Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Frozen Otter 2010

Racers heading up the hill on the Ice Age Trail to start the 2010 race.

The following is a quote from my blog last year about the 2009 Frozen Otter, after completing the half distance of 32 miles in under 12 hours:

Maybe next year I’ll have the hallucinations that I’ve heard racers sometimes have from lack of sleep and physical exhaustion. And maybe I won’t be able to even walk on Sunday. Yup, that’s what I’ll be shooting for! I wonder how many miles it will take to reach THAT goal!?

Hah! Answer: more than 64 miles!!

…which means… I did it this year! I went the whole distance, and amazingly was still able to walk on Sunday. Well, hobble would be a better term. Sunday afternoon and Monday, then Tuesday back at work were pretty rough recovery days.

I obsessed over the Frozen Otter this year. I apologize to all my friends that I drove nuts during that time, too! I was starting to irritate myself a little, so I can’t imagine how sick and tired everyone had to have been hearing about “the Frozen Otter this, and the Frozen Otter that…” but now that it’s done and the adrenaline is fading, that’ll stop. Until next year! Tee-hee. In my defense, since I signed myself up for the full distance this year (64 miles in 24 hours), I was kind of thinking the more I put it out there, the more determined I’d be to finish, and I really think that helped. So many people wished me good luck and cheered me on that I was mentally fueled and ready to go by the time race day rolled around.

It was a great event. There were over 90 people that signed up this year. The weather was looking too good to be true, even. The highs were forcasted at 38° F with a nighttime low of only 24° F! The Frozen Otter has been truly frozen for the past 3 years, being right around 0-10° F for the majority of the time, so this was like a heatwave! Because of this, I had to revamp my gameplan as far as how I would dress. I no longer needed my snow pants, thick mittens, extra jacket, wool hat or hand warmers to thaw my water hose if it froze up. I ended up wearing a silk-weight shirt with a fleece on top, and silk-weight pant liners and my regular zip-off hiking pants. On my feet I wore my Injinji socks and Smartwool liners, and I wore my Merrell hiking boots. I bought a new pair of Salomon Gore-tex trail runners specifically for this year’s Frozen Otter, but decided not to wear them. The last couple times I wore them for a short amount of time I ended up with a small set of blisters on the tips of my toes, and I was nervous what 24 hours would do to them. But my trusty Merrells left me blister-free on this past summer’s 165-mile Tahoe Rim Trail hike. Either way it was a step up from last year’s choice of footwear – my Montrail all-leather hiking boots that weigh a TON when they get wet. On my head all I wore was a bandanna. It was warm enough that I didn’t even need to cover my ears the entire time! I carried a hat with me in case I got cold, but never had to bring it out.

I did something a little different this year with my food. I ate smaller portions more often. Last year I basically tried to down an entire Clif bar at each checkpoint and grab a handful or two of nuts in between. I found an entire Clif bar to be a little overwhelming in my tummy while trying to hike so intensely… and they froze so solid that they became very difficult to eat. So this year, I cut up my energy bars into small bite-size cubes and separated them into several small portions. I also packed mini oreos, jelly beans, electrolyte gummies, fig newtons, beef sticks and cheese cubes into small portions. The plan was to grab one bag per hour. It worked great the first half, but I found eating anything on the second half to be a challenge. I lost my appetite for anything, and even drinking water was upsetting my stomach.

I did have to keep check on my water throughout the race, too. At around maybe 9:00 pm my water hose started to freeze up, so I had to be certain to blow any remaining water back into my bladder and tuck the mouthpiece into my shirt (I kept it tucked in my armpit where it’s nice and toasty warm). I didn’t drink nearly as much water as I did last year, but according to the simple hydration test (checking pee color) I was doing okay. I only went 3 times the whole race, but it seems that I was doing okay. The second half of the race I struggled to drink water, as I mentioned, so I think I may have gotten a little dehydrated towards the end. As it turns out, I only drank about 2 liters during the whole second half. That’s actually quite a scary thought.Thankfully it didn’t affect me too terribly.

