The Frozen Otter – my 2017 race report

I did it! 

I’m officially a two-time finisher! I first became one of the “Frozen Few” in 2010 (which you can read about here), but I’ve always wanted to do it again. This was my year. What a great race. I mean, I had a really good day. And I’m going to talk all about it here. 

Since it’s going to be a long one, this is how it’ll look – it’ll be in three parts. First I’ll include my stats, which are my times, pace, and miles between checkpoints – all the number-y stuff. If you want to skip over all those itty-bitty details, scroll down to the second part – the race report. That’s where I’ll jabber on about the day, how I felt and how many times I pooped. No, really. You’ll be shocked. Then third, after the race report I’ll list the gear and clothing I used/wore. Because I know some people (like me) are gear junkies and dig that sorta thing. Stuff worked for me this year, so… I need to remember. And share! So here goes… 

STATS

(I based mileage for these stats on the Kettle Moraine North Unit mileage chart, which can be found online. This totals 63.32 miles, whereas the GPS on my Garmin tracked me at just a little over 65 miles. But to make the breakdown between checkpoints easier on my brain, I used the chart.)

Total miles: 63.32

Total time: 22 hours, 30 minutes

Overall pace: 21:19/mile

Overall elevation gain (from my Garmin): 8,602 feet

Calories burned: 9,896

113 racers, 60 official finishers, 26 “Frozen Few” finishers. 

I placed 20th overall, and 2nd in my gender (only 3 ladies went the full 64 this year, including a 52-year old and a 17-year old! Age is just a number, peeps!) 

Start (10am) – Butler Lake (CP1):

7.43 miles / 2h 07min / 17:05 pace

In 12:07pm / Out 12:12 pm (5 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP1) – Greenbush (CP2):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 2:34pm / Out 2:46pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP2) – Hwy P (CP3):

7.09 miles / 2h 02min / 17:12 pace

In 4:48pm / Out 5:00pm (10min break) 

Hwy P (CP3) – Greenbush (CP4):

7.09 miles / 2h 21min / 19:53pace

In 7:21pm / Out 7:36pm (10min break) 

Greenbush (CP4) – Butler Lake (CP5):

8.08 miles / 2h 22min / 17:34 pace

In 9:58pm / Out 10:30pm (32 min break) 

Butler Lake (CP5) – Mauthe Lake (CP6):

7.43 miles / 2h 15min / 18:10 pace

In 12:45am / Out 2:21am (1h 36min break)

Mauthe Lake (CP6) – Hwy H (CP7):

9.06 miles / 2h 49min / 18:39 pace

In 5:10am / Out 5:35am (20min break)

Hwy H (CP7) – Finish!

9.06 miles / 2h 55min / 19:18 pace

In 8:30am

THE RACE REPORT
As I mentioned, I had a good race day. All things went better than I’d planned. And to be honest, I can’t tell you why. But I can go over the things I did leading up to race day, and what I did the day of. Because something worked. 

First of all, my training for this thing was most definitely unconventional. I don’t know what the hell I’m doing, and frankly, I know I don’t have the time to “properly” train for an ultra winter race. So my strategy was to basically stay in shape and go for one long run/hike each month – to “remind my legs I need them to go far.” That’s in quotes because that’s literally what I said to myself – that’s why I did the long runs. In fact, here’s my schedule, which I pretty much stuck to, except December – because work got insane and I was sort of babying a hurt knee… Or maybe using it as an excuse to rest. 

So not your typical training schedule, but it was fun, for the most part. It was tough getting out on some of those, and several were on little to no sleep because I’d hit the trail immediately upon getting home from a run in the truck. But I figured it was good fatigue training – which I think was actually a huge help on race day. I knew exactly how I was going to feel in the 21st hour. Stumbly. That’s how. But I knew what to expect, and I knew when to drink coffee. And how to stumble without falling. I got kind of good at it. “Pick ’em up!” became a mantra I would say to myself out loud in the dark woods, reminding myself to pick up my feet so I didn’t trip and fall (which I ended up doing quite a few times anyway). 

