This was my second attempt at the Frozen Otter Ultra. For those of you not familiar with this race, it is 64 miles on the North Kettle trails. The only support along the way is water provided every 7-9 miles and a drop bag at mile 46. Everything you might need you have to carry, along with required gear that you must carry for emergencies.
My first attempt at Frozen Otter ended at mile 46. I couldn’t stop shivering, couldn’t eat or drink anything, and couldn’t feel my hands. I’m pretty sure I had an early stage of hypothermia. When I decided to sign up for Frozen Otter again, I knew I had to find a way to beat the cold.
One reason Frozen Otter is so difficult, despite the obvious, is that you never know what conditions will be on race day. There have been years with 3 feet of snow on the course, or other years with -30 degree wind chill. This year, we were fortunate not to have snow, but we had temps as low as -6 degrees, and the ground was icy and frozen solid including many mud potholes from people’s footprints and deforestation. We were fortunate to not have to carry the extreme weather gear, but we still had the severe cold to contend with along the way.
There are 2 types of runners at the Frozen Otter. 1) People who pack the bare minimum, go out fast, and hope that their water doesn’t freeze and nothing causes them to slow down. 2) People who want to be a little more prepared because things always go wrong at these temps, so they start at a slower pace and carry a lot more emergency gear. I chose the #2 path. I had experience with frozen hoses and bladders before, as well as my sweaty clothes causing hypothermia when I slowed down. In my pack I had 2 Liters of Nuun water with an insulated hose, a change of clothes, extra down mittens, my food for 46 miles, hand warmers, vacuum sealed Yeti container, and the required gear (emergency bivy, emergency blanket, whistle, headlamp with extra batteries, cell phone, fire starter, medical kit). In all I would guess my pack weighed 10-15lbs.
The race started at 10 am. Because I packed extra clothes, I started out at a faster clip knowing I would change at the first turn around spot at mile 23, right when the sun was going down. Right away my nozzle on my hydration pack was freezing, even after blowing the liquid back into the bladder each time I used it. I was forced to detach the nozzle every time I needed a drink. I eventually was able to keep the nozzle from freezing by keeping the nozzle stuffed between my layers of clothing and closer to my body. I kept to a strict schedule with food and hydration. Every mile I took a good drink, every 3 miles I ate 200-300 calories, and every 2 hours I took a salt tab. I originally planned on eating more at the aid stations, but extended stops were causing my hands to freeze so I stuck to minimal stops along the race. I wished I could have spent more time at the aid stations, since my friends and sis were there to cheer me on.
I was feeling awesome until around 25 when I tripped on one of the many frozen potholes in the mud. At that point my right knee and ankle started to go downhill. I was relying more and more on my trekking poles. This took a toll on my hands and wrists since the ground was frozen.
The timing couldn’t have been more perfect since my first pacer, David, was joining me at mile 30. He pushed me hard and helped me stay optimistic all the way to mile 38. My buddy Jeff joined me from mile 38 to 46. He helped me focus on the beauty of the race. The ice on the ground and trees sparkled like glitter from our headlamps. And the stars were brighter than I’ve ever seen them before. This was a great distraction from some tough miles. Mile 46 was the aid station for my only drop bag, and the place I stopped last year. I knew that this would cause a major mental hurdle for me. But Jeff and my friends helped me focus on changing out of my wet gear, grabbing more fuel, and setting out for the last 18 miles.
The last 18 miles were the most challenging physically and mentally. I started mile 46 at around 1 am, 15 hours into the race. Chris was joining me for this leg. He was great with keeping me distracted from the severe pain in my leg and the fatigue setting in. The ground seemed to sparkle even more bright as the night went on. And it was uplifting seeing a dozen or more people heading back from the last check point, ready to become one of the frozen few. At the last check point, Faith was ready to help me chase the sunrise. We left just before 5 am, giving me 5 hours to finish the last 9 miles. I knew I just had to keep moving, which was becoming more and more of a challenge. But Faith kept me focused and excited about the beauty of the trails and the finish line. I couldn’t have picked a better pacer to watch the sunrise with on the last leg of the Frozen Otter. This leg was definitely the coldest, dipping down to -6 degrees. My hands were frozen and I had no interest in my food anymore. But once the sun started peaking over the hills, my spirits were lifted and my pace picked up (probably not much, but it was all I had left).
One of my best memories of the race was going around the last turn of the race and seeing Steve and Jeff waiting for Faith and I with big smiles on their faces. I made my way to the finisher area, dropped my trekking poles, and announced my number for the
last time. A group was huddled together and they all welcomed me to the Frozen Few! The race director came over with the coveted Frozen Otter dog tags, and congratulated me on my finish. It took me just over 22 hours, leaving about 2 hours to spare before the cut off.