By Ice Age Race Director Jeff Mallach
The Ice Age Trail 50 has been held on the second Saturday in May every year since 1982, making it one of the longest running 50-mile races in the country. The event was founded by Badgerland Striders running club members Glenn Wargolet and ultrarunner Tom Ulik. At the time, there were very few ultras to model the race after, so Glenn’s vision – formulated over a few beers at a Milwaukee tavern – was to mark a one-mile loop in a nearby county park and have participants run the course 50 times.
Tom had a better idea. He invited Glenn for a run on the single-track trails of the Southern Kettle Moraine Forest, about an hour southwest of Milwaukee. Captivated by the difficulty and beauty of the trail system there, Glenn dropped the idea for a park run and the stage was set for the Midwest’s first ever 50-mile trail race.
The course followed the National Scenic Ice Age Trail, so the event was named in its honor.
The first IAT50 attracted 99 runners. The race grew quickly in the ensuing years, attracting ultrarunners from around the country interested in testing themselves against each other, the twisting and technical single-track and relentless hills of the Kettle Moraine Forest and Wisconsin’s unpredictable Spring weather. By the late 1980s, Ice Age was the third largest ultra of any distance in the United States – and Andy Jones, one of the early stars of ultrarunning, drew even more attention to the race when he ran the course in a blazing fast 5:53:21 on a hot day in 1987. His record still stands today.
The Ice Age course has been tweaked over the years and is generally more runnable than it was 30 years ago, due to changes to the Nordic trail made by the park service and Ice Age Alliance volunteers, who have straightened, added steps to and often plucked rocks out of the Ice Age Trail (shame on them!). Still, the course features about 7,000 feet of elevation change and has been described as “deceptively difficult” by more than a few ultrarunners.
The wider Nordic loop – the first nine mile section of the course — tempts runners to accelerate their pace early on. It also gives spectators something to watch as the leaders re-enter the Start area about an hour after the race start. Runners then merge with the Ice Age Trail and run two out-and-backs on largely single-track trail, finishing a short time later in the Start/Finish area, where friends and family, a BBQ lunch, local microbrews and a live band are waiting for them.
In 2000, Ice Age added a 50k race – and a Half Marathon in 2011.
Ice Age became part of the Montrail Ultra Cup Series in 2010. The series has bolstered the race’s reputation as a competitive event, helping to draw runners from around the country and the world. The 2014 edition of the IAT50 will include runners from 31 states, two Canadian provinces and three foreign countries.
Last year was arguably the fastest field in the history of the 50-mile race. David Riddle became only the fifth runner in 32 years to finish under six hours, coming within two minutes of Andy Jones’ CR. And Cassie Scallon – whose ran her first 50k and 50 mile races at Ice Age – shattered the 18-year old women’s course record by more than 18 minutes, earning her the “best CR-breaking” performance of 2013, according to Ultrarunning magazine.
This year’s field will be even deeper – led by Zach Bitter, 2012 IAT50 champion, recent winner of the US 100K championship and North American record holder in the 100-mile and 200k distances, Matt Flaherty, who won the American River 50 and Tussey Mountainback in 2013, finished fourth at Ice Age and just ran a 2:22 at the Boston Marathon. Montrail-runner Max King is coming off a 7th place finish at Lake Sonoma 50 miler and doesn’t want one of those Western States spot to elude him again. Madison runner Brian Condon is also looking to finish high, after spending a lot of time on the Ice Age Trail since his second place finish at last year’s IAT50. Joe Uhan, 16th at the 2012 Western States and sixth overall at last year’s Where’s Waldo, Iain Ridgway from the UK, who finished 4th at JFK and won the Flatrock 50k. Matthew Laye, who ran a 13:17 at this year’s Rocky Raccoon 100 will also be running to capture one of the three automatic entries into this year’s WS100, as will Michael Owen (2nd at Burning River 100 and recent champion of the Terrapin Mountain 50k), 2011 IAT50 winner Shaun Pope, Kalib Wilkinson (6th Mad City, 1st Sean O’Brien 50k and 4th place finisher at last year’s White River 50M) and Jason Wolfe. Veteran runner Ian Torrence will be at Ice Age this year, as will ultra-newcomer Michael Borst, who, at age 20, has already won five of the eight ultras he’s entered and placed second in the other three. Michael will be pushed by 17-year old wunderkind Ford Smith from Texas, who ran Bandera in 9:21. Others to watch include C. Fred Josyln, a 2:18 marathoner who is making his ultra debut at Ice Age, Christopher Wehan, Brian Tinder, Adam Condit and Kelly Agnew.
The women’s field is also stacked. At the top is Kaci Lickteig, who has never finished below third in any of the ultras she’s run and who took #7 overall at this year’s Rocky Raccoon 100M, Larisa Dannis (1st LBL, 4th at Rocky, 1st at Vermont 100M and 2nd at Zion 100M), Stephanie Weigel, winner of six ultras (1st Zion 100K & 2nd Ray Miller 50M) and runners Caroline Boller, Maddy Hirbit and Kerrie Wlad.
In the 50k race, Scott Gall will be returning to break the 3:14 CR (he came within four minutes two years ago) — and 2010 IAT 50M winner Meghan Arbogast will be running to top her 4:04 third-place overall 50K performance in 2013.
The 2014 50-mile field will also include seven runners who have completed more than 20 IAT50 races.