[Editor’s Note: Guest writer, Ice Age Trail 50 Mile vet, and local Nicholas Wied is recovering from surgery and can’t race this year. Instead, he’s penned this race preview.]
This coming Saturday, May 10, at 6:00 a.m. (CDT) the 33rd annual Ice Age Trail 50 Mile kicks off in LaGrange, Wisconsin, located about 45 minutes from Milwaukee. The event includes three different race distances, a 50 mile, 50k, and half marathon. The 50 mile is the premier distance and is the final and only Midwest race in the Montrail Ultra Cup. This means there are three automatic spots to the 2014 Western States 100 for both the top male and female finishers.
The 50-mile race runs on two distinct trails. The first section is a 10-mile doubletrack cross-country ski loop, while the second section is 40 miles out and back on the singletrack Ice Age Trail. The 50 mile gains almost 4,000 feet of elevation (with a total of 7,000-plus feet of elevation change) through unrelenting hills. It is a fairly runnable course with the most technical running and several of the bigger hills coming from miles 17 to 26 and a bit more climbing from miles 32 to 37 and 43 to 50.
The men’s course record of 5:53:21 was set in 1988 by Andy Jones and has withstood assault for 26 years and the female course record of 6:46:38 was set by Cassie Scallon in 2013.
Saturday’s forecast currently has a chance of rain with anticipated highs and lows at 55 and 45 degrees Fahrenheit.
We’ll be providing live race updates on our Twitter feed on Saturday. For additional coverage follow @NMWied, @IceAgeTrail50, and #IAT50 on Twitter.
Men’s Preview – 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile
The front of the men’s field is stacked, with talent traveling from all over the U.S. to claim their final spots at the Western States dance. The fact that the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile is in Wisconsin would lead many to believe that it is a fast, flat course. This can be deceiving as all the up and down on those ‘runnable’ hills take a heavy toll. It was described perfectly by the 2013 winner, David Riddle, as “Death by 1,000 paper cuts!” Only five men have run under six hours since the beginning, with just one of those performances happening in the last 13 years. (David Riddle ran 5:56:46 in 2013.) This year is no different as the men’s field has several individuals aiming not just for a win and a Western bid, but also a go at the 26-year-old course record.
Max King races hard and to win, which is evident by the number of races he’s won and course records he holds. Max is a late entry into Ice Age, but he has made it clear that his goal is to run his way into Western States in June. That means Max needs a top-three finish. (Or possibly top four, as if one of the top-three finishers already has a WS100 entry, their earned entry rolls down to the fourth-place finisher.) In his last attempt at the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile he came up a bit short with seventh place. Not long before that, however, he smashed the Chuckanut 50k course record (post-race interview). He seems loves to run off the front but we can’t help but wonder if he’s going to try a more conservative tactic in an effort to garner the WS100 entry.
After a rough start to 2013, according to Zach Bitter himself, he considered calling it an early season. He chose instead to race a few more times. The first was the Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile where he ran an astounding 5:12. This was the first sub-5:14 50 miler run by a North American in about 33 years. More amazing was this effort came just 14 days after he ran a 5:32 second place behind Matt Flaherty at the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50 Mile. Deciding he still had more in the tank he raced the Desert Solstice Invitational in December where he reset the American 100-mile track record with an otherworldly 11:47:21. He carried on to set a new world record for 12 hours on the track (post-race report). After a three-month break from racing, he started 2014 at the South Carolina 24 Hour Race by setting a new 200k American record with a time of 16:22:27 (post-race interview). Recently Zach secured his spot on the USA 100k team by setting a new course record at the Mad City 100k in 6:44. The last two years Zach has run Ice Age he has had first- (6:05) and third- (6:08) place finishes.
After losing the 2012 season due to injury, Matt Flaherty came back fast in 2013. He finished seven ultras last year, winning two of them, the American River 50 Mile and the Tussey mOUnTaiNBACK 50 Mile (which was the 2013 USATF 50 Mile Road Championships). He also ran a strong second behind Sage Canaday at the Cayuga Trails 50 Mile and a solid fourth here last year in 6:10. To start off 2014, Matt won the Psycho Wyco 50k, the Napa Valley Marathon, and recently set a marathon PR at the Boston Marathon, running a 2:21. Look for Matt to run a smart race holding back a bit in those first 10 miles and then turning up the heat as the race hits the singletrack. If he is well rested following his spring-marathon schedule, you should see Matt chasing a win.
