50 Miles, Races, Travel

Ice Age Trail 50 Mile

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May 10, 2014
Nordic Trail, Highway H
La Grange, WI

It’s funny how some of the most beautiful moments in life come at us suddenly and unpredictably. On the heels of a last-minute business trip to San Francisco – filled with long days, late nights, and two red-eye flights – I did not expect much from Ice Age. I was exhausted. Though thankful that my legs were largely recovered from Boston, some post-marathon fatigue still lingered. Nevertheless, having heard nothing but wonderful things about the race, I was excited to head out to Wisconsin and attempt to better my 50 mile PR. The trip was even to serve as a family reunion of sorts, as my aunt and uncle had kindly invited me to stay with them for the weekend.

Chicago. Standstill traffic. My phone buzzes angrily on my lap.

Unpredictable moment #1. An impromptu call from an Instagram friend.

Matt Laye? Having only met the man once in person – while watching him breeze by me effortlessly en route to an incredible Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile finish I might add – I wondered why he might be contacting me. Apparently he had lost his driver’s license en route to the Milwaukee airport, and was soon to be stranded without a rental car. Some swift Google Maps action informed me that a Milwaukee detour was in fact feasible. Moreover, Aunt Via was more than willing to let a last-minute guest stay. As long as he is cute, yes?

The drive north went smoothly as could be. After a brief stop to pickup our packets, Matt and I headed over to Lake Geneva not quite knowing what to expect.

Unpredictable moment #2. Wait, this can’t be where we’re staying.

We were greeted by a stunningly beautiful home, a trio of friendly dogs, and the most gracious hosts a pair of runners could ask for. Aunt Via, Uncle Frank, Lexi, and Jeff truly went above and beyond to make us feel welcome. The evening was filled with good wine, even better food, and lots of laughter. Yes, we stayed up far later than we should have! Nevertheless, a fun-filled evening with family and friends was just what I needed to unwind after a hectic week of travel.

Unpredictable moment #3. It is in fact possible to run a 50 mile personal best just 19 days after a hard marathon effort.

I went into Ice Age with three primary goals:

  • Earn an entry into Western States
  • Run a 50 mile PR (sub 7:18:35)
  • Run a US National 100km Team qualifying time (sub 7:20)

Though the race was not my best, I somehow managed to achieve all three.

Finishing the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile

The Ice Age course is best described as a loop followed by two separate out-and-back sections. My plan was to run the first 26 miles unsupported, at which point Lexi and Jeff would arrive to help crew. The race unfolded as such:

Nordic Ski Trail Loop to Confusion Corner

As the speedy boys took off into the distance, Kaci, Kate, Gina, Tracy, Maddy and I settled into a small lady-pack that we’d hold for the entire opening loop. Though perhaps we started out a little hard, it was downright joyous to share those early miles with some of the most wonderful gals in the ultrarunning world. We joked, shared stories, caught up on life, and had an absolute blast. It was a magical moment that firmly reminded me of why I love this sport.

Our group started to disperse as we made our way out to Confusion Corner, where a kind volunteer was standing to direct us onto the Ice Age Trail. And what a trail it was…

Rice Lake Out-and-back

There’s an old, wise, and almost ethereal feeling that surrounds the Ice Age Trail. The terrain twists and rolls. Pine trees stretch up endlessly into the sky. Running along the singletrack, I felt small yet very much alive.

Stopping briefly at mile 13.1 to fill my handheld, I parted ways with the remainder of our small group. Initially I wondered if I’d catch back up, but as the miles ticked by I realized it was quite unlikely. As with all of my races, I was pacing 100% by heart rate. Though I’d have loved the company of other runners for a little longer, I reminded myself that I still had a lot of distance to cover. It wouldn’t be wise to push the pace too hard.

Reaching mile 17.3, I struggled to locate my drop bag. Fortunately, a lovely man was there to help me find it and provide the encouragement I needed to keep going. It was the first of many connections I’d experience throughout the day that made this race so special. I’m always in awe of the kindness and selflessness of others.

