The Frozen Otter – a description

​I have this tendency to get my mind set on something and then totally obsess over it. It’s not all bad, though. This is what got me to hike across America. It’s what got me to run a marathon. It’s what got me to thru-hike the PCT. It’s what helped me become a truck driver. It’s what I do. I enjoy the dreaming, planning, preparing and obsessing stages of these adventures – especially the nervous and excited anticipation when said adventure draws near. 

Well, my latest obsession is in full swing, and I’m about four and a half months from go-time. What’s next, you ask? 

The mighty Frozen Otter. 

While I wish I was sharing news of another multi-month traveling, beauty, nature and freedom-seeking mountainous super-adventure, that will have to wait until a later time. Current circumstances limit me to adventures that don’t require such extreme time commitments. So I instead immerse myself in crazy stuff like this. 

So what is this Frozen Otter? If you’ve known me for a while, you’ve heard of it, because I’m sure I’ve mentioned it. I love this race. It’s brutal. It’s tough. It hurts. It’s cold. In a few later blogs I’ll try to explain my history with this event and how I’m attempting to prepare for it this time around. 

So… The Frozen Otter. It’s a 64-mile ultra race. That’s just a little over 100k. So it’s far. It takes place on a hilly section of the Ice Age Trail here in my home-state of Wisconsin. 

To be considered a finisher, you must complete the 64 miles within a 24-hour time limit. That comes out to an average of about 2.6 miles per hour. That doesn’t sound so bad, right? I mean, most of us can hike faster than that. But there’s more to it than just that. 

The event is held in mid-January – the dead of winter. In Wisconsin. The weather during this time is totally unpredictable. Temperatures can dip down to 20 below zero. It can be windy, and let’s not forget about snow. There might not be any snow, but there could also be drifts up to your thighs. It could snow three feet the night before the race. You just don’t have any idea… until you show up the morning of race day. You can’t use snow shoes, and you can’t use skis. Just your two little feet. 

It’s hard to think about snowy conditions in August when it’s hot and muggy out!

And since it’s a 24-hour race, a big chunk of it is overnight – through the frozen, dark forest. All that will illuminate your path is the circle of light from your headlamp. For hours. 

2.6 miles per hour might still seem like no biggie, but once you start factoring in potentially challenging trail conditions that could slow you down, and then breaks, it starts to look a little tougher. What really makes it a challenge to hold this average pace are the manned checkpoints set out to help you. They occur about every eight miles, and these checkpoints have warm fires, hot water, and possibly food. 

Once you sit down in front of that fire, it is incredible how quickly 20 minutes passes by. Or an hour. Or two. By the time you’ve checked in, pulled the empty bottles out of your pack to be refilled, and talked to a few of the racers and volunteers while letting the fire’s warmth soak into your frozen face, you’ll find yourself feeling comfortable and not wanting to head back out into the cold, dark forest all alone… on aching feet and tired legs. And if you’ve been enjoying this break a little too long, you’ll now have to hustle. And these stops (which are also required for check-ins)  are every eight miles, so not including the start, there will be seven of them to tempt you and pull you in. 

Oh, did I mention the race is totally self-supported, too? This means you can’t receive any outside help. Your buddies can’t give you water or food, supply you with fresh batteries for your dimming headlamp, or hand you a set of warmer gloves at the next road crossing. You have to carry everything yourself, and you can’t skimp on the essentials – there is a required list of items that must be carried, including a 15-degree sleeping bag if the temperatures drop too low. The only thing your friends can do for you out there is cheer you on. 

There is support, however, at those manned checkpoints, in which you can take advantage of – but only from the volunteers. For example, a volunteer can give you some hot water and some Ramen noodles, but your buddy can’t give you the Snickers bar and hot coffee he picked up for you at the local gas station. That’ll have to wait. There are also no drop bags allowed along the course, except for the start/finish staging area. So if you want to, you can keep a bag or bin of dry clothes, a resupply of food, some anti-chafe roll-on – whatever your little heart desires, in your car at the start. But again, there’s a catch to this. You can’t access this gear until 46 miles into the race. 

