Monday, January 5, 2009

Last year's Frozen Otter journal (2008)

This is craziness! Another post in the same day!! I just stumbled upon this file as I was clearing out some of the misc stuff from my work computer today. I wrote this after the Frozen Otter last year, and for some reason I didn't post it anywhere. I'm glad I found it! I can only hope that I have the same endurance I did last year!!

“We’re crazy.”

I don’t know how many times my 3 friends and I said that to each other as the “Frozen Otter” adventure race approached. I don’t know how many times co-workers, friends and family said it, either. We simply just lost count. I recall a few people saying to me, “I don’t like walking out to my car in this weather!” When we found out the temperatures were going to drop well below zero, to be honest, I think we were feeling nervous.

Last year, Sarah and I decided to sign up, thinking, “24 hours… we can do 64 miles in 24 hours… it’s just a 24-hour period. We may have to endure some pain and push ourselves, but I’m sure we can do 64 miles.” When we hit the half-way point at 32 miles, there was no question between us as a team – we were done. The next day, neither of us could bend our knees because they were in such pain. We realized quickly that our fatal mistake was hiking 30 miles the weekend before – we wanted to see what we could do. So when race day arrived, we were already sore. By mile 2 we were “peg-leggin’” as we called it. Our knees just didn’t want to bend without pain.

So last year we made it 32 miles. It took us 15 hours, but we made it half way. We were both satisfied with that. After last year’s race, I clearly remember telling myself, “Well, I’m glad I tried it, but Adventure Racing is not for me. I don’t think I’ll do this again.”

I think it was some time just this past December when Sarah emailed me about the “Frozen Otter” coming up again – I don’t know what got into me, but I responded, “Sure, let’s give it a shot!” We invited a couple of friends to join us, so “The Snails” were four strong this year! But we knew it was going to be no easy feat. We only signed up for the Half, making our goal 32 miles. We hadn’t been training, and we knew 64 miles was much tougher than we ever imagined it to be. My first personal goal this year was to make 32 miles. My second goal was to beat last year’s time of 15 hours.

We started out strong and happy, joking about how Pam’s legs might fall off, and how we could just tie them to her torso and strap her to one of our backs. Often times we got into a trance, following each others’ footsteps, staring at only the ground, and not saying a word to each other. Within the first hour all of us had frozen water. We were able to get one hose thawed out, so we shared the one water source we had.

The first checkpoint came and went quickly. We all trucked on, and seemed to be in pretty good spirits.

I was surprised that the temperatures didn’t seem to bother us too much. If anything, we were getting too warm at times -- it was 10 degrees below 0, and we were sweating! This wasn’t really much of a problem until we had to stop. Even just a 1-minute stop to get something out of our packs, change a layer, or grab a bite to eat got too cold to stand. So when we did stop, it was hurried. We barely stopped the first 16 miles, and I think that turned out to hurt us more than help. I think with the combination of dehydration, not enough to eat, the temperature, and just simply the extreme conditions we were in, sapped our energy. Then the sun set, and as pretty as it was, the darkness came down hard.

Between the time when darkness fell, and when we reached the half-way point, I knew there was a possibility any one of us could be stopping at 16 miles. It seemed spirits had gotten a little low, and everything was starting to cramp up and hurt.

At the 2nd checkpoint, half way, I was surprised with myself. A very unexpected thing happened to me. I felt an energy in me that was actually making me shaky, and I knew that I had to keep going. I felt kind of bad leaving my team behind and hitting that second 16 miles solo, but with the way my body was reacting, I had to continue, and my teammates cheered me on. I was completely shocked that I felt as good as I did. I didn’t know I had this in me! After I decided for sure that I was going to continue, I remember a short conversation with Rod. I said, “I’m going to go on. I don’t know that I’ll make it in 12 hours, but I’ll try to make the 32 miles.” He looked down at his clipboard, then back up at me and said, “You’re only about 9 minutes behind pace. If you picked it up even a little bit on the way back, you could still do it.” I just thought to myself, “Okay… we’ll see.”

I quickly thawed my water hose over the fire, shoved a sandwich in my mouth, and took off. I got about 100 yards down the trail, and I started to think to myself, “If I get there 9 minutes past the 12-hour mark, I’m going to be disappointed that I couldn’t pick it up just a little bit.” I was a little cold from the long break, anyway, so I decided to see how my body would handle a slow jog. Shortly after I started jogging, my muscles actually seemed to limber up a little bit, and I felt nice and warm. Each time I could see a straight stretch in front of me, I went into a slow jog until a hill came or I needed to catch my breath. At every corner and every hill, I couldn’t believe that I was actually jogging. I kind of figured I’d be practically crawling and crying at this point.

The next checkpoint approached, and that’s when I knew I was going to make it 32 miles. The 12-hour mark was still a pretty tight shot, but if I was able to keep my pace, I had a chance.

During the last 7 miles, things got very interesting for me, being out there on my own. I felt like I was in a weird state of mental shock. I started to whisper to myself between breaths, “Can I make 12 hours? It’s okay if I don’t… but I might be close… I can push it a little more…” About 3 miles later, I was clearly talking to myself out loud, even referring to myself as “we” at times. I started doing the math out loud, too – my pace, how many miles were left, how many I’ve done, and in how long. My steps were getting a bit sloppy, and I was very careful going downhill. I felt myself slipping side-to-side a lot more, kind of like I was drunk, and the last thing I wanted was to be stuck out there by myself with an injury.

There was one point when I stopped and felt defeated. There was a sign, with an arrow, that read, “Butler Lake -- 2.1 miles.” I looked at my watch, and it read about 11:30. I thought about the half-hour I had left, and the 2.1 miles, and said out loud, “Shoot. I can’t make that.” I tried to figure out the math as I stood there, then asked myself, “Why am I just standing here?” I hiked on and figured out my pace as I went. I soon realized that there was still a chance, and I picked it up one last time.

When I came around a corner and saw a sign that read, “Butler Lake parking area,” I got really excited. I couldn’t remember how close it was, and there was no specific mileage listed. But I knew that meant I was really close, and I still had time. I jogged up a couple of hills for the first time the whole race, and when I came to a spot where I could see the campfire, I almost cried with excitement! I said one last thing out loud to myself before people would be able to hear me and think I was crazy. I said, “I’m actually going to make it!”

My finish time was 11:57 PM, so I just barely made it -- 3 minutes under the 12-hour mark. Coming across that last ridge, looking down on the campfire and parking lot, I felt pride well up inside of me. I’ve done some things in my life I’ve been very proud of, but I have to say that the Frozen Otter is one of the toughest I’ve ever done. Not only is this physically difficult, but it’s an extreme mental challenge. The importance of keeping your wits about you – especially when you’re out there on your own – is tremendous. I had the thought of my teammates cheering me on, and that really helped move me right along!

I do hope that I can eventually shoot for the full 64 miles. Until then I think the Frozen Otter will draw me back each year!

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