Old school - New school...
When Angela Barbera first floated the idea of organizing an ultra to celebrate my 50th birthday, I told her it was a nice sentiment, but unfortunately, the 17th fell on a Tuesday. She let it drop.
A week or so later, she conceded that a 50-miler on a weekday night probably wouldn't work, so it would have to be a 50K. I thanked her again for her thoughtfulness and suggested that it wasn't was worthwhile making plans for a run that no one was likely to attend.
The next week, she continued the conversation, "So if you were going to run a 50K on your birthday, where would it be?"
"I suppose the Monches segment of the Ice Age trail," I replied, "but, to be clear, no one would do it."
"I would," she said. Silence.
On a run a few days later, Kevin Grabowski asked me what I was doing for my 50th birthday. I told him Angela was working me over to run a 50K, but being a Tuesday night, I didn't want any of my friends to feel obligated to attend. Kevin carefully considered my concern and then announced to the 10 or so people gathered in the Evergreen Shelter at Lapham Peak that the first annual Funk Road 50 would be happening the evening of Tuesday, November 17.
The next day, there was a t-shirt design and an official invitation posted on the Lapham Peak Trail Runners blog. The toothpaste was out of the tube.
Fast forward to Tuesday, November 17th.
The scene in the starting area of the FR 50 would have made any old-school ultrarunner smile. There, standing or jumping in place in the tiny parking lot off Funk Road, were 30 or so ultrarunners, headlights on, waiting for the signal to run. There were no race numbers, no port-a-johns or starting line. Just a bunch of people who shared a passion for trail running and were moved to do something completely odd -- to run 31 miles on a blustery Tuesday night in November.
After Kevin made a few comments about the course, we set out into the dark. The course would take us 25K north, past the Holy Hill Basilica and Shrine, then back on the same trail to the parking lot.
While the FR 50 had the spirit of a fat ass event, co-RDs Kevin Grabowsk and Angela Barbera are possessed with too much enthusiasm, creative energy and organizational talent to be satisfied with leaving a jug of water and a package of cookies on the side of the trail. Every "preregistered" runner received a complimentary t-shirt and Kevin provided laminated course maps to those who were unfamiliar with the course. For her part, Angela assembled a spectacular aid station, complete with homemade bakery and beer (more on that later). Robert Wehner, RD of three Wisconsin ultras, measured the trail and marked it with surveyor's paint and pink ribbons. While forerunning the course, Robert even tagged downed trees with reflector tabs to alert runners of approaching obstacles!
The course would take us alongside a stretch of the Oconomowoc River, through the small artisan's community of Monches (named after an Indian Chief who lived and was buried nearby) and north into the Loew Lake conservation area. After a 1.3 mile out-and-back segment to boost the distance to 50K, runners returned to the Ice Age trail, where they traversed a steep hill and passed through a field of evergreens to a one mile road connector. At the end of the connect was a new segment of the Ice Age trail -- hilly, rocky and covered with leaves -- that bisected the grounds of the Holy Hill Basilica and took us to the turnaround at Shannon Road.
Entering this section of the trail with Ron Bero and Parker Rios, Brian Seegert passed us running strong, presumably in an effort to create some separation from Julie Treder, who, if past experience was an indicator, would be catching up with him later in the race.
The Shannon Road aid station, set up and hosted by the amiable (and somewhat bemused) Steve Barbera, Angela's husband, resembled an oasis in the middle of the desert. Coleman lanterns lit up the darkness and a patio heater stood over the assembled runners like a light post, blasting warmth. In front of Steve's truck were two tables covered with homemade baked goods, hot soup, candies, electrolyte drinks, gels and water. And in front of it all, a cooler jammed with bottles of ice cold beer.
(Not surprisingly, many runners decided to end their run at the aid station.)
Many of the runners who ran the FR50 course for the first time were delighted by the diversity of the terrain and sublime beauty of the area. Those who enjoy dancing over rocks and roots got their fix in the first and last sections of the course -- and those looking for runnable terrain found several miles of flat and relatively soft ground near Loew Lake. Most of the course is wooded, but there there are moments when the sky is exposed -- and often with a clear view of the Holy Hill shrine, which stands like a beacon, ablaze in white light and grandiose, its steeples piercing the sky.
As I thanked everyone who invested their time, money and talents to bring the Funk Road 50 to life, it was heartening (but not surprising) to get the same response from each of them. "I really didn't do anything, it was (insert other person's name here)." Maybe Deb Vomhof said it best, "It's just what we (as ultraunners) do." What a great birthday gift!
The FR50 could also mark the beginning of a new birthday tradition. There is already talk of organizing an ultra whenever a member of the Lapham Peak Trail Runners turns 50. Next up: Angela Barbera in September 2010.
Lammers, Birkholz, Dehart, Egnarski and Cantrall sporting their Funk Rd. wear...