For the week leading up to the race, Adam and I took the whole week off from work, so I had a chance to get all my stuff together (physically and mentally). I made a list of things I wanted to accomplish each day, spreading it out to avoid feeling overwhelmed. I had a list of food to pack. I had a list of gear to get ready. I had a pace chart and a chart to show when to take my Aleve and Tylenol so I didn’t OD and piss off my kidneys. I had a lot of lists. 

On Sunday before the race, I went for an 8-mile trail run on the course. It was 5 degrees, and I sweat my butt off. I also tested my new Kahtoola spikes on the very icy trail with great success. The next day, Monday, I packed up and hiked about 4 miles with a full-geared backpack to Shelter 2 – again, along the race course. I made a campfire, ate couscous, drank a beer and even sipped a little whisky before bundling up in my down booties and sleeping bag. I figured it would be nice to have a little quiet time to myself, and as a bonus, help me adjust to the cold a bit. I stayed toasy-warm all night. In the morning I hiked out 8 miles in the pouring rain. I was soaked and chilled when Adam picked me up. As long as it didn’t rain on race day, I’d be okay with just about any other kind weather. 

Sleeping out in the cold!

On Friday, the day before the race, I went for two short runs on the trail to test the conditions. But that was pretty much it – that’s all I did physically before the race, and I went into Saturday feeling pretty fresh and not sore anywhere. Dare I say I was… relaxed!? No. No way. I had jitters, big time! But without them, a race would just be another old run. Gotta embrace these special parts, too! 

Me and Adam at the start.

So race day surprised me. I usually go to the bathroom about 8 times before any race, whether it be a 5k or a 100k. But I only went twice, and I felt like a normal person for once. At the race start, I just mingled with my family, friends and other racers, tried to stay relaxed and keep my toes warm. Before I knew it, the race had started. No, seriously. Everybody was moving past the start banners and I was still putting my pack on! I jogged to catch up to the pack and with Rich, a friend who was going to run with me. 

The four of us racers at the start – Tony, Rachel, me and Rich

The first 8 miles went by so fast! I was so used to training by myself with only my annoying thoughts to keep me company, that when I actually had real people to talk to, I had so much fun – and time flew by. Rich and I reached the Butler Lake checkpoint together, but sadly, that was our last checkpoint together, and the last time I’d hike or run along with someone the whole race. But I sure enjoyed his company! I think it was in the low 20’s, and I still got so warm on that first stretch that I had taken off my hat, gloves, and even rolled my sleeves up – and I still sweat like crazy. But I felt great anyway, and my pace felt strong and steady.

The next checkpoint came quickly, too. I think I was so distracted by having other people around that I barely noticed the distance. I talked with a few people, and even passed a few other racers all while keeping my steady pace. I wasn’t out to win anything, and passing people wasn’t like a strategy or anything, as my goal was only to finish, but I hoped to keep my pace, so I did,and it felt comfortable. At the 16-mile checkpoint my mom and dad greeted me with cowbells, along with the Fox Cities Backpackers who were volunteering – it was great to see the familiar face of my friend, Matt, too. I filled my water and was just about ready to get back out on the trail when Adam and his mom, Tara, arrived. Just in time! But back into the woods I went! 

Coming into a checkpoint – photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc. 

A couple of miles before the 23-mile turnaround, I started to see the lead racers heading back. They were all really supportive saying things like, “great job!” and “keep it up, you’re almost there!” and “the checkpoint has sausages!” I think I heard “sausages” from every single racer that passed by. It was true, too! And it was completely amazing. It was especially amazing because I hadn’t been eating nearly as much as I’d planned, and I felt a little hungry when a volunteer handed it to me. For some reason during the race, without overthinking it, I just started to eat when I felt I needed to – abandoning the way I trained all summer to eat something every hour. And I think that is one of the major reasons I didn’t have to stop for a poop yet. Sorry to keep bringing that up, but it was a serious issue on every single training run I did, and was therefore a major concern of mine for race day. I never did figure out my tummy. But so far? 23 miles in and it felt pretty great! Maybe I was forcing myself to eat too much during training. Who knows… 

