Military Ridge OKT/FKT
Start date: June 6, 2019; 7:34am; Dodgeville, Wisconsin
Finish date: June 6, 2019; 9 hours and 21 minutes and 17 seconds later; Fitchburg, Wisconsin
Total miles: 40.85 miles traveled
Type: Unsupported female
This was my first attempt at an FKT, or Fastest Known Time, also OKT, or Only Known Time. The Military Ridge Trail, according to https://fastestknowntime.com/, had no prior recorded times by male, female, or otherwise. Since I lived near the eastern part of the trail, I was familiar with a few miles of the 40sih long stretch of non-technical rail trail.
According to the website, this is the description of the trail:
“The 40-mile Military Ridge State Trail, in Iowa and Dane counties, connects Dodgeville and Madison by way of an 1855 military route between Verona and Dodgeville. The trail runs along the southern borders of Governor Dodge and Blue Mound state parks passing by agricultural lands, woods, wetlands and prairies. There are several observation platforms adjacent to the trail for viewing wildlife and other natural features. In Ridgeway, the trail passes by a historic railroad depot.”
For the map I used, please follow this link: https://dnr.wi.gov/topic/parks/name/militaryridge/pdfs/militaryridgemap.pdf
Based on this map and information, I decided to start in Dodgeville and head east along the trail. The website states an address for the trail, but this is incorrect. The park called Wilson Park is not the location of the start of the trail. That park is close, but about a mile away from the trail itself. There were a few options of where the trail started. One was across a busy highway, but no trail existed there, but a building and a parking lot. This location didn’t make sense. Across the street was a sign saying “Military Ridge State Park Trail, Parking lot ¼ mile; Access from Hwy YZ”, but a trail existed here made of the same substance much of the trail consisted of. The third option was starting at the Military Ridge Parking lot, located further away from the website suggested address. I decided on the actual sign, as this was the only real sign near the trail. The trail looked as if it began at this sign, with the highway directly next to it, and nothing across the street looking like any trail (just a parking lot for a business there as I mentioned). If you also go by the map above, the start of the trail in Dodgeville also stops before crossing the Highway.
The end point, which I had visited several times by foot and bike, located in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, I decided to be the bridge that crosses over a busy highway called Highway PD, or McKee road. The pedestrian bridge is a highly recognized bridge from the road and trail. About a mile east of this bridge is a 5-way bike path intersection that would lead to other trails. However, based on the website map (see map link above), the trail seems to end at this street, McKee. I would run to the sign that marks the trail there at the bridge before crossing the bridge. There is no parking at this location, as also indicated by the website.
I decided to do this unsupported, as I thought there would be plenty of water and the weather would be good enough to get through rationing water throughout between towns. There are a few corrections I will make to the map/website as I go deeper into what went on on June 6th, 2019. Unsupported means I must carry everything from start to finish with the exception of water. I started out with a hydration pack (2L), full of V8 fruit juice until I ran out. I had honey stinger chews, marshmallow bunnies from Easter, an assortment of gels, one peach fruit cup, and mints for nutrition. I also carried a pack of tailwind (trail size), salt chews in a plastic baggie, sunscreen in the form of a small deodorant stick, two tech tubes, sunglasses, 2toms antichafe roll on, my phone, and used a Garmin 935 (GPS only mode to conserve battery). All this weighed quite a bit and slowed me down a little.
So let me begin.
I began in the morning as my husband Rich drove me out to Dodgeville from Verona (where we live). We arrived at the address mentioned on the site only to find out that the trail was nowhere to be found. A local man was going on his morning walk and we asked him where the trail was from there. He said it was quite a bit aways and described where it was, around Highway YZ. Not being from that precise area, we didn’t know where it was. I looked it up on google maps and we got back in the car and drove over. We parking in a veterinarian lot across the street and I headed over to the trail sign. Upon inspection, I decided this was the best starting point, although no parking lot was that close visually. The sign felt the most official and most logical. Trying to start garmin and strava at the same time was a little complicated and glad I had Garmin as a backup, more on that later. I did a few second test, and sent off my info and posted links as I began my trip down Military Ridge Trail (MRT).