Crossing Highway 12, I was greeted by several short but steep climbs. Though I was able to run them all, my legs were lacking pep. Initially I found this discouraging, as my strength as a runner has always been in my climbing. Nonetheless, I refused to give into negativity, and instead focused on keeping my heart rate in check and breathing relaxed.

As seems to be the case with almost every ultra I race, I found myself running largely alone. Approaching the turnaround at Rice Lake, it was comforting to see the front runners in the men’s race charge by with speed, focus, and determination. Kaci and Kate soon followed, offering some encouraging words as they passed.

Settling into a steady rhythm, I made decent time back to Highway 12. To keep my mind off my poor climbing I reminded myself that all of the tough “uphills” en route to Rice Lake would now be “downhills” on the return. Oh, the mental games we play to keep at that relentless forward progress!

It was delightful to see Lexi and Jeff when I reached my drop bag for the second time. Once again we had some difficulty locating it (all due to poor marking on my part, I came to realize), but nonetheless my trusty crew soon had me on my way.

Emma Carlin Out-and-back

The heat of the day became noticeable as I reached mile 32.9. Thank goodness for ice, which in typical ultra gal style I dumped generously down my sports bra. Yet as hard as I tried to keep cool, my body just didn’t feel like pushing. Though I felt I was moving well, I’m sure my pace could be better described as a “graceful shuffle”.

About a mile from the turnaround at the Emma Carlin Trail, I saw Kaci approaching.

“Western States! You’ve got this!” she cheered as she flew by with incredible elegance and speed. Her enthusiasm swiftly snapped me out of my funk.

Western States? Is it possible that I just might have this?

I resolved to stay as strong and consistent as I could for those final 11 miles. My pace might not have been fast, but I knew that every step forward was inching me closer and closer to that Western States entry.

Having not once looked at the elapsed time, I honestly had no idea how I’d finish until the red blare of the clock came into view…

7 hours, 15 minutes, and something-or-other. I am going to PR!

Crossing the finish line at the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile
That was hard…

Crossing the finish line in 7:15:39, emotions welled up inside of me as everything set in. Though I might not have had a perfect race, I was absolutely thrilled to have achieved all three of my goals. Having Aunt Via, Uncle Frank, Lexi, and Jeff there to watch me do so made things all the more sweeter.

Ice Age is truly a top-notch event, and a race that I know I’ll be back to run again. To RD Jeff and the many volunteers – thank you!

Top 3 ladies at the 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile
Top 3 ladies. What a pleasure to run with you both!

Unpredictable moment #4. Active recovery is a fine thing.

After a soak in the hot tub and the best recovery meal a girl could ask for, Lexi and Jeff took us on a tour of the bustling Lake Geneva night scene.

Prior to heading out, we were informed that Lake Geneva is the Bachelorette Party Capital of America. Let’s just say that is quite the understatement. There’s nothing like a bit of bad 90s music coupled with equally bad dancing to assist with the recovery process.

$uper star.
$uper star. Photo courtesy of MJLaye.

Thank you to Aunt Via, Uncle Frank, Lexi, and Jeff for going out of your way to make my trip to Wisconsin just incredible. It was a weekend filled with the unexpected, and will forever stand out in my mind as one of the most delightful trips I’ve ever taken. I sincerely hope I can repay the favor someday.

What’s next?

I have accepted the entry into Western States and will be focusing 100% of my training towards preparing for the race. While running Ice Age, I pinpointed a few areas that I’ll need to improve on in order to run my best there:

  • Fueling
  • Downhills
  • Trail speed

I intend to cover these in more detail as I begin my new training cycle, so check back in the coming weeks for an update!

To close, I’ll leave you with unpredictable moment #5:

You know your journey to Wisconsin was a success and memorable to boot when it inspired your Instagram-turned-real-life friend to start up a blog.

Some fun facts…


I used a combination of TailwindVFuel, and VESPA during the race. All in all, I consumed ~954 calories.