Every year this race is different. Just when you think you’re getting it figured out, it all changes. This is something I really love about it. You never know what the temperature is going to be. You never know how much snow will be covering the trails. If there is snow, you don’t know until the day of the race what kind of snow it’s going to be, either. Will it be heavy, wet snow? Or will it be fluffy and light? This all makes such a huge difference in how easy or how difficult it will be to hike in. This year’s trails were very challenging. I walked almost the entire first half of the race with Melissa, and she is very knowledgeable about muscle usage. She was saying very early on that we will be feeling this a lot in our stabilizing muscles. She was impressively whipping out technical muscle names that I cannot remember, but she mentioned one in our butt, the ones down the side of our calves, and our ankles to name a few… and she was right on. Those ones down the side of my lower leg are KILLING as I recover.

Working our way up a hill.

The snow on the trail was kind of layered, almost. We got a good snow storm a while ago, and that was still there as a base. Then over Christmas it rained a whole bunch, so that left a thick, crusty layer on top of that, and then a more recent day of flurries left a light snow that would collapse in with every step. At one point Melissa says, “I’m trying to decide if this is more like mashed potatoes or granulated sugar…” I laughed – it was a pretty accurate analogy. It was just a constant trudge. With every step you’d dig, then slip, dig, then slip. And when you slipped, you didn’t know which direction your foot was going to go, so it was a constant balancing act. Even after a few miles my hips, knees and feet were starting to feel it.

I went into the race this year with some mental ammunition. I told myself going in, “Okay. This is going to hurt like hell. I will probably be in the most pain I’ve ever been in. This won’t be easy. All I have to do is just keep on walking until my legs will no longer carry me.” And I did just that. I also had a lot of people rooting me on, and this truly gave me an extra drive!! I thought of everyone that wished me luck or wrote something on my Facebook page when it got a little tough, especially in the second half. There were only three of us on the trail, and I was by myself for all but the last 8 miles, so it was lonely. It was dark, and all I could do was look down and concentrate on my footing the entire time. I started to think about all the comments people left and that would make me smile. I also had my iPod at the half-way point so I could use it on the second half. That helped out a lot, too. I didn’t have to talk to myself as much because I had some music to listen to. :)

I took ibuprofen to ease some of the muscle discomfort and pain in my knees. I normally don’t take pain medicine, so I think that might be why I had some stomach issues during the second half of the race. I think I took more ibuprofen and Aleve during those 22 hours than I would normally in a whole year! I think I was smart about it, though. I did watch how often I was taking it. I alternated between ibuprofen and napoxin sodium about every 3-4 hours.

I had some amazing support this year, too. The volunteers from Fat Otter Adventure Sports are awesome! They are really motivating, always cheering on the racers, and offering to get anything we need – there’s always hot cocoa, burgers, fire… the checkpoints are ultimately tempting… this year part of my plan was whiz right by every single one of them… because once the fire sucks you in, the trouble starts. I knew if I stopped and rested I’d take up precious time I might need later on, so I’d just say, “Robin Grapa in, Robin Grapa out,” say “no thanks” to all the tasty treats and comfort-inducing hot drinks and truck on. I mentally prepared myself to be uncomfortable for a straight 24 hours and I was stickin’ to the plan.

At Mauthe Lake Campground, the first checkpoint, I came up to the fire and there stood my friends, Ken, Pam and Mukti! Before I started the race I told myself I wasn’t going to stop for even a second at the first checkpoint. I knew I could go 8 miles no problem, so I figured it would be wasteful to take any sort of break at that point. So I waved a quick “hi” and “bye” and trekked on. I felt kind of bad that I didn’t even swing over to say hi, or “thanks for coming,” but I was on a roll and determined to stick to my gameplan. When I arrived at the first turnaround at the 16 mile mark at checkpoint 2, my mom and dad were waiting for me! I stopped for a few minutes to give them a hug, tell them I was doing really good, took a couple ibuprofen (my first dose of the race), turned around and headed back down the trail. I was making good time, and I was only hoping I could keep it up on the rough terrain and slippery, snowy trails.