As soon as I left the 23-mile checkpoint it started getting dark, so out came the headlamp. It also started getting colder, and for the first time I had a little trouble getting my fingers warm. But I brought ginormous down gloves, and that did the trick. Before I knew it I was back to just my liner gloves. I also stopped sweating so profusely as the cold air settled in. I peed for the first time at the next checkpoint, which seems crazy. I felt I was drinking enough. I sipped from my bladder regularly enough to keep it thawed out, and I switched between my Tailwind drink mix and a cold coffee, too. Once I took my first pee, though, the seal was broken. Then it felt like I had to go constantly. I ate some mostly rehydrated Ramen at the next checkpoint, and it was almost as amazing as the sausage. I filled up with warm water and head back out again. I remember feeling amazed that my legs didn’t hurt. At all. I was squatting down to stretch my knees and nothing hurt. It was weird, but I certainly wasn’t complaining! Onward! 

During the next stretch I noticed my first real pain – I think my spikes were creating a new pressure point on the ball of my left big toe. I pushed on, still able to jog the straight stretches and downhills. When I reached Butler Lake my dad was there, and delivered the sad news that Rich had to drop because he was experiencing symptoms of hypothermia. That’s some scary stuff – I was super bummed to hear he was done, but so glad he made the right decision, which can be so tough to do during a race! Especially in that condition. On the other side of the spectrum, I learned that Rachel kicked her goal’s butt. She made it 32 miles in 11 hours and 40 minutes! Woo-hoo! So many crazy emotions! So with that, my dad told me that everyone was waiting for me at the 46-mile checkpoint to cheer me into the last stretch. This gave me a boost, and off I went again! 

At the 46-mile checkpoint I chose to walk an extra quarter mile to the car to resupply, change and regroup. My mom and dad met me and walked to the car with me. Adam, his mom and Rachel were all waiting. Adam went to work trying to keep me on task. I grabbed a burger from the volunteers at the shelter, used the bathroom, tried to change out my injinji compression socks – injinjis are the socks with the toes – my mom had to help me. I just could not get my wrinkling toes tucked into those toe sleeves. Finally after some serious effort I was dressed and ready to go. I also recharged my phone and watch, filled my water, drank some coffee, and switched from spikes to yaktrax, which relieved my sore left toe. I was somehow still feeling incredible, but just a little tired. I took a longer break than planned, but still got out on the trail with plenty of time to still finish in under the 24-hour time limit. I was stoked heading back out into the dark woods! I had this thing! 

Smiling and feeling great at mile 46! Thanks, Tara for the photo!

The last 18 miles got colder. I pretty much hiked to the last checkpoint with my ginormous down gloves on and pulled my Buff up over my face because my cheeks and nose were starting to burn a little. I was feeling tired, and since I know this trail so well, I kept mentally checking off landmarks… And anticipating the next one. I knew that once I reached the sign for Shelter 1, it was just a steep downhill and short straight stretch to the Hwy H trailhead and my last checkpoint. So for about an entire hour I kept thinking I’d see it around the next turn. But I swear. It was moving ahead of me. I had to catch up! 

I did finally see the sign, and laughed out loud because I was so happy. But my happiness quickly turned to worry when just a short ways down the trail I caught up to another racer, moving slow with his pack draped over one shoulder. I asked if he was okay, and he responded with a head shake and a “no.” He said his back had seized up on him, and he looked really uncomfortable. I felt so bad for him. I offered to carry his pack to the checkpoint, but he said it was actually helping his balance. There was nothing I could do for him except encourage him by letting him know we didn’t have far to go. I let him know I’d alert the volunteers so they could get a ride ready for him. He did show up while I was still at the checkpoint, and he did get a ride out. I sure hope he recovered okay. That’s some scary stuff! Anything can happen out there. Read this story about a guy who had a mini stroke last year! The importance of being safe out there is no joke! 