The parking lot was indeed ¼ mile away on the left. The trail was moist, we have had a LOT of rain lately and few days of sun and not many days over 70 degrees. This week had been an exception with the temperatures at least. The trail was mostly double track here, as you could fit two persons across easily. The mossy and dirt ground was slippery to say the least. The fog was really dense at the start, 7:34am. It felt like the east coast for sure. The distance from Dodgeville to the next town (Ridgeway) was nearly 10 miles. I knew this going in I would have to conserve water (which was currently V8 juice). I preferred this direction knowing this was going to be the longest section I’d have without water. I would later be proven wrong. I also chose this direction because it was net downhill. I am not sure this mattered at all since I got a total elevation gain of about 600 feet in 40 miles, and ~850 loss. Not a big deal either way. If I did this again, I might go the other direction, later on that.
The biggest thing to note were the massive MASSIVE amounts of gnats and bugs. No bug spray would have helped. There were just clouds of bugs suspended in the air as I passed through them, they stuck to my very sweaty skin. I checked the weather on my phone, 100% humidity (no doubt with the looming fog), upper 60s this early in the morning! I kept to a 0.25 mile walk, then running the rest of the mile, to prevent burn out on such a flat trail. My pace stayed steady, but my arms were waving around like mad. If I got my heart rate up, I’d breathe harder, with my mouth open. The bugs were so bad, I could not have my mouth open to breathe. This was truly burdensome.
Other than the saturated air, and fog, which I had hoped by 10am the sun would have burned off some of that (did not), and bugs, the first 9 miles went smoothly, although footing was difficult at times. I suspect this part of the trail is not traveled much, as access to the trail is extremely limited the first 9 miles (no road or other trail access) despite following main roads the entire distance. I would passed entrances to people’s driveways, but that’s about it. The bright side to the adverse conditions was I would not have to worry about sun exposure for a while. Speaking of that, I was expecting the trail to be mostly exposed. This section was mostly definitely tree covered for the most part, which trapped the moisture even more and felt like I was swimming rather than running.
For the bugs, they stuck to my bare shoulders and back, and I would wipe them clean and aggressively every ½ mile or so (or less). I was afraid I was wiping off my sunscreen I had applied and also my antichafe. I wiped my chest with my hands every mile, and while swatting the swarm clouds, my hand would hit 2-3 bugs per arm swipe. It was insane and I wanted to quit because it dominated my experience. I was kind of lucky I was sweating so much because even though the bugs probably stuck to my skin worse because of that, I was able to wipe them off quickly because of the amount of sweat. Somewhere around mile 4, I had to apply some A&D I was carrying with me to my underarms, already feeling where I had chafed before. Ugh. At least I had it with me! I never needed to reapply that.
I arrived in Ridgeway right on schedule. They had restrooms here in a shelter. I used that, and took advantage of a nearby trashcan to toss my fruit cup I had eaten (I tried to eat the heaviest items first!). There was a water fountain also at this shelter and I drank from it, but did not fill up my water. Probably a mistake. I didn’t look at the map, but retrospect is golden. The next town would be Barneveld, 5.4 miles away from Ridgeway. Ridgeway was a cute little town, reminded me of smaller towns on the east coast with a few shops as I could see the main strip in town from the trail. There was an old rail station here (was the shelter now) and it was well maintained from what I could see. Fog still had not lifted completely at this point. I was well soaked and sweat ran down the back of my legs continuously.
Sometime at Ridgeway sorting out my pack (after taking it off to access the food and fruit cup), and while putting it back on, it stopped my garmin for a brief two seconds. I heard it beep and then pushed start again, thus leading to my missing two seconds on my garmin. Good thing it keeps track of total elapsed time!
It was getting hotter for sure. The trail remained mostly tree covered even approaching Baneveld. Apparently the trail was going up and down through here (according to GPS scale), but you really can’t feel it. Still feels mostly flat, especially overall. This area the trail goes through is called the driftless area, an area in Wisconsin that the glaciers did not reach in the last ice age. Pretty cool seeing the hills. The area between towns so far is mostly farms, and not very visually appealing if you’re used to that sort of thing.
