Title of my post “how you live a life while running an ultra” means that in an ultra marathon, we can experience the ups and downs that life offers. In short, Ultra Running is life simulation scaled to short time period.
This years iceage trail 50 mile was also a US trail championship. It was awarded by Road Running Club of America to Iceage.
After a good start of the year with a win at John Dick 50k and 3rd place on Madcity 50k, I was confident that I will run my 50 mile trail PR in Iceage 50 miler. Since it was a national championship this year, I planned to go for top 10 out of 574 who registered for the race. How many started? I need to check that may be around 400!
I called my coach Anthony and asked him fueling suggestions. I then packed my bag gels, ginger candies, water bottle, and extra clothes and shoes. Thanks to my wife Namrta for her help.
I woke up at 3:30 am and got ready by 4:15 am. I then drove to Nordic trail head at the southern unit of kettle moraine state park. It was dark and freeways had almost no cars on them.
I reached the race venue around 5:15am, picked my bib and got ready for the race. It was a bit chilly in the morning which was perfect for running. Prediction was that it will stay cooler whole day so that was something I was looking forward to.
Lets have quick look at the course first. Here is the map
The first 9.25 miles of this race is Nordic loop and runners need to come back to start/finish line after first 9.25 miles. They are then supposed to head towards a point 0.5 away from the Nordic loop. This point is called confusion corner. From there, runners turn left and go south for almost 10 miles till rice lake. Rice lake is turned around point at mile 22. Then runners trace back to the confusion corner to make it 32 mile mark. From that point, runners have to go north till Emma Carlin shelter which is a 40 mile mark. That’s last turned around and runners trace back to confusion corner and then to the finish line which is around 2 miles from the confusion corner.
After American National anthem, race started at 6am. I planned to start at a pace no faster then 8:15 per mile.
I found at least 60-70 people ahead of me at mile 1. I could see the herd of people hammering down the first mile. My pace was around 8:30 and I told myself that this is a good start and don’t think too much about your place in the race. Let’s worry about it after mile 10 or better after rice lake turn around which is 22 miles in to the race.
Mile 2, female leader zoomed passed me. She was real quick may be running sub 7 pace. She looked like Kaci who is western state champion. I was sure she will win the female category.
We were a group of 8-9 people who all were running together on the Nordic loop. I saw a gentlemen name Ondrej Tomek and we chatted for a bit. 3-4 of us in the group were walking all the hills in Nordic loop. One guy told me there are lot of miles left, no need to rush and I agreed. We kept talking for a bit and then he took off. Saw another gentlemen, he asked me if I have done this race before and I said, this is my 4th iceage 50. Last time i ran in 2017. He asked me, if this is a good idea to push in Nordic, I said no. It is better to stay calm because it is just starting. 5 miles in and all of us got kind of scattered and I have to go to bushes for a bathroom stop. I saw many runners passing by but I told to myself, no need to rush. Keep calm.
I saw many runners hammering uphill in the Nordic loop and said ( in my head), dude this is just starting of the race, you should not waste your energy. I remembered Nikolas Tesla who said that we all are energies vibrating at a particular frequency.
I then thought of conservation of energy which states that energy can neither be created nor be destroyed. It can be however transformed from one form to another.
A wonderful video that my friend Shivani posted on Facebook discussed this concept very well. The key takeaway was we have limited energy and we should use it wisely. So, do not waste it hammering uphill. Here is that video, you will love it.
At the very least guys, don’t do it at mile 5. It’s a trail race of 50 miles with total elevation gain of around 8000 ft. There are roots, rocks and sudden turns. So you can’t and should not attempt to run it like a road race. These were the thoughts going in my mind. Finished Nordic loop in 1 hour and 13 minutes.
My friend Emily Larson handed me over my water bottle that I had requested her before the start of the race. Thank you Emily for volunteering and helping so many ultra runners out there.
Confusion Corner to Rice Lake
We reached confusion corner which is around mile 11 of the race. A volunteer over there was telling the position of each athlete. He told me that I am running at position number 29th. I thanked him.
