The Frozen Otter, 2019

It’s a long one! Grab a snack or pull up the squatty potty and dig in! Read about how I went a little nuts around mile 60, my embarrassing recovery issue, and all the excruciating details about the stuff I wore and used. Have questions? Anything? Ask! I hope you enjoy the read.

Race days make for a happy Toots! (Photo credit: Karen McLennan)


Total miles (Garmin): 65.02

Total time: 20 hours, 32 minutes (a Personal Record!)

Overall pace: 18:57/mile

Overall elevation gain (Garmin): 9,131 feet

114 racers, 59 official finishers, 35 “Frozen Few” finishers.

(To be considered one of the “Frozen Few,” racers must complete the full 64-mile distance in under 24 hours. Racers can still be considered an official finisher with less than 64 miles, as long as they did not accept a ride and made it back to the start/finish on their own power. They are then ranked under full 64-mile finishers.)

Overall rank: 19th
Gender rank: 4th

Start (10am) – Butler Lake (CP1):
7.43 miles
Time stats weren’t listed in results for some reason, but I did not stop at this checkpoint. I checked in, immediately checked out and kept going.

Butler Lake (CP1) – Greenbush (CP2):
8.08 miles
In 2:30pm / Out 2:39pm (9min break)

Greenbush (CP2) – Hwy P (CP3):
7.09 miles
In 4:38pm / Out 4:49pm (11min break)

Hwy P (CP3) – Greenbush (CP4):
7.09 miles
In 6:54pm / Out 7:07pm (13min break)

Greenbush (CP4) – Butler Lake (CP5):
8.08 miles
In 9:22pm / Out 9:35pm (13min break)

Butler Lake (CP5) – Mauthe Lake (CP6):
7.43 miles
In 11:48pm / Out 12:27am (39min break)

Mauthe Lake (CP6) – Hwy H (CP7):
9.06 miles
In 3:11am / Out 3:36am (25min break)

Hwy H (CP7) – Finish!
9.06 miles
In 6:32am

The race:
This year I over-explained everything on my gear section, so you can geek out there if you want, but I’ll put a few notes here about the race itself first.

First of all, when I arrived at early check-in on Friday afternoon I was given my name/time pieces from the “Frozen Few” plaque, which means there were enough finishers faster than my fastest time to kick me off. So, I didn’t plan for it, but getting my name back on that plaque became a new goal in the back of my mind, but not the most important one this year because I hadn’t really prepared for that. But it was there. My three goals going in this year were:
1) finish
2) get a PR (finish faster than 21:49)
3) finish in under 20 hours
I managed to get #1 and #2, and missed #3 by about a half an hour. I’ll take it! As for getting back on the plaque? I’m not sure if I did or not. I think it’ll be close.

2019 shirt design, my two name/time pieces and my newest dog tag

We weren’t required to carry extreme weather gear (sleeping bag, shelter, full change of clothes), but it was a close call. I believe it did eventually dip down to a -20° wind chill in the early morning hours. It felt cold, for sure, but I think it helped being in the woods for most of the course.

It was snowing at the start of the race, and the sun poked through the clouds and floating flakes of snow after a few hours and towards sunset it cleared up. Once darkness fell, a nearly full moon came out with a skyfull of stars. That kept it cold, but man, was it pretty! The woods were beautiful all day and all night.

The trail was snow-covered after getting a fresh few inches the night before the race, but the tricky part was that there was a solid layer of ice underneath in stretches in the first maybe 16 miles. My hip flexors were actually aching (I normally don’t notice them at all) from constantly light-braking with my feet every step to avoid slipping. And it sounds like there were many falls amongst racers. It was tricky because you couldn’t always see the ice until you were on your butt. I literally slid into checkpoint 3 on my butt while taking video, so that’s fun (and can be seen in the YouTube link below). What was weird was that it wasn’t slippery on the way back through after the 23-mile turnaround. I think maybe it got colder and the snow stuck to the ice, giving us traction. Thankfully!

One of the few times I sat down (maybe even the only time). When I slid into CP 3 at Hwy H!

I had a little bit of knee trouble, and it really only hurt when making a brake-like motion going downhill, which I guess I blame on the ice and slippery trail conditions. So I found that barrelling down the hills, praying to God I didn’t trip and Superman to the bottom, was the only way to approach the hills with no pain. It was risky, but it was also quite fun.