Before reaching Mauthe Lake Campground for checkpoint 3, the sun went down and the headlamp came out. It was pitch dark. Upon arrival at the checkpoint, once the folks there saw my headlamp come up through the woods, they started to cheer me in. I jogged up to the fire and there was Ken and Pam again! They thoughtfully offered me a beer, probably knowing I’d turn it down. I would have really enjoyed sitting and having a beer with them by the fire, but again, I was really focused and at the time it didn’t really even cross my mind as an option. I was so happy to see them – I think I might’ve stolen some of their energy, then moved on. Evan was the volunteer at this checkpoint, and he offered me warm drinks and burgers… he wanted to help (again GREAT volunteer team!), but I was good to go with water and food, so I just checked in and out again. Off I went.

As I came up to finishing 32 miles, the people down below must’ve seen my headlamp bouncing up and down along the ridge, because I could hear them cheer me in. “Come on down! Warm fire, beer and burgers!!!” I just wanted to get my socks changed, see my crew – Adam, my mom, dad and Leo were going to be there… I wanted to get some substantial food, resupply and get going. I was still in the mindset, without a doubt, to finish this thing. As Leo said, “Just do it and get it done with!” I kept thinking that in my head. “Yup, I’m just going to do it. I’m going to finish it. I’m going to get it done and over with this year.” As I came down the hill, I first saw Adam. I was happy to see him. My mom, dad and Leo were running a little behind – they went on a McDonald’s run for me. I asked for a couple of greasy cheeseburgers and a milkshake. So Adam helped me out until they got there a short while later. I got a shoulder rub, some encouraging words, my cheeseburgers, milkshake, fries, hugs, dry and clean socks, went to the bathroom… and after an hour I was ready to head out again. I only wanted to use a half hour at the transition point, but everything took just a little more time than I’d hoped, and I was really enjoying the company of my support crew. I was refueled and ready – I put on my headphones and trekked up the hill for the second 32 miles. Oh, and I beat the first part of my first goal – I beat my time doing 32 miles from last year. I did it in 10 hours and 27 minutes this year. I kicked last year’s time’s butt, actually! The second part of that goal was to go beyond 32 miles, and I was on target for that, too.

The first half of the race went smooth and as good as I could’ve expected it to. I dealt just a little with some muscle soreness, slight knee pain, and some chafing. All pretty common, typical stuff. The second half was going to prove to be much more difficult. A few times jogging down a hill I could feel my right big toenail catch on my shoe a little bit. I knew after the third or fourth time I was probably going to lose that toenail. I had some hot spots where I knew I’d have a blister or two, but I just kept going. My knees were starting to really hurt on the downhills, but I was able to push through that, so it wasn’t too bad. I stopped at the next checkpoint at Greenbush, and again just kept going. I was starting to feel just overall really tired, and then my stomach started gurgling. I lost my appetite for any of the food I had, and even if I drank water, it would bother my tummy. But I forced it all down a few times, still not eating every hour like I’d planned. I think the lack of food and water was making me feel more tired. About one mile from the next checkpoint and turnaround, I saw two headlamps coming towards me. It was the only other two racers out there that were out to finish the 64 miles – Brian and Anthony. They told me that the volunteers at the checkpoint thought they were the only ones left, so they took off… it was just a small miscommunication, and luckily I had great cell coverage, so I gave Rod a call, and when I popped out of the woods at the Hwy P trailhead, there was a truck waiting for me there. I felt bad because they turned around and came all the way back to check me in, but again I didn’t need anything, so I basically checked in and out, turned around and head back.

Everything was really starting to hurt, especially my knees and feet. Around 5:00 am I thought about calling my mom and dad to see if they’d meet me at the Greenbush checkpoint. I knew they were getting some sleep, so I decided to keep going and get in touch with them when I got there. Then I saw that my dad just tried to call, so I called him back and they were on their way to meet up with me! When I got to Greenbush they were waiting. Leo and my mom geared up to hike with me the last 8 miles, and dad was going to bring the car back to finish and watch us come in. I was so glad to have Leo and mom hike with me. I was really getting tired, and everything was starting to hurt pretty intensely. I wasn’t near done yet, but the company sure helped. I think from lack of sleep and little food and water, things that shouldn’t move were starting to come alive and move around. At one point before mom and Leo joined me, I looked down at the snow and it was waving and twisting and moving around in a sort of psychedelic fashion. I looked up once and saw a trail post waver and bend back and forth, then a little later a clump of snow off in the woods was moving and rolling around. It was kind of spooking me out. At that point I kind of laughed at myself and took a big swig of water, no matter what my stomach had to say about it.

