Glacial 50 from the back of the Pack
By Steve Poulter
As a newbie trail runner and recent recipient of my coveted LPTR sticker, I have no problem confessing or promoting the back of the pack crew. I’m one of those that with the excitement of a little kid are found darting out with the lean, mean trail running machines and then fading on the first hill and settling into my own pace. So it was once again last Sunday, with a little more trail experience under my belt, that I set off on the Glacial 50K with a large group of LPTR’s and others in Greenbush.
Flashback 1 hr….I got to the race a little early to watch the start of the 50 miler. With headlamp ready to navigate the dark (and to make myself feel cool like the 50 milers) I watched as RD Robert sauntered to the start with the racers to a calm countdown of his watch to set off the first group. The simplicity of the race and the start was exciting. No timing mats, blow up arches to run through, huge clocks or DJ’s blaring music. Just the raw nature of runners and gear and headlamps and a sunset soon to happen…and rock our worlds….created a buzz and excitement that grew in momentum as the 50K runners continued to gather in numbers for their start an hour later.
So after final preparations and a pre-race guide from Robert, the 50K crowd started off on the road south in the same simple fashion as the 50 milers. I did my best to try to figure out where I would find myself….I knew Joel, Todd, and Marcel would be out in the front somewhere…and Marty had big plans on coming in under 6 hours…well, those are bigger than my goals of 6 hours. My plan was a 5:1 run/walk, I had run a 5:05 marathon at the NFEC last month, and figured I could cover 5 more miles in an hour. What I didn’t anticipate was the rugged North Kettle Moraine and the heat that would set in late in the race.
After a great chat with Jeff and Angela along the road south and onto the trails, I found myself settling in behind a first timer, a newbie Ultra runner. I found myself doling out encouragement on a certain finish and advice to just keep moving. It was cool to sense the uncertainty he held about the race, but an excitement about the day to come. I settled into my pace and the group spread out, this course required plenty of line of sight to navigate the rocks. However the solitude was a stark contrast to previous races…it was me and the trail and the strategy and mind games and mental calculations began in full force.
Funny sidebar…how well do you do math while running? My goal was to calculate what I thought I would have to run to ensure I made it to the finish before the first 50 milers….let’s see, assuming a 7 minute pace over 50 miles converting into hours minus the delta between my 15 mile turn and their 25 mile turn…when was my last S-cap….every 30 minutes and gels every five miles…where am I…did you see a yellow Ice Age trail blaze lately….what is moving over there…check out that cool view…where was I? COOL! Aid station #1!
So was my day, mental distractions contrasted with severe concentration to dance over the rocks and navigate loose gravel on downhill’s, and trying to take in fluids and nutrition. As I closed in on Aid station #2, I saw the first of the 50K runners on their way back home. It was about 2:18 in when I started counting runners, looking for my LPTR holmeys. I saw Joel in fifth place blazing and was excited to see a familiar face…a couple more LPTR’s were along this stretch as I descended the steps into the AS and Julie was there to fill up my bottle, Jill and Connie were there rooting on the runners and waiting for their guys to come back in, and many familiar faces were helping runners. I was quick to start back off up the stairs.
It was soon after I saw Todd looking strong…where’s Marcel I thought, figured they would hang together…guess it would be soon. Then I saw Marcel, Jeff, Marty and others and started the serious mental calculations again on when I would hit the turn myself, how far were these guys were ahead of me based on the turn…oh well, it kept me busy.
I hit the turn at the bandanna tied to a stick in the ground (awesome…again simple) at 2:57….right on pace for a 6 hour run. It was here that I started feeling the heat and my pace increase, but I ran pretty steady back into the aid station and it was time to hit the drop bag. A cool wet washcloth to cool off the head, grabbed my hat our of the bag, and added my Nathan waist pack bottle to the hand held I had been using to double fluid carrying capability. Restocked some gels, grabbed some food and was up the stairs again.
From here the heat continued to increase and I started finding it hard to drink fluids and intake anything. I topped off all bottles at the last aid station at around mile 24 and headed back out with some oranges in my pocket…it was soon after the real trouble started. As I ran my stomach seemed to move into my neck…not a good sign. I would walk and it would settle, drawing me into a false sense of success, only to try to run and have the nausea come back. I found a nicely cut stump on one uphill and sat down…head in hands…can I make it, yes, but what would it take? A couple guys passed me at a crawl of a walk, they were close to my condition and sympathized, I knew I wasn’t alone in the struggle.
This battle went on until mile 28, when the lead 50 mile runner came running up behind me. I looked at him and he stopped, hands on knees shaking his head. He was hurting, and looked like he was running from a band of hunters…adrenalin raised, this is exciting, was there a race on…who was behind him…how close? Was it Kevin, Christine, who was on his tail? I shouted some words of encouragement as he headed off ahead of me…and it was then that I was able to start running longer segments.
So on I pushed and the trail broke out into the open fields where I knew I would soon see the road again. I saw the 1 mile to finish sign and was encouraged to get this thing done. As I pushed out onto the road and around the first bend I saw nobody. Just me and the finish line, but the sun was beating down and I zig zagged on the road to find any shade available. As I was heading north to the final left turn to the finish, I looked back and someone was gaining on me. My walk / run was pitiful and they were eating the gap. It was the second place 50 mile runner, later I would learn her name to be Cassie, and gain great respect for her accomplishment of the day. I always seem to find the energy to run the last leg to the finish and ran it in to a new PR of 6:45 (2 minutes faster that the Ice Age 50K).
I stumbled around the finish area and heard a roar of applause (or a few guys clapping ?!?!?) hey is that for me or Cassie?!?!
And there at the finish was my LPTR friends, soaking up the shade and ready to talk trail. Overall, awesome day, awesome trails, awesome race, awesome race director, awesome volunteers, and awesome friends. Can’t wait to return next year.