On the subject of pain, I have a question for you – what are your thoughts on taking NSAIDS (Ibuprofen, Tylenol, etc) during a race? In 2017 my general practitioner recommended a pain reliever plan to hopefully get ahead of a knee twinge I was concerned about. It basically involved alternating Aleve and Tylenol, while not overdosing according to label dosing instructions. I followed that plan in 2017 and had no trouble. I used the same strategy this year (I was more concerned about my feet this time), and again had no issues. But I recently heard on a couple of different podcasts, in random discussions, that some doctors *highly* recommend staying OFF NSAIDS during a race… And apparently some are quite passionate about their argument. So I guess it’s something I need to dig into. What say you, my friends? What do you think? What do you do during a race?

As for how it all went for me, overall? Great. I had a really fun time. I did run/hike with a new friend, John (I met him during a long training run), for almost the first 30 miles, and we were making plans to push each other to a sub-20-hour finish, but his knee suddenly had other plans, gave out on him, and sadly he had to drop. That bummed me out, so I used that emotion to propel me. I mean, what else can you do but push on… So I did. I stayed in high spirits. I ended up doing the remainder of the race pretty much by myself with the exception of a few short conversations when I’d catch up to someone. But I was used to being out there at night alone, as that was how most of my long training sessions ended up, so I just watched the moon, followed the circle of light emitted from my headlamp, talked to myself and trudged on. And on.

One thing I did differently this year was I participated in the drop-box option at mile 46 (also the start/finish). In 2017 I walked the 1/4-mile back to the parking lot, sat in a warm car, charged electronics, visited with family and friends, ate a burger at the pavilion, changed socks… while it was fun to lollygag, it used up about 90 minutes. This year using the drop box and not going back to the car I only used 39 minutes. And I can still improve on that time. I’ll 100% do the same next time. Drop box for the win!

I had no hallucinations this year, but somewhere in the last nine miles, after about 60 miles and more than 18 hours of steady activity, in the dark and cold of the early morning, alone, I heard voices in the woods. First they were yelling my name, and so I’d stop and listen. As soon as my feet stopped crunching in the snow there was silence. Then I’d start walking and under the crunches I started hearing people talking. It sounded like they were right there, but I couldn’t make out what they were saying because my footsteps were too loud. Every time I stopped to listen – silence. I finally realized I was going crazy, so I pulled out my phone and risked being “that asshole” and played some music sans earbuds (admittedly I was carrying earbuds, but with only a few miles left I said f-it because I didn’t want to dig them out). The voices stopped, and maybe a couple of hours later I was running into the finish, so happy to be done.

After the race I got my cherished dog tag and headed to the pavilion with my Mom and Dad, who came along to cheer me on (and were at EVERY aid station because they are freakin’ awesome!). At the pavilion, a volunteer made me the best damn cheeseburger (thank you!)! I chowed that down with a bowl of soup and contemplated a beer, but I didn’t want anything cold. In hindsight I should’ve taken a swig of the Fireball that was sitting on the table. See? No matter how many times I do this, I’m still a rookie. Next time… Fireball.

I did take some video clips and threw them together in my cheap, simple phone app. You can see that cheese here:

Oh, and the clip in the video where I mention snot bubbles? I didn’t remember taking that one. It was fun surprise after the race.

Okay, how much should I share? All of it, I suppose, because that’s what I do. So prepare yourself for TMI. First of all, my recovery was mostly normal. I was tired. Duh. I had a really tough time walking around on Monday and seriously – getting up and down from the toilet involved bracing myself against the wall and counter while sliding my feet along the floor until I plopped onto the seat (pro tip: wear thick, fuzzy socks or slippers with no grip so they’ll slide effortlessly along the floor of your bathroom, and remove any rugs to aid in the toilet-plop). Getting back up required grunting noises. It helped.

I had a blood blister on the tip of my 2nd toe on my left foot, but this happens in every race. I think that toe naturally curls under and tries to grip with every step. But it didn’t really hurt, so it’s no biggie. And it looks cool. I also ended up with a weird bruise on the top of my left foot just behind the big toe, and there’s a small bump on the tendon. Not too sure what that is. It sometimes hurts, but not when I run… So… It’s okay? I think. And my knees hurt a bit – a sharpish pain right in the front of my kneecaps. And I think this caused my baker’s cyst to flare up. And, as always, my feet and toes got puffy and didn’t want to move – typical post-race inflammation that I need to work on.