Somewhere between Ridgeway and Barnveld, I managed to with my sweaty thigh:
1. Butt dial my friend Andrea (thank goodness it was her and I hope she had a good laugh)
2. Started up two cell phone games (battery killer!)
3. Stopped my Strava, many sad faces.
It took over a mile for me to realized all this had happened, when I opened my phone to take a picture I believe. Always have backup data!! Thank you garmin. Apparently I had put my phone in my pocket backwards in Ridgeway (screen facing skin and not outwardly). My phone lived in my right shorts pocket the whole day for quick access. I was pretty upset at this chain of events. This happened about 13.5 miles into the run.
I ran out of water sometime before reaching Barneveld. I knew I was getting close to empty half way between Ridgeway and Barneveld, but thought I could make it without searching for water. I learned how much water I had by feeling the back of my pack and giving it a good squeeze. I started slowing down a bit. I hit a gel and got some food from my pack along the way. I knew from experience on researching the towns two days prior that there was no water in Barneveld.
Upon reaching the shelter there, I searching for a spigot. I actually found one that seemed duck taped but water still came out. I filled my pack up with the sketchy water anyway desperate for water. The water flowed very slowly so it took some time to get it out. The next time I would access water would be Blue Mounds which was the next town 4 more miles away. I knew I would not make it without water and still running. Between Barneveld and Blue Mounds, the trail became more exposed and the sun was starting to get rid of the fog. There were a few rollers here, if you can call them hills. The trail would go from crushed limestone to the soft slick mud (not tacky, but just moist and slick). I stayed in the middle mostly in the moss/grass for traction.
I knew when I was passing by Blue Mounds State park, as the big hills loomed over the trail. I did wonder if the trail would pass over them, they do not, they bypass the hills…somehow. I knew there were nicer restrooms at Blue Mounds. I stopped for a bit here and took advantage of the restrooms. The baby doll that was on the table there two days ago was still there. Not much else to do, I threw away an airheads wrapper in their trashcan there. I headed out to Mount Horeb, I was very excited to get there. It was only 5 mile to Mount Horeb! And I knew if I could get there, I would feel refreshed and renewed because it was where the Ironman Wisconsin bike course went through…a personal boost for me. Blue Mounds was my half way point.
While heading out to Mount Horeb, I would go through so many more bugs. I had been hoping as with mosquitoes, that the sun would discourage the bugs. I would choke on them, swat them, and was convinced my arms would be sore in the morning because of them. I literally felt like my shirt and shorts had just been in a pool. I checked the humidity and conditions again. Humidity had not yet dropped below 65%. Again, I ran low on water. I knew if I could reach Mount Horeb, I’d be able to get water. I slowed again trying to conserve water, as I was going through water much much faster than anticipated (probably due to the high temperatures and humidity). My legs were getting stiff, I found two benches, one happily occupied by a red wing black bird (joy, I love being the target of their aggression!), but I didn’t care, I would wiggle my legs and release the tension. I wasn’t sore, but I am not used to going flat for so long.
I met a runner heading out of Mount Horeb when I got about 1.5 miles from the access area there and asked how far it was. I was really trying to conserve water. I did run out but I was in a safe place at this point.
Once in Mount Horeb, I gathered water from the spigot there in my pack, filled it ALL the way, knowing the distance from there to Verona (or so I thought) and knowing what lied ahead (again, so I thought). I dumped my tailwind in at this point. I knew I was going to need the electrolytes. I sat down on the bench there in the shade. I talked to a few bikers who had done the trail several times, one guy from Dodgeville. I asked about the bugs, and they said that they had just gotten bad. Lucky me.
While I rested on the bench there, I took the time to treat the right side of my right foot which had been bugging me for a few miles now. I reapplied antichafe, and also took the time to reapply sunscreen. What a mess that was…I was so wet and sweaty I was not sure the sunblock would take. This took a bit of time, and while I was disappointed, I knew I did not want to risk sunburn or chaffing that night or the next day. Always wear sunscreen folks. I also reapplied the antichafe to all other parts, in fear chaffing would take over my run still with the humidity so high and not washing off the salt from my body. I know enough about the effects of humidity to not mess around.
I headed out on what would be the longest and loneliest stretch of trail ever. It’s very straight, very flat, and VERY exposed. The hottest part of the day was upon me.
