- November 6, 2014 Mountain Bike Radio podcast by Ben Welnak
A short story about Roberto, and a few other characters from the Upper Midwest winter ultra scene.
In a development sure to please hopeful competitors in the 2013 Tuscobia Winter Ultra December 27-29, snowfall the first week in December left features of the Tuscobia Trailhead softened by a sheet of sparkling white crystals.
STEPHANIE DANIELS firstname.lastname@example.org
While some people are waiting out the bitterly cold and snowy days of December with a little more couch time, others are embracing the seasonal shift, ready to run, bike or ski 35, 75 or even 150 miles in the most extreme conditions winter “up north” has to offer.
These are the competitors of the Tuscobia Winter Ultra, an event set to lay down some tracks deep in the wild reaches from Park Falls to Rice Lake December 27-29. As the name implies, the ultra will follow (ideally) snow-packed stretches of the approximately 75-mile Tuscobia State Trail.
Considering that the Tuscobia is a winter ultra, race co-directors Chris and Helen Scotch are naturally “ecstatic” that Mother Nature is cooperating with event plans at this point. They hope that the wintry trend holds out through the ultra itself.
Chris wrote, “A thick layer of snow on the trail and temps in the teens would be good. Temps below zero would be fantastic!”
As of December 5, registration numbers were up by a dozen from the level seen last year. Both the 35-mile and 75-mile events had filled up by that date, something that didn’t happen until days before the event last year, Helen noted. She added that a few more 150-mile racers are still expected to sign up ahead of the main event.
“The growth of the number of registrations is probably the best indicator the event is establishing itself,” Chris said. “The original race director was really on to something,” Chris wrote.
Registrations have nearly tripled since the now husband and wife directing duo took charge of the ultra back in 2011. At that time, the previous race director found himself unable to continue leading the event, and with less than a month to go before the main event, Helen and Chris, ultra runners themselves, stepped up to save the race from certain doom.
A “good mix” of new and returning racers have signed up to hit the trail for this year’s event, according to Chris.
He noted that veterans of the chilly endurance showdown tend to try out longer distances or a new mode of traveling the trail their second or third time around.
Then there are those who “stick to what they know” and work on improving their performance from year to year, he added.
Race directors see the increasing amount of interest the Ultra has drawn from Tuscobia Trail-hugging communities as a second sign of just how far the race has come in its so far short but vibrant history.
They’ve seen an especially great uptick in community involvement this year, with the formation of the race-supporting group Friends of Tuscobia Ultras and introduction of new ways for local businesses to be a part of the event.
Along with offering registration updates and working to recruit volunteers for different parts of the race, Friends of Tuscobia Ultras started a fundraising effort centered on sales of Stormy Kromers, those instantly recognizable staples in northern noggin fashion, personalized with the race name.
As one new feature made possible through community cooperation, a drawing will give folks the chance to take home items furnished by different Park Falls businesses and residents. Tickets for the drawing, open to anyone around the area who’d like to enter, can be picked up at participating local businesses.
An even bigger development at this year’s event comes in the form of a new heated tent, set to go up behind the CCC, otherwise known as the Chequamegon Canoe Club or Chequamegon Bistro, along Highway 13 in Park Falls. The tent will stand right near the site of the finish line.
With the ultra growing too big for the cozy corners inside the CCC, directors noted that the plan is to hold pre-race meetings under the tent, which is also set to house live music acts and sales of food and refreshments at different points throughout the race weekend.
Event planning and outreach efforts for the 2013 ultra started back in July. Some of the directors’ top priorities included securing proper DNR permitting, buses, volunteers and race partners as well as setting up suitable checkpoints.
A few more volunteers are still needed at the Birchwood Motel checkpoint and the checkpoint further east at the Farzwego Cabins in Winter. Duties there will include keeping records on racers as they make their way through the checkpoints and fixing some basic food and beverage numbers to help athletes refuel.
There’s also always a need for folks to help move bikes between the CCC and starting points of the 75- and 35-mile events. The only requirement to help with this task is really a simple trailer, the race directors noted.
Hopeful volunteers are asked to email Helen and Chris at Tuscobia@gmail.com
As the race directors explained, the Tuscobia Winter Ultra is an “extreme event to lead” from a director’s standpoint, basically amounting to nine separate races between the different race distances and means of transport.
But for Helen and Chris, there is a lot of fulfillment to be found in the undertaking.
“The joy comes from giving back to the Ultra community and watching people exceed their own expectations of themselves,” the directors chimed in with a joint response.
Along with pre-race directing duties, Chris is hoping he’ll be able to once again enter the 150-mile challenge on foot, a feat he has completed the last three ultras.
As a competitor himself, Chris enjoys the many talks on gear, training and strategy that naturally arise as racers get set for their respective events.
His feelings about that most biting and blustery of seasons also add to Chris’ enthusiasm about the event.
“I love winter and all the ways people get out there and play in it,” Chris wrote.
Conditions are just a might less chilly this time of year in the spot of Northern California he and Helen currently call home.
Offering three different race distances makes that winter ultra experience more accessible to people who are new to the endurance event, which in Chris’ mind is one of the more unique aspects of the event.
In this way, participants are able to “dip their toes” into the winter ultra experience, and if they find it to be a good fit for them, build their way toward the 150-mile challenge. As the ultra is a qualifying event for the Iditarod Trail Invitational, they could even one day earn themselves a spot in this longest of winter ultras to take place on frozen U.S. grounds.
One lucky Tuscobia Winter Ultra competitor will clinch a place in the 2015 cross-Alaskan race.
Of course, careful preparation is crucial to success in the winter ultra, particularly for those going the full 150-mile distance, Chris emphasized.
He noted that while competing in the snow and cold is tough on a racer’s body, it can take an even more brutal toll on the mind and spirit.
“But overcoming these challenges is what drives many of the athletes,” Chris wrote.
For more information about the Tuscobia Winter Ultra, visit the event blog at www.tuscobia.wordpress.com or the Tuscobia Winter Ultra facebook page. Friends of Tuscobia Ultras also have a facebook page with group info and race updates.