A fancy, heart-shaped bruise

And here comes the TMI, which I will admit is embarrassing, but whatever, I’m human. I full-on shat in my pants at home on Sunday. I mention that I messed up my body before the race with my diet (below where I talk about my race-day nutrition), and I’m pretty sure this was its way if saying a big F-you. But, thankfully I was at home and could take care of it right away. So that is only the 2nd time I can think of that I full-on pooped in my pants, and both times were running-related. *Sigh* I should go back to hiking.

So, in conclusion, I had a great day, a great race, it made me happy and temporarily satisfied with physical activity and time in the woods (which as I write this, I already need more), and I finished strong with a PR and can already see places where I can hopefully improve for next time. Maybe I can still get under 20 hours. But first, I turn 40 this year and I’m going to run 100 miles. You’ll hear all about it, oh, don’t you worry (unfollow me now if you’re already so sick of my long race reports! Now’s your chance!). Anyway, I said this would be too long, and I did not disappoint… I mean, keep a rolling. I dug into my gear selections. So… There’s more. Sorry!

On to… Gear!
Here’s what I wore, list-style. I go into detail about these items a little further below:

Sugoi Subzero tights

Ink N Burn Sport Skirt

Patagonia underwear

Cheap sport bra from Target

Injinji Nuwool crew toe socks

REI-brand midweight undershirt

Short-sleeve Ink N Burn Tech Shirt

Patagonia R1 3/4-zip fleece
Patagonia R1 full-zip fleece

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

Altra Lone Peak Low RSM trail shoes

Dirty Girl gaiters

Kahtoola microspikes (I carried them, but didn’t use them this time.)

Fat Otter buff

Smartwool ear cover and hat

Black Diamond down mittens

Cheap silk gloves liners

That skirt! 😍

Notes about the wearables:
The Sugoi tights again worked great, and this year I added the Ink N Burn Sport Skirt over the top for an extra layer of warmth on my ass, because it was going to be a cold year, and that was super-nice. It might be a lady-issue, but my fatty bum always gets so cold in the winter. This layering system was perfecto – just that one extra layer did the trick – no frozen fatty bum. And I had side pockets on the skirt to stuff random stuff into – usually wrappers I didn’t want to drop on the trail, and a few that I picked up.

I started out wearing the 3/4-zip fleece, but shed it probably 4 miles in because I was starting to sweat (avoid sweating and change your layers up as soon as you can in these cold activities. That sweat WILL freeze when you stop for even a second and you could get into some trouble. PSA over.). I also shed my ear cover. It was cold (low teens) but I got toasty quickly when moving. I added the fleece back in sometime after dark when my arms began to consistently feel chilled.

I switched from my Patagonia 3/4-zip fleece to a Patagonia full-zip fleece (same weight/thickness, basically just a different design) at 46 miles because the full-zip has side pockets (the 3/4-zip does not). I put my Smartphone in the pocket with a body warmer (which is like a hand warmer, except it’s larger with a sticky back).I stuck the body warmer directly to the inside of my fleece pocket and the phone battery held up much better in the cold temperatures that way.

I wore the Patagonia Nanopuff on the last 18-mile stretch when the temps eventually dropped below zero. This layering system worked perfect for me in 2017, and again this year.

Shoes? I’ll keep a long story short. I usually run in sandals, but with this being a long winter race, I chose the Altra Lone Peak so I had toe protection from the cold. I had quite a lot of foot pain in training due to the transition from sandal to shoe, but by race day, the foot pain was minimal (thankfully, as this was one of my biggest concerns going in). The shoe had great grip, but there were icy patches that got sketchy, and traction devices would’ve been helpful – I chose to power through them and never used my microspikes, and when temperatures dropped on the return trip from the 23-mile turnaround, the ice wasn’t nearly as slippery. The one con to this shoe is that there was a small visible hole in the outer (waterproof) shell after the race, and with only a few long training runs in them before-hand, I was a little disappointed to see the early wear. My Altra Neoshell boots I wore in 2017 did something similar, but I blamed it on running with traction for the entire race (unusual rubbing). While that kind of sucks, I’d go with the same shoe again. I like the wide toe box, zero drop, and they did successfully keep my feet warm and dry the entire race. I didn’t take them off once and only had my standard tip-of-the-2nd-toe blisters. I did have foot pain on my left foot with a weird bruise, but not sure if it was the shoes or the fact that I just ran 64 miles. Okay, that wasn’t short. But trust me. I could’ve made it a LOT longer! Shoes… They’re a thing with me.

