The Tuscobia Winter Ultra is a run, bike, or ski event held on the Tuscobia State Trail in northern Wisconsin, and a qualifying event for the Iditarod Trail Invitational. There are two options: an 80-mile one-way route or a 160-mile out and back. Both lengths are semi-supported, as there are organized aid stations, but no outside help is allowed. Read on for a recap from event organizers Chris & Helen and some insight from this year’s winner, Jill Martindale.
All photos were generously provided by photographer Greg Prellwitz. To see more of Greg’s work, including even more from the 2018 Tuscobia, check out his website here.
Words by Chris & Helen, Event Organizers
The 10th annual Tuscobia Winter Ultra was held in relatively mild conditions in northern Wisconsin this past weekend. Participants in the 80-mile race ran, biked, or skied the entire length of the Tuscobia State Trail between Rice Lake and Park Falls, and those in the 160-mile race completed an out-and-back of the trail. An old railroad grade, the Tuscobia trail offers long stretches of remote Northwoods scenery with access to small towns along the way. Temperatures the previous three years reached -20°F or colder, but this year’s event saw temperatures barely dip into the single digits. While this allowed participants to relax a little, the ever-changing trail conditions did not. The low snow levels made for faster than average bike times, but the icy, rutted sections kept racers alert and focused while they dodged exposed rocks and tree limbs scattered about from logging operations on a section of the trail.
The 160-mile races were won by Ben Doom of Minnesota and Jill Martindale of Michigan, both of whom have won the race in previous years. Jill set a course record, covering the distance in 21:20, while Ben was 7 minutes shy of the men’s course record, finishing in 13:27. In the 80-mile distance, two Minnesotans set course records, Charly Tri won the men’s race in 6:53 while Alexandera Houchin was the first woman home in 8:25.
2018 Tuscobia Winter Ultra Recap
Heading into the Tuscobia Winter Ultra this year, I was a little intimidated because it poured with rain the entire drive from Michigan. I knew it was going to freeze, and I think that was going to be my biggest obstacle this year out on the course – with temps forecasted around 5-15°F, I wasn’t worried about getting too cold or having my water freeze. I had decided to do the race on my new Salsa Beargrease set up with the stock 27.5″ fat bike wheels and some 4” 45NRTH Vanhelga tires. Looking at the weather, I made the call a few nights before the race start, and although I tried my best to exude confidence in my gut instinct, when I pre-rode the course and went down twice within the first 5 miles, I was definitely worried! A lot of riders opted for studs, and that was probably a wise decision on their part! I dropped a little air pressure from my tires (I went down again on my way to the race start, and again less than 10 miles into the race), but the remainder of the course my tires were the perfect choice. I think they were phenomenal on the straight hauls, smaller climbs, and the general conditions of the Tuscobia Trail, and I think the larger diameter wheel and those particular tires helped me conserve energy, grip when I needed them to, and rolled smoothly over the snow.
The best part of the Tuscobia 160 mile race (that still has me glowing!) is the race format! I really enjoyed having the course be an out and back because it eliminated any worries I might typically have in terms of getting lost or not knowing where I was on the course. By time I made it out to the turnaround point, everything was still very fresh in my brain and I felt like the ride back to the start/finish went by relatively quickly! Around 60 miles in to my own race, I began to see all of the 80 mile participants head in my direction. We all cheered, high-fived, smiled, and waved at one another, and it will forever be etched in my mind as one of my all-time favorite winter ultra moments! Ben Doom rolled my way and patted me on the back before zooming off towards the finish, well ahead of the rider in second place. It really was a special segment of the trail for me and I absolutely loved it! I think I rode off that smiling-faces high for the rest of the race!!
Congrats to everyone who participated in this year’s event, and a big thank you to all the volunteers who helped make it happen. For more information on the Tuscobia Winter Ultra, check out the website here. The next event is scheduled for December 27th, 2019…
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