Sunday, April 13, 2008

Chippewa Moraine 50k - what an experience

What a great weekend. Here is the short view, I finished my first 50k, the race course was phenomenal, the weather was unpredictable, the race organization was fabulous, the post race was great, the finishers picture is cool, folks were friendly, I can't wait until next year. Now for the details and the rest of the story

We headed over to the race with a forecast of snow, wind and temps in the 20's to 30's. When we picked up our packet, it was rain/sleet combination. I kept thinking well better rain than snow. We talked to a few folks and they said the course was snow packed and near the turn around point had 12-18 inches of snow. I kind of freaked out and thought how can we run through that. The best way to describe the weather was what we saw the night before. We were staying in Chetak and ended up driving to Rice Lake (15 minutes north) for dinner. When we left Chetak it was raining by the time we got to the Cameron exit off of 53 (10 minutes north) it started to snow when we got off in Rice Lake it was snowing extremely hard with the wind gusting. I thought to myself, I hope this stays north. It didn't but it only ended up adding a couple more inches by morning.

The Course:
This is the description of the course from the race website:

Overview - The Chippewa Moraine trail races start/finish at the beautiful scientific interpretive center. This course consists of single dirt/leaf track over roller coaster terrain that traverses through the glaciated landscape of the Ice Age Trail. The trail meanders through hardwood oak savannas, cedar swamp, pine needle sections, outwash plains, marshes, boardwalks, and over 40 different kettle lakes and bogs in multiple directions. One of the most beautiful trail races you'll ever run!

Here is a link if you want a closer look: Chippewa Moraine Course Map

I would say that the above overview was extremely accurate with the exception that instead of dirt/leaf track we had a snow track.

Race day:
The first decision was which shoes to wear, I had brought three pairs. My trail shoes which I had found worked well in loose or hard packed snow, a pair that I had added screws to which worked well on ice or do I wear my yak trax which worked well on hard packed snow or ice. I decided to wear my trail shoes because of the fresh snow.

The race started pretty much right on time with a temp in the upper 20's and the wind blowing. Wynn's nephew played the Star spangled banner on his saxophone and then Wynn gave us our last minute instructions and we were off.

It was an interesting start, I had gone to the back of the pack as I wanted to make sure that I went out slow. We ended up in a single file line as we headed into the woods. I was surprised at how well packed the snow was but the footing was not very good, we kept slipping. The packed area was around 18 inches wide which is where everyone tried to run. I don't know how they made the hard pack area but it made a difficult day doable.

For the first 2 miles, it was very difficult to get around anyone as we stayed in a single file line in the hard pack groove. It was very difficult to have any control over your own pace as you felt like you couldn't slow down as there was fear of getting run over. If you wanted to speed up and pass that meant jumping into 6 or more inches of snow and very few runners did.

The first 2 miles took 36+ minutes and I felt like I was running much faster and harder, not good. The runners all stayed bunched up in the single file line until the next aid stop (5 mile). After that stop, we started getting spread out a bit but I was surprised how often a runner was on my heals or mine their's.

The aid stations were spaced every few miles and were a joy to see. Here I am coming out of the woods into an aid station.

I wasn't passed by the leaders until somewhere around mile 12-13 for me, miles 18-19 for them (it is an out and back course). I would step out of the hard pack into the snow to let them pass as there wasn't room for two in the hard pack. There were a few times where the snow was up above my knees. I slipped off the trail a few times into the deep stuff but I never had one of those magnificent trail falls. There were a few downhills that had me a bit nervous but no disasters. My wife mentioned that one of the runners slipped off one of the foot bridges into the water, that would have been cold and I can safely say I didn't go sprinting across those bridges for fear of slipping off and getting wet. Looks like I was right.

As to the weather during the event, it snowed occasionally, the winds were gusty (and cold) at times, the sun shone for a few brief moments, all in all it was ok.

The fun part about ultra events versus the marathon is the change in the food items. Instead of GU we got vanilla wafers, gummy bears, M & M's, pretzels, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, grilled cheese, fruit and miscellaneous other items. The last item that I had at the final aid station was a coke, it tasted great and went down easy. I had of runners drinking coke and I do think it helped in the final few miles.

My favorite item to eat or drink was the hot soup that I had at the turn around and again at mile 23. Here I am am enjoying it at mile 23.

The volunteers at the aid stations were helpful, kind and encouraging and I think their day was as tough as ours. Standing around for up to 8 or 9+ hours in 30 degree weather waiting on us. Here is a picture from the aid station at mile 26 where you can see the snowman they made to pass the time.

Here I am coming around the bend for the final uphill climb into the finish.

50k Finisher
For the last few miles, I kept thinking another runner was coming up on me and I didn't want to be passed. I think it may have been just an echo of me going through the woods or maybe I was losing it :-). It kept me moving regardless until the end. Although I wanted a faster time than the 8 hours+ that it took (I am not sure of my exact finishing time as I didn't check it at the finish nor stop my watch, I believe it was about 8 hours 10-15 minutes). I have to admit that the course was a bit more challenging than I originally expected but afterwards I was quite proud to get through it and I now have a PR for the 50k that I expect to beat next time.

I came away without major physical damage, I may end up losing a couple of toenails but considering that I ran almost the entire race with wet and cold feet, I am thankful that is all. I had hip and hamstring issues during the race but I don't think that they will bug me much in the days that come.

I wish to thank my wife for fabulous support throughout the day. It was great to see her at each of the aid stations, she kept me going and fueled. I know it had to be a long day for her. Thank you for the great support.

Miscellaneous thoughts

Race Organization:
For a first year event, everything was extremely well done. Wynn Davis and all of the volunteers did a fabulous job. My thanks to him, his team and all of the sponsors.

We also owe a special thanks to the Ice Age Interpretive Center and all of their friendly staff who welcomed us and allowed us to use their building.

Post Race:
Wynn had vegetarian chili, cookies, ice cold beer (leinies of course), vitamin water and miscellaneous other items. Every finisher received a beautiful 12 x 18 print of the course. He plans on continuing this each year with an updated print taken from somewhere on the course.

Great, fabulous, a joy to see.

Race Director and team:
I think Wynn deserves all of our thanks as he had to spend a lot of time getting this event planned and off the ground. He did a fabulous job. For those of you who don't know who Wynn Davis is, take a look at his bio on the Inov8 blogsite.

Inov8 - Ultra Team - Wynn Davis

Day after:
Feet are sore, legs are sore, left elbow is sore probably from swinging the arms to keep my balance. Looking forward to next year without the snow...........................


Allan said...

That's awesome Mike. The pictures add a lot to your description of the event. It sounds like you had a lot of fun and it's your kind of race (out by yourself in God's country). Congratulations on your first ultra.

phillip said...

It was nice meeting you on the way out, and as you headed back in and I still was going to the turn.
Completing the distance using snowshoes was a thrill but I did get chilly later as I couldn't get my heart rate up back up enough to stay warm.
A heckuva way to start your trail experience.
Wait until you get to experience a nice, dry trail . . . It'll be hard, too, somehow.
Phillip Gary Smith

Runner Brewer said...


I love the statement "it was a little tougher course than I thought"

Amen to that!

Nice job!

Hey Phillip. I am glad you finished. You a gutsy man going that far in Snowshoes.!


mwrunfar said...


Thanks for the comment, I agree with Matt's comment, you are one tough guy.

After I got done, I made the comment that I would never do a snowshoe marathon. It looked way too hard.



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