Matt Laye won the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile with a screaming-fast time of 13:17 (post-race interview). With that win he earned his spot to the 2014 Western States via the Montrail Ultra Cup. A guy who has demonstrated talent and versatility in races varying from short-distance cross country to 100 miles, he’s also fresh off a 2:23 at the Boston Marathon a couple weeks back. Look for him to run hard and smart, pushing the pack and garnering more Montrail Ultra Cup points.
Jason Wolfe is a solid runner who has yet to finish out of the top 10 of any ultra he’s finished. Last year Jason followed up a second at the Leona Divide 50 Mile (6:43) with a seventh at the UROC 100k and a third at the Bootlegger 50k. Jason took a pass on running the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile to focus on running Ice Age as he’s been recovering from injury. Look for Jason to bring that focus and really battle it out with the other front runners. Clearly he’s on the hunt for a WS100 entry, too, so his racing style on Saturday will reflect this.
Another runner looking for that elusive Western States ticket is Joe Uhan. Joe has run several speedy 50 milers and ran into ninth at States in 2012. A DNF at States in 2013 as well as the flu/DNF at the 2014 Bandera 100k and a slower 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (two other 2014 Montrail Ultra Cup races) have thwarted his efforts to get back to States in 2014. Joe wants a top-three finish bad. Look for Joe to run a super-smart race and reel people in at the end.
Brian Condon burst onto the ultra scene by running away from Zach Bitter at mile 49 of the 2013 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile for a second-place finish (6:07) in his first 50 miler. He followed that performance in 2013 by winning a 50k and then taking second at the 2013 The North Face 50 Mile – Wisconsin. So far this year Brian has raced the Bandera 100k where he took seventh. Look for Brian to run with the front pack. He knows the course and has one more year of experience under his belt. Expect him to lower his time from last year and compete for both the win and States slot.
Keeping along the youthful train is Ford Smith, an 18-year-old who just recently ran a 16:09 at the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile for eighth place. Earlier this year he also ran a 9:21 at the Bandera 100k which was good for fifth place ahead of seventh place Brian Condon. Ford has extreme youth on his side and should do well at Ice Age.
I remember Zach Bitter telling me to watch out for Michael Owen after they had run together for a bit during the 2012 Ice Age. After battling injury at the end of 2012, Michael came back to the 2013 Burning River 100 Mile and threw down a 15:48 for second place. He followed that up with a 19th at the 2013 The North Face Endur ance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. He recently won the 2014 Terrapin Mountain 50k. Michael knows this course having taken fourth (6:32) in 2012 behind winner Zach Bitter.
Michael Borst is a 20-year-old ultrarunner who had a breakout 2013 at the Midwest regional level. He ran at least eight ultras in 2013 winning five of them. Two of his wins include a 6:40 course record at the Glacial Trail 50 Mile and a 7:01 at the Voyager 50 Mile. Most telling is the fact that one of Michael’s second-place finishes in 2013 was at the Kettle Moraine 100k (on the same trails as Ice Age), where he finished second to Zach Bitter and 13 minutes back. Mike is a super-humble guy who loves to lead races. In fact, he hates running behind people. It will be interesting to see him mix it up with national-level runners.
Here is an interesting dark horse, C Fred Joslyn. Fred has never run an ultra or raced heavily on trails. He has however not missed a single day of running over the last five years, averaging 100-plus miles weeks during that time, and holds impressive marathon and half marathon PR’s of 2:18 and 1:04. He has been training more on trails and is looking for not just the win but a shot at the current course record. Have to love the confidence!
After throwing down some silly fast times for wins in several trail 50k’s in 2013, Shaun Pope pulled out a fifth place and 16:43 at the 2013 Burning River 100 Mile. The last time he raced Ice Age was in 2011 and he won in 6:27.
