Tuesday, February 7, 2012

John Dick Memorial 50k

I ran my first ultra this weekend at the Badgerland StridersJohn Dick Memorial 50k and it was glorious.  For all the preparations I took I was still unprepared for the actual experience.  For everything that went well there was plenty that did not, but being hardcore I pressed on.  In the end it was an awesome day with some awesome people.

Freeze thaw action leading up to the 2012 John Dick Memorial 50k left the course covered in thick ice.

The weather was downright balmy for February with this sunny day starting out just a touch below freezing and warming to high 30s (°F) later on.  The course started and ended at the DJ Mackie group picnic area in the Kettle Moraine Southern Forest, took place on snow mobile trails, consisted of five loops with an out and back leg, and featured 3159 ft of climbing/descent.  As the day progressed I became increasingly familiar with the course and enjoyed being able to spectate, and race at the same time.

Course map and race details from Garmin Connect.  Satellite reception was lost a couple times leading to a mile lost in the data.

My plan was to keep my heart rate solidly in the aerobic zone for greater than the first half and run it up into the anaerobic zone to finish the race if I had it in me.  I failed miserably in executing this plan.  I ran the first fifteen miles like it was a half marathon and exhausted my skeletal calories.  My legs were fresh from taper and I got caught up in competing.  The next nine miles I was mentally and physically exhausted grinding out miles in the aerobic zone.  Come the final six miles I found my second wind and finished strong in what felt like a 10k effort.

My lovely wife came out and ran three loops for close to 20 miles, the longest run of her life to date

At the course briefing the race director made it clear the course was predominately ice.  I thought I had experienced all the conditions I might encounter in my training leading up to the event and would be fine in my trail gloves.  Wrong, the race started and within the first mile I had lost traction and fell once.  It took an incredible amount of mental focus and physical effort to keep my balance by chopping my stride, high stepping, and weaving left and right to seek out the least ice.  As I spun my legs like a cartoon character and constantly slipped, better prepared runners effortlessly passed me by in their spikes.  Uphills were especially difficult to gain traction.  I will for sure be investing in some cross country spikes following this experience.

Some cross country spikes Ive been eyeing up.  Inov Oroc 280, Brooks Mach 13, Saucony Kilkinney XC4, and New Balance M700

Those first two laps were intense.  I had great focus and fought hard to maintain my place.  It was easy to let people go who passed with authority but I got caught up racing people that were in reach or running near my pace.  Everyone was real friendly wishing each other well and engaging in small talk.  On the second loop the woman who I think ended up winning asked me if my pack was heavy.  I replied that it was five pounds but at least it wasn't on my feet.  The pack slowed me down for sure but we are probably talking less than 1% of total effort.  I never did stop at the aid stations like others so it was probably a wash.  She eventually dropped me going up a large hill.  I kept her within 30 seconds until the third lap at that same hill where she disappeared for good.

Eating a Honey Stinger 20g protein bar and looking fatigued.  I ate two bars and drank  64 oz of Gatorade for a total of 1000 calories.

I made a point to attempt to eat a 390 calorie protein bar on the hour and consistently drink Gatorade during the event.  It was slipping and grinding up this hill eating that that my ambitious start caught up with me.  I made it halfway through my bar when I couldn't eat anymore and felt lifeless.  A little over two hours had passed, I had covered half the distance of the race and here I was falling apart.  My foot turnover fell, and my mind disengaged.  My heart rate dropped into the aerobic zone it belonged in and calorie burn was cut in half.  I kept finding myself on perilous portions of the trail I had actively avoided the previous laps.

A photo of the M.U.L.E. Camelbak I ran with much to the amusement of others.  At 2lbs empty it looks deceivingly big.  Gatorade and food added 4lbs.

Finishing out the third lap going into the aid station was the worst portion of the course with the thickest ice.  With my brain disengaged from the environment and my legs doing their own thing I was finding myself slipping a lot more and eventually fell hard.  It came as a surprise, I landed on my side and my knee and hip stung.  Thankfully no one was around because I coped by incoherently swearing.  This was the low point of the race for me.  I walked it off and began running again thankful to be finishing up the third lap.  

A little bit of snow provides Donna with the traction she needs with ice to  her right.

It was on the fourth lap that I had company again and it was nice to see people and make small talk.  The course was turning slushy and muddy in the sun changing the landscape.  I wished everyone well and was surprised to see some people passing me that I thought had passed me long ago.  They were stopping at their drop bag and I was not resulting in a game of leap frog.  The fourth lap grinded on and the eventual winner lapped me.  He was fun to watch, had a smile on his face, and offered words of encouragement to everyone in addition to running a very fast 3:30.  It was closing out the fourth lap that my mind began reawakening.  The woman that eventually took third passed me going up the hill that led to the aid station I had previously fell.  Thanks to her lead I safely navigated the landscape.

My beard served as a balaclava and was shaved off immediately following the race.

She stopped at the aide station where a man in yellow replaced her as my motivation.  There was a big downhill at the end of the fourth lap he passed me going into.  I followed behind him but felt a great blow to my pride.  No one out downhill races me.  I stayed with him for a while longer but lost him on some ice and uphills.  A little before the first big downhill of the final lap with six miles to go the third place woman passed me again.  She took the downhill like a professional.  I have never seen another runner open up like that.  I followed her lead, found my strength and foot turnover again and passed her near the end.  I think our mutual appreciation for the downhill made us friends.


She caught up on some uphills.  We made small talk, she asked if I was training for a mountain race with such a huge pack.  She said to pump my arms on the uphills, which I did, and it helped in a big way.  At this point my legs were feeling fresh again so I turned up my foot turnover and ran my heart back into the anaerobic zone.  Those early calories I had ate in the race were paying off.  I began passing in force and felt alive again.  I ran out of Gatorade with 3 miles to go and got hungry motivating me to push harder.

Early in the race expending too much effort.  The second half of the race took  half an hour longer but at the price of 1176 calories compared to 1827 calories expended in the first half.

That last loop out of the aid station into the finish was the most exciting.  The man in yellow must have pulled out of the aid station right behind me and was in pursuit.  I was surprised to see him behind me.  We talked a little and I saw we were going into the same downhill that had brought me shame the previous lap.  I opened up a lead and enjoyed the free speed that comes from a high turnover on a downhill.  I pushed real hard into the finish and the parking lot even after seeing him well behind me.  It felt good to finish strong.  Total time was 4:47:11 and while results have not been yet released I was told it was good for 20th place.


The Badgerland Striders consistently put on well run quality events of great value ($10 preregistration). The events are organized by runners for runners and are well thought out as such. I must thank all the volunteers for the great job. My wife and I brought bison chili to the event and it was well received, I am happy to have been able to give back to the volunteers that make these events possible. I will also need to be on the other side of some races this year volunteering as well.



  1. Congrats! Fast time and that looks like some fun trails! Good call on having the beard for warmth!!

  2. That's an epic day, man. Congrats. Great report, great time, great finish. Enjoyed it.

  3. Congratulations on your first ultra! There will be more to come I presume? I will definitely aim to tackle one sometime within 5 years...But first, I need to get myself back into shape for endurance.