I had the weekend of a lifetime. After months of nail biting waiting for 9/14 to come around, it was finally time to pack my bags and head out to Kettle Moraine State Park in Wisconsin for The North Face ECS 50K trail race.
First off, before I even get into the details of the race, I just have to say how beautiful, green, and lush the Wisconsin landscape is. When I flew into Milwaukee, I immediately noticed flourishing farms and the blue glow of Lake Michigan. Coming from a rather dry climate in Colorado, it was a rare treat for me to see fog and so much green. After orienting myself after the flight, I left Milwaukee and headed out to my hotel in Waukesha, which is about 20 miles southwest. I knew the next morning was gonna be a long one so once I got settled in I just relaxed and tried to get my mind and body focused on the next days task.
Race day. 5 am came really quick. I got up, showered, ate, and headed out to the course start at Ottawa Lake in Kettle Moraine State Park. There was an eerie fog as the sun came up, and it was definitely cooler than I expected. I could see my breath. Once on sight, I went through my usual routine of warm up and stretching. Before I knew it, it was time to get started and they paged everyone to the starting line. It was then that one of my hero’s, Dean Karnazes, addressed the crowd and wished us a good race. Go time.
The first thing I noticed once moving was how I seemed to breathe a lot easier and didn’t fatigue as quickly. This was most certainly due to the significantly lower elevation, and definitely welcome by me! I settled into a brisk, but comfortable pace as the trail twisted and turned, up and down. There was a dynamic mix of dirt road, single trail, and equestrian grassland, which gave me the opportunity experience some different terrain. I really focused on my breathing and cadence this time, which really seemed to help out. The aid stations were well stocked, and everyone was super supportive.
I felt great until about mile 22 when I started to cramp a bit and get stiff, but I was no stranger to this and realized that this is when the mental aspect comes into play. I took a few brief walking breaks to regather myself and kept on. I stayed well hydrated as I went through about 70 fluid ounces of water and several energy gu’s. At last after about 4 hours and 45 min in, I had reached the final aid station. I had the equivalent of a 5K to reach the finish. Piece of cake. I picked up the pace and knew I was close – it’s always at this point that a flood of emotions come over me all at once. It’s a wonderful feeling of triumph, adrenaline, reflection, and affirmation that I have accomplished something really cool. Me being the softie that I sometimes am, I usually just kinda chuckle to myself as I try to contain the inevitable tears that I know are there.
When I came out of the forest to the road opening leading to the finish, one of the sheriff’s who was directing traffic for the race told me “1/2 a mile, come on, keep going.” I picked up the pace even more and could hear the announcer and people cheering. Once I saw the finish line I just sprinted with everything I had left. This has become something of a routine for me when I finish races, perhaps it’s just my way of expressing victory over something that could have defeated me if I let it. There at last. Turned in a time of 5:40, new 50K PR for me.
Post race party was cool, food was great, and ice bath was amazing and much needed. This was really a fantastic and well put-together race. I don’t see any reason why I wouldn’t do it again next year. Maybe opt for the 50 miler.
Thanks for the memories Wisconsin, I’ll see you again.