A confidence booster, that's what we needed. And, the New Leaf Ultra Runs' Kettle Moraine Spring Starter 50k is what we decided would provide that boost. It fit quite nicely into our respective training "plans" so with a spring in our step and some coffee in our mugs we headed up north to frolic in the 'sconsin woods.
We actually arrived a touch early at the Emma Carlin parking lot and went about making final preparations for a nice day in the woods. Brian gave a quick speech about the course and the aid every 7-8 miles on the route, and reminded us to turn around at Esterly Road. Though it's only a fat ass event/group run, Brian still manages to pull together a great event. That's just what he does :)
We set out on the trail to a symphony of 25 watches beeping 'start' signaling the beginning of a great day.
The weather was cool and damp and we ran the first 3+ hours in a persistent mist under gray skies. The trail was perfect and we clicked along in quiet contemplation. Four guys ran up ahead and stayed there all day, while Brian carried our threesome forth with me in the middle and Geof behind. The three of us moved along as if on a rail. Smooth and effortless. The ground was soft and tacky, perfect for traction on the plentiful ascents and descents of this stretch of the Ice Age Trail. The misty air only intensified the color palette of the forest surrounding us. Geof and I decided it was how we imagined trails in western Oregon :)
Trees and underbrush were just sprouting their spring layers and the green was intensely bright set against the gray sky. Tiny flowers nosed their way upwards through dead leaves covering the side of the trail. Tiny spider webs dangled between reeds of tall prairie grass, dotted with dew drops. How tiny must the spiders be that built those webs? The rustling of leaves on the forest floor alongside us caused more than a few glances throughout the day, but whatever it was kept itself hidden. Birds were singing and dancing above us, and the frogs were chattering monotonously as we ran past hidden ponds and lakes. I could sleep soundly surrounded by this woodland symphony. The forest felt more alive than I can ever recall it feeling. Nature is king and this day reminded us of this.
The Ice Age Trail from Emma Carlin to Esterly Road is a delicious combination of hilly technical singletrack through towering trees, and flat and fast pine needle padded winding singletrack beneath an aisle of pine trees reaching for the sky. It is beautiful. You can feel yourself coming back alive as you take it in. We were gettin' ourselves some serious nature :)
Brian, Geof and I stuck together all day and I must say it was an absolute delight working together. We made it to the turn around, exactly 15.5 miles out, in just under 3 hours. We must have looked like starved beasts as we ransacked the aid set up at the turn. I guess we were hungry, and not a little bit thirsty :)
As we headed back out the mist began to dissipate. The temps were in the low 60s and a cool breeze forced my wind vest back on after standing still for a few minutes at the aid stop. I kept it on the rest of the way. The mist had left us pretty well soaked and fairly grimey feeling, but for some reason it felt good. It felt good to not care and to focus on one thing: running.
I didn't have any goals for the day, other than to have a great time. I knew we would before we started; I could feel it. And I was right. As we clicked off the miles I decided it would be great to finish first female, why not? But I knew it wasn't going to be a fast finish. We were taking it easy and I knew I would have a great deal left in the tank, which is exactly how I want my training runs to go at this point. Everything was working so well and my legs responded better than expected. We haven't run more than 20 miles in one sitting since JJ100 back in November so we weren't sure how it would all pan out. I tell you what, it's awesome to just be able to knock out 31 miles whenever we want. Geof mentioned this during the run, and I totally agree :)
I focused on pace and maintaining a comfortable stride on the ups and downs, and pushing a little more on the flats. I pulled ahead and led our pack along for the final miles and found I had to reign myself in to keep us together, but it was good to know I had plenty of turnover to spare so late in the run.
After what seemed like an inordinately long final 1/2 mile we could see the Emma Carlin parking lot through the trees. The three of us finished together in a fine time of 6h:12m. Knowing how much I had left in the tank I could have certainly pushed a lot harder, or kept on going. But, I was happy to be done because I was really hungry and ready for the La Grange General Store :) We all finished feeling really good and very happy with how the day went. I was also happy with how well it went wearing my new La Sportiva Wildcat 2.0s for the first time. Those shoes rock my world every time. I did end up getting first female. Not that this was a race or anything ;)
Brian, Geof and I made our way to the General Store and enjoyed some good eats and shared a choose-your-own six pack...I tried out a new Belgian white by Alaskan that had me clicking my heels; it was delicious...as was the requisite Spotted Cow. I love me some 'sconsin brew.
My legs bounced back like a couple of champs and after running around the city a little the next morning to watch the front runners in the Shamrock Shuffle 8k I felt pretty well recovered.
Just a few more weeks of quality training before the taper. I love this stuff.