Ice Age Trail 50 Race Report

In the early miles (photo credit: John Zinzow)

In the early miles (photo credit: John Zinzow)

Ok, ok, I know, this race report is overdue. Frankly, it’s hard to know what to say. I had a pretty darn cruddy race and the idea of dissecting it doesn’t appeal. After almost a week of reflection I’ve come to the conclusion that I simply tried to do too much, too soon. Turns out fifty mile races take a lot out of you and it’s only the more seasoned runners who can handle two of them in a four week period. My body let me know, loud and clear, that it’s time to back off.

I’m trying to take this as a positive. It’s time to refocus during these next crazy-hot, snake-filled desert months, where Temecula temperatures regularly reach between 100-110 degrees. I’ll be temporarily stepping away from the trail as my primary stomping grounds to work on my speed, returning to ultras in the fall. With speed comes confidence. After Saturday’s disaster, I could use a little of that.

So, I guess if you really want to know how it went down, here we go, back to Saturday and the race that wasn’t…

We’re four miles in and all I can think is, hang on a minute, are these ladies doing the math? This is the 50 mile race, right?

Yet there they are, about eight or nine of them in front of me, several bunched together in a tight group running with Kaci Lickteig, all at well under course record pace. In part, I get it. Kaci is running under course record pace because she plans to break the course record. Until today, though, only one other lady has ever run under seven hours on this course before and here are at least eight ladies starting out their 50 mile experience on pace for a 6:30 – 6:45 finish. I soon lose sight of them. In disbelief, I try to reassure myself. Catch you later, I think.

Truth be told, it’s a crappy way to start a race. A big part of me says I should be up there. I can keep up, so why don’t I? It takes serious mental lashings to simply chill out. Patience, be smart, you got this, I tell myself. They will come back to you.

It doesn’t help that I’m actually feeling anything but zippy. My stomach is upset (nerves) and even though I’m well tapered I still feel lethargic for some reason. Moreover, my Achilles is bothering me. I can handle the discomfort, but since I had a partial tear in the other Achilles not that long ago that took me out of running for months, I’m aware that this has the potential to be a serious problem. Even at this early stage I wonder if maybe I should just cut my losses and call it a day. I can’t actually wrap my head around what it would mean to DNF a race though — it’s just such an absurd, foreign concept — so I tell myself to stick it out to the halfway mark and see how I feel.

I hang in there, and wouldn’t you know it, before long I’m glad I did. By mile 16 I’m in a different race altogether. My stomach has settled, my energy is good and I’m trucking. Mile 22 comes, and not only do I see a woman just up ahead, but I quickly realize there are three or four of them fairly close together. Within a few miles, I have passed them all, which I believe puts me in sixth place. A smile sweeps across my face and stays there. As far as I’m concerned, this race just got started. At the next AS, around mile 30, I’m told the next female is just five minutes up. It’s still early, I tell myself, keep pushing and you’ll get there.

By mile 32 I feel a sudden cramp in my upper left calf, making it increasingly tricky to run up hills. I take some salt and do a systems check. I’m well hydrated and my energy and fueling have been spot on. Sure, it was starting to heat up, but I was amazed to later hear that the temperatures that day had reached as high as 80 degrees. (Living in Temecula, most of my runs in the last month have been in temperatures in the mid eighties at a minimum, and up to almost 100 degrees at times. Bring on the heat — I seriously don’t even feel it now.) Still, that nagging calf, the salt is not helping. Now my opposite hip flexor and Achilles are flaring up again, problems that I had dealt with for some weeks going into the race but that I brushed off as mere inconveniences. My body is telling me to stop, but I’m not listening.

Just go to mile 35 and re-evaluate. Stick it on cruise control until then. I do this, but by the time mile 35 rolls around I’m in bad shape, simply falling apart, limping up hills at a walk, tears in my eyes.You’re still moving forward, you’ll get there, just keep doing what you’re doing. I lie to myself, but it somehow helps: we’re only going to mile 38 today, just three more to go. Just to mile 38.

I piggy-back spots with some women runners who are now catching back up to me, back and forth, back and forth, but ultimately I have no choice but to give back all that I had gained.

If I don’t know how to continue anymore, I sure as heck don’t know how to quit. I’ve never quit a race before, and I assure you I can tell some compelling stories of races where I had good reason to quit but didn’t. To do it here, for the first time, is incomprehensible. Not only is this the most gentle 50 miler I’ve run (with fully 8,000 less vertical feet of ascent than Sean O’Brien and 6,500 less than Lake Sonoma), but so much went into getting here. Jeff Mallach, Race Director, kindly let me into the race after it was sold out based on my Sean O’Brien result. I made the iRunFar preview list for the first time and, somehow, this mattered to me. We spent hundreds of dollars of family money to bankroll this dream, with me travelling from California to Wisconsin, something we could ill-afford. How can I fail now?

Another hill, ok, turn sideways and you won’t feel it so much. Just a cramp, that’s all. It’s an ultra, problems happen. Fix it or get over it. I’ve taken salt, Heed, water, fuel, Advil. Nothing helps, the pain gets worse. Mile 44 and I’m walking. It’s a passive way of withdrawing from the race, but somehow I know when I start taking those consistent walking steps it’s over. I allow it to happen. I’m still technically part of the event, but I’m not racing anymore. Seriously, who quits at mile 44? Nobody does. So I keep going, hobbling along, one foot in front of the other.

Finally, I give myself permission to stop when I realize that in fact I don’t want to cross the finish line. I don’t want the buckle, I don’t want an official time. I want those things when I have raced, no matter the outcome. It’s gotten to the point where I can’t race anymore. Body, I am listening. Mile 47.6 and it’s official: DNF.


Kaci Lickteig broke the course record, running a stunning 6:41 and negative splitting the race — an inspiring and incredible performance. She has become only the second person to break 7 hours on the course.

I’ve been diagnosed with a tear in my left calf muscle, as well as a strain in my right hip flexor and retrocalcaneal bursitis (not an Achilles problem after all – huge relief!). I’ll need some PT and can’t run for a month or so, but watch this spot. I’ll be back, stronger than ever.