Let’s get down to the knitty gritty about the Driftless 50 Trail Races. September 30, 2017.
I chose to do the half, and mind you, this is my first race post Ironman, I was not going for time, I was going for experience and to have some fun. I could really see how recovered I was, or so I thought.
The main theme for this race in my mind was this: You don’t get more trail than this trail race, except for the lack of mountain lions.
This trail race, although I chose the shorter of distances offered (there was a 10k, half, marathon, and 50k), and GLAD I did given my condition, threw everything trail at you and was by far the most difficult half I have ever completed as well as trail race I have every completed. This race took place in Hillsboro, Wi, hmm I wonder what Hillsboro is known for? Hmmmmmmm… This place is located West north west of Madison, Wi, about 2 hours of driving out through the middle of no where to get to more of the middle of no where, no cell signal, no gas stations, nothing but you and the earth. The roads were paved though! I decided to drive out early in the morning versus camping overnight (I have no camping gear) around 4:30am, but heard the camp grounds were phenomenal (showers, bathrooms, ect). The half was set to start at 8am. Driving out through the dark, we encountered critters of the night, including a family of raccoons (or trash pandas if you prefer) congregating in the middle of the road…and some buns randomly as we got closer. I also noticed the temperature was dropping as we drove…buuuh, not my favorite thing.
Finally we arrived, it was very easy to find with the website address (I also will note, I downloaded the offline GPS directions…well worth my time!), at Cheyenne Creek Farms. Upon arriving, I noticed first it was 37°F, the sun barely peaking out from the hills beyond. There was a nice fire going (I wish they had kept it going all morning though!), and the little area beyond the barn they had a table set up for participants. Gathering my bib was easy peasy. I was there way too early, arriving about 6:47am. To be fair, the website stated packet pickup would close at 7am, this probably needed to be more clear since most people who ran other distances showed up even after I did, past 7am. They had coffee and hot chocolate set up, and two port-o-potties, which I am eternally grateful for (I did not assume there would be any facilities because of the middle-of-nowhere trail nature of the race, and how small I anticipated it would be). The long sleeve shirt was awesome and simple, and I have managed to collect a record number of red shirts this year haha. It was a great post race article of clothing. Very glad it wasn’t cotton.
I stood around and watched the ultra runners start. I saw one other girl with Inknburn on, and ironically, the same exact shorts I was wearing for the race hahaha. At first, there were like 3 guys lining up, with literally 2 minutes til start, and my thought was “wow, no one wants to do the 50k!”, but then everyone else trickled in quickly, resulting in more people doing the 50k than people at MY first 50k in Virginia. Nice turn out I thought! I watched as they started and saw they ran straight up this hill in front of us, typical haha.
The elevation profiles and maps of each distance were large and posted on the side of the barn. Super nice! I was overall really impressed with the setup for such a smaller race. Everything was smooth and perfect at the race site. I was also glad I wasn’t the only one wearing a blanket over my jacket. It was so cold! I heard a lot of people complain about the temperature as compared to the rest of the week…remember this tidbit of info later for what I heard post race ha! Rich and I went back to the car to keep warm.
I had everything I needed in the car, and set it up. About 15 minutes before 8am race start, we headed back to the start line (not far at all). There were a fair number of half marathoners, about what I expected. We started about 10 minutes late because of lines at the port-o-potties, but you could see them from the start line. It was no big deal, and the environment was super chill…which was a theme throughout the race. I later learned you had every type of person there from the seasoned ultra trail runner, to the person doing their first trail race ever, to people doing their first half ever. And then there was me, coming off of an ironman trying to survive the race itself and get a respectful time. I’d say there were 30-40 half marathoners.
So we were off, up the big hill. I had previously searched garmin for data in 2015 (there was no race last year due to bad flooding in the area), and I found one set of data, saw they had about 1,200 feet of elevation gain, and there were two main hills. I didn’t have access to this at the race site, so I was unable to remember or really compare it to the maps set out. This was about 100 feet off from the devil’s lake DWD half I was used to, except the DWD race most elevation gain was in one place (east bluff!), where this race it would be spread out more. I thought this would be better/easier haha, nope. The first hill lasted quite a bit and got steeper as you went up. The reward was topping the hill and overlooking the valley, which was partially fog covered, breathtaking!
This reminded me of home more than anything I’ve experienced in Wisconsin yet, so stopped to take pictures.
