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 in 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 on the trails of the Southern Kettle Moraine Forest. And that’s all it took. The first Ice Age 50 was held there less than a year later. Here’s Glenn’s story.
Today, the IAT50 is one of the oldest continuously-running ultras in the country. A “rite of Spring” for many Midwestern distance runners, we take special pride in the fact that so many of our athletes keep coming back. Today, our 500-mile club includes 157 members (10 Ice Age 50-mile finishes) and 26 runners who have finished the 50-mile race 20 times. Our Hall of Fame also includes 13 indestructible runners with more than 20 finishes: Andy Arena (30), Andy Klapperich (28), Parker Rios (28), Jim Blanchard (26), Pat Gorman (26), Bob Telfer (25), Roy Pirrung (25), Tom Balzola (24), Bill Thom (24), Deb Vomhof (24), Ross Meyer (23), Brad Drake (23) and Gail Edgar (22). If you’re fortunate enough to run with any of these remarkable people at Ice Age, you’re almost assured a finish, as well as an unforgettable experience.
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 ascend Bald Bluff, a place revered by Native Americans and the location of the Black Hawk War, the last major Indian war in Wisconsin. (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.
Ice Age is staged entirely by volunteers and sponsored by the Badgerland Striders, a nonprofit running club based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Our volunteers 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 kick in the ass!). Five 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 32nd year as Hwy 12 Captains, Jeff Weiss, host of the “tropical” aid station at Young Road, Jane Zien at the Rice Lake turnaround, Karen Bott at Emma Carlin and Franny Keyes (Horseriders), who came up from Illinois for a horseback ride awhile back, 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 ten 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 others that fill today’s ultrarunning calendar.
So what’s the weather like in May? Conditions in 2019 were ideal — cool temps and overcast skies, with the sun appearing just in time for the post-race party. The year before, temps were in the 50s and despite heavy rains on Friday, the trails were almost perfect. In 2017, it was sunny and unseasonably warm. In 2016, it was cool and overcast. The sun was out the two previous years, with temperatures topping out in the 70s.
There’s a lot of great information on this website to familiarize you with the race. Also follow us on Facebook for additional news and updates.
We 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.