This race was to be the last long training run before the Ice Age Trail 50 and it followed the Hawkeye 50K that I had run 3 weeks prior. The race is conducted in the Hyland Park Reserve in Bloomington Mn. Bloomington is a suburb of Minneapolis/St Paul which worked out well as my brother lives in Otsego Mn which is about 45 minutes outside of the Twin Cities. Myself and Jay headed out on our 5 hour drive to Minnesota on Friday afternoon, arriving about 7 pm. We hung out with my brother and ate pancakes and ice cream for dinner.
Bright and early Saturday morning we headed to the park for the 0530 packet pickup and 0700 start for the 50k. First we had to stop so I could grab some bottled water and something for breakfast. I ended up eating a pop tart and Gatorade for pre race fuel. After about a 40 minute drive we arrived at the park visitor's center and I got my number and timing chip. Shirts and other goodies would be handed out at race completion. We sat in the car for about 30 minutes until I started assembling my gear for the start. I moseyed over to the start line about 10 minutes before start time and waited with the rest of the crowd. My brother Matt and son Jay followed me a few minutes later and we made small talk until the count down and starting gun went off.
As this was supposed to be a training run I started off at a trot hoping to try out my race strategy for the upcoming 50 miler. The race was a total of four 12.5 Km or 7.75 mile loops around the park. My crew of two hung out at the start finish line with my drop bag. The course was run entirely on grass or wood chip covered trails and was not very technical. There were quite a few rolling and even some steep hills on the course. I just settled into my pace as the course went up the first hill through a meadow then up another hill. About that time my pace program informed me I had completed the first mile in 9:49. I knew this would be too fast for the entire race but I was feeling pretty good. I decided right then to just go with it. I also decided that I would not walk all the hills as I had done in previous ultras. I would run them if I could see the top and only walk them if they were steep or I couldn't see the crest. We went down a hill and hit the first aid station at about mile 1.5
About mile 2 I had to stop and tighten my shoes but for the rest of the race the were fine. After the aid station the course headed into the woods and up and down several hills until we looped back to the same aid station at about mile 4. The course then headed east over hill and dale until we hit a section of paved bike trail for about a mile that headed up hill. I ran on the side of the trail and avoided the pavement. We then headed on and out an back route on a wood chipped trail that was very spongy and soft. By this time the lead runners were starting to pass me headed the other way towards the start/finish. I completed the loop and headed back myself starting to pass other 50K runners as they made their way to the turn around. This section winded along side a lake and once we hit the eastern edge it took a left turn and headed to the start/finish. Lap one was complete for me in 1:20. This was relatively fast and but me on pace for a personal record. I didn't want to get my hopes up and just wanted to stick to my hydration and refuel plan. I had been taking a gel and salt tablet every 30 minutes as well as grabbing trail mix and powerade at every aid station. I had been drinking enough water that I was staying well hydrated.
I headed out and laps 2 and 3 were pretty much carbon copies of Lap 1. My rough splits were 2:44 and 4:15 for those laps. Between laps 2 and 3 I stopped to refill my camelbak and grab some more gels from my awesome crew. At the end of lap 3 I was starting to get a little bit of soreness in my feet but I told them I would see them in 1:20.
I was definitely on pace for a PR and unless I walked the entire lap I would finish somewhere between 5:30 and 6:00 hrs. My pace had been consistently in the 10:30-10:40 range per mile and I was feeling like my plan was working. But then things change as they usually do in a ultra. The first thing was I started getting lazy and mentally losing my edge. When I hit that first hill on lap 4 I decided to walk it instead of run. I mean I was way ahead what was the worry? I think right there subconsciously my pace started to slow. Runners I had been hanging with started to pull away from me and I also started getting passed. By the time I hit the aid station I was running 10:50 miles and I felt like I was giving it all I had. The second thing was I was starting to get stomach cramps when I took in solid food like trailmix so I had to stick to the gels. I was starting to struggle and even though it wasn't the worst I had felt on an ultra it was the worst I had felt all day. Eventually I was running through the woods with no one in sight in front or behind me. I was feeling sorry for myself as I hit the point were there was 4 miles left to go.
It was then and there I told my self to man up and pick up the pace. I decided that this was going to become a race. Surprisingly as I lengthened my stride and concentrated on my form and foot turnover I started feeling better. I started feeling stronger, then I caught sight of a runner ahead of me and I was determined to catch that runner. She started walking up the hill with the bike path and I kept my feet and arms moving. I concentrated on my breathing as I passed her on the uphill. I then saw another runner and I passed him too. With everyone I caught I felt stronger and stronger. I felt like Anton Kupicka racing the Western States 100 or Geoff Roes powering up the mountains of Alaska. I felt like I was an elite runner like I was flying down the trail (in reality I was probably doing 8-9 minute miles but whatever). I blew right through the last aid station with 2 miles to go. I smelt the barn and picked the pace up even more. I passed 6 runners in those last 4 miles beating the closest one by almost 2 minutes. I crossed the finish line in 5:24:56.8. I beat my previous Personal Best for the 50K by by almost 50 minutes. I had just set it 3 weeks previously. This race was the culmination of 6 months of training and with 3 weeks before my second 50 mile attempt it is time to taper. Ice Age Trail 50 I am coming for you.