By Katie O’Connor
2018 – the year I turned 40 and the year I tackled my first 50 mile race – the Ice Age Trail 50!!!
The week leading up to the race, I had all the emotions. I was excited that the big event (that took months of training, hard work, dedication and sacrifice) was finally here! And I was scared of all the unknowns – the distance, how I would feel, and the miserable weather forecast (30s and rain).
The night before the race I laid there trying to fall asleep, my heart racing and an overwhelming nauseous pit in my stomach. My alarm went off at 4 a.m. I peeked outside and it looked cold and was pouring rain. I told myself, “Don’t panic.”
Once I got to the start, my nerves eased and the rain magically stopped (thank you, Mother Nature). The energy was electric! And I was off!
The course is in the Kettle Moraine Forest in Wisconsin and is broken up into three sections: a loop section on the Nordic Ski Trail and two out-and-back single-track sections on the Ice Age Trail.
The loop was familiar; I had run it twice during the 50k last year. It was nice to start on a section I was comfortable with and that was very “runnable!” Before I knew it, I was onto the first single-track section. This trail was all new to me. I had to remind myself to keep my eyes on the trail and not get lost taking in the scenery – it was so beautiful!
As I approached mile 21.7, the Rice Lake aid station and first turnaround, I was greeted with cheers and hugs from part of my crew, my friend Becca, and my daughter, Gwen. Immediately my daughter asked, “Mom, I see Oreos over there, can I have one?” I laughed. It wasn’t, “Hey Mom, how are you? Great job!” It was all about the Oreos.
I hooked Gwen up with an Oreo, and myself with a PB&J and some ginger ale (they always taste the best during a race).
When I hit 30.2 miles in, I got to see my husband, Bill, for the first time of the day and gave him a huge, sweaty hug. He said, “Wow, you look great!” I replied, “I feel great!” I nervously waited to “hit the wall” (either physically or mentally or BOTH), but I felt strong at the 50k mark.
The last section of the race was out to the Emma Carlin Trail Head and back to the finish. I had run part of this section before in the 50k last year, so it was familiar (for better or worse).
I arrived at the Horserider’s Camp aid station, refilled my gear and turned around! I was happily surprised to be in a very good spot both physically and mentally. Plus I’d see my crew one last time before the finish!
As I was running back, something seemed a little off, but I kept plowing forward! I came to a road crossing where the volunteers were yelling, “You only have about five miles to go!” I looked at my watch and it was off… no way this was right. I was in full-blown panic mode… my heart racing… I knew I had messed up somewhere…
The volunteers asked if I had hit the really muddy section yet? I said NO. Or the last aid station which is like a party? Again… NO…
F……….CK!!!!! I had turned around too early. I immediately called Bill and said, “I f*cked up and have to backtrack.” I could hear Becca in the background saying, “You have to go all the way to Emma Carlin.”
My adrenaline was bubbling over… I quickly proceeded to backtrack. I actually got back to Horserider’s in good time. However, then it seemed to take forever to get from Horserider’s to Emma Carlin. I just kept moving forward, but my legs were heavy. And I desperately needed to see the familiar faces of my crew.
I could tell I was getting close because I could hear the music in the distance. I climbed my way over a hilly stretch and could hear Bill yelling “GO KATIE!” Ahhhh, I FINALLY reached the Emma Carlin aid station and last turnaround. My crew was great – I got a round of hugs and pep talks. Before I left, Becca looked me in the eyes and said, “You got this girl! We’ll see you at the finish!” I had single digits left (a little over 9 miles). I took a deep breath. I got this.
For a while I was on a high from seeing my crew, but then the sky grew dark and more ominous. At some point my watch died, so volunteers and aid stations were my only guides to how many miles I had left to go. My high was fading and my body was feeling my mistake.
I finally made my way back to the road crossing! The volunteers greeted me with a big hug, saying, “You’re back, you’ve got this!” It was only five miles but it felt like a lifetime.
By now I was back to the Nordic Trail and knew I was close to the promise land – the FINISH!
I had about 2.5 miles left to go and was giving it my all. Everything hurt, but I kept pushing. I started to relive all the hard work it took to get here and all of my “whys” flooded me with emotion.
I saw the red signs that line the finish area. I WAS CLOSE!
I spotted Bill and Gwen cheering and smiled ear to ear. I grabbed Gwen’s hand and we ran for the finish. It was a moment that I had envisioned since the day I started training.
And the feeling was magical.
I am a 50 mile finisher.