I hit the marathon mark not long after Mount Horeb. I knew it was all downhill and flat from there, but you really can’t feel a 1% grade. I started to do shorter intervals, run 0.1 mile, walk 0.1 mile just to keep me moving. I knew somewhere there was Klevenville…never came. Apparently, it doesn’t exist on this trail, so don’t expect anything just because it’s on the map. My main focus became Riley. Not because there was anything there, but because I had actually run there from my house and the Ironman bike course also went by there too. I needed that confidence. There is a port-o-potty there, but from Blue Mounts on, I did not really need to go anymore…not great. I knew once I got to Riley, the whole trail would be exposed to the sun and dry dirt. Somewhere near Riley, I realized I only had a small bit of water left…this was very bad going into this stretch. I had thought about the stream (Sugar River), but it has very limited access, and the blue-green algae content has been extremely high in the past 48 hours according to the local news…all beaches closed for swimmers. There were several bridge crossings, and I would stretch out my calves at these points. My pace dropped severely. I succumbed to a walk right past the 50k mark, also noting it was my 2nd fastest 50k time.
I would run every 0.25 miles now. Every time I would stop, I would eat one of my marshmallow bunnies. I was still slowing down! I was putting food in me though. Not enough water. These bunnies did not end up working out for me in nutrition. Noted. I was pretty disappointed because I kept trying to eat them and they went down easy. I guess the puff nature of the food made it seem like I was taking in more than I actually was.
Now the long stretch, the endless sunny stretch…
I knew if I did not walk this, I would indeed run out of water and perhaps have to quit altogether. The next town was Verona, where I lived. I knew I could access water there. The humidity was oppressive, as the surrounding marshes and wetlands and grasses areas trapped the moisture well and was outputting it to the trail. Little breeze helped anything, as wind was calm most of the day with a rare breeze passing by. The trail before Riley was becoming marshy, and by the time I hit the seemingly endless exposed portion of the trail between Riley and Verona, it was all marsh and wetland. The bugs started to lessen as I approached Verona however, the only saving grace, as the cottonwood seeds increased instead.
I intersected the highway and there were two underpasses that felt like caves with a significant temperature drop in each where I would sit against the cold walls. The first underpass (knowing exactly where I was) had a small stream run under the eastern side, and I put my hands in it, IT WAS SO COLD. I sat down and started cupping water in my hands and covering myself in this water. It felt so good. I washed my face off and poured the water down my back. A biker passed by me and asked if I was ok. I chatted for a bit, and explained that I was not that far from Verona (he was heading towards there). I said I was out of water. He went on saying he didn’t have any. Since this was unsupported, while I appreciate his concern, I could not take any if he had any. I got up from the water, and headed to town, just 1.5-2 miles out.
Right when I was closing in on Verona, the trees came back for shade and I picked up the pace a bit. The biker returned with a bottle of water he had gotten and offered it to me. I refused, and thanked him greatly for his concern.
I hit the massive junction shelter in Verona. I got water from the fountain there. All the freaking water. I found an empty soda bottle and grabbed it and filled it with water and carried it along. I was so exhausted from lack of water, I hit my slow intervals again only to find out that I was getting bad side stitches on my left side. These eventually went away and my pace picked up as I approached the paved portion of the trail. I arrived at the park and ride, the only trail head of the entire trail, and the place I basically run and bike from a lot of the time with friends. It felt good getting past this. I don’t recall any more bugs here, which is weird, as I entered the wetlands again and I knew there was a giant pond a mile from the park and ride there where traffic is loud and usually bugs are a huge issue (but I guess they’re usually mosquitoes). It was at this time I realized the bugs were probably from all the rain we’d been having. Made sense with all the standing water everywhere.
I was so close to the end. The trail was so flat here (I would do time trials on my bike on this section!), and I knew it was just a mile. Two of my friends were waiting for me after tracking me on the Strava beacon all day. I saw the green pedestrian bridge where it crossed over McKee. I found the first railing of the bridge which coincided with the sign for Military Ridge, and called it done. I ended up totaling 40.85 miles, some of that probably garmin adding, some of it me wandering around a shelter, probably not all of it though.
