I called it a "Solo Ice Age 50" but it was anything but a solo effort.
Flashback two weeks to when the "real" Ice Age 50-mile race was held. I showed up at the race site a sniffly, coughing mess with a virus that had snuck into my body just days before. I had lots of advice: "If you don't have a high temperature, run the race, you'll feel better;" "Go ahead and run, it will 'burn' the bug out of your body;" and "Once you get going you'll forget that you're sick."
And so I toed the race line, and then I coughed all over it.
The first mile or two actually wasn't that bad. I didn't forget that I was sick, but I started to think that perhaps I could do the full Ice Age. That thought lasted for about two miles. Slowly I moved from the back of the pack to the "way back" of the pack. I felt lousy, and when I came into the aid station, I unpinned my number and handed in my race chip.
A few days later, while cleaning up after my personal little pity party, I finally took a look at the race shirt. Jeff Mallach, race director, had put together a winner -- a 30th anniversary long-sleeve tech shirt. I'm not overly nutty about the unwritten rule of not wearing a shirt from a race one did not finish. I could wear this. After all, I had done nine previous IAT races. But I got to thinking that it might be good to earn the right to wear this one.
Surely in two weeks I would be done coughing up all those loogies; I would feel like myself again? Might as well go and run the course. And so "Mary's Most Excellent Solo Ice Age 50" was born. The Li'l Mister earned a "Husband of the Year" nomination for agreeing to crew for me the whole day but I thought that both he, and I, could use a little company. I sent an email to a couple of runners' lists in the area and let them know of my plans. "Come out to run or jeer -- would love to have some company."
One of the first to respond was Badwater Bonnie Busch. She had done the real Ice Age, but thought that she could use the extra miles as she built up for her next Badwater effort in July. Bonnie wins the award for longest distance traveled -- she came up from Iowa the night before, stayed the full day, and then drove the three-plus hours home. Wow.
Although it was an unofficial run, I was sticking with the official rules. Start time would be 6 a.m. The Li'l Mister and I, along with Dewey the Wonder Dog, pulled into the parking lot around 5:30. What a difference from race morning two weeks earlier when the lot was packed with runners and volunteers busy with pre-race chaos. Instead, we had the lot to ourselves. Although a few people said that they'd start with me, I wondered if anyone would really rouse themselves for a 6 a.m . run on a holiday weekend.
But then Bonnie pulled into the lot, and Brad and Audrey, and Gardar, and Pat (did anyone else know that "Gorman" actually has a first name?), and Deb, and Cathy and Marty (who had DNFed Ice Age at mile 17 with the same bug that I had).
At about 6 a.m. I hit my stopwatch and we were off. Weather was similar to the real Ice Age -- overcast, 50s to 60s and humid. Thankfully, my body was NOT similar to the one I started with at Ice Age. A few loogies still made their way out on to the trail, but overall I felt pretty good and was enjoying the chatter of the early miles. As we neared the end of the Nordic loop a few more friends came out on the trail -- running legends Tom and Lorraine (I just ran my 20th Ice Age) Bunk, Paul Gionfriddo, Kris Hinrichs, John Rodee and other TPs. We stopped and chatted, and again congratulated Lorraine on her FANTASTIC 20th Ice Age finish at the age of 70. She is my running idol.
I was so grateful for the people who had come to join me and I had visions of everyone staying together. All About Mary -- being an only child I was thrilled that so many friends had come out for ME!
We chatted and stopped now and then and chatted again. People took pictures and we chatted some more.
By the time we got to the end of the nine-mile loop it was about 1:50 on the clock. Pat asked me if I was staying with the rules of the race –– meaning, did I plan to do the course under 12 hours?
"Well, yeah, of course," I said. "If I'm going to do it, I might as well do it right."
As we mingled in the parking lot, picking up new runners and refilling our supplies, I started to do a bit of math. If I wanted to actually do this under the 12-hour time limit, I had to get moving.
"Ok, let's go!" I yelled.
It was like herding cats.
"HERE I GO!!!!"
I was SO GRATEFUL for the herd of cats who had come to join me, but I needed to get moving. And so I did. And like my own cats when I have a can of open tuna in my hands, the herd started to chase me me down the trail and we were off again.
But as we moved toward Highway 12 (17+ miles) the herd split apart. Some turned back, having time constraints. Others had less compulsive mileage goals for the day. Marty escorted me to Highway 12 and as we made our way to the "aid station" he reminded me of the time. "You know, you are going to have to keep moving if you really want to get in under 12 hours." Marty had to head back and I hemmed and hawed, trying to decide what to do. Wait for the rest of the herd or get moving. Thankfully, the Li'l Mister made the decision. He kicked me in the butt and told me to get going. And so I did.