My mom, dad, Adam and his mom were at the last checkpoint, which was a super-huge boost before my last nine miles. I drank a coffee mixed with hot cocoa, and man, did that taste good! I was thrilled – my appetite was pretty near gone at that point, so I wasn’t eating enough – but I was trying! The only thing I was tolerating was my Huma gels (like a Guu energy gel, but Chia seed-based and made with less crap ingredients). And that’s because I’d squeeze some into my mouth, bypassing my taste buds, and since I didn’t have to chew, directly down my throat. Huma gels for the win! After peeing and filling my water bottle I head back out for the last nine miles. 

I added a layer – my Patagonia Nanopuff jacket, which was perfect. I wore my giant gloves and kept my Buff over my mouth and nose off and on. I stayed pretty comfortable, and again plodded down the trail, still able to lightly jog a few easy spots, and played the mental landmark game again. This time I was searching around every corner for shelter 2 because I knew it was exactly one mile from the finish. When I finally saw it, I nearly cried! I knew that was it. I could literally crawl the rest of the way and still finish in time. But… I didn’t have to. In fact, I picked up my speed! Nothing was hurting, except for some heavy foot fatigue, which I obviously expected and can totally handle (another helpful benefit to my super-insane long training runs). My knee that I injured back in November even felt good. Which is some sort of miracle. For real. I’m not even kidding when I say the only thing that makes sense is that my 97-year old grandma was praying for me – our family all says that she’s got a direct line to the big guy. Thanks, grandma! Not even a twinge!! 

I passed by a guy in that last mile and couldn’t help but notice his epic ice-beard! I remember asking him if I could take his photo, but my words were coming out in slow motion. As excited as I felt to be nearly done, my fatigue, lack of caloric fuel and the cold air’s effects were obvious. I ate one slice of Salami, one Huma gel, five Reeses pieces, and half a bottle of cold coffee in the last leg of the race. Just enough to get me there, I guess! If I had been going any further I would’ve had to force more down. And it’s hard to describe how cold it can get out there, but dudes’ beards can give you an idea! I later learned this badass’s name was Sean and he finished just after me. 

Sean’s EPIC ice beard!! That is a face of the Frozen Few!!

I don’t remember much of what was said when I finished, as it’s quite a blur, but I had a small, but awesome crew cheering me in. My mom, dad, Adam, his mom and my friend and fellow racer Tony was there. Rod, the race director presented me with a congrats and a finisher’s dog tag, which I’m showing off in the first picture of this blog entry. It might not seem like much… A little dog tag, but I know any of the other “Frozen Few” would agree that that dog tag holds a whole lot of value – and symbolizes determination, heart, pain, adventure, fierceness, and accomplishment. So much more, too, but those are some biggies. 

A big, happy, frozen smile! FINISHED!

So in the end, I thought my knee would stop bending. It didn’t. I thought I’d poop along the trail at least five times – final trail poop count was… Drum roll, please… ZERO! Another frickin’ miracle! I thought my calluses would give me trouble. It’s like they weren’t even there. I thought my legs would get sore and stiffen up. They didn’t, and I still can’t believe it. I thought I’d have worse butt chafe, but my 2toms butt shield did its job (I know to some, this may seem like TMI, but trust me. My fellow racers don’t even blink at the talk of bodily chafe. It’s a thing. A super-horrible, painful thing. Wherever you get it!). I thought I’d lose my appetite, and I did, but my body handled it way better than ever before. I thought I’d eat more, but it took until race day to realize that maybe I was trying to eat too much – and too much “real food” like energy bars, candy bars, meat, cheese… things that needed to be chewed before swallowing and were more work for my already energy-depleted body to digest. My guess is that my body was able to process liquid calories like my amazing Tailwind drink mix and the Huma gels without much trouble. So I learned a lot about myself, once again! It never stops when you push yourself past what you think is possible, and I love that about endurance sports! 

