“When life gives you lemons, make lemonade” is not quite apt for what happened this past weekend. Explicit within that saying is that your bad luck was of no fault of your own. What happened to me was completely my own fault and rather than make lemonade, I was handed glass after glass of lemonade (well actually they were mojitos, but you’ll get the idea). Generosity runs deep in the ultra runner community.
The past three weekends were crazy. 19 days prior to Ice Age I was running the marathon of my life in Boston, lowering my previous PR by 4min30sec to 2:23:32 (Strava #proveit), a performance that surprised even me. Home on Tuesday from Boston, Friday brought bachelor party #1 in South Lake Tahoe, making for both late Friday and Saturday nights. However that was merely the warm-up to bachelor #2 in New Orleans. Just last weekend I spent Friday to Monday in the Big Easy, attending Jazz Fest, drinking sazeracs, watching the sun rise, and consuming grits, beignets, and a few Po-boys. After all of that, I lost my license going through security on the way home. As I made an appointment with DMV for a couple weeks from then, I was optimistic my license would reappear and I could avoid the hell that is the DMV.
It wasn’t until my seat belt was fastened, seat in the full upright position, and tray table secured on the runaway of SFO that I realized my passport could get me to Milwaukee, but my license would be essential to get me from the airport an hour west to La Grange via rental car to the Ice Age 50 mile start line. I would have kicked myself if the leg room in my cozy Southwest seat would have allowed it. In Denver, I calmly goggled “renting a car without a license” and quickly found some outlier examples of people renting without a license that I convinced myself I could sweet talk my way to a car rental. Hertz was not convinced, nor Alamo, nor any of the other car rental agencies. Damn.
It was about then that my contingency plan kicked in: Larisa Dannis a New Hampshire based elite, who had ran Rocky Raccoon, Boston, and was also running Ice Age. To say that we were friends would be a serious overstatement. I “met” Larisa via her fabulous Instagram photos of the White Mountains and once (as a complete stranger mind you) offered her a ride to a race the Marin Headlands. She declined. Eventually we did exchange some messages about her upcoming move to the Bay Area and our Boston experiences, but our only face-to-face communication was a one line back and forth at Rocky Raccoon in Febuary; Her: “hey aren’t you Matt Laye?” Me: “Yes, and you are Larisa Dannis”.
Undeterred by never having been properly introduced she made the 30 minutes detour from her drive to the MKE airport and picked me up. Next thing I knew I was staying with her and relatives at her Aunt and Uncle’s farm estate in Lake Geneva. All it took on her end was affirmation that indeed I am cute to Aunt Via, who quickly made the only house rule known, “feel completely at home”. By 5 PM we had arrived at a beautifully restored barn, making introduction with Aunt Via, Uncle Frank, cousin Lexi and Lexi’s boyfriend Jeff it already felt like home. Dinner, some wine, and family stories (their’s, not mine) kept us more than entertained for the evening. By the time I was ready for sleep it seemed like turning down a barrage of dessert offerings from caramel to ice cream cones may have been the most stressful part of the day.
Awake at 4:15 AM the next morning, I was surprisingly well rested and ready for that first cup of coffee after my 3 day caffeine taper (oh so glorious). After an uneventful drive and drop-bag drop off we headed into the glacially shaped Kettle Moraine Park at 6AM ready to tackle 50 miles of trails that included buffed out double track, flowly single track, rocky single track, and sharp changes in elevation more associated with sections of Mt Tam than the Midwest. Max King and others were on a mission to secure a spot to Western States (and/or break the 26 old course record) and after dropping a few 6 flat miles I found myself already a few minutes back and just inside the top 10 at mile 9. Waiting for the inevitable (so I thought) blow up I ran with Kalib Wilkinson and then Zack Bitter who reassured me that despite being 9 minutes back and in 7th and 8th place at the mile 21 turnaround, we were still running a pace that would normally compete for the victory. Feeling good from mile 25-32 (or so) I pushed and moved into 5th, well ahead of my 6:10 goal pace. I shouldn’t have pushed. My first bad patch between miles 32-40 was on some of the most technical and hilly trail of the course. At the turnaround, with 10 to go, I knew I needed an 8-minute pace to break 6:10, so I dug down and even though I was reduced to glacially slow walking pace on anything climbing more than 30ft, I used every down I could to make back time and with 4 to go I was on pace…and then I stopped running fast downhills and then I stopped running flats, I was lightheaded, barely moving, and officially bonked. I unsuccessfully made one or two more attempts to push hard, but in the end I shuffled home in 5th, 5 minutes off the 6:10 goal, in a frustratingly close 6:15 (Strava here).
It was not the race I wanted to run, but given the extremely fatiguing effort 19 days prior in Boston and early aggressive pace, I was happy to at least rally once in the latter stages and push myself to a place I have not been in a while, all while gaining some valuable points in the Montrail Ultra Cup Series. Lessons learned in only my 3rd 50 miler. Hanging around the finish line I watched as Kaci Lickteig cruised to a new CR (race report) and Larisa placed 3rd, earning her ticket to Western States. After a few beers, some good food, chatting with Max (1st, new CR in 5:41, race report), Matt Flaherty (2nd in 5:48, also under the only CR, race report), Zack Bitter (6th), Michael Owen (4th,blog), and a whole crew from Flagstaff, Larisa and I left one of the more fun post race atmospheres for “home”.
Awaiting us were mojitos, naturally, and a pool and hot tub to aid in recovery. It was heavenly…and then got better with a dinner of ribs, sweet potatoes, spinach salad, and Larisa reminding Aunt Via that I needed that ice cream cone. Fed, the four of us bar-hopped around downtown Lake Geneva, danced for active recovery, and basked in the spectacle that is the most popular bachelorette destination in the US.
The next morning I left with a full stomach, and was even given a Lake Geneva souvenir shirt in hand to remember the trip. However, it wasn’t necessary because there is no way I will forget their or Larisa’s willingness to help me when I was literally out of options. While I am truly grateful, indebted and humbled by the kindness of near strangers, hopefully next time it won’t require me losing my license. I would be remiss without thanking the organizers and volunteers at the race, it was a beautiful course, superbly supported, and I look forward to returning in the future.