Friday, November 20, 2015

Fun in the November Sun: Icebox 480 2015 Race Report

The Icebox Fan Club

Mom and I are charter members of the Icebox 480 fan club. She visited me from Vermont to run the race in its inaugural year (2013), and got 18+ miles on its singletrack trails. I got 50K and my first pacing experience. Last year, we were a few miles into our second loop when she fell and broke a rib, cutting the day short. But we still made it to the ceremonial post-race feast at Brasa, and her rib healed by spring, so we call it a win.

This year, Mom had already come to town for one timed race -- the FANS 12 hour -- where she got her first 50K, walking in hiking boots. It's hard to describe how proud I was of her then and now. 

That's a 5-0!
Yes, she did 50K in hiking boots.
When she told me she was up for Icebox again, I was thrilled.

Plans, Goals, and Taking What the Day Gives

I'd been trying to recover from knee trouble in the three weeks following Wild Duluth. I'd run 7 very easy miles with Janet at her first 50 mile finish at Surf the Murph two weeks previously, then run into trouble (literally) the previous weekend on a training run with recurrence of the same pain. But by the Thursday before race day, with some barefoot running, things seemed okay. I notified my coach of my race plan:
(Screenshot cropped to remove coach's
encouraging but... colorful... comments.) 
Mom's plans were even more dialed-back than mine: She wanted to hike a couple of loops, see how things went, and, of course, Brasa.

We arrived at Whitetail Ridge with plenty of time to spare and enjoyed a spectacular sunrise...
... and caught up with friends. One of my favorite things about this race is its timing: It's at the end of the fall trail racing season, and so for many runners, it's a low-pressure, see-how-things-go "fun run". It was great being able to introduce Mom to some of my favorite runners, including Kevin, Julie, and Janet and Mike Hausken.  
Ready for a day in the woods!
Dramatic lighting at the race start

Loop 1: Warming Up, Taking Stock

Chris the race director made a few announcements, counted down, and we were off, following, as usual, a guy in a red union suit riding a fatbike. Why not?
Photo credit: Shawn Severson, who came to run,
not realizing there's no race-day registration, and
decided to stick around and take pictures. Thank you! 
Mom was with the walkers in the back, and I seeded myself near the back as well, settling into a very laid-back run. I'd kinesiotaped my peroneal and posterior tibialis tendons and, at the last minute, put on an older pair of trail shoes, and so far everything felt great. I was planning on 15-ish minute miles.

I let people pass me, judging that, this time anyway, running my own pace was more important than conversation. Soon I was running mostly by myself, warming up in the growing sunshine, enjoying the dry and mostly clear trail (I did spot Leaf Blower Guy later in the loop!).
Bare trees and bare trails -- conditions were perfect!
I ran for a bit with Wally from Wild Duluth.
Fun to see him again, with both of us feeling better!
The trail curves and recurves back on itself, and at one point I spotted Mom a switchback or two down from me. We yelled greetings and encouragement at each other, and continued on.
Go Mom go!
Sections along the open fields were greener than in some years.
The second aid station was between miles 4 and 5. I was surprisingly hungry when I got there, and one of the volunteers offered me cheese curds. Delicious! I told them, "Say hi to my mom when she comes through!" and headed out.

It was a beautiful sunny day, and the miles were just ticking along.
The crazy curving track in the last few miles...
Happy on the trail!
... and the final straightaway into the start/finish!
Loop 1: Complete!

Loop 2: Too Good To Walk

I dropped my jacket off, grabbed another Beard Brothers bar (not bad; like a Larabar with chia seeds), got some bananas and Heed, and headed back out. My plan, as written, was to walk this one. But everything felt good. I broke into a jog not far out of the aid station and decided I could alternate walking and running.

Some of the speedier runners were lapping me now, but there was plenty of room in most places to step off the trail and let them past. At the top of the hill at mile 1, I stopped to bang on a barrel with a little girl. (On the same hill on loop 1, I'd stopped to joke around with Jenny, who was volunteering.) It was nice to feel unhurried but still purposeful.

It was warming up and I was down to my base layer. The woods smelled like dry sweet leaves, and it was windy at the top of the ridge, calm at the bottom. The miles ticked by as I thought of nothing in particular, breathed the November air, and loved being there.

