Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Frozen Toes 50K Swamp Tromp

Race Recap—Frozen Heart 50K 
February 15, 2014

I’ve done my fair share of ultras, on many different types of terrain and in all types of weather but none of these experiences quite prepared me for the Frozen Heart 50K.  Going into this 50K I knew I was not in peak condition but I am NEVER lacking for motivation and rabid determination; I just assumed these traits would carry me through.  At first my running partner and I were planning on running two loops but I decided that I have always wanted to run an ultra in St. Mary’s on my favorite trail so I was going for all three (heck I’ve run solo ultras there 4 or 5 times but my mini-van was the only aid station).

The week before the ultra was full of scattered showers and snowstorms, we even had actual accumulation on Wednesday the 12th, which we all knew was destined to melt and make for a fun and festive muddy mess.   Almost everyone local had taken the time to run a portion of the newer section of the course and one thing I knew for sure was the new sections were going to be muddy—they just exceeded all of my expectations times at least ten.

Race morning was cold but I was feeling excited and ready.  I was signed up to help with check in and was surprised at how many people were still planning on running all three loops given the multiple phases of weather forecasted for the day—rain, sleet, wind, and snow.  The original prediction called for rain all night, continuing all day until it changed to sleet then snow, although I don’t mind running in the rain I HATE starting in the rain.  Luckily the morning was dry and the real rain waited about two hours into the run to start, but it was COLD. 

As the race began (down an icy slope onto the single track portion of the trail) my running partner and I situated ourselves at the back of the pack and we essentially walked until the dam crossing where runners started separating themselves by pace.  After turning back on to the single track it got icy and wet—quick.  Parts of the trail that tend to be slightly muddy were ankle deep with slushy icy mud and runners were already beginning to fall on a fairly consistent basis. 
I miss MXC sometimes
It felt like this...with ice.
The real fun began on the new section or fire road section of the creek (I mean trail)—this is where we discovered that we had signed up for a triathlon—swim, hike and run (the gymnast acrobatic falls and flips were just for extra points).  For most of us we had reached the point where trying to keep our shoes dry was completely futile and began just trudging through the ankle to mid shin deep standing water/mud on the “trail”.  “Frozen Heart” became the misnomer as everything but our hearts were frozen, staying upright with forward momentum took a lot of cardio-vascular warmth and strength—all appendages trended towards a purplish blue cold hue. 
Yes, I asked myself this more than once....
I cartwheeled into aid station one and the spread of food and warm smiles and hugs we were met with puts this 50K above all others.  We had energy balls, food, drink, more food, more drink, warmed up hand warmers, offers to open and refill our bottles, basically concierge service at its finest.  As we tearfully left the warm welcoming sight of Tom, Sue, Becky, Marcus and Lara we continued running in the creek (trail) and made our way to the end of loop one.

The next aid station with the warming tent was nearly impossible to leave, Kara had seriously put EVERY ultra to shame with the spread of food, soup and hot chocolate she had put together.  Our hands had become useless extensions of our body that could do NOTHING.  I had to ask everyone to open, unwrap, fill and fiddle with anything needing adjustments.  Only 21 miles to go. 
I actually caught the bottle, then my fingers said "I'm sorry, I am no longer working"

My running buddy was only signed up for two laps and she was convinced that the only thing stupider than showing up and running the first loop, was sticking to her commitment to run the second loop.  This was definitely a “you had to be there” race to understand just how horrible the conditions were and just how cold you can be while maintaining forward momentum.  Lap two was colder and it had begun to snow, an added bonus was growing gusts of wind; we forged ahead. 
swoopin' in for dat d
The hilarity on this lap was ridiculous because we KNEW just how bad it was going to get.  One of us possibly slid down a muddy embankment into the deep water (I mean trail), another one of us might have leaned on a tree after losing a shoe in the mud (for the 12th time) and broken the tree and landed on her bottom, there may have been some inappropriate language as brambles ripped open the skin on our legs as tried to avoid the thigh deep water on the “trail”.  Yet as we came up to the aid station the promise of homemade brownies and Rice Krispie treats made all of this OK (and yes, there were still cartwheels—we run happy).
Puddles--What Puddles?

At the conclusion of lap 2 it was time for my running partner to head home and me to continue on.  Poor Cindy had just shown up to volunteer and I had to ask her to pull off my socks—ewwwww—because I wanted to start this lap warm and dry (this was a very good call).  My hands could no longer do ANYTHING so completing this task was a team effort, I don’t know who all helped me, but thanks!

Having been at check in I knew that there were a lot of folks signed up to finish all 3 laps but as I ran (slowly jogged in order to not fall) I realized that I was ALONE.  I saw a couple of runners/hikers not in the race along the trail but mostly I was by myself.  The quiet snowy run was AWESOME and I just went at my own pace and managed to stay upright having fresh dry clothes kept me warm.  Lara, Tom and Becky were still at the aid station and were peppy and helpful—since my hands were finally warm I had to opt out of the traditional aid station cartwheel.

As I was finishing the final 2 miles Blaine ran up along my side collecting the flags and Perry and Becky made an amazing on course cheering squad in the final mile.  Seeing the mostly empty parking lot and warm welcome smiles at the finish was AWESOME.  Marcus greeted me with a bear hug and a twirl; I still had a cartwheel left in me and let’s be honest after 32.6 miles per my Garmin it was a well earned cartwheel.   Crystal and team made sure I had plenty of snacks and drinks and the bonus was my husband and oldest daughter Gracie showed up to cheer me in. 

It took me 8 ½ hours to finish this beastly course but considering only 22 people completed all 3 laps I’ll take it as a personal victory and proof that if you try hard enough you can finish any race, in any conditions, given the right mindset.  Mine was don’t throw in the towel, use it to wipe off the mud, grime and snow, and then keep on going.