I got to Rice Lake and headed back north. About 10 minutes later I saw what was left of the herd running toward me. The tomcats decided to go to the turn-around while Bonnie said she would turn early and run with me. It was great to have company again. I always have the voices in my head, but an external voice is a wonderful break from the incessant bickering that seems to go on between my ears. Bonnie and I talked about her Badwater prep, work travels, and other chatter.
Back at Highway 12 I looked at my watch. There were almost six hours on my chronograph and I was only about halfway through the 50 miles. Although I don't posses much in the way of higher math skills, I can usually do multiples of two. Two times six equals 12. Criminey! I had no room for error! No room to just walk it in. I had to get my buns moving and run the same pace for the next 50 miles as I did for the first. It wasn't a record-setting pace, but the idea of an even-split 50-mile run scared the heck out of me. Bonnie decided to crew with Dave for a bit and once again I was kicked out of the Highway 12 aid station.
Speaking of scared, on the morning of my Mary's Most Excellent Solo Ice Age 50 I was more nervous than I had ever been before the real race. I decided to let others know of my plans in hopes that a few would come out to keep me company but by doing so, I let A LOT of people know that I planned to run 50-miles all by myself. The logical part of my brain realized that if I DNFed people probably wouldn't think of me as an absolute failure in life, but the illogical part of my head (the MUCH LARGER part) agonized over the scenarios of explaining another DNF. Another big-mouthed idea that fizzled. Nice try Mary.
With the latter thoughts in my head I picked up the pace as I made my way back up the trail. At Duffin Road I saw the L'll Mister, Bonnie and our friend, Tom Chopp, who came out to help cheer and crew in the second half of the run. What a lift if was to see them for a few minutes before heading back into the woods. Up the hill to Confusion Corner and full-speed ahead to Young Road where Bill Thom of www.runrace.net was there with his camera in hand. He was to keep me company from Young to the Emma Carlin turnaround and back.
Just what the doctor ordered. By the time I hit Young Road my energy was gone. Worried that I wasn't going to make the 12-hour cut I "sprinted" (a very relative term here) to Young. Bill asked how I was doing. "I felt pretty good until I saw you," I said, realizing only AFTER the words fell out of my mouth how awful they sounded. But being an incredibly understanding guy, he knew exactly what I meant and started feeding me a steady dose of encouraging words, telling me that I looked much better than I did and that I'd finish under 12 hours without a hitch. Like a junkie I mainlined his optimistic comments and kept moving.
Heading toward Horseriders' Camp, Bonnie ran up the trail toward us. She did this at several of the aid stops and I began to think of her as the bird that signals to sailors that land is near. Once I saw Bonnie, I knew that another shot of Coke was close at hand. Feeling woozy at this point, the Coke and a smile was the only fuel that seemed to be working.
On the way back to Young Road I saw a blond giant in a hydration pack on a hill. "Did someone order a German?" yelled Cobbie Behrend. A fellow Lapham Peak runner, Cobbie had come to keep me company during my last miles. We stopped briefly at Young to refuel and say "hi" to Kris and Kevin Setnes. Another pair of ultrarunning legends, they lived just up the road and saw our make-shift aid station.
"What's going on?" said Kevin as I popped out on the road. We quickly explained my nutty event and then I looked at my watch. "Sorry, I've got a tight schedule, got to go!"
Cobbie entertained me on the way in with my favorite running pastime -- singing silly songs. By the time we rounded the corner and headed into the finish we had just made up a wonderful number about flour. Funny how less than 24 hours later I can't remember a thing about the song beyond the theme. Cobbie?
Coming into the finish I broke a TP ribbon, received a www.runrace.net shirt as a finisher's award, and then flopped on the deck. My finish time? 11:50. Ten minutes to spare.
I was exhausted. Much more so than after any "real" Ice Age finish. Although I had wonderful support the whole way, this "solo" run was much more difficult for me than any organized 50-miler that I had done. There really seems to be a significant difference between doing an organized event and doing an "unofficially organized" one. I can't put my finger on what it is, but it was much different.
So as I wrote in the beginning, I called this a "Solo Ice Age" but it really was anything but a solo effort. I am so grateful to the many friends who came out to support me, and especially to Dave, my L'il Mister, for being such a good sport and traipsing after me all day. He truly lived up to the definition of "CREW" -- Crabby Runner, Endless Waiting.
And now I'm going to go and put that 30th anniversary Ice Age shirt on. Gosh darn it, I didn't earn a finish buckle for doing the actual event but I sure did earn the right to wear that shirt!