I am 99% satisfied with my race performance and results. The 1% comes in because looking back I could have totally beat my time from 2010 of 21 hours and 49 minutes. But my goal was just to finish, and I did that. Next time maybe I’ll shoot for time. It always comes down to conditions, which I thought were quite similar to 2010 – maybe a little colder this year. 

Post-race? I showered, ate a huge breakfast (chicken-fried steak, eggs, hashbrowns, toast, cottage cheese and coffee), slept for three hours, watched the Packers beat the Cowboys, had a grasshopper ice cream drink and went bed. That night I had some pretty terrible foot cramps that made me uncontrollably groan, and I woke up a few times in a pool of sweat, but otherwise slept okay. The next two days I felt a little normal muscle soreness and my feet swelled up pretty good, but I expected that. I will lose no toenails, but to be fair, my one damaged toe (just a gnarly blood blister) already was sans-toenail. I was tired and still feel I little behind on sleep, but as I write this I’m ready to start running again, and planning my next adventure, which you’ll read about in a couple of months, probably! Cliffhanger! Haha!

I know that was a super-long race report – so to reward those of you who stuck with me, here’s a photo of my gnarly toe. Sorry if you’re squeamish. I’m always kinda strangely proud of these things. 

The black big toenail is from early November, so that one doesn’t count… But it’s pretty, isn’t it? Who needs nail polish?

GEAR 

Yay! Gear! 

This is just about all of it!

What I wore:

Sugoi Subzero tights

Patagonia underwear

Cheap sport bra from Target

Injinji compression socks – I love Injinjis! I pretty much only wear Injinjis all the time, now. Best socks ever. 

Patagonia midweight capilene long sleeve shirt

Patagonia R1 3/4-zip fleece

Patagonia Nanopuff jacket – it’s synthetic (not down) so maintains some warmth if it gets damp. 

Altra Lone Peak Mid Neoshell boots – pretty certain these are why I have few blisters. So much room for the toes, so very lightweight, and zero drop. 

Outdoor Research tall gaiters

Kahtoola microspikes and Yaktrax Pro

Fat Otter buff 

Smartwool hat

Black Diamond down mittens

Cheap silk gloves liners

My big, green down Black Diamond gloves hung off the waist strap on my pack for almost all of the race, but made great pockets for things like my hat and gloves that kept coming on and off. And they were nice for the few times my fingers got really cold. 

In the beginning I was so warm that I had no ear/head coverage, no gloves, and my sleeves were rolled halfway up my forearms. My layers performed perfectly. I got wet from sweat at the start, but my Patagonia layers wicked properly, so by the time the temperature dropped, I felt mostly dry (with the exception of my back which will sweat regardless when wearing a pack). 

My tights were perfect, too. One layer of thick, fleece-lined tights and my legs were comfortable the whole time! 

My Altra boots worked great, but with the low snow this year, the mid-height was probably unnecessary. It’s what I trained in, though, and the combo of my injinji socks, Altras, OR gaiters and traction worked great for me. 

Other gear:

Backpack – Out There USA MS-1 – I tried about 5 different packs throughout the summer. This was the winner. Comfy, not a ton of bounce when jogging and a TON of pockets accessible without taking it off. I only had to remove it to put water in my water reservoir during the race. 

Black Diamond trekking poles – I’ve used these suckers for more than ten years. Great piece of gear! 

Black Diamond Spot headlamp – takes 3 AAA batteries, and with the lithium batteries, only had to switch them out once. (And I was able to do so by moonlight!) 