The last 8 miles were kind of cool not only because I had hiking buddies, but I also got to see the sky light up. It was nice to finally take my headlamp off. I had a lump on my forehead from wearing it, and it was giving me a headache. At the same time it was pretty tough going. My footing was getting pretty sloppy because I was soooo tired, and I knew I was going to be hurting once I stopped. But once I reached the field in the last mile and could see the hill just before the parking lot at Butler Lake, I got excited. I remembered thinking about this moment when I was at about mile 46… I almost started crying thinking about it. I thought I’d be a big, balling baby when I got to the finish line, not being able to believe what I’d just accomplished. But honestly, when I did finally get there, I was so tired and so happy to be done, all I could do was smile and let out a quite "yay!!!" Out of hundreds of people that have attempted to finish 64 miles in 24 hours, I became one of only four to ever do it! So I have to admit... I'm pretty proud. :)

Now I’m recovering. When I reached Butler Lake, one of the first things I did was take my shoes and socks off and cringe at the sight of my feet. They looked, well, absolutely disgusting!

Once I got home my mom filled a bucket with soap and water and I soaked them a bit. They felt a little better – and smelled better, too! I slept for a solid 5 hours Sunday afternoon, then slept another 9 hours overnight. I took off from work on Monday, and I was glad I did. I was hobbling around pretty good. Every single muscle in my legs were sore, my feet were swollen so much I couldn’t bend my toes, and my knees felt broken. But I found the more I moved around the better they felt, so I just kept busy for the first part of the day. I took another long nap, and even though I’m still pretty sore and my feet are puffy, tingly and sensitive, I’m ready to get back to work… kickboxing class and running will have to probably wait a few days, though.

At one point near the end I remember telling myself, “I don’t know that I’ll ever want to do this again.” Well, that thought didn't last long, because I’m already thinking about next year. I’ll probably sign up again – maybe I can try to beat my time from this year.

This is me (on the right) after hiking for 22 hours straight. I'm standing next to Anthony and Brian, the other two 64-mile finishers.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


I have been preparing for the 2010 Frozen Otter for some time now. I don’t know if I’m ready, and I honestly don’t know if I ever could be. I’ve never gone 64 miles in one stretch, so I am not 100% sure I can do it. But, this is part of why I’m trying for it. I won’t know unless I give it my all and try.

I’ve been working out extra hard for the past few months. I’ve worked in a few intense 2-3 hour workouts. These usually happened on a Saturday. I’d run, walk or bike the 3 miles to the YMCA, go to spinning class for an hour, then to a high-intensity aerobics class, then run, walk or bike the 3 miles back home. I’ve also done a few long hikes (but not nearly as many as I’d have liked). One of these long hikes was a 32-mile overnight hike. I went with Melissa, who hiked the full 64 miles a few years ago. She is one of my inspirations. It was really cool to hike with her – we finished the 32 miles in just around 10 hours – which I thought was a pretty darn good time! Since there’s been snow, I’ve been on a few snowy hikes, but nothing too long. I think the longest one I’ve done was around 10 miles.

I have also visited with a sports therapist to try to find out why my knees seem to want to lock up on me. She found some muscle weaknesses around my knee and hips, so I’ve been doing exercises to try strengthening them. I don’t know that I’ve been doing them long enough to see any obvious results this weekend during the race, but I hope it helps even a little bit. If anything, hopefully I can continue to work on that and do even better next year.

During the past couple of weeks I’ve gone over lists on top of other lists of things I need to bring, what food I want to eat, what I’m going to want at the half-way point, time splits, music I want on my Shuffle, and how I’m going to keep myself in it mentally for 24 hours. Just today I spent the last hour and a half going over different time split scenarios. I hope to have it all in my head so I don’t have to think too hard and do too much math while I’m out there.

My mom and dad are coming down to act as my support crew. They’ll be there at the start and finish, and Adam will probably join them during the half-way mark. At that point, I’m going to really need them. I hope to have a warm, running car with a change of clothes and shoes, along with some warm, yummy food and maybe a hot coffee. I’m mostly looking forward to having them yell, “Get your ass moving!!!” when I complain that I’m tired and sore. I have to remember that resting longer will probably not make me feel much better. It’s going to hurt, and I’m not going to feel any more awake, so I might as well just keep going. I am SO glad my parents will be making it to push me and help me along the way. It will be nice to see Adam at the half-way point, too. He’s already offered to massage my calves or anything that might need a quick rub. That will be nice to look forward to, also. I just can’t get too comfortable or I’m going to want to stay there.