There were around 6-7 ultra runner in my sight and I kept running with them. The section ahead was hilly. Even in that section I was walking uphills. Stopped at aid station to fill my water bottle. My friend Kevin who was volunteering at the aid station read my bib number to someone who was noting that down. He didn’t see my face and I didnt bother to say anything. I took off and we were group of 7 runners running together. I had to take another bathroom stop and so all 7 runner zoomed passed me and I told myself to keep calm.
Reached highway 12 aid station and now I was counting my position in the race, by now I have moved up to position number 20.
Rice lake from highway 12 is around 4 miles with some very steep hills and rocky single trails. I was still walking all the uphill and hammering down the downhills. I saw two runners ahead of me and thought I should now be at position 18. One of the runner who had no idea that I am chasing them, tried to use trails as bathroom in motion (😜), he started doing it and realized that I am just behind him. He suddenly aborted the process in the middle and pulled his shorts up. Poor guy.
He asked me if I want to pass and I said yes. So now I was at position 18th and rice lake was couple of miles away. I was thinking to be at rice lake in 3 hours. Saw 4 more runners in that section and passed them. Moved to position 14th.
Rice lake turned around: I reached rice lake in 3 hours and 2 minutes and felt pretty good. Filled my water bottle and turned back. Since I was at almost a midway point I started running uphills (though not really hard).
Rice lake to confusion corner
I saw many familiar faces of Linda, Brenda, Lucy, Greg, Andy and others.
Around mile 25, I saw the female leader and passed her. We greeted each other and I took off. Reached highway 12 and the volunteer stopped us because there were too much traffic. We kept waiting for at least 2 minutes and I felt really frustrated. We then crossed the highway 12 and I filled my water bottle. Someone at that point told me I am in top 10.
I started gaining momentum in that section and kept running all hills. I wanted to reach confusion corner in 4 hours and 30 minutes. I saw another runner and started to chase him, I felt like I am a lion and that guy is a deer. I caught him and we greeted each other.
At that point thoughts of my sister who passed away on May 1 were going through my mind. I was thinking about the day when she got married and I invited my friends. I was in 6th grade. I was thinking about my niece Varsha and how she will celebrate mother’s days tomorrow. Tears dripped down my cheeks and I controlled my emotion and decided to take a gel.
That gel somehow did not sit well in my stomach and I felt burning sensation in my belly and chest. I felt horrible and slowed down a bit. I tried to take a ginger candy but that slipped out of my hand and fell somewhere on the trails. Tried to find that out could not find that in the dust.
I kept running with horrible burning sensation and decided not to take any gel until this thing settled down. Confusion corner was less than a mile away now. I heard someone shouting my name and it was my buddy Jason who was volunteering. He asked me how I am doing, I said ok. He replied, no you are doing great. I said in my mind, Jason no right now i am not doing great. My belly is burning.
I still had that feeling of acidity. There is big steep hill before the confusion corner so I walked that thinking why I am having this weird problem with the gel.
Confusion Corner to Emma Carlin
I reached at the confusion corner in 4 hours and 31 minutes. That was my goal time. A few minutes later I stared feeling better, filled my water bottle from the aid station and started hammering down the downhills. I saw another runner struggling. He was at the third place at rice lake turned around. I passed him, he didn’t say anything and I also kept quiet.
I was thinking that I must be at 6-7th place. Can I make it to top 5? I thought I could. Another mile in and saw another runner and passed him too without saying anything. I wanted to say good job but I clearly saw that he was struggling and kept quiet. Saying good job to someone who is struggling is not good. When I walk in any race feeling horrible and someone says, good job, I do not like that. So i kept quiet.
I tried to take another ginger candy and BAM, my face was into the dust of the trail. A 50k runner while coming back from the horse rider camp asked me if i got hurt? I said no, i am doing alright. My ginger candy got trail dust coating but I ate that anyway. Thats what an ultra runner do, some times we eat dust.