If you’re still not convinced that this sucker is brutal, consider the finisher rate of only 20%. The first year of the race, there was one finisher. A totally badass girl, might I add! Years two and three had zero finishers. ZERO. There were some freezing temperatures one year and thigh-deep snow another. Since then there have been some milder years, with sometimes 50 finishers, so we can all go in hoping for such luck with the weather, but again, you have to be ready for anything. 

With all that being said, I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you enjoy trail running, winter, hiking, endurance challenges, comeraderie, food, cold, forested silence, and pushing yourself physically – any of these things – or all – you should sign up and give it a shot. And if you complete the full 64-mile distance within the 24-hour time limit, you become one of the “Frozen Few.” And if the weather is foul, and the trail conditions are less than desirable for a 64-mile trek, it will feel even more awesome to finish. My hope is for a nice balance. Well… my hope is really just to finish.
Get more info and sign up here! 

Tonight I love the reminder that I’m healthy even be able to attempt stuff like this. 

A runner’s slump. Ugh. 

​So I’ve picked up running again, and in the past nine months or so I’ve been able to pick it up to about three days each week. Sometimes four. Sometimes less. It’s a challenge as a truck driver, because I obviously can’t just run anywhere, or anytime I want. So I joined the “truckin runners” Facebook page, which has been an amazingly supportive group, and I’ve managed to find a few of my own places over the road where I can run and feel safe. So now I go as often as I can – it always depends on our schedule. I fit it in where I can. 

Then I got my eyes set firmly on the Frozen Otter race, which I’ve participated in six times in the past, and crazily decided to go back one more time. I do plan to write more about this soon, as I’m now trying to train for an insane amount of miles (64) in an insane winter (!) race, as an over-the-road truck driver. I’ve got lots to talk about – there’s trying different gear, overnight training runs, trying to find the right nutrition… Blah, blah, blah… Anyway, I can only squeeze in big training days about once each month, which is still logistically super-hard, so in between I’m trying to keep up my regular running to hopefully stay in good shape for this Frozen Otter insanity. And simply because I’ve been really… REALLY enjoying running. 

Well, until my last three runs. 

Today was my third bad run in a row. I can get over a bad run… It happens. It HAS happened. But never three in a row! The whole time I was running this morning, I was thinking, “Okay, something’s up. What is it?” I’m trying to listen to my body, but it speaks a foreign language, I swear. I have no idea what it’s saying. So as I ran, I started to list all the things that could be wrong. I made sure my mindset wasn’t to make it a list of excuses, but reasons. Because if I find the reason, I can work on something and fix it. I seriously want to fix this – whatever it is. 

Here was my list and thoughts why running can suck: 

Not enough food. My truck diet it usually pretty basic, consisting of easy-to-eat-while-driving foods. Boiled eggs, a variety of raw nuts, raw veggies, Epic meat bars, avocados… things like that. And it’s pretty low calorie, because honestly, I’m sitting almost all day long. Driving. So during the week it usually works great. But on our days off when I want to put out 6 miles, or maybe 10, and after I’ve been eating my sedentary-trucker diet for a week, do I just not have enough stored-up fuel? Is that how this works? I have no idea. I don’t know what I’m doing at all when it comes to nutrition. 

Not enough carbs. The way I eat in the truck is also naturally low carb. I add in fruit, and get some carbs out of some of the other foods I eat, but I try to stay away from grains and other stuff that might make me feel heavy or bloated. It’s not a comfy thing to drive for hours with a balloon in your tummy. So again, I hit that long run, and maybe there’s some shortage of energy there? Again, no clue. 

I have my period. Sorry, boys. But girls, really. You know what I mean, right? It sometimes feels like your body is just sucking the energy out of you so you can annoyingly bleed for five days. What’s the deal with that? The only catch with this theory is that it’s inconsistent. Sometimes it makes me feel tired, and strangely sometimes I feel a burst of energy from it, but it’s usually the former. Is that all that’s going on? I can’t figure this one out, either. See? My body speaks to me… but in a different language. 