Tonight and tomorrow night I’ll be separating out my food and organizing my gear. It’s going to be strangely warm this year, compared to other years. We’re looking at 32 degrees as a high and 24 as a low overnight. I may not even need my snow pants! It’s going to be a completely different Frozen Otter this year -- compared to temps dipping well below zero the last few years. I might not have to worry about my water freezing this year, and this gives me an even better chance of finishing the 64 miles. I would say frozen water and dehydration as a result is one of the biggest risks during this race, or at least one of my biggest worries. I did okay last year – I only had one time when my mouth piece froze up a little bit, but I was able to get it going again after a lot of effort trying to pull water through the hose.

So from now until Saturday, I just need to stay mentally upbeat, get my gear and food in order, get Adam and my parents on track with the schedule, my time splits and what gear and food I’ll need at the half-way point. The half-way point is the only time they can support me with a resupply of gear or food. The rest of the time that they’re around they can only cheer me on.

The biggest challenge right now is to stay calm. Whenever I start to really think about it, I get really excited and my adrenaline kicks in. I can feel it taking up precious energy. I get butterflies in my stomach and I get all jittery. I need to try to keep myself calm so I can funnel that energy how I need to. I need to save all I can!

My goals for this year’s Frozen Otter:

Goal 1: Beat my 32-mile time from last year and finish with at least 40 miles.
Goal 2: Finish 64 miles
Goal 3: Finish 64 miles in 24 hours

The first year I did the Frozen Otter I finished 32 miles in 15 hours. At the time there wasn’t a “Half” division, but I wouldn’t have finished in the 12 allotted hours, anyway. The second year, I finished the 32 miles in 11 hours and 57 minutes. I JUST made it. Last year, I cut about another half-hour off of that time. So this year, I hope to cut more off the first 32 so I have some to spare on the second half. I will only quit if something breaks… I don’t necessarily mean just bones… but my knees or my mind, for example. My mind is the one thing I think I’ve got in control, and I hope that I can use that to take over any physical problems that might come up.

Off I go! Pray for me and wish me luck! :)

Thursday, January 7, 2010

I had a moment...

I’m reading a book called, “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall (thanks SO much, Will!!). I’m half-way through and it’s giving me an overall “feel” for what a human body is capable of. This book talks a lot about ultrarunners that go for hundreds of miles on foot, running, and really focuses on a tribe called the Tarahumara that live deep in the Copper Canyons of Mexico and are able to cover distances running that we can’t even imagine. There have been a lot of quotes in that book that have stuck in my mind and actually are coming into play while I prepare for the Frozen Otter.

Last night in spinning class I had a moment, and I think I have to give “Born to Run” the credit for it. I was pushing myself as hard as I could, pedalling away on one really tough series of hill sprints. I remember tilting my head up towards the ceiling with my eyes closed, panting, with sweat dripping off my chin in an almost constant stream. Laura, our spinning instructor, told us to “up” our resistance. It was the 10th turn on the reistance knob, and we still had two more to go. I felt like the pedals were just going to stop, yet I was determined to keep my rpms at about 75. That’s when I silently said to myself, “GOD this is HARD!!!” I tensed up my body, scrunched my face as if I were in the worst pain of my life and kept pushing… and struggling. I didn’t know if I could keep going.

That’s when I opened my eyes, looked down and suddenly remembered a part from that book. It talks about how ultrarunners hit a point of pure fatigue, and one racer said she embraces that moment with all she has. She taught herself to love it. There’s no beating it, so you may as well embrace and love it. If you can’t love that moment, then why the hell would you be racing like that? I instantly connected with that. I knew that feeling!

I focused on my breathing and imagined my heart beating big and strong and my blood pumping through my veins smooth and clean and then said to myself, “This body is truly amazing. This is what it was made to do. Look at what it’s doing! Look how efficient it’s running! It’s incredible!” I got a huge surge of energy, smiled, looked straight ahead and pumped my legs harder. I got a great sense of energy for those last two resistance turns. It felt easier!!

