Friday, May 18, 2018

Ice Age Trail 50 mile

Just north of Chicagoland is one great expanse of forest preserves in Wisconsin known as the Kettle Moraines. It contains a variety of trail systems including parts of the legendary Ice Age Trail, Nordic trail, Emma Carlin/John Muir mountain bike trails among others. From home the trail head at Nordic is around 2 hours drive but well worth the journey

I have only ran one race up there; the North Face Endurance trail race (half marathon) but it is home to a number of other trail races including as Ice Age Trail 50 (50 mile, 50k, half), Kettle Moraine (100 mile, 100k, 50k, 38k), prior mentioned North Face (distance 5k up to 50 mile) and a few other smaller events such TBunk, Crusty 50k.

Many years ago I started volunteering at the Kettle Moraine 100 race at the Tamarack aid station that was captained by the Gorskis, Mary and Dave. They managed that aid station for the full 36 hours of the race as it was used 4 times by the runners (miles 5, 55, 65, 95). I used to go up around lunch time and stay overnight until the station closed next day. Sometimes I got in a loop of the 9 mile Nordic trail myself. It was a blast. I had heard about the Ice Age Trail before I ever went to the Kettles but as Mary and many of the KM runners and volunteers had ran it I got to hear many a tale of the race so decided to sign up for a volunteer at Ice Age around 8 years ago.

I was assigned to aid station 5 which is at the Hwy 12 crossing that year. The runners hit it at miles 17 and 26. Captained by Mary and Craig Hopper they have been there for many many years and have volunteers that come back year after year. Despite being a newbie to their crew I was welcomed as the long lost son eight years ago and have been back to help them every year.

Setting up the aid station before the runners arrive

We arrive around 7am to set up a hydration and food station. Drinks are poured, Heed energy drink is mixed, bowls and containers are filled with MMs, cookies (biscuits for my UK friends), pickles, potato salted snacks,bananas while PBJ sandwiches are made. This year we was a well oiled machine and everything was set up in record time. We also set up signage to indicate race distances and how far to next aid stations and set up a runners cone lane into the aid station. There was also a crew that handled the road crossing at Hwy 12 which is a busy 50 mph road through the Kettles. Yes runners have to stop to cross the road, traffic is not stopped. And new was a recycle bin.

This year the weather was damp and chilly but thankfully no rain during the race. It was probably perfect for trail running. Reports were the trails given the rain the day before were in good shape with just some mud and slick spots but nothing too bad. Although I don't know the finish times compared to previous years guessing the course for most was a tad slower as the lead guys came through around 4 minutes later than expected but hey they had done 17 miles on narily trails

Down the hill into aid station at mile 17

View that greets the runners at mile 17 into aid station

As normal I was charged with checking in the runners at mile 17 as they came down the hill in the photo above. Means basically writing down their bib numbers and arrival time of the day. Fairly easy gig until a big group of 20 runners comes in together in single file down the trail. Luckily I had help from Chicago Lakefront 50 and 50/50 race director Pat Onines who acted as bib number spotter and called out the numbers so I could write them all down. Only missed a couple out the 380 that hit mile 17. We had another team logging mile 26. Once last runner came through mile 17 I helped at the aid station with food and hydration until Jose the sweep came through. Just before then we tore the aid station down and loaded the tables, canopy pop ups, trash, left over supplies into the race van.

Then it was over to the start/finish line. This races is so awesome to volunteers. They give a parking pass if you need one for the day (WI State Park), a great volunteer shirt based on the race shirt and we get the same meal as the runners. Happy to report the meal is great and with veggie option and beer. If you can't run one year volunteer. Flatlanders general captained an aid station, or join me at Hwy 12 or just email the contact on the race website. 

I saw so many inspiring runners. Saw so many friends running the 50 mile and got so many hugs and high fives. If you want to run a spring 50 miler Ice Age Trail comes highly recommended but you have to sign up fast as it sells out; and then train as it is not an easy course especially so soon after the winter. I will be back in 2019. See you soon     

Photos by Ian Stevens (me)

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