There was snow, but not a lot, so I wore my lightweight Dirty Girl gaiters instead of my knee-high Outdoor Research winter gaiters like in 2017. It was a good decision, as the DGs worked just fine keeping any snow pieces out of my shoes. I’d switch back to my OR higher gaiters if it was significantly colder and/or if there was deeper snow.

I wore a thin buff around my neck the whole race and pulled it up over my mouth and nose only during the later half of the race for extra needed warmth. I also carried a fleece-lined Buff but it was way too warm to wear. I won’t even carry that thing unless it’s going to be -20 from now on. It is too warm!

I started the race with just the Smartwool ear cover, shed that pretty quick (so needed nothing on my ears during most of the daylight hours), put it back on after dark, then switched to my hat during the last 18-mile stretch.

I have yet to find the magic cure for cold fingers. They are fine when I’m moving, but as soon as I stop to do anything, they get cold and quickly feel numb and become useless stumps. My strategy was to do what needed to be done as quickly as possible, suck it up buttercup while they were still stinging-cold and get moving. I wore a thin liner glove the whole race and used my big Black Diamond mittens on and off later on in the race. I eventually had hand warmers in them so I could get a jump on warming my fingers right after a stop. Once I got feeling back in them (usually 5-10 minutes after moving), I’d shed the down mittens and was okay with the liners. During the last 9 miles I kept the down mittens on, along with the liners. And hand warmers. It got cold.

Other gear:
BackpackOut There USA MS-1. This is the same pack I used in 2017. It’s comfy, not a ton of bounce when jogging and lots of accessible pockets without taking it off. I only had to remove it to put water in my water reservoir during the race or to remove/add my fleece. I didn’t have luck with the bottle holders this year, and I don’t remember that being an issue in ’17. Don’t know why. But once I removed a bottle, I had a hard time getting it back in the holder, so I barely used the bottles. I might consider switching to a smaller backpack with no waistbelt and a front pack next time. But I would use this pack again if I don’t have time to train in something that new, or the funds to aquire that something new. It’s a good pack for this race.

Water containersCamelBak 1.5L water reservoir with insulated tube.
Yes, I’m one of the crazy ones that still uses a hydration bladder. I was able to keep water flowing through it as long as I took the following steps, and not missing a single one: fill with warm water (at aid stations, I used half cold and half hot water), keep as much of the tube (which is insulated) and the mouthpiece tucked into my shirt (almost in my armpit kind of wedged under my pack strap), after drinking, blow a puff of air to move the water out of the hose and mouthpiece (but not so much that you blow air into the bladder (this takes practice to get it just right), and most importantly – *SIP OFTEN.* This keeps you checking on it and the water flowing, keeps you hydrated, and if it does start to freeze up, I can usually catch it early enough that I can get water flowing again pretty easily. With that said, it did freeze up on me after I left the 46 mile aid station for the last stretch – but that’s because I didn’t follow my own advice and stopped sipping often. I did have a bottle with me that I added Tailwind to, and that was tucked into the front of my fleece and stayed thawed. Even though it made me look like I had a 2nd pair of weird boobs. But I did not care. Liquid hydration wins. I think for the next one, I may try training with just the one bottle to keep it simpler – kept tucked into my shirt – like a weird set of boobs. Because that seemed to work. I’ll chug a few cups of water at each aid station, then fill my bottle to sip in between out on the trail. I still like the bladder, but it would be nice to not have to mess around with it and keep stuff simpler.

Black Diamond trekking poles – Same ones I’ve been using for over 10 years. I’m considering upgrading to something lighter. I actually had some hand cramping during the race and numb fingers during recovery – I think these symptoms are from using the poles. And I love using poles, so I have to work on this.

Black Diamond Spot headlamp – takes 3 AAA batteries (be sure to use lithium batteries) I switched out the batteries once at the 46-mile checkpoint and had no issues and could see great. Same headlamp I’ve been using for years.

Phone #1 – Verizon Google Pixel 2 XL – held up okay. I used it for video and pictures, so had it powered off unless I wanted to use it. It died from the cold somewhere around the 10-hour mark, I think, but I wasn’t protecting it from the cold (it was tucked into the thigh pocket on my skirt). At mile 46 I recharged it and placed it in my fleece pocket with a body warmer and it held its charge great the rest of the way. It came in handy around mile 60 when I was hearing voices in the woods. I played some music to shut them up. 😉

Phone #2 – US Cellular pre-paid flip phone – my biggest disappointment. It worked perfect in 2017, and doing everything the same this year, the battery dropped to almost nothing in the first 6 miles. I know the cold was a factor, but my guess is that the three-year-old battery couldn’t hold up. I ended up powering it off before it died, as it was my main contact phone and I wanted it in case of emergency. Next time I will try to replace the battery beforehand or just stick with my Smartphone. Verizon works pretty good out there, too.

Garmin Fenix 3 – watch for GPS tracking and stats. I recharged it once at mile 46, after about 13 hours. I like having one continuous track recorded, and this way-too-expensive watch does just that while staying charged for a pretty long time.

Anker battery charger – kept in my drop box at mile 46 and used it to charge both phones before the last stretch.

Pocketjuice small portable charger – kept on me during race for a quick charge if needed. I didn’t use it on the trail, but I did use it at mile 46 to charge my watch while my phones charged on the Anker.

First aid & other items – SOL emergency bivvy, REI whistle, spare Black Diamond headlamp without the strap, 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, orange smiley face blinking light for backup, chapstick, Aleve, Tylenol, salt caps

Toilet kit – Deuce of Spades trowel, TP, ziploc bag for used TP (a leave no trace practice – please get used to carrying out used TP!), hand sanitizer, wet one wipes, and Immodium

Huma gels – these are great when you don’t want to eat anything because you can just squeeze ’em down your throat for the calorie bump.

Tailwind drink mix – my fave. Always had a bottle with some mixed in. Didn’t consume as much as I’d have liked because my bottles were difficult to reach. I’ll fix that for next time. Probably just keep one bottle tucked into my shirt.

Starbucks Via – I have a caffeine strategy that I like. I stay off caffeine as much as possible in my normal every-day life (and I’m a trucker. If I can do it, you can do it. 😉), then on race day, when the fatigue sets in, I have a Via and feel like I get a turbo-boost. I wait until I really feel I need it for the first dose, then continue its use from there.

I also carried candied ginger and Pepto for tummy upset, but didn’t use, but I maybe should have in the last 6 hours.

Other food things: I just put a bunch of random things in snack-size ziplocks so I had a variety of sweet, savory and whatever to choose from. That way if I lost my appetite, hopefully something would appeal to me and I could get some energy in me. I had things like M&Ms, mini almond butter cups, Waffle Stingers, Annie’s gummies, Cheetos, boiled eggs (which are SO weird when slightly frozen), pre-cooked breakfast links, grapes (so awesome!), and cashews. I did end up losing my appetite towards the last hours of the race, didn’t drink enough, and ended up with some digestive issues… Meaning I had to trail poop (*so* not fun when it’s like -5° out). I could get into why this happened, but it would go on way too long. To keep it short, I screwed up the timing with putting my body into ketosis before the race. I should’ve worked on it sooner so my body was fully fat-adapted, but as it turns out, I believe, it was sort of in transition still. So it just didn’t feel right. Live and learn and poop.

Extras for fun:
Biggest gear fail: the flip phone I thought was indestructible but nearly died at 6 miles.

Biggest gear win: Ink N Burn skirt over my tights to keep my butt warm. And hand warmers.

Fun surprise: Seeing Ross and Randall – two long-time friends from my backpacking group that stopped out to cheer on racers!!

Favorite food consumed: Nutty bars at the Greenbush aid station and a close 2nd, those sausages at the Hwy P aid station (thank you, volunteers!)

Nutty Bars!!

Aches and pains: Top of left foot just behind the big toe, front of kneecaps, cramping in left hand

Weirdest thing: hearing voices in the woods in the last 6 miles of the race

That’s all folks. I hope it helps someone out there! My ending piece of advice? Try not to poop your pants. That is all.

Tonight I love a lot of stuff, which happens to be all people because people rule – the race directors and volunteers because they make this race happen, and they make it so fun… along with all the other racers! Also? A big one – my mom and dad – for being two of my biggest fans and for cheering me in and out of every aid station. Thank you! Everyone!

My mom and my dad on race day, cheering in racers at Butler Lake (photo credit: Karen McLennan)

This is my favorite photo from the race. Almost seconds after my dad drove away from the race, my mom passed out in the back seat. We were all exhausted, and this photo just tells the whole story. And it’s freakin’ adorable. ❤️