Editor's note: This piece was originally published Oct. 19, 2018.
The Ice Age National Scenic Trail is a 1,200 mile footpath that is entirely within the state of Wisconsin, though the distance it covers could take you from Milwaukee to Orlando.
Most people hike, snowshoe or backpack through individual sections of the trail — taking in landscapes such as bluffs, lakeshores and glacial drumlins. Only few have ever completed the Ice Age Trail (IAT) from start to finish, and even fewer have completed a through trail run.
That exclusive list now includes Wisconsinite Annie Weiss, who in September set the record for the fastest known time (FKT) to complete the trail — male or female. Weiss started running the trail in St. Croix Falls and finished in Sturgeon Bay 21 days, 18 hours, and 7 minutes later.
"We're bringing exposure to Wisconsin. [The IAT is] a big trail that a lot of people know about, but still so many people don't realize that it's here, and it's actually quite challenging," says Weiss.
This fall's trail run was her second attempt at the record — her first, in 2017, ended after 10 days because of an infected leg.
"Last year we were pretty naive," admits Weiss. "We didn't know as much as we probably should've going into it, even though we had a lot of resources and Mammoth Tracks to help us out. We still kind of went into it more like, 'Oh, piece of cake, no big deal, there won't be any pain, it'll be easy.' And really it was mentally and physically a lot worse last year."
Weiss says she came upon trail running after getting burned out with marathons and more traditional running races. The competitions and the pressure she put on herself added up and she just didn't enjoy the sport as she once did.
"It was really a mind-blowing experience when I started trail running, because there's so much more out there," says Weiss. "You have to remind yourself you're on a trail and it's so, so, so different. It made it a little bit easier because it was not a pressure race situation to really be kinder to myself, but it's a really, really hard thing to do. It's something I have to work on daily."
Even though Weiss set the new record, she notes that it was far from a solo task. She was supported by the Wisconsin community of ultra-trail runners, her husband, and the many friends and runners who participated in sections of the trail with her.
"Midwestern runners are really good runners. We can set records, we can do challenging things, we can be great runners as well," says Weiss. "So, that was really where it started and then over time it morphed into inspiring others to be great."
Although setting a new record for the FKT attempt for the IAT was an extremely physical challenge, Weiss says the run was not only about the sport.
"The message I want people to take away from this is not to go run 1,200 miles or be the next best runner in the world, but to take a risk, do something that makes you happy," she says. "If that's professional or athletic or at home — just do it. Who cares? Life does work out in the end."
You can see the daily blog of Weiss' IAT journey on The Running Wanderer.