Due to a combination of a babysitter and the Girl's mom (who drove all the way from Milwaukee, no less), we were able to sneak away from parenthood for a glorious 24 hours to run the Chippewa Morraine 50K.
We stayed at a little motel on the Chippewa River, where we met up with Alicia and Divesh for chatting and chocolates. Alicia and I were giddy and nervous; Divesh was cool as a cucumber, and the Girl was still trying to decide whether she was running or not. She isn't injured enough to completly stop running, but she she starts to hurt when she runs hard.
The Chippewa Morraine Visitor Center was buzzing with smiles and hugs. Chippewa serves as the season opener for many ultra runners from Wisconsin and Minnesota, so the mood tends to be very elated. The parking lot is full of Subarus with ultra-related stickers and the odd (ironic, most likely) "13.1" or even "5K" decal.
I am, invariably, known as the husband of "that crazy blogger", but it has gotten to the point where I feel lile I know a decent number of the runners.
I decided to lead out the first mile, just to stretch out the field and avoid the sometimes overly social bunching up of the front group. It is decidedly uncool to display any kind of competitive spirit at the start of an ultra, of course, so I was hoping that someone would soon pass me.
That someone was Chris Rubesch from Duluth, who led most of the way to the turnaround. A group of 6 formed at the front, and things stayed that way all the way to the turnaround. I weaseled my way to the back of that group. The back of a group is where I like to be. I love to walk the hills, while eating and drinking, and then catch back up on the flats. I am not, and will never be, a strong downhiller, though.
We were going at a good clip. Chris later told me that his coach had instructed him to start out fast (as part of his training plan). His pace (and our willingness to stick with it) would set us all up for big positive splits. The group contained John Storkamp, who must have the highest social IQ of anyone I have met. By making introductions across the group, and sharing tall tales from the ultra world, he was able to create a cool, friendly atmosphere. I remember him from my first Chippewa in 2008; when I was bonking hard, he passed me and actually stopped to share a few tips on how to rebound. A cool guy; he should go into politics or something.
The group also contained Jake Hegge from right here in La Crosse. He is 20 and a sophomore at UW-L. He ran for the team last year, clocking 25 minute 5 milers in cross country, so he is a guy with more speed than practically anyone in the ultra world. Of course, when a 20-year old guy is running his first 50K and, as Jake did, runs without any hydration, I imagine I was not the only one who thought he would implode later on in the race.
Aaron Svedlow looked like a guy who was biding his time. A few times when Chris slowed down, he looked like he might sling shot into the lead.
At the turnaround, the group splintered. I was last out, having taken the time to eat a GU and drink a Red Bull. I got the expected huge high that I tend to get at this point in races. I passed everyone to get into the lead. To say that I "felt good" would be an understatement. Aaron and I passed each other a few times, both obviously hoping to run our own race out front.
I had just passed Aaron for the third time, and was trying to surge, when the Grl was suddenly standing by the trail. She had dropped out, not wanting to chance having her muscle tear up again. She screamed some kind of encouragement, which helped me to run even faster for a while.
Thankfully, Aaron was slowing down. I have since googled him and found that he is a much faster runner than me; he is coming back from injury and doesn't have the miles in him yet. I kept floating up and down the hills until 5 miles to go, when I started cramping up. I walked most of the last hills and couldn't use my top gear for fear of the cramps acting up. With 2 miles to go, the Girl and some other spectators were waiting. The Girl screamed at me to go faster; she seemed genuinely excited, which made me a little emotional. The tears were kept to a very private minimum.
So I won Chippewa! At this point, with my particular amount of skill and talent, at my age and place in life, winning a race like Chippewa is probably the highest point I can realistically hope to reach. I am not going to crank up my training to "take it to the next level". Honestly, I am perfectly happy at this level.
The fact that I now hold the CR is solely due to this year's fast conditions. Last year, it was very muddy (and Brian Peterson got lost last year. He would have run in 3:30 or faster this year).
Eric Nordgren from Duluth took second. Maybe he had talked to Chris Rubesch beforehand about the apparent suicide pace Chris was setting, because Eric ran a smart race from behind. Had the race been 5 miles longer, Eric would have easily passed me.
Jake Hegge was third, beating John Storkamp in a sprint up the last hill. That kid could be big! With his amount of speed, and showing he can keep it together in his first 50K, he could become very fast over the long distances. Let's be honest, anyone who can make the UW-L team tends to look at trail ultras as way beneath them. I have since met him on the local trails, and he seems to have the fire.
What's next? Some race, I guess. The main thing is that the Girl needs to get healthy. We are running Afton and Voyageur and we will see what else.