I was may be at 6-7th place. Reached horse rider camp and saw another ultra runner who was struggling too and had sat down on the bench at the aid station. I filled my water bottle and took off. I was now feeling much better. I was now thinking to count how many runners I see coming back from the last turn around of Emma Carlin and I will know my position. A gentleman, who was probably volunteering on the course told me that Emma Carlin is 1.7 miles away. I thanked him and saw the leader hammering the down hills. He was leading atleast by 3.5 miles and there was no way I could catch him. He was looking strong and running really fast. We said hello to each other and I kept pushing towards Emma Carlin. 0.5 mile to Emma Carlin, I saw another guy. We greeted each other and I thought he is only a mile ahead, I can try to catch him and may be I will finish second.
I was really pumped up. Very close to Emma Carlin, I saw another dude who looked real miserable. He was running at 3rd place. I reached Emma Carlin and filled my water bottle. Volunteers there asked me if I need anything and I said water only. They asked me if i need any gel, salt tablet and I don’t know why I said no. But my focus was on the 3rd place dude. I turned back, 5:33 hours into the race feeling confident I will do sub 7 hours.
Emma Carlin to Confusion Corner
One mile after Emma Carlin turned around, I started feeling dizzy and was not able to see trails properly. My legs were really tired and I felt like I will collapse. So, I decided to walk for a minute. The feeling of dizziness and head spin was still there. I tried hard but my legs were not responding when I asked them to run.
So I was walking uphill like a drunk man. I thought may be my brain is not getting enough glucose so I took a gel. That gel did not help a lot but made me feel little better.
I should have taken the salt tablets from the aid station. I should have had more ginger candies and gels in my pockets. These thoughts were going on in my mind.
I reached the horse rider camp and asked them if they have salt tablets and they said no. I filled my water bottle and was really struggling to move.
Now I was forced to walk all uphills even when I wanted to run them. My pace fell well below 10 mins mile and sub 7 hour goal started to fed away.
Another mile slower than 10 pace and then another one. I felt frustrated and blamed myself of not taking proper care of race nutrition. From horse rider camp to confusion corner is very hilly technical trail and my pace was real slow. Somebody called my name and said nice job Vikash and I stopped to find who is that. My mind was not able to focus on that man and I stopped to find out who is shouting my name. I stared at him for 5 seconds.
My attempt to recognize him failed. He said, don’t worry keep going. I replied I wanted to see who is this guy. I still do not know who that guy was. My head was spinning and I was moving like a mummy.
I saw my friend Greg and he said that the third place guy is just a minute ahead of me. But I had nothing left at that point, I tried hard to run faster but my attempt to catch him was not materializing.
When I was about to reach confusion corner, I fell down again on my face. This time two hands came to lift me up. Thank you ultra runners. You are awesome. These two guys were going towards Emma Carlin. This is what makes this sport special. Without thinking about their time and suffering they turned around and gave me a hand so that i can march towards the finish line. This is why I love ultra running.
Confusion Corner to the Finish Line
Reached confusion corner in 6 hours and 53 minutes and my dream of running sub 7 hours were shattered. I told myself now I should try to run at least sub 7:10 and started to give everything.
My legs were not responding. 1.5 miles to the finish line I saw number of 50k runners and one of them passed me saying good job 50 miler. I said thank you and tried to keep up with him. Last mile to go and I passed that guy and many 50k runners. I did not see the third place guy and so I made peace with 4th place.
Reached the finish line in 7:07:52. My friend Jamie handed me the belt buckle and Race director Jeff Mallach said something that I don’t remember. My head was still spinning, I sat down and chatted with Andrew Miller for few minutes before drinking some water and energy drinks. Anand finished his 50 k with an hour PR, we sat down inside the shelter and ate. At last I collected my award and drove home.
4th place in US 50 mile trail championship! Not bad. Sub 7 hours dream, I will work on that and plan the race properly. Each race is a lesson and this was a great one.
Hard work really pays off. I ran this race in 2013 in 9 hours and 36 minutes and this year I was 2 hours and 29 minutes faster. Things will be better as long as you are ready put the much needed sweat, blood and tears.
Here is my photo from 2014 iceage trail 50 miles
Feel free to comment and ask me any question about the race.
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