2013-04-28

Race Report: 2013 Chippewa 50K

I am now officially an ultra-marathoner, having completed my first race this year at the Chippewa 50K in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin in 6:58:38! Spring 2013 has had some chaotic weather, dumping significant snow volume on the Midwest in weekly bursts followed by warm weather melts. In the sheltered, wooded space of the Chippewa Moraine State Park, the snow presented an interesting challenge for the runners. The North and East-facing slopes held on tenaciously to their drifts and ice slicks, hiding streams of ice-cold melt, while the South and West-facing slopes were alternatively dry or muddy. The conditions would make for an interesting day!
My alarm woke me at 3:45 in the morning after a restless sleep; I was too worried about waking up on-time. My pre-race meal was an oddly delicious mixture of grapefruit, plain vanilla yogurt and fruity pebbles! I threw in the cereal on a whim, but discovered it to be quite tasty! I didn't make coffee like I usually do, but I didn't really miss it. I pulled in front of Steve Quick's house at 04:50, who was raring to go and great company on the road as we made our way East to the race site. We arrived early and found a parking spot right up front. The temperature was a cool 40 with a light breeze with a promise to warm up into the low 70s!
An hour later, after picking up our race packets and fussing about what equipment to run with, we gathered with around 275 runners (unofficial guess) at the starting line for the 6th annual race briefing by co-race director Jeff Allen. Aid stations were positioned at mile 3, 10, and 15 (the turn-around), a nice and even spread. I opted to carry only one water bottle and no belt, though I would have liked to have something to carry gels and S-Caps (something to remember for the next race). Two of the northerly slopes were labeled "WALK" due to the grade of the ice covered descents, and we were informed that miles 12 through 15 were the "worst" on the course. It didn't sound promising.
No one really wanted to stand up near the front, so I lined up near the front third of the pack, contrary to what I originally planned. Given how the race played out, it might have been wiser for me to start further back. Fired up and ready to rock, the race started and we headed out onto the challenging course. Within the first mile, I slipped and drew blood on the ice and sticks; not a great start.
It was soon evident to me that my Brooks Pure Grit shoes were not cut out for ice on the hilly slopes. A lot of energy was expended to stay on my feet, but I was able to continue to push forward. The downhill snow-covered slopes were most easily traversed by "skiing" down them, but it made for wet cold feet. You couldn't be sure what your feet would find underneath the snow: ice, mud, or trail. Miles 10 to 11, however were predictably unpleasant: slushy, snow covered ice melts. There was absolutely no way to avoid it or the frozen toes. Eventually, it tapered off and dried out again.
Somewhere around mile 12 or 13, I ran into Steve, who wasn't feeling well at all. We ran together for a short period, but unfortunately, his stomach problems distracted him from running. We separated, and I didn't see him again until the turn-around. Around mile 13 or so, we entered a pine stand with more sheltered snow drifts. These hills weren't nearly as icy, but there was knee-high snow in some points. Again, the "skiing" technique worked effectively on the downhills, and the duck-walking uphills allowed me to move forward. The trail cleared out again before the turn-around for some fairly runnable stretches.
I arrived at turn-around in 2:59, where I changed into dry shoes, my New Balance MT101s, and socks. It wouldn't take long for them to be soaking wet again, but starting out with dry feet was a plus. John left at 03:10, and I left at 03:12. In a couple of minutes, I managed to catch up with John Taylor and Marty Kanter-Cronin from Wisconsin (who runs with the Lapham Peak Trail Runners). We ran together and talked for a good hour, before I got a second wind and pulled ahead.
The dreaded mile 19 arrived, with the return trip through the icy slush. Whereas there were a few spots you could step without getting entirely soaked on the way out, you couldn't avoid it on the way back. The warm temperatures had melted a sufficient amount of snow to make the trail a veritable icy stream frosted in slush and snow. I couldn't help but giggle uncontrollable at the absurdity of it all. Here we were, grown men and women playing around in the mud and slush. It took no time at all to freeze my toes, and the woman in front of me couldn't stop laughing at my own mirth.
The second-wind didn't last long after that, and I had to switch to a run/walk strategy to keep moving forward. A few miles later, at mile 23, a well intentioned but mis-informed spectator was out encouraging us. "You have only 5 miles left, 3 miles to the next aid station!" It was possible that my GPS was off, but not necessarily off by two miles. I have to say that his intentions were well placed, but the misinformation was more discouraged than helpful.
John was running strong, and he passed me early in this stretch. The next aid station turned out to be four miles later, not three. I counted the miles in estimated time left on-foot. Averaging about 15 miles per hour, it was a slog. When I made it to the last aid station, the volunteers there were awesome. They were very encouraging and brought a smile to my face. I could do this. Only 3 miles left, and I could be done.
With two miles to go, we traversed up one of the two hills labeled "WALK" on the way out. When reaching the top, a mere 25' further was the site of the start and finish, but by the course, it was another 2 miles away! ARG! From an emotional perspective, it seemed that a few of us were in a funk, a low. At least two runners I spoke with were ready to have the race over with, myself included. Interestingly enough, this spurred me to run rather than walk. I wanted simply to be done and be able to sit and relax.
The final mile, a nice, dry, groomed trail, was such a relief. You could view the finish-line, up on the hill at the visitors center, a hill with teeth. Rather than charging up it, I simply walked most of the last mile. Marty and two others caught and passed me on that last hill, but I didn't mind. I was done! Official finish time 6:58:38.
The next couple of hours was spent trying to recuperate from the run. There was plenty of food for the runners and beer! Jeff signed the Finisher's Picture for the race, which I think was a very cool alternative to a medal. He mentioned that ultra-runners form a different type of community dynamic than your typical marathoners closer to a family than simply acquaintances. I certainly got this feeling as we all sat around, chatted, and cheered in the remaining runners!
I am an ultra-marathoner, and I can't get enough of it! (Even though it hurts to walk today!)