Continued on my way, more up, and more down. What I noticed in this section, the first few miles, which were on a farm, was that the trails were mainly field grass, very very lumpy, but more so the thing that took the most toll on my body after so many miles was the sloping of the trail, it had such a pitch to it you could not really stand up straight, using my arms a bunch to counter balance myself along the way. There were a lot of short up and down punch hills, steep and short. I made my way into the woods. There were a lot of fallen trees, I think all but two or three were small enough that I could jump over them or crawl over them. There were two that were on top of each other leaving a small enough space between them you could go between rather than climb over them. I quickly dodged between but stood up too quickly, so I ended up scuffing my back. Then I was out of the woods and off the single track like trail here (no real opportunities to pass anyone in this section). This took us onto trails that were more so horse trails, so the path was less than shoulder width apart, forcing you to place one foot directly in front of the next, this was difficult, so I would try and jump out of the small ditch and onto the field grass beside it, but it was lumpy and I couldn’t keep a decent cadence, so back into the horse trail ditch I’d go. Eventually, I made my way past the little aid station, where I had an apple piece….OMGEEE apples are SO GOOD for some reason during races!
Another instance where I just fall in love with eating fruit in endurance events. I don’t know what it is, but it’s a magical taste. I have literally no appetite for anything else.
Into the woods and onto the trails! Field grass is so hard to run on, and my feet were soaked through already from the melting frost. I figured it didn’t matter since I’d have a stream crossing at some point later in the course and my feet would get wet anyway. The site did say there was a stream crossing! I met up with two girls from La Crosse, hung out with them for a while, running on dry sand and mud, although I have no idea where mud would come from when everything else was dry? Nice conversations! They left me when I decided I needed more pictures of the race. I stopped on a road way leading to the next trail. Then the big climb came, long and steady for 1.5 miles at mile 5 or so. Very similar to DWD but not as steep, still kind of steep though. I met up with 4-5 more people, who would I sticky paces with for the remainder of the race for the most part. There was a younger guy who had a few tattoos, looked like a good trail runner, also taking plenty of pictures, a girl who was running her first half marathon (10k DWD devil’s lake veteran), and an older couple running together (the husband would run ahead, and then wait at the bottom of hills for the wife), such nice people!
The woods section was different. It threw more and more at you! Of course there was the whole roots and rocks scene, but near the edges of the forests, there would be more overgrowth, where it made it hard to tell if you were on the trail and going the right way. Leaves were also starting to get tired of being on the trees (though the leaves have not turned because of the excessively warm weather we’ve had this month), so there were lots of fallen ones on the path…covering it up. This was difficult mainly because you couldn’t tell what was under the thick piles (rocks, roots, things that make you trip). So I lifted my legs higher– this made me way sore the next day. Then came the stream crossing! Or so I thought. It was a little too wide to jump, so I went for it. After crossing, I didn’t know to go right or left. I went right, and was corrected after going about a minute out of my way. While trekking back, I rolled my ankle. This isn’t a painful thing for me, but it takes its toll for sure, as I would later pay for at mile 10. This occurred at about mile 7.5. Made my way back up the side of the hill, and on the way up, noticed there was at least a 100 foot drop to my left and the trail slanted pretty sharply here. I walked a little more than I wanted to here because “better safe than sorry” became my motto. Usually I can make up time on the downhills, but this time, the downhills were so technical and more dangerous at speed, I had to slow down or even walk part of them. The trails just weren’t wide enough or had enough visible ground for me to feel going fast was safe. Somewhere in here in the woods, there was a small water stop, guarded by a younger girl wrapped in blankets and coats. I asked if she was cold while I refilled my water. She said yeah and asked where I was from. I told her, and how early I got up. She said she lived near Janesville actually and got up early too because she felt like she needed to help out at the race since her family owned the land. That’s so sweet. I thanked her a lot for her help and that it was cool her family owned the place!
There were more and more short punch hills. There was also more overgrowth that was taller.
I was lucky in that I wore calf sleeves which protected my legs from the lower briers. However, I had push away more stuff, and didn’t think about some of them after a while trudging through the brush, when I started getting grabbed by briers on the arms. Thankfully, I had long sleeves on, but my poor shirt! :;( This race had absolutely no real sections where you could just relax while running (with *maybe* the exception of the short segments of roads, but you had to be more aware of traffic since the roads were open), the trails would be severely slanted, or you’d be running in a ditch, or have ravines to the sides of you, or being visibly able to see the trail. My ankles were not used to this kind of running, so it became progressively harder to maintain any sort of decent pace and stabilize myself. Then there was…the stream? I thought I had gotten that over with!
