Wednesday, February 25, 2015

2015 Frozen Heart 50K Race Report

Since JFK, I've never really thought of myself as an "ultrarunner."  It was, or at least it could have been, a fluke.  Sure, maybe not.  The rational part of me says you don't "fluke" your way past JFK's draconian cutoffs, but regardless, it's been tough to even think of myself as an ultra guy.

I'm an "ultra runner," based on my vast experience doing them.

So in the back of my mind, I wanted to do another ultra, preferably a 50K, just to have a time at that distance.  Last year, I noted that Kara, of It's A Dog Lick Baby World, oversaw her first race as RD, the Frozen Heart 50K.  At the time I was in Maui, but casually mentioned that I wanted to run her race in 2015.  The cost for this race was WAY cheap -- I got in for $25 as an early bird entrant, pre-Thanksgiving.  The race itself benefits The Semper Fi Fund, so there was almost not a single thing as a "downside" to doing it.  With one exception:  the potential for snow.  Cold, I could deal with.  Kinda.  But snow?  That shit isn't fit for anything but a bumble.


Ok, that's freaking WORSE.

There we go.

The race is 3 loops of roughly 10.5 miles.  So it's about a 17K, a 34K, and then the full 50K. It sure WAS cold out during the race, but I wasn't that cold.  I was wearing ridiculous amounts of clothes, as I'll describe.  The problem was the snow.  I just had no footing.  I'd plant, slide, lunge, and sink down into a fluffy pile of cold.  Then I'd keep going.

Honestly, it won't do MUCH good to duplicate Kara's report of the race.  She has better pictures of the layout, the course, and of the FOOD.  You should check it out if you're interested in doing this race in the future.  Actually, now that I think of it, the Frozen Heart 50K Facebook Page also has lots of photos and videos from the race, and really brings home how nutty it was out there.

For me, initially, I'll say this:   I was sick the entire week leading up to this race, and I wasn't taking it like a good sport.  I hadn't been sick for OVER TWO YEARS prior to this plague hitting me, and I was NOT pleased about the streak ending.


I moderated my goal from the full 50K to just getting through a single loop in one piece, and also, as always this year, to have fun. During the week leading up to the race, I missed days of work, went through boxes of tissues like a maniac, and generally tried to work from home so that I'd be rested, and so that I would NOT take a DNS for this race.

The days wore on, and the cold lingered.  Plus, the temperature kept dropping for the Saturday forecast.  9 degrees (F) at the start.  Snow all over the trails, ankle deep.  More snow later in the day.  Lovely.  BUT STILL NOT TAKING A DNS.

Finally, on Friday, one day prior to the race, I started to feel a touch better, and went to REI, dropping over $100 on things like "SmartWool" socks ($13) (they basically just feel like thick fluffy socks, but what do I know?), some really RAD waterproof warm gloves ($49 clearance), and some other little knick-knacks (Nuun All Day).

Anyway, no "Flat Tai" for this race.  But, I went to great lengths to ensure I'd be warm. I was wearing, from head to toe:

--Tech Undershirt 
--TWO long sleeve tech zip-up shirts.
--TWO pairs of gloves (base pair, then the new pair)
--Compression shorts (just one of those, only so much to compress HAHA GET IT)
--TWO pairs of tights (thank you Potomac River Running Winter Sale)
--TWO pairs of socks (base pair then the new ones)
--An old, retired pair of the Red Shoes of Doom(tm) (snow, etc)

I drove out to the race location, leaving DC at 5:30am.  Because of a slight snafu with Google's definition of WHERE the park is, I wasn't able to find the actual parking lot until 7:20, over 20 minutes later than I'd planned to be there.  Still not panicking.  I had all of 10 minutes to the start of the race.

I had just enough time to get my bib, run to my car, pull on my Nathan backpack (again full of premixed Tailwind Nutrition) and get to the starting line.

Note:  In my haste to get to the start line I forgot my "hand socks" (see JFK Race Report), my hand warmers, and my RoadID.  So maybe there was a LITTLE panicking.

I had enough time to turn and face forward, when, just like that, we were off and running into the snowy woods.  Ankle deep snow feels like, as Kara wrote, running in soft sand.  So what I eventually did was more of a hike/trot/hike kinda thing.

Of course, early into the race, I noticed that at least one person was doing the race in shorts and low socks.


But that was for him to deal with.  The course was really pretty, except for all the freaking snow.  Footing was very difficult for me.  I slid "East/West" about as much as it felt like I was propelling myself "North/South," and as for going uphill . . . . Well, that was like trying to walk up a down escalator.  

