I was worried about this one. The Frozen Otter Ultra was unlike any race I have ever signed up for, or even considered attempting. This race isn’t just an ultra. It’s a test of how well you know your brain and your body when it is put through cold, darkness, fatigue, hunger, and pretty much anything else that sounds uncomfortable.
I originally planned to pace my buddy Josh, who signed up for the race last year. But because of extreme conditions (-30 degree wind chill) and the extra gear mandated by the race insurance, Josh decided to try again this year instead. So of course he convinces a hand full of buddies to join him in this crazy event. Registration filled up quickly and all 125 slots were gone in a matter of a few weeks.
A few people started training chatter early on the Frozen Otter Training Group Facebook page. I started writing down equipment that I might need to make it through 20+ hours in extreme cold conditions. I also started to think about strategy. Do I start out fast, while the sun is out? Or do I stay a consistent steady pace the whole way? I also didn’t know what to eat for something like this. Chews were not going to be enough. These are all questions that would be answered during my training.
I was fortunate to be coming off of my 50 miler training, when training for the Frozen Otter began. 64 miles didn’t seem as daunting once I knew I could run 50 miles. What I wasn’t prepared for was carrying 15-20 pounds on my back for 20+ hours of trail trekking. The aid stations are only guaranteed to provide water for participants, with only 1 gear drop at mile 46. So all your food and extra clothing must be carried on you during the race. So each week of training, I used 1-2 of my runs to practice running with a weighted pack, increasing the weight a little more each week. I started to notice the strain on certain muscles that I normally don’t experience when I’m just running. I also started testing out different foods that would give me enough fuel, but wouldn’t upset my stomach while out on a run.
But the real training kicked in when the winter set in. I got a real taste of what to expect when I attempted a 5 hour run in negative temps. I started out fast-around a 12 min/mile pace (fast for a trek). I then slowed down a bit, only to realize, that this was the worst decision. My sweat quickly froze causing me to freeze to my core. I quickly realized that I would have to focus on keeping a slow consistent pace, that wouldn’t make me sweat too much.
By the time race day came around, I was terrified but was trying to convince myself into confidence. Josh and I planned to take the race at a steady pace, pushing for the 20 hour finish. I had a group of 5 crazy friends who decided to cheer us on at every aid station, as well as Josh’s wife. They helped boost my confidence more than I could imagine. Josh and I started out strong, keeping a consistent 17-18 min/mile pace. The aid stations were every 7-9 miles, allowing us to refill our water, since this is the only thing the race promises to provide. Along the way, we chatted with other participants, and even met a guy named Ross who had the same plan as us. So now we were 3.
Making it to mile 23 (the turnaround aid station), seemed almost too easy. But we knew things would get harder once the sunset…and it did. The temperatures dropped drastically from 25 degrees to 10 degrees. We also had to deal with headlamp batteries dying, muscles getting cold, and what seemed to be the worst part-our hands were almost useless at large portions of the race. There were hours at a time when I couldn’t feel my hinds, and could barely manage to grab my water bottle. I had to run ahead of the group at times just to get my blood pumping again. I thought that being alone in the woods at night would bother me, but with the full moon and sparkling snow, it didn’t bother me.
At mile 39, Josh and Ross decided to call it quits. This was particularly disheartening because after 39 miles together, you depend on each other a bit to keep going, keep pushing. But I had a goal, to at least make it back to the start line at mile 46. Only 7 more miles. My running buddy Faith stepped in to help pace me through this section. She kept me going, and kept my spirits up when the temps dropped lower and I couldn’t feel my hands for the last 2 hours.
By the time we reached the mile 46 aid station, I made my decision. Because of my hands, the cold, and going into the race with a bad cold, it was time for me to throw in the towel. I wasn’t able to drink any water or eat anything the last 3 hours, so I knew if I went on, this lack of nutrition was going to take it’s toll. I saw Josh and my friends waiting for me at mile 46, and I was so happy and thankful to have so many other crazy people in my life. I am one lucky girl.
At the end of it all, an estimated 26 people finished. That’s a 22% finish rate, which makes this a good year for the Frozen Otter. Only 3 women finished the entire 64 mile race. I stopped at mile 46, putting me as 5th female overall. I’m feeling pretty proud of this, especially being my first attempt at the Frozen Otter. Yes, my first….not my last.