Facing the Unexpected at the Glacier Ridge Ultramarathon

The moment of truth finally arrived, after so many weeks training in between classes and trying to stick to a relatively healthy diet. In April, my friend and I ran the Glacier Ridge 50-kilometer Ultramarathon. Well, sort of.

Waking before dawn, we headed to Moraine State Park dressed in our running gear to find a frigid world covered in fog. It had rained the night before, and all of Butler County seemed as though a wet washcloth had been tossed over it. Clutching our jackets (the kind that are supposed to keep you cool instead toasty), we walked from the parking lot to a check-in table to grab our packets and numbers. I watched as a thick mist moved among the spidery branches. The lake was still and quiet. It really was a beautiful scene; if only the air wasn’t so frigid.

Soon the time came for runners to assemble for the start of the race. I did not count myself among the experienced runners. Some of the people gathered around had been doing these races for years. I talked to one guy who looked at me in astonishment when I told him this was my first. “You’ve never ran an ultra before, and this is the one you decide to do?” It was on that note of confidence that I stood with my friend at the starting line.

Five, four, three, two, one. And then we ran.

The hilly trails were incredibly muddy due to inclement weather the night before. Other than that, the first 11 miles were great. We kept pace with a couple other runners, keeping up conversation to take our minds off the running. Before too long, we arrived at the first major aid station, where we re-hydrated and then continued on our way to the next aid station. Or so we thought.

Before the race we were told that the trail would split after the first aid station: right for the 50-mile course, left for the 50-kilometer route. We didn’t realize our mistake—that we had ended up on the 50-mile trail—until we had run four miles. This meant we had to go all the way back to the first aid station to take the right route. We got a variety of looks as we retraced our steps from the 50 mile racers. Some looked on in sympathy, or amusement, sensing that we had gone the wrong way, while others looked on in amazement thinking we had already finished the 50 miles and were headed back (if only).

Going back this way caused a lot of reflection. There was a time limit, so we had to reach the next aid station before noon or be disqualified. It was already close to 11 a.m. when we realized our mistake. We knew we wouldn’t make the cut off time. I thought about what this meant: Had we failed? Was this all for nothing? Regardless of these thoughts, we kept going.

In the end, I’m glad we didn’t let getting turned around stop us from continuing. I had a great time bonding with my friend through this unique experience in such a beautiful park, and because we were near the end of the pack we were able to help out an injured runner who collapsed on the trail. Later on we found out that others had gotten turned around as well, which helped as it meant we weren’t the only ones to make that mistake.

At the end of the day, we had gone about 26 miles. It wasn’t 50 kilometers, but it was still the equivalent to a regular marathon, which I had never attempted before. I have no regrets about what happened on the race. Sure, we hadn’t expected a lot of things to happen. But then again, it’s the unexpected that makes life interesting.

Photos by Thomas McBryde

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