a personal best for the course and distance, placed 28 out of 221, and won the Male 46-55 age group. And I was greatly disappointed with my results. What a dork, huh? I’ll try to explain.
Pre-Race – The 50-mile race started on a star-filled, fall Saturday morning. The temps were in the upper 40’s (perfect) and there were a ton of people. I haven’t seen the totals, but I’ll bet there were over 200 people for the 50-mile. The start/end area had a festival-like atmosphere with a high-energy announcer (dude, it is 4:30 in the morning) and some very eclectic music (Prince? Really?). Definitely more produced than the low-key trail race atmosphere we all are used to. I kind of liked it. It provided a dichotomy for the solace of the trail to come.
This race was a run on a pseudo-loop with 5 distinct sections. The route was 99% trail and was a mixture of flat prairie, rolling hills, horse trails and singletrack.
Ottawa Trails (10 miles) – I started near the front again this year, and it worked out well for me, avoiding the slowing at the timing mat constriction. All 200+ of us then ran north on Hwy 67 for less than a mile, headlamps bobbing in both directions, before we made an abrupt turn onto the wide Scuppernong trails. We ran this first section was mainly on continuous, unremarkable rolling hills through a wooded area. The trails intersected and looped in the dark but were very well-marked. I had a feeling I should be careful in this section; but with such fresh legs, I felt no hills, running them all. My breathing and legs remained strong. I did get off-course once, but lost only a couple of minutes. As I was getting back on course I had the opportunity to run with Adam, a fellow Navy-man from Chicago (I served in the early 90’s). This was Adam’s first ultra, and he asked for advice. I went on with some blather about pace and nutrition; what I should have said was “Enjoy the day Adam, set no goals other than to finish, and be pleased with that finish”. I did see that you finished Adam. Well done. See you next year.
Ice Age Prairie (10 miles) – Following Aid Station-2, as the horizon was getting lighter, we got directed onto some of the greatest singletrack in the Midwest. The Ice Age Trail is a 1000 mile Wisconsin system that is mostly singletrack, mostly hilly and mostly tranquil, and the Kettle Moraine is the best part of it. I love this trail. This was also the time to for me to pick up my pace to about 8:00. There were 4 of us running this pace, and so we kept each other humming along. After some more forest hill running, we came out onto miles of flat prairie at sunrise. Ahhh, beautiful. The fields were hazed with an overhanging mist, blooming with wildflowers almost to the horizon. Time to take a deep breath and look around; gifts from God to be appreciated. Unfortunately, this section went rather quickly due to the scenery and flat trail. Before we knew it, it was time to get to work! The fun was about to begin.
McMiller Hills (15 miles) – Out of Aid Station-4 we ran an out-and-back section on some rolling hills. These hills weren’t lofty, but some were steep, and the downhills tended to be littered with loose rocks. And the hills kept coming. I found most runnable, though some I walked out of prudence. In the past I tended to lose significant time in this section. Not this year though. My plan was to run as many of the hills as I could and keep the pace consistent at around 9:00 average pace, and I was able to do that. Since this section was an out-and-back, we were able to see the front runners pass. Way cool. Ian Sharman and another front-runner flew past together. I did give them a hoot, and Ian returned the favor. As the runners passed, I did an unscientific count and found I was well in the top 20. I was also on a 7 hour pace. Yikes. I was feeling good, and the last 10 miles of this race is where I am historically strong, so I kept the pace to see what would happen. When I came into McMiller for the second time though, I was breathing very hard, with a high respiration. I could not get it under control. This happened to me at Afton last year in the heat and hills. What the heck! I ate a PB&J and took my second electrolyte tablet of the day (maybe I should have been taking more). I grabbed a Gu and refilled my water bottle (maybe I should have been drinking more). It was starting to get warm, in the low 70’s, and I did not seem to be handling that well. And here was a first: I had to wait for a train! Not very long, but I did enjoy the forced break in the hills.
Scuppernong Horse Trails (10 miles) – Unfortunately the hills did not stop out of McMiller. I still was unable to catch my breath, and my heart seemed to continue its own race. This was very frustrating because my legs felt fine. If I could just breath I could have hammered the remainder of the hills and course. But it was not to be, and I was losing serious time. This portion of the race is where the 50-milers joined with 50k and relay racers. All of a sudden, the trail was full of fresh and talkative runners. A multi-colored trail of Lycra and smiles. I was in no mood to talk (or smile), though I tried to be social. I did meet Mohawk Guy, who was running the 50k at about my pace. He had the habit of making horsey sounds with his lips on the uphills, which caused me to check my six a couple of times afraid that Seabiscuit was running up my rear. I was also beginning to cramp up as the temperatures rose. I never cramp. Both calves and a quad were giving me fits. I don’t think I handled my hydration and electrolytes well this race. It never got above 75 degrees, but I was still feeling it. As I was getting more discouraged with my uncontrolled respiration, I started seeing turtles. I do that when I am really fatigued, so I did not freak out. Weird. Seabiscuit and I lumbered on, knowing we were almost done.
The Home Stretch (5 miles) – Once the flats started, it was time to pound out a sub 7-minute pace. But I couldn’t. I was left to stumble the remainder of the race, with my breathing and heart rate still not in control. My legs were in great shape, but I could do nothing with them. Is this a bonk? I’m not sure what that definition is. There were a lot of runners on the course that day, but it never seemed like too many. I continued on with a mixture of 50-mile, 50k and relay runners. After the final hill, were back onto the pavement of Hwy 67. I was very glad to be done with this race so I might breath again!
I crossed the finish line in 8:27. This was a good time compared to my previous races. It was a PR and an age group win. But. I was capable of so much more. And that is where my lies my disappointment. I knew I had a sub-8 hr race in my legs, and possibly a top ten finish. My respiration just would not cooperate. I had trained harder than ever, with more mileage, stair lunges and core work, and so I expected much better results. A friend suggested that my respiration issues were classic signs of dehydration. I did lose almost 10 lbs on the race. If this is my issue, then I can easily remedy it: drink more. Duh. I can try this at my next race: Surf the Murph in October. See you there!