This is a screwed up way to pad your Fitbit stats

It's just not as comedic when it's happening to YOU.

Do you want to build a snowman?


I'd made it less than 4 miles into this race when my phone sounded off (I'd forgotten to silence it in the hurry to get to the start).  The problem was compounded because the two pairs of gloves made using my hands very difficult for little things (like, you know, operating a phone).  During a point when I was walking, I fished out the phone and pried off my gloves to get the phone to work.  Why was she texting me so early on a Saturday?

This was bad.

"Angel" is one of my daughter's cats. 

I had custody of my daughter that weekend, she was home, sound asleep.  And now I realized I was going to have to go home, wake her up, and break her heart.  I was sick, heartbroken, and generally just Done.

This is NOT why I didn't finish the 50K.  I swore I'd do at least one loop on this thing.  But even to the extent that I thought I MIGHT have tried for three loops, the truth was that I knew I just couldn't struggle for all the loops in the snow when I couldn't land a solid footstrike (without risking an injury for what was a very low-key, no-pressure race).

Additionally, it became clear that at the "speed" I was going, I wouldn't make the cutoffs for the full 50K anyway.  I was hoping for under 3 hours on the loops, but that was cutting it WAY too close.  The problem was now I had 6 more miles to ponder going home and telling my daughter that her cat had been rushed to the vet and passed away.

This day was getting worse and worse.  Time to paint on a fake smile and get through it.  Just churn your legs, and don't hurt anything.

People reported that YakTrax were virtually useless.

I told no one at the race.  Not during the race, not after.  That's not the kind of small talk anyone wants to hear!

Some people wore actual snowshoes for this race.  Those freaking geniuses.

Instead, I tried my best to plow through the snow.  Eventually, I just resigned myself to mostly walking the whole thing, punctuated with brief periods of running.  They were brief.  It was actually nice to just take in the scenery -- seriously, it's a really pretty course!

I tried to keep a smile on my face, even if my eyes were shut.


The white cord sticking out of my right shoulder pouch is an Anker "lipstick charger," connected to my phone.  For about $15 (plus your own iPhone cord) you can charge your phone right up very nicely.  I used it during JFK, and the cold sapped my battery QUICKLY in this race, so it came in handy as the ex-wife and I put our heads together about what had happened, and how to handle breaking the news to our daughter.

Eventually, we came up a hill, and were back in the parking lot.  Because of a small routing snafu, we had to take a very short (like under half a mile) detour out/back along the road to get the proper distance.  My legs were JELLY after being in the soft snow for almost 3 hours.  It reminded me of the "noodle legs" you experience after transitioning from bike to run during a Tri.  But it allowed me to finish this thing in under 3 hours, which I took as the smallest solace of a positive.  Roughly 17 minutes per mile.  Wow.

Happily, I got a quick second to chat up Kara post-race, and to thank her for putting on such a good show (it's not like she can control the freaking weather).  But rather than hang out in the warming tent, or even to get the free massage I wanted so badly, I knew I had to leave. 

Later, sitting on a couch as my daughter sobbed into my shoulder, I tried to look on the positive aspects of my performance.  It was hard to do.  This race really beat me badly.  This made like the third out of my last four races where I just kinda . . . didn't have it, effort-wise (JFK being the exception).  But I was still hacking a cough like I was a smoker, and it wasn't like I didn't show up for the race at all, which Kara explained a lot of people chose to do.  Mostly, I just talked to my daughter about the unfairness of our pets not having the lifespans of humans, and how it was both ok to be sad, and to remember how much we love our pets.

Eventually, she asked me to put on some music while we sat on the couch, which she found funny because apparently my music tastes all suck ass (unless it was a song SHE bought on iTunes, then those are ok but dammit STYX ROCKS SCREW YOU ALL). 

Later, she broke out her laptop and we snuggled, watching what seemed like TEN episodes of "Home Improvement" on YouTube (she is binge-watching that show, loves Tim Allen).  She then asked for us to play some Connect Four, and finally, wanted some alone time.  I think she finally texted her mom at this point.  She later came upstairs, and was far more together.  She was fragile, not a wreck, and even cracked a few jokes.

She has gotten better and better as the past few days have gone on, and I know I will too.  She's not better yet, but she will be.  So will I.

Wounds heal, whether the wounds are on our egos or hearts.

And snowy woods thaw, even frozen hearts.

I'll be back to that race sometime.  It can't possibly snow like that again next year, can it?

And I'll be back to inappropriate jokes in the JFK report, promise.