On previous Frozen Otter races, I got to a point where my body felt like it was done. I remember actually talking to my legs as I hiked up a steep hill, “Come on, legs, we can do this!!” It was like my body was shutting down and my mind was taking over. I was addicted after that. I loved having to make that switch from “mind and body” to “mind over body.” The body itself can take you so far, but if you don’t have the mindset to get past that, you’ll be done and won’t be able to go any more. Once you get your mind to push past it, your body will follow.

I think this "moment" pushed me a lot closer, mentally, to feeling ready for that race. I’m looking forward to that fatigue and pain -- after all, what other option is there? So I can’t wait to be there… I can’t wait for my mind to make that switch. I think that's the biggest part of why I want to keep doing this... that or I'm just plain crazy.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

13 days and counting...

...and I’m procrastinating. I don’t know if I’m in the mindset to hike 64 miles in 24 hours yet, and I don’t know that I have enough time to get there. Today I planned on going to a hiking trail and putting in as many miles as I could using the daylight I had left after church. But the smell of the BBQ chicken in the basement of the church caught me and I was done for. Adam and I grabbed a to-go conainer full of that BBQ wonderful-ness and head home. We sat down for our lunch, turned on the TV, then I grabbed a book with Peanut purring on my lap. I keep telling myself I’m going to still go for my hike today. But maybe instead of driving 45 minutes to a hiking trail, I’ll just jump on the sidewalks of Oshkosh and go as far as I can. Besides, on sidewalks, I can feel safe going well into the dark of night if I want to. Well, by the time I do finally get done here and go, I will HAVE to go well into the dark of the night! “Three hours,” I keep telling myself. And I’ll swear to myself to get onto the trails some time next weekend. Maybe even overnight if I have to.

I’ve got 13 more days to think and prepare. I need to round up a good chunk of inspiring music for the last half of the race and load it onto my Shuffle. I hope to not access that music until the 2nd half. I’ll probably force myself to follow this rule by leaving it in the car where I can pick it up and look forward to using it – another incentive to push me past 32 miles. I need to plan my half-way support, too. Who’s going to be there, how’s my car going to be running and warm, will I have hot coffee and a couple of cheeseburgers with salty fries waiting for me? Can I quickly change out of my cold, ice-chunck-heavy snowpants into a warm, dry pair? Sure, I suppose the changing and eating will be easy. But the big question is whether or not I’ll be able to do it quickly so I don’t get comfortable, then hit the trail fast. But not to win, 'cause I'm just not there yet. I'm afraid to put the pressure of winning anything on myself – the only thing I can focus on is trying to beat my time and distance from last year. I want to go more than 32 miles this year, and I want to accomplish it as a finisher, meaning I have to hike to a checkpoint and back to the start point at the very least. To do the full 64 miles would be an amazing accomplishment, but I’m not sure if I’m there yet. Whatever miles I end up doing, it’s going to be really hard, and I need to get ready for that.

There is just so much to think about and prepare. I haven’t done nearly as many long hikes as I’d have liked to do, and I’ve slowed down my workouts over the holidays because of busy schedules and super-fun family get-togethers. I wouldn’t trade those fun times with my family and friends for anything, but it worries me that I lost a couple of weeks. I feel like I need to play catch-up, yet here I sit: procrastinating.

As I write this, I’m learning that I need to organize myself, and fast. I need to make a list of what I need to pack. What I need for the first half and what I need for the second half. What do I need to do if my knees lock up on me? How much ibuprofin should I bring? I should bring Tylenol so I can alternate if I need to, also. I need to make some peanut-butter roll-ups and I need to bring some handwarmers to thaw my water hose if it freezes up on me. Oh, and duct tape. I can’t forget extra headlamp batteries, and I need easy access to a small light I can use to replace them if they die in the middle of the night.

Another list. I need another list. I need to get organized, I need to run, I need to hike, I need to think. I need to prepare and get my mind and body in synch. I think I better start all this with getting outside in the cold and pushing myself. It’s 3:15 and I hope I can be out there by 4:00 breathing in the cold air and smiling at the foggy breath of my exhale. I must… just… go.