Sweet mother of pearl. My attempt for a new speed record on the Ice Age Trail: Kettle Moraine ended up being a total clustercuss of epic proportions. The trail is a 33-ish mile mix of runnable rolling hills and rocky technical ascents and descents you struggle to believe exist in Wisconsin. There is somewhere around 3500-4000’ vertical gain. Let’s begin with all the mistakes I made.
1. Under-estimating the technicality of the trail because it’s Wisconsin, not Colorado.
2. Chasing professional ultra-runners Strava segments early in the run
3. Choosing the day of the attempt based on low temps, not high temps
4. Not bringing enough water because there was no way I’d burn through 70 ounces
5. Running east to west because I could sleep 20 min longer and get home 20 min faster
I fully admit that starting my running career 3 years ago from a mountaineering background has left me with a little bit of a warped perspective when it comes to somethings difficulty. When the average trail runner tells me a trail is ‘technical’ I usually nod my head and roll my eyes a little inside. Sure Karen, it’s totes technical because there is a rock on mile 2 and tree root on mile 4.
I think Mt. Marcy in NY is technical, I think some of the alt routes in the southern Sawatch Range in Colorado are technical and I think less than 2% of the Appalachian Trail is technical. That’s my threshold. If there’s not an element of violence or you can’t literally rip your ankle apart with one wrong step, I’m not calling it technical. A few midwestern folks told me this was technical and I dismissed it as similar to the Potawatomi Trail. I badly underestimated how difficult this trail was going to be. Shame on me.
A few miles of this trail are part of the Ice Age Trail 50 and The North Face 50. The IAT has been the trail national championship a few times, so some of the Strava segments along the middle of this route are held by the best of the best. Naturally, I wanted to try and chase a few of these segments. That was dumb. Don’t do that. I realized this quickly when my heart rate was way too high early due to underestimating the trail conditions, so I stopped chasing segments but there’s no doubt the additional effort in miles 2-4 didn’t not hurt me later (sorry, I enjoy double negatives even if two wrongs don’t make a right).
It’s been ridiculously hot this month and I chose this date because it was the one day with a low temp in the low 50’s. The first hour or two was nice. I suck in the heat and it was mid 60’s and low 70’s the last two hours. Lame. It was a good thought to go on a chilly morning but this was supposed to be a 5 hour effort and not giving consideration to how quickly it would heat up was sad. Due to scheduling, I would still pick this date in hindsight, but would’ve paced myself differently, carried more water and brought Hylands leg cramp pills (among other things).
Underestimating the heat and trail led to draining my water far sooner than usual. Despite 70 ounces of water normally lasting me 31+ miles easily, I ran out shortly after hitting the marathon distance. Because I was just SO sure that I wouldn’t run out, I didn’t research creeks or springs along the way where I could get water if I was low. Seriously, you’d think this was my first rodeo.
The northeast trailhead is only 20 minutes from my Aunt’s house and the southwestern trailhead is 15 minutes shorter drive home to Michigan. Purely for an extra few minutes of sleep and quicker drive home, I chose to go east to west, which literally no one does on account of that direction sucking. Instead of getting the first 15 miles of tough technical terrain and the majority of vert done in the first half while I was fresh, I chose to cruise the easy half first and then get annihilated by the significantly more difficult half after I was already beat up, running out of water and temps were hot. Nice.
I went through the first 16.5 miles in 2:22 and proceeded to run the final 16.5 miles in 2:51. I slowed down a full 20% on the 2nd half once I hit the technical hills and heat. I completely fell apart. I mean, that’s kind of impressive. I began to get cramps around mile 27 and severe cramps the last 3 miles. I was running through them and avoiding the debilitating full seizure cramps that would’ve wrecked the attempt. It became a game of calculating how much time I had and how slowly I could go up the hills to try and avoid my hamstrings or calves completely blowing.
There is a relentless 150’ hill a mile from the finish and I swear I’ve done 1000’ ascents that were easier. At this point, I was over 5 hours into my run, my heart rate had been too high for over 3 hours, the temperature was 73 degrees, I hadn’t had water in 45 minutes and didn’t take gels during that time either because I had no water to wash them down with… my shins, quads, calves and especially hamstrings were on the verge of completely blowing and I started to get nauseous to the point I wondered if I’d pass out. I got up the hill embarrassingly slowly and realized I was only a few minutes from the end. I ended up finishing with a time of 5:13:57 which broke the previous speed record of 5:16:08 by a mere 2 minutes and 11 seconds.
While the run was rough, it was the few hours afterwards that might have been worse. I struggled to maintain consciousness and couldn’t regulate my body temperature. I was constantly nauseous. Nearly 90 minutes after finishing we stopped for food and I’d be boiling hot in the 75 degree sun and shivering uncontrollably within 30 seconds of going into the air conditioned restaurant. If I stood for longer than 30 seconds, I’d be on the verge of passing out. It was nearly 4 hours until the nausea, chills and general sickness went away.
One of the few bright spots is that despite the poor run and terrible aftermath, my muscles felt mostly recovered the next day with minimal soreness. I created Vitamin Runner last year because what I wanted didn’t exist. I 100% believe that if this had been last year before I started taking VR, I would’ve been incapacitated by cramps during the run and would’ve been walking slowly sideways down stairs for three days. Who knows if the product will make it to the mainstream or not, but it’s working like a charm for me and I view days like this as vindication for the countless hours poured into this vitamin.
It’s rare that you have a learning experience and get your ass kicked like this and still come away with the win. I’m very thankful for that. While it was a comedy of errors and rookie mistakes, I got the speed record because I’m in good shape and tough as hell when it turns into a good old fashioned throw down. Here are my 2019 statistics concerning FKT’s and my overall goal of 24 epic runs this year (5 races, 7 adventure records and 12 FKT’s)
Most FKT’s broken in a single year (excludes “only known times”)
11 – Josh Sanders (2019)
6 – Anton Krupicka (2012)
6 – Ben Nephew (2014)
6 – Jason Hardrath (2019)
Most overall FKT’s set in a single year (includes “only known times”)
18 – Jason Hardrath (2019)
12 – Josh Sanders (2019)
12 – Anton Krupicka (2012)
12 – Ben Nephew (2014)
Most adventurous year in running spreadsheet of 24 runs (updated):
Races: 3 of 5 complete
Adventure Records: 4 of 7
FKT/Speed Records: 11 of 12 complete
Overall: 18 of 24 complete (75%)
Times for each segment of the IAT: Kettle Moraine -
Scuppernong Segment – 47:50 (5.6)
Eagle Segment – 46:30 (5.6)
Stony Ridge Segment – 26:40 (3.1)
Blue spring lake Segment – 1:12:00 (7.1)
Blackhawk Segment – 1:10:00 (7)
Whitewater Lake Segment – 50:00 (4.6)
September 30th – National Park Record Run
October 5th – Fall 50k
October 14th – UK 5k Record Run