There's a bike trail along the route called "Joyride". Every time I passed the sign for it, I made a point of smiling and thinking about joy. It wasn't hard.

At the second aid station, the volunteers told me, "We saw your Mom! We told her you say hi!"

I was still feeling great, and still working on holding back a bit, when I jogged into the start finish to complete the second loop. I was pleased to see that I'd been running pretty consistent 14-minute miles on loop 1, and 15-minute miles on loop 2, and everything still felt great.
Loop 2: Complete!

Loop 2.7-ish: Knowing When To Hold 'Em and When To Fold 'Em

We were 3.5 hours or so into the race, and I'd decided I wanted to try and find Mom and spend some time on the trail with her. We'd both been noncommittal about how long we were really going to go, and I didn't want to miss getting at least a few miles together.

The volunteer tallying miles told me she'd left on her second loop about 25 minutes before I came in. This changed my plan -- I'd originally been considering running the loop backwards to catch her, but it seemed she was closer to the start than to the finish. I ate some chicken cold cuts and potatoes (a combination that rocked my world, at that particular moment), and considered. Finding her was more important to me than getting credit for a complete third loop. I headed straight up the hill, cutting off the first mile of the course, so that I could catch her sooner, and started running.

I think I actually did my third [partial unofficial] loop at a faster pace than either of the first two. I had a goal, and my knee and ankle felt fine, and so I ran. Still not fast, but steadily.

It was great. The first two loops had been fun, but this was awesome. I felt purposeful, and happy, and warm, and a little hungry, and I was going to find Mom somewhere on the trail.

I spotted her a bit after mile 4 but before the second aid station; she was on a section of trail after the second aid station. I cut across a small section of woods and we hugged and continued on. Mom had been doing great; she said that around mile 8, in particular, she felt terrific and thought about going further than she had planned.

She told me people kept passing her saying, "Hello, Robyn's Mom!"

We walked and talked for a mile and a half, heading into the last mile long section of trail before the finish. As we started down a long switchbacked hill, though, her knee started to bother her. It's been a season-long injury spot for her, and we were both delighted and astonished that it had held off for 13 miles of happy hiking. At the bottom of the hill, I pointed out a section of trail leading straight back to the start/finish. "Want to cut the trail?" I asked her. "You mean that's the end, right there?" she asked. "Yep, or we could stay on the course and it's about a mile." She decided she didn't care about her official tally either, and that walking on her knee, now that it hurt, didn't seem like a good idea. Without hesitating, we stepped over to the final stretch and came into the start/finish.
1.75 loops: Complete!

An Early Finish, But A Good One

Mom had knocked down 13 miles, and I guesstimated that I had enjoyed 18 pain free miles. It was about 1:30 pm. We got cups of hot noodles and broth from Lisa (GENIUS idea, by the way, cooking the noodles separate from the broth! I am totally stealing that for my next aid station), and loitered around the bonfire, catching up with more friends. I briefly considered doing a few short loops -- I was having so much fun! Nothing hurt! -- but concluded that there was very little potential upside to that plan, and a lot of ways it could be regrettable. Without too many regrets, I handed my race number in and thanked Chris for organizing another awesome Icebox 480.

Icebox 480 continues to be an outstanding race. The timed trail race format is nearly unique to the region, and this format and the timing of the race in November gives it a laid-back, fun vibe that differs from other races I love. Finally, it's only 45 minutes from the Twin Cities, it's over by midafternoon, and you can buy New Glarus beer on your way home. What's not to like?

We'll be back again next year. After all, we're Icebox regulars!
See you all next year!


  1. Nice report! You had to include that power line pic though? Five rotations and all the roots and rocks on the single track, so guess where I do the crash and burn.

    1. Holy rhubarb, Erich, that's where I fell too! I was trying to open a package of Shot Bloks, took my eyes off the trail, and WHAM! Sheesh.

  2. It's always fun to see you out there, and even more fun to see you doing this with your mom. Great report, as usual.

    1. Kevin, it was so fun seeing you out there and meeting Becky!

  3. Icebox is one of my favorite races! Running, walking, or maybe even crawling - I love spending time in the woods with Robyn! I'll be back next year:-)

  4. Looks like a whole lot of fun! I'm doing a FA run in January that I've always wanted to do on the MST and am at least excited about meeting people as I am running. Also I'm jealous you get to run with your mom!