It’s hot and muggy out. The first two bad runs were in some pretty intense heat and humidity, so this morning I ran from 5:30-6:30am. It was still warm, but a vast improvement over the last two times. So maybe it’s not the heat? Guess what? I don’t know… 

I’m dehydrated. I think I’m drinking enough water, but I’ve also been sweating like a faucet, so… Could it be that simple? I’ve been bringing a handheld water bottle with me on even my shortest runs, and I drink a ton while I’m driving. But maybe the timing is off. Who knows! 

My hemoglobin is low. This possibility is admittedly over-dramatic, but with my health history, it’s not something I don’t think about. I’m not cured from Aplastic Anemia, I’m in remission. So, relapse is a word in my vocabulary, just not one I like to use. Ever. Because I’m determined to be done with that whole story. I’m thinking I’m due for a complete blood count, if only to settle a paranoid mind. 

I’m simply anemic. Maybe I should eat a bunch of steak. I kind of hope this is the problem. I should really just eat steak and steamed broccoli and spinach for a week. Yeah, this is surely it. :) 

Spoiled after running trails. Since I’m training for the Frozen Otter, which is on a hiking trail through the woods, I try to run trails when I can. This is super-awesome. Because it’s in the woods. The ground is soft. It’s shady. You don’t almost get hit by cars. There’s squirrels and bunnies. It’s pretty and distracting. For so many reasons, trails rock. So when I have to jump on a road or paved trail, do I now struggle knowing there’s a preferred surface and surrounding that I’ve been on? Have I spoiled myself? Unfortunately, it’s unrealistic in my situation to only run trails… Or I totally would. I should move to a mountain. 

I didn’t sleep as well as I thought. This one’s a stretch. I’ve had great runs on little sleep, and the exercise has actually rejuvenated me at times. I’ve also had great runs on lots of sleep, so… yeah, again. I have no idea. Hey… body… if you could please be consistent… that would be great, okay? Thanks. 

I’m burned out. I can’t be if I’m still excited to run, right? I feel like this would come into play if I’m dreading every run I plan to go on. I’ve actually been there before, and a week off from running has always cured it. Okay, I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to try this. But… I still want to run. Oy. The confliction! Maybe next week. Or the next. 

My mental game is way off. I don’t want it to be this. I have always thrived on a strong mental game. On my last long training run, I excelled in this. But it’s got to be partly my mentality, because I nearly cried when I stopped to walk for a little bit this morning because I felt as though I gave up on myself. I guess there’s some work to be done there, for sure, and that work will probably never be done, but I can’t see that being the main issue. I hope not, or I’ve got a really rough winter ahead of me! I feel like long distance endurance stuff eventually becomes mostly a mental challenge. So yup. I gotta rock the mental game. Plain and simple. 

So, what’s up, doc? Once I started that run this morning (the one I was stoked to go on – the one that was going to give me a great excuse to eat that delicious belgian waffle), it felt like my head was pushing forward all excited to go-go-go, and my legs were dragging behind me, fussing profusely. My body just felt low on energy, solid and heavy. Even my arms ached, which was strange. I stopped three times to walk and I felt a little light-headed each time. In fact, it almost felt more difficult to slow down because I had to adjust the rhythm of my breathing, which then made it feel like I was going to hyperventilate. I had to concentrate pretty hard to keep it under control. I’ve never had to concentrate this hard on so many things just to get through a run! It wasn’t good. It wasn’t as fun as I knew it could be and it made me sad. 

When I finally finished my six miles, I felt good that I finished it, and happy for the exercise, but man… I was wiped. And worried. And angry. And disappointed in myself. And I wanted to know what’s going on so I can do something about it. Like now. But where to start? I’m really bad at the whole “ruling things out” strategy, but I guess I’m going to have to figure it out. 

Or maybe I go for one more run and hope I miraculously snap out of this. I’ll start there. Fingers crossed. 

Runner friends – have you ever hit a slump? Tell me about it, please! What did you do? Is there a super-obvious red flag here, and you’re all like, “Hey, dummy! Do this!” I give you permission to call me dummy. Let me know! Because seriously, I’m just running. I have no idea what I’m doing otherwise. 

Or if you could teach my body to speak my language. That would also do the trick. :) 

Tonight I love running. Even when it sucks.