If you haven’t already heard the story, the Ice Age Trail 50 was conceived by ultrarunner Tom Ulik and then-Badgerland Strider’s President Glenn Wargolet at a Milwaukee tavern back in 1981.
To simplify the logistics of the Midwest’s first 50-mile race, Glenn (RD 2005-09) imagined a one-mile loop course in a Milwaukee County Park. Tom (RD 1982-86) had a different idea. He invited Glenn to a run in the Southern Kettle Moraine Forest. That’s all it took. The first Ice Age 50 happened there less than a year later. Here’s Glenn’s story.
Today, the IAT50 is one of the oldest ultras in the country. A “rite of Spring” for many Midwestern distance runners, we are especially proud that so many of our athletes keep coming back. Today, there are 152 members in our 500-mile club (10 Ice Age 50 finishes) and 22 runners who have completed the IAT 50-mile race 20 times. And our Hall of Fame also includes 12 indestructible ultrarunners who have more than 20 finishes: Andy Arena (30), Jim Blanchard (26), Bob Telfer (25), Andy Klapperich (25), Parker Rios (25), Tom Balzola (24), Pat Gorman (24), Ross Meyer (23), Roy Pirrung (22), Gail Edgar (21), Bill Thom (21) and Deb Vomhof (21).
All three Ice Age runs — 50-mile, 50k and Half Marathon — take you through scenic, historic and geologically fascinating areas. You’ll run in dense deciduous forests, under tall pines, over rocky ridges and across open prairies – and see lakes, kettles, kames, erratics and other natural features left when the glaciers finally retreated from Wisconsin more than 10,000 years ago. The ultra courses pass by sites that provide a glance into the lives of the area’s first settlers and climb Bald Bluff, a place revered by Native Americans and the location of the Black Hawk War, the last major Indian war in Wisconsin. (Included among the 3,500 soldiers who camped beside the bluff were two future US Presidents, Abraham Lincoln and Zachary Taylor.)
And if you like fast company, you’ll find it at Ice Age. In 2014, Max King from Bend, Oregon ran the 50-mile race in 5:41 (6:50/mile pace!), smashing our 26-year old course record by 12 minutes. That same year, Kaci Lickteig (2016 Western States champion) bettered the women’s CR by four minutes, running 6:41. All in all, four runners clocked under six hours that year, which is remarkable since only five other runners had run sub-6s in the preceding 32 years.
The volunteers who staff the Ice Age Trail 50 are simply the best. They understand what you’re doing out there and will do whatever they can to get you to the finish — whether it involves refilling your water bottle, answering questions about the course or giving you a pat on the back (or a kick in the ass). Three of our Aid Station Captains have been serving Ice Age runners for more than 20 years, including Craig and Mary Hopper, who are celebrating their 31st year as Hwy 12 Captains and Jim and Karen Bain who have been helping runners at the Duffin Road intersection for 28 years. Our Horseriders Captain, Franny Keyes, came up from Illinois for a horseback ride one year, wondered what all the fuss was about and ended up volunteering at Ice Age for the next two decades.
Personally, I’ve been involved with the race in one way or another since the mid 1990s — first as a volunteer, then as a runner (8 50-mile finishes) and, for the past eight years, as race director. Among my goals as RD is to uphold the race’s reputation as a well-organized, well-marked and competitive race while also preserving the old-school vibe that distinguishes this race from the multitude of others that fill today’s ultrarunning calendar.
What’s the weather like in May? Hard to say. Race day last year was sunny and unseasonably warm. The year before, it was cool and overcast and the two previous years were mostly sunny with temperatures topping out in the 70s.
To learn more about the Ice Age Trail 50, I encourage you to spend some time on this website – or “like” us on Facebook and receive additional news and updates.
We’re glad you choose Ice Age — and look forward to greeting you at the finish line!
Jeff Mallach, Race Director
P.S. If you’re wondering what makes this race so special, take a few moments and peruse the race reports that runners have shared with us.