Ice Age Trail 50 Mile Race Recap

Last year when I reflected my races and training from 2012, I emphasized how much I had learned about the importance of race-specific training. I considered my Western States 100 experience one of the most eye-opening experiences in terms of truly understanding how important it is to cater your training to a specific course if you really want to nail it. This year at the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile (IA50) I learned even more about course specificity training and what I need to do as a runner to maximize my potential with various types of running terrain.

Because I've run IA50 twice now, I have had the ability to compare both my experiences to learn new lessons, which I discuss below. I thought this would be more informative and interesting than writing a straightforward recap of this year's race.

I identified two areas of weakness and one area of strength in my training leading up to IA50. The two areas of weakness were: lacking ultra-style long runs and little uphill running. The area of strength was downhill running. Throughout the race, I either led or was in second place, at least for 49.25 miles. Based on my experience from last year, aid station reports, visual contact with other runners, and a sense of pace; I felt like I really glided on the downhill portions of the course, but I gave up time on the uphill segments in the final 10k compared to last year. This ultimately resulted in a third place finish with a time of 6:08:17. My time last year was 6:05:45. The weather was slightly better this year with cooler temperatures throughout the morning.

Ultra-style Long Runs

Last year, I did multiple 30-plus-mile long runs leading up to IA50. Included was the John Dick Memorial 50k and the Mad City 50k, which were long and decently hard efforts. While reflecting and analyzing this year’s performance, I noticed my running log was much lighter on these longer efforts. My most notable long training run was the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon at the Pettit Center in Milwaukee back in January. Part of this was due to an extended taper, which was the result of switching races last minute, and some of it was avoiding races early in the season in hopes of preserving myself for the end of 2013.

The reason I believe this was a factor in my performance at IA50 is because last year I felt I got stronger the last 9 miles on the return from Emma Carlin. This year, minus the first 5k of the return, I felt like the end of the race really caught up with me. At the turnaround I was 4:30-5 minutes behind the leader, David Riddle. With Matt Flaherty and Brian Condon nipping at my heels (45-60 seconds back) I thought it would be unlikely that I would catch David but quite likely I would get caught by either Flaherty or Condon—or both! Naturally this sparked some adrenaline. I sped up quite a bit for the next 5k into the Horseman's/Young aid station (about 10k to go). I was told there that I was about 3 minutes back from David. I am not sure if this was accurate or not, but for a moment I thought maybe I was closing in on him. Those hopes were exciting but quickly fizzled as struggles began to mount. By the aid station at mile 47.6 I was about 11 minutes behind David. Surely some of that was due to David’s consistent effort and, in my opinion, strong finish. Regardless, I believe part of my struggles was the lack of ultra-style long runs through training and racing.

Hill Climbing

To put it simply, I got owned on the uphills this year at IA50. Last year, I did weekly hill repeats in training. I did this because the Ice Age Trail is basically continuous roll of ups and downs. Nothing big enough to really kill you on any single hill, but enough to wear you down over time. David Riddle, this year's winner, described it as “death by a thousand paper cuts,” which I thought was a spot-on description.

The difference between this year and last year, was that last year I callused myself enough with hill repeats that the paper cuts were less detrimental. To put it in perspective; Last year I power hiked one hill (mainly because the staircase set up made it much more efficient in my opinion). This year I had to power hike 3 or 4 different times in areas that I had no problem grinding up last year. Most of my struggles with the climbs occurred in that last 10k stretch of the course.

Downhill Running

Though the uphills were rough for me this year, the downhills were a piece of cake. If it weren’t for how strong I felt going downhill, I have no doubt Matt Flaherty would have passed me in the late stages of the race, just as Brian Condon ultimately did. I attribute this to the amount of speedwork I did in training. This winter I based my training on speed in preparation for the Mad City 100k, which is a paved course that is relatively flat when compared to IA50. I felt way more comfortable bombing down the hills this year than last year. I think the quicker snap in my legs from the speedwork allowed me to ramp up the cadence on the downhill segments, resulting in much less instability (more efficient foot strike means less time on the ground), and less eccentric damage from braking on the downhills to maintain stability. Although my downhill training was brief, I think my efficiency allowed for lesser muscle damage in these potentially quad busting segments.


Next time I race IA50 or a similar course, I plan to focus my training on regular ultra-style long runs, weekly hill repeats, and road speedwork. With this I hope to maintain the strengths I had on the downhills while improving my uphill running and end-of-race endurance.

A huge congratulations to David Riddle for taking the win and third fastest time ever at the Historic Ice Age 50 Mile. An inspiring performance by Brian Condor in his 50-mile debut was exciting to see, to say the least. Great dialog with Joshua Brimhall for good portions of the first half of the race was a rewarding experience. Getting the chance to compete with support from members of my family and my girlfriend Krista made things much more comfortable. All of this, coupled with the excellent post-race festivities that seem to be the hallmark of every ultramarathon, big or small, resulted in a great way to spend a spring weekend morning.

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Pictures courtesy of Krista Satori

Pictures courtesy of Krista Satori