  • Pre-race – 1 serving of Generation UCAN and 1 pouch of VESPA
  • Gels consumed – 4 VFuel (1 fudge brownie, 1 vanilla, 2 cool citrus)
  • Liquid consumed – ~100oz (mixed with 5 servings of Tailwind)
  • VESPA consumed – 3 pouches in-race
  • Salt consumed – 1 SaltStick tab
  • Protein consumed post-race – SFH Recovery (chocolate)

Calories/Heart Rate

  • Calories burned – 5,437
  • Average HR – 154
  • Max HR – 169


  • UltrAspire Spry race vest
  • UltrAspire 16oz handheld
  • Polar RCX5 heart rate monitor
  • INKnBURN Lust tank top
  • Pearl Izumi Infinity Run skirt
  • Altra Olympus
  • Drymax socks
  • Dirty girl gaiters (skulls)
  • Sparkly Soul headband
  • Julbo Trek sunglasses


  • Amazing effort. To cover 50 miles at ANY speed is a huge and impressive accomplishment, but to kill it in 7:15 is something else. I ran the Ice Age 50k last year as my first (and thus far only completed ultra) and I agree that it’s another world out there. I might return next year for the 50-miler (I tried one last year and a knee injury forced me to drop out just before mile 40).

    Congratulations on qualifying for THE 100-miler on everyone’s list. Best of luck with training!

  • I absolutely love your recap! You are such a positive and inspirational person. You have so much going for you, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds! I look forward to seeing you in SQUAW!!!

  • You Never Cease to Amaze Me!!! Congratulations for accomplishing your goals!!! So Proud of YOU!!! Glad you had a great time with the relatives. They certainly are a special family. Aunt Helen~

  • Dan, I love traveling for ultras as it enables me to experience parts of the country I might not necessarily visit otherwise. Boy, am I glad that I decided to run Ice Age, as the course is just surreal. You should definitely consider a 50 miler if the distance interests you. I hope your knee is feeling better. Thanks for the kind words. I’m beyond excited to have the opportunity to run at Western States this year.

  • Why thank you, Brian. I’m sure there will be many more adventures to follow as I make my way out to the West Coast. Goodness, I’m going to miss the Whites, though!

  • Kaci, running those first 11 or so miles with you was absolutely the highlight of my race. You make things look effortless, my friend. I look forward to seeing you in Squaw next month. Best of luck with the rest of your training!

  • Helen, they really are. It had been a good six years since I saw Aunt Via and Uncle Frank. I hadn’t even started running the first time I met them! It was wonderful to meet Lexi in person for the first time, too. I’m one lucky girl to have such a great family. Hope you’re well and thanks for the encouragement🙂.

  • Thank you. I’m always honored to represent New England (as well as friends, family, and coworkers) through my running. It definitely felt great to notch that PR, too. The weather and trail conditions were pretty wild at the few 50s I ran prior to Ice Age, so it was lovely to get out on a nice day for once!

  • Awesome, awesome recap! It really makes me want to try a 50 miler! The log home sounds idyllic, reminds me of friends place in Montana, it is so beautiful out west! Congrats on the PR and best of luck with training for Western States, look forward to reading about it!

  • Dan, with your road speed and training base you would absolutely crush a 50 miler. Let me know if you ever choose to go down that route and I’d be happy to chat about how I balance ultras and marathons.

    Western States will be an amazing experience. 100s are certainly not my strongest distance, but I plan on following my typical race approach (namely, pacing by feel and having a blast) and will be content with whatever result that brings me…🙂

  • Thanks for the reply! That’s exactly what has made me reticent to try a 50, I’m definitely not content with the marathon yet and know that I need to keep working at it until I feel satisfied (or ready for a total break, whichever comes first) but I do want to try a 50 and get back on some trails. I just usually see that people will do one or the other so with the lack of knowledge there I’ve just been scared into only doing the one to some extent. Suffice to say, I would love to chat about that balance!

    The 100 scares and excites me like the marathon did when I had only run a 5k and Western States seems like the Boston of 100s in my mind, hopefully it will be just as amazing!

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