But no, this stream was QUITE wide, much wider than I had experienced. I actually became quite excited by this. This was bad***, this is real rugged trail running (like the rest hadn’t already been?). So I ended up with the crew I had been mainly running with. I decided to stop and take a video of the experience! No regrets. The two girls I had run with before had just finished crossing, and they said it was real cold…no surprise since the outside starting temps were below 40, and the night had been cold and this was running water, not standing water. See the video link below 🙂
I stayed in the stream for a while as I took a picture of the guy with the tattoos in the middle, and he took one of me, so worth while. Yes it was cold, but for some reason didn’t bother me. What more so bothered me were the things that were in my shoes now, whatever it was…sticks, mud, sand…
My shoes never dried off anyway, but the drainage of the shoes was excellent. Love my altras, they tore through the place, although their new Kings probably would have been a better trail choice for this race. Will have to grab me some of those. A little further was the completion of the half loop and I started making my way back to the finish on the farm land. I made it back to the aid station, and had my apples and refilled my handheld. Chatted with the lady watching the station. It was fun!
The sloping of the trail was super evident now, as my shoes were soaked and my foot was shifting literally to the sides of the shoes, not even half way on the soles anymore.
I struck the ground in a bad place, and immediately realized my foot was bruised. I avoided this part of contacting the ground with this part of my left foot as much as possible for the rest of the race. My right arch started giving me issues, and my ankles were sore and tired from supporting me…the rolled ankle started playing a larger role in my overall pain threshold.
Still, taking in the views, there was a small cave along the route, that was pretty cool (plus small stream crossing)! Eventually, I saw the finish area from above it. I thought, I’m almost at mile 11, this seems too soon? I knew the course was short, and the DWD course was also short, though I have never felt like I have been cheated miles. But then I turned away from it. More switchbacks and more steep punch hills. The last grassy hill climb was pretty steep, although not too long. I decided to walk it and work on getting the water out of my shoes. Talked to the older couples at this point and she asked about my shorts. I moved on, and came to…
Another stream crossing! The same size as the other larger one. I am guessing this was the same creek (Cheyenne Creek), and just went right on in! Same cold feeling. Felt so good on the legs though. With the finish line in sight and on the same elevation plane (haha), it was just added fun to the day. I ended up with a finish time of about 2:23, but it was only 11.3 miles as recorded by garmin with Glonas+GPS satellites. I was SO glad I brough extra shoes (my comfy Altra Escalantes), extra socks, and wore the race shirt post race. The medal was wooden, and I’ve never felt like I’ve earned a medal more than this one (with probably the exception of Ironman races), but I loved the detail, how it was wood burned by hand, you could even smell how fresh it was! The race tore me apart. But it was wonderfully put on. Most of the trail markers were useful, but probably one key place was missed. The finishers at the end were complaining lightheartedly that the race should be later in October because the leaves hadn’t turned and it was “hot”. I thought I heard the same people at the start saying how cold it was?? xD
I personally thought the race was a perfect time of the year. I hung around talking to the small group of finishers, hearing all the stories and recounting our experiences. I had a farm apple, delicious, and after cooling down a bit, headed back to the car to drive home. The story isn’t over yet! On our way to the race, we passed a few places selling pumpkins. So on our way back, we stopped at Peck’s farms. It was mild and sunny, the warm beams warming me post race. We walked around looking at the goats and bunnies and all the farm birds. You could feed them too! We went into the market and it just felt like home. It was super nice. Got some gourds and home made noodles (made them last night, also delicious).
Overall, I am still very very sore, from my arms, to back, to laterals, and especially my quads. This race has everything you could want or ask for in a trail race, and you deserve your medal. I don’t know if I will be able to go back, the trails were tough and I’d probably opt for a longer distance. I have no complaints about the race and how it was directed. The race director (Gretchen) was driving around and saw her on the road a few times I think making sure everyone was ok. I really appreciated this. I also appreciated the fact I was able to still register online so close to the race even though I found out the day I registered, I was a few hours shy of online registration closing. Super great community. The only thing I think I would improve is the online site itself with more information and results. More information about the trails and how the race is (a description) would help. I also ended up with closer to 1800 feet of gain over 11 miles, which is a lot more than my anticipated 1200-1300 over 13 miles. I thought the hills were great though! Just putting the information out there in this blog.
As for my first race back, it was a doozy. Probably a little too tough to start back with, but it will prove useful training for my last A race of the year, Xterra Maui. I doubt that will be harder than what I just did (I’m only expecting elevation profiles to be worse, as in all in one place). Have fun with the pictures!! ❤ Next race is a little local 5k next weekend. Probably a short or no race report for that one.