Average pace was 13:44 minutes/mile, which is not bad, but I really thought my time would be lower. However, the unsupported aspect of it really showered what I was made of and what I had to do when things got tough. Would I say self-supported/support would be easier and save time? Absolutely! I had to take care of myself and rely on what I had. There were several gas stations and stores along the way that I could have bought what I needed especially when water and nutrition were failing me. I did want this to be unsupported so I did not utilize these things. If I had had a crew or pacer, I could have gone faster. I would not have had to spend so much time helping myself, especially reapplying a small stick of sunblock that I was carrying to my whole body. If someone would have just sprayed me, it would have taken minutes off my time. If I had planted water ahead of time, I could have filled up in no time flat instead of trying to rig my hydration bladder in lower positions hoping I had filled it all the way up under spigots. I could have called for someone to bring me a hat, thus not wasting as much energy on swatting bugs for countless miles. I could have had someone bring me my sun running hat as well, blocking the sun during that long shadeless stretch of trail. So many “if I had this”.
Regardless, I am proud of myself, and would love to see someone do this supported as road paces are not out of the question on much of this trail, given the trail isn’t damp/moist from rain or muddy, and supported the whole time. I bet there could be a blazing fast pace on this one. My moving time was 8 hours, 39 minutes, and 30 seconds, with an average pace of 12:43 minutes/mile, a whole minute ahead of my solo pace. I realized even if I had been supported, I would have had some stoppage time, but my pace would have been faster had I had more water and nutrition. My planned pace was lower than that even. But it tough to even plan a pace for these things when you are completely reliant on yourself.
What I can say mentally and physically:
Mentally it was tough. I had been alone a bunch before, but this takes the cake. Hardly anyone uses the trail on the western end compared to the eastern end (probably because Madison is on the eastern end), and there isn’t much “wear” to the trail on that end, but I didn’t see a soul for miles…this is also in part due to the limited access along the trail as mentioned before too. Usually in races, you at least pass someone every hour or two at minimum, and seeing people at aid stations more often than that. This was just so empty. True this was done on a Thursday, between the normal work hours, but even in Verona, there are many people using the trail all times of the day, even 5am. It was tough really having no one there. I would post pictures to my status about this but it was much too difficult to really mess with my phone during due to the humidity and eventually heat. I would have loved to message more but I was also very cautious about battery life. When I saw my two friends, Shana and Rebecca, said they were potentially coming to the “finish” I did get much more excited and felt accountable. The mood of the trail changed once I was in Verona and there were more people around, per usual.
Physically my legs did ok just had a tough time with the continuous flatness, thus breaking it up by doing squats and stretching at bridges, and when I’d find a bench, sitting and doing a physical shake out. My arms got so tired of swatting the bugs and wiping my body down so many many times. It just felt nasty. The physical part really wasn’t bad until I was running out of water…which happened more often than planned. The weather took a physical toll as well, with humidity ranging from 60-100% at all times, and the high getting up to at least 85°F, starting out at 66 in the morning, with minimal breeze and calm winds. The forecast was supposed to be 77°F with clouds increasing in the afternoon (neither happened). I only remember the sun being cast out by clouds twice. Once in the morning by the fog, and one cloud in the afternoon. Conditions were not ideal at all. You can get really bad chaffing if you sweat that much with the heat and humidity and you don’t continuously remove the salt in your sweat from your body. It was very hard to be more upright for two reasons: one was the pack I carried being heavier than I’m used to, and two, the bugs had me leaning very far forward as to avoid getting bugs in my face/mouth. I just couldn’t breathe right under those conditions. Today my abs are a bit sore, and my calves are tired, but not really too sore or bad. I am only slightly sunburned, and only two small chaffing spots (very much a victory).
I would love to go explore more complete trails end to end some day, and until I am more knowledgeable and experienced and faster, that time is still to come. I feel accomplished being the pioneering time on this trail and hope to inspire other women to get out and do their own thing no matter what it is. I have women in the running community that I look up to too.
Please keep in mind if you are planning on doing this with utilizing water on the trail, Sugar River is a good source, in the fall-early spring, but farms go through fertilizer and it dumps into the creeks. Also note in that between fall-early spring, the water sources will most likely be turned off from the buildings due to cold temperatures here.
Link to my garmin activity: