All the pre-race faff was pretty standard issue: I did get around 6hrs of sleep, was up to scarf back a bagel at 6-ish, then actually went back to bed for a 30min nap because I wasn't feeling entirely human yet. Oh, the advantage of living a mere 25mins from the race site.
It was cold to start. Like "it hurts my nose to breathe this air" kind of cold. Down parka AND down pants (yes, those are a thing) for the ride up to Camp Heidelberg as I sipped my coffee, and then refusing to take either one of the above off until the last possible moment since it was only about 10c/50f even inside the Rehkopf building.
|Pretty sunrise, though.|
With temperatures predicted to get no higher than -8c/18f by the end of the race, it made apparel options simpler than I'd anticipated. I just threw on the warmest stuff I'd brought, added my straw from Ron Gehl, and left it at that.
|But was still cold before even stepping outside.|
There was no warm-up run - I did some dynamic stretching stuff inside but I was far from the only person hesitant to head out into the -12c/10f morning before we absolutely had to. There was literally a crowd of runners around the main door to the Rehkopf building when the race director was calling 1min left to the start. We grudgingly meandered out, lined up in a loose bunch (then turned around as we started in the opposite direction to Horror Hill), and set off like good little lemmings when Pat said go.
It was the usual conga line through the forest for the first lap, getting a feel for the snow conditions on the trail and warming up the legs. Things weren't too bad on either front; while pretty deep and soft in a few places, the whole course was actually runnable. For Frosty Trail the section of the course that goes down around the pond and up the HUGE STINKIN' HILL are cut out, though the hill with the stairs (!) remains. I walked up it and a couple of other steep bits, but had I been doing just a couple of laps (racing under an hour) I could have run the whole thing.
|The winter aid station is in front of the building, which is also the starting line.|
Through the woods and back up the hill, the pack started to spread out a bit as everyone found their pace. I came around the Rehkopf building to finish my first lap, and tried to let a girl whom I'd been just behind in the conga line go ahead as we headed back into the North woods by the building. She said she was slow, so I should go ahead. A little dubious about anyone really being slower than me, I plunged on ahead anyway.
|Frosty? That's a downright snowy trail.|
Credit for this photo & a couple of others to Christopher from Brant Death Racers.
It turned out that we were actually pretty well matched for pace, and ended up running together. As we chatted I learned that Lizzy is an 18 year old cross-country runner at Wilfrid Laurier University, and will be running the 50 miler at Sulphur Springs in May. She also conveniently wears a watch in a way that is visible while running - mine was buried under 3 layers of cuffs. I think I may have surprised her when I said at the end of our 4th lap that we should be pretty close to an hour: it was only a bit more than 2 minutes before the horn sounded to end the 1 hour race.
|The sun would appear and disappear as we trotted along.|
Photo from the race director's album.
Fortunately the people who'd been making us look really bad disappeared at this point - it's always nice to know that the folks who've been lapping you like you were standing still are only doing 1/3 of the running that you are. I pulled out a vanilla Hammer gel to nibble on as I ran and asked Lizzy is she'd actually been taking in any fluids or nutrition, since I hadn't seen her do so and I know XC races are usually short enough that none is required. She said she hadn't, and would stop for a drink at the end of the next lap as it's something she knows she's bad about.
|Super stocked aid station with Tanker the Wonder Sherpa being a super awesome volunteer.|
We carried on together for another lap, then Lizzy asked what the options were if one needed a washroom. I explained that you had either your selection of leafless flora to hide behind, or you could head into the Rehkopf building to use the facilities in there. She said she'd need to stop at the end of this loop (our 6th), and I could definitely get behind that idea - some rumblings in my belly indicated I was not going to get through this race without a pause to lose some weight.
|Which would be a big help, anyway..|
We both wandered inside when we reached the building, with me wincing a bit at the stairs up to the main floor. Unfortunately, all of this happened while Tanker was helping out the Optimist Club volunteers inside with some odds and ends - my hand bottle was empty and I'd hoped he could fill it while I was in the john. Business was taken care of, then back out into the cold just as we came up to the halfway point, my bottle still empty. I asked one of the volunteers at the aid station to pass along a message to Tank to fill it for me when he got back out so I could pick it up the next time I was through. It was actually kind of nice to run without the bottle for a bit, or walk as the case may be.
|Photo from Lizzy's Instgram - can you imagine having to stare at my butt for 3 hours?|
Around this time the weather started to warm up a touch, and the sunshine had helped increase the moisture content in the snow enough that it was starting to pack down a bit. There were still some rather deep and loose sections - notably where we made our entry and exit to the main (South) woods loop - but overall conditions were improving as I got my bottle back (full - thanks babe!) at the end of my 7th lap.
|Photo from after the race of the North woods loop.|
It actually worked out really well for me, as the trail seemed to improve at approximately the same rate my legs started to break down. There were a couple of exceptions: the spot where we entered & exited the main woods section and one or two other places remained really dicey throughout the day. However, Lizzy and I put in another loop before the 2 hour mark, clocking very even splits of just under 15mins per 2km lap. It was looking like I might actually crack 24km at Frosty Trail for the first time, assuming I didn't deteriorate too much. In the interest of keeping myself moving at a decent pace, I tore open a salted caramel Gu and proceeded to nibble on it as we rolled around the course.
|WOO RACING YEAH!|
We continued running in circles as the sun disappeared again and the wind began to gust. My legs definitely had a lot to say about my longest runs since Horror Hill having been just over an hour and three quarters, and my ankles were taking a beating on the uneven trail surfaces. I'd even had to flail around a bit in some of the softer spots to keep from taking a brief snow nap, and now the packed-down sections were starting to wear away to reveal chunky, footprinted ice underneath. Before two and a half hours were up, I'd finished another bottle and dropped it at the aid station for Tanker to re-fill while we headed out again - I was happy to have my hands free to keep myself upright for a bit.
|At least we had a tailwind on the uphill for once.|
As we came through our 11th lap with 17mins until the finish, Lizzy let me know we actually had time to take it a bit easy as we wouldn't make another loop after our 12th. I was more than happy to do so, as I was really feeling the fatigue now and knew I was getting sloppy. I picked up my re-filled bottle from the aid station and did a bit more walking than we had hitherto. Of course, it couldn't work out evenly - we still had a few minutes when we got back up to the Rehkopf building, and I don't stop running until the horn sounds. I figured we might make another 500m to the first set of flags, but it was slow going through the North woods section and as we emerged Lizzy let me know we had under a minute left. I sprinted down the snow-covered grassy hill at some ridiculous pace, but couldn't quite make the driveway again before the finish.
Official distance: 24.35km
1.05km PR - 3rd woman overall
It was definitely a different experience for me having company throughout the entire race. While I'm used to having a bit of a chat or friendly word with people due to the endless loops at Horror Hill & Frosty Trail, I always train alone so it was pretty unique to have conversation for a full 3 hours. I'm convinced that Lizzy could have easily outstripped my distance if she hadn't decided to stick in behind me (though my butt does give lots of drafting area) and we certainly weren't talking every single moment, but it did make the time pass quickly to have some distraction along the way. For instance, it wasn't until I got inside and took off my earband and hat that I discovered I'd been carrying some extra weight for awhile.
|Chunks of ice built up in my braids.|
Slightly nastier when you realise it's all sweat.
|Full details of the whole 12-and-a-bit laps here.|
My legs didn't even feel that bad, really, so I decided to forego a post-race massage. I was a bit disappointed that the traditional post-race chili had been replaced by pasta, so the only hot thing I could get into me after the chilly morning of running was a cup of coffee. After changing into dry clothing, a snack of some fruit & veggies (plus some GF cookies I'd brought with me), and collecting my gift certificate for my 3rd place finish, it was off to the Taco Farm in Waterloo to treat myself and my sweetheart to a bowl of tortilla soup and the world's most incredible tacos.
|It's the least I can do for a guy who selflessly volunteered for over 4 hours in the cold!|
Next race on the schedule isn't until April, so I've taken things pretty easy this week and even took Sunday completely off running (did a hike and a swim only). I am pleased to note that my legs have bounced back really quickly without too much soreness - advantage of running on nice, cushy snow. The ankle-rolling left my peroneals very tender for a few days, but it doesn't seem there has been any lasting damage.
Holy crap; did I actually just make it through an entire Frosty Trail without any injuries?
Look out, folks - I'm pretty sure that's one of the seven signs.