Electronics – Samsung Galaxy S6 (which I kept turned off for most of the race), US Cellular pre-paid cheap flip phone (worked great for service on the trail and the battery lasted forever, even in the cold!), Garmin Fenix watch for GPS tracking and stats (recharged at about 16 hours. Held up great), Pocketjuice portable charger (didn’t need) 

First aid & other items – SOL emergency bivvy, REI whistle, spare Petzl E+Lite headlamp, lighter, fire starter, heat blanket, small Swiss Army knife, hand and body warmers, blister pads, 2Toms butt shield anti-chafe wipes, medical tape, duct tape, blinking red bike light, blue blinking bike light for backup, chapstick, Aleve, Tylenol, salt caps (planned to use these but didn’t) 

Toilet kit – Deuce of Spades trowel, TP, ziploc bag for used TP (a leave no trace practice), tampons (yes, lucky me – race day!), hand sanitizer, wet one wipes, and Immodium (which was not needed!) 

Food and drink:

I maybe consumed only 1/3 of all this stuff.

Huma gels
Tailwind drink mix
Pedialyte – only drank one of these

UCAN drink mix – didn’t use on race day, but should have! Very good, and the liquid calories really would’ve helped me out! I think I was too hurried to mix it. Need to do this pre-race next time! 

Starbucks Via

Sweet – mini oreos, Reeses pieces, waffle stingers, mini snickers, dark chocolate coconut Ocho bars

Savory – potato chips, combos, Salami, string cheese, macadamia nuts, bacon

Ginger – I don’t like Ginger at all, but it soothes an upset tummy, and I did eat some at the 46-mile checkpoint. It works! 

Chocolate-covered espresso beans – I didn’t have any! Another weird one! 

A few more photos:

My name on the Frozen Few plaque from 2010

Inspiration

Pre-race jitters. I had just gotten my bib!

Crazy results on my Strava app – pulled from my Garmin GPS watch

I repeated this one to myself a lot.

My dad and my mom and my mom’s amazing hat.

Toots and Tears do the Frozen Otter! Adventure buddies!

I’m the one in pink. Another photo courtesy of Fat Otter Adventure Sports, Inc.

My first time with spikes. Love them! I was running on glare ice during training with complete confidence.

Post-Otter, enjoying some swag. The shirt, the buff, and of course, the Frozen Few dog tag! Tired and proud!

Tonight I love these people, and you – my support.

Thank you:

Adam – You are my #1. This guy was at the race to cheer me on, kick my butt to keep me going, give me warm hugs, and a big smile at the end. On top of that, every time I did a long training run over the summer/fall, he took care of our trucking errands we always have to do on very limited time whenever we’re home. All so I could train. I know this was a big sacrifice of precious off-time, so I can’t say enough how much I appreciate this. I love you, Adam – thank you for being the best support crew leader guy ever! 

My mom and dad – they were there in 2010 when I finished, and they were here this year when I finished. To see their smiling faces and to get hugs of encouragement at checkpoints was a huge boost! My biggest fans, for sure! 

Tara – Adam’s mom, my mother-in-law came down this year. She was a great addition to my cheering support crew. She took a lot of great photos, too. Thank you so much for being there! 

Grandma Laatsch and family – I admit I had an unfair advantage compared to the other racers because my grandma was praying for me out there! I also received several well-wishes and love from my extended family of aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Rachel, Tony and Rich – my fellow racer buddies. It was good to have you out on the trail this year – even if we weren’t able to trek side by side, it was still nice to share in the misery with you! 

My social media family – you all rock. I had so many good luck wishes and followers that there was no way I could’ve given up! Strength in numbers! 

Race directors and volunteers – without you guys, thus wouldn’t exist. You make it all happen, you make is possible, and you make it fun. And you kill at making Ramen. No. Seriously. Ramen tastes awesome when you make it! Rod and Karen – I’m glad that we’ve been able to become friends through this event. Thanks for continuing to put in the hard work and travel to keep this going! 

Other racers – I don’t know most of you by name, but your kind words when passing by, your blinking red lights and bouncing headlamps through the woods like beacons, and comeraderie is something that needs to be experienced to understand. It’s incredible. And after all those lonely training miles by myself, this made the miles slip away beneath me. Thanks! 

Gear companies – Thanks for making kick-ass stuff. If I’ve mentioned you in this blog entry, it’s because you make a great product in my opinion and experience. Keep it up!