Others to Watch
- Kalib Wilkinson — sixth at the 2014 Mad City 100k and 45 minutes behind winner Zach Bitter, winner of the 2014 Sean O’Brien 50k, fourth at the 2013 White River 50 Mile
- Adam Condit — third at the 2013 The North Face 50 Mile – Wisconsin behind second place Brian Condon
- Iain Ridgway — fourth at the 2013 JFK 50 Mile behind second place Matt Flaherty
- Christopher Wehan — third at the 2013 shortened-by-fire-danger Miwok 100k, winner of the 2013 Rio Del Lago 100 Mile
- Brian Tinder — 16th at the 2013 UROC 100k, winner of the 2013 Bootlegger 25k, 13th at the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
- Ian Torrence — vet of almost 160 ultras, just finished the shortened-due-to-bad-weather Zane Grey 50 Mile a couple weekends back
Women’s Preview – 2014 Ice Age Trail 50 Mile
Last year’s Ice Age Trail 50 Mile women’s race should have been dubbed the Cassie Scallon Show. Cassie put on an incredible display of running power, winning the race, smashing the 18-year-old women’s course record by 18 minutes, and running herself into ninth overall. As with the men’s times this race’s record has withstood the test of time. Only four women have run sub 7:15, and only Cassie has run sub-seven hours. The women’s field this year is deeper than in the past. Many of these runners are looking for their shot to earn that coveted Western States spot.
Kaci Lickteig has run at least 10 ultras and won nine of them, coming to the trails from road running. She has some ridiculously fast 50k and 50-mile times. She arrived on the national scene by taking second female and seventh overall at the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile and last month she finished third at the competitive Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (post-race interview). She already has her ticket for the big States dance punched via that second at Rocky Raccoon and she just ran a 2:50 at the Lincoln Marathon as a training run a couple days ago, but expect her to come ready to race. She’s surely in the hunt for the Montrail Ultra Cup points.
After suffering acute renal failure in the 2012 IAU World 100k Championships while representing Team Canada, Melanie Bos came back to a second place at the 2013 HURT 100 Mile, a sixth at the 2013 Chuckanut 50k, and a ninth at the 2013 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. So far in 2014 she raced to a third at the 2014 Chuckanut 50k. Melanie knows how to race fast and push herself. [May 6 Update: Melanie Bos says she’s not racing as she’s trying to heal an old Achilles injury.]
Larisa Dannis is a 26 year old with five years of ultra experience. She recently won the Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile in Kentucky. This winning performance came on the heels of a fourth place at the 2014 Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile. In 2013 she won the Vermont 100 Mile and took second at the Zion 100 Mile. No stranger to the determination necessary to push hard when it hurts to win a hundred miler, look for Larisa to push the pack.
Stephanie Weigel has run at least 11 ultras and won six of them. It doesn’t appear that she’s finished off of the podium of an ultra. In 2013 she took second at the Ray Miller 50 Mile and won the Zion 100k.
Kerrie Wlad is a bit of an unknown when it comes to ultrarunning. The only finish she has is a ninth at the 2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. What Kerrie does have however is a mega-endurance engine. Kerrie spent the last 15 years as a triathlete, focusing on the Ironman-distance events. If she is running fit, look for her to be in the mix.
Gina Lucrezi is a shorter-distance mountain-running specialist who has recently decided to focus on ultras. She most recently ran to fifth at the 2014 Chuckanut 50k. She was 14th last fall at the 2013 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships. She’s been battling plantar fasciitis lately so it’s hard to get a read on her fitness.
[May 6 Update: We somehow missed that Tracy Høeg is racing. Sorry Tracy! With a number of strong finishes around Minnesota and where she’s been living in Denmark the last couple of years, we expect her to be in the mix early as she’s got solid leg speed. Last fall, she was the winner of the Superior Trail Races 50 Mile and the Glacial Trail 50 Mile. She knows the style of trail on which she’ll be racing; the only question is how she will do among a bit stouter competition and if she can hang with it through 50 miles.]
Caroline Boller shot quickly onto the ultra scene last fall. So far she’s finished fifth at the 2013 The North Face Endurance Challenge 50k Championships, eighth at the loaded 2014 Sean O’Brien 50 Mile, and 10th at the 2014 Lake Sonoma 50 Mile.
Maddy Hribar is another female who could fight for a top spot. Maddy finished last year’s Leadville Trail 100 Mile in eighth. With several other ultra wins to her credit look for her near the front.
Alisha Damrow is a Wisconsin native who ran to fifth place at last year’s Ice Age. Last year she also took second female and seventh overall at the Fall 50 Mile, a road race, in a blazing 6:40. Alisha has great course knowledge and has been getting faster. Look for her to improve upon her finish from last year.
Call for Comments
- Who’s going to take men’s and women’s wins here? What about the rest of the Montrail Ultra Cup Western States slots?
- Anyone we missed? Know of anyone definitely not racing who we previewed?
- Locals, what’s the Ice Age Trail 50 Mile course like? Any tips for those who are racing this weekend?
- Readers, which of you are running one of the Ice Age races this weekend? What’s got you excited? Nervous?