Frozen Gnome 50k - Crystal Lake, IL 
Monday, December 15, 2014, 12:06 AM

I sent my baby girl off to “college” two years early. She is attending ASMSA in Hot Springs and I miss seeing her face and hearing her laughter on a daily basis so I always jump at any chance to spend time with her. Some of you that know me and my running habits are not going to believe me when I say that going to run this race a second year was my daughter, Emily’s idea! On one of her rare weekend trips home she asked if I was planning to go. I kind of shrugged it off. A week later I got a call from her begging me to go. She wanted to recreate the trip just as we had done the year before. It didn’t take much twisting for me or Jen Freilino, who also went with us last year.

We left on a sunny Thursday afternoon and drove 5 ½ hours to St. Louis for the night. The drive was fun as Emily and her friend Madeline entertained us for most of the drive. We slept in, had a lazy morning, and went for a late breakfast at The London Tea Room. After a spot of tea we hit the road for a less than sunny Crystal Lake, IL. We checked and rechecked the forecast during our 5 hour drive. They were calling for -11degree temps with -25 windchill. Our nerves were calmed a little after getting to the packet pick up. The locals were very kind to share their knowledge of cold weather running, however, they did mention that this was going to be cold even by their standards. Luckily the pick up was at The Running Depot, a really cool specialty running store. Taking the advice of the extremely kind race director Jen and I both purchased wool running shirts to wear as our base layer. We left the quaint shopping area, took the girls to eat sushi, and then raced to the hotel. We were eager to try on all of our race day attire and go out for a short jog to see if we were fully prepared for the challenge ahead. Smart Wool shirt, Marmont jacket, running underpants (didn’t want another butt slide hill mishap), Asics tights, $3 track wind pants from Savers, Mountain Hardwear balaclava, buff, 2 pair of smartwool socks, trail shoes, Yaktraxs, 2 pair of Saucony mittens, and a pair of clear sunglasses. I think we may have frightened the girls basketball team that was congregated in the hotel lobby as we headed out for a couple of loops around the hotel. Everything seemed to be working for us except for the glasses. We were both very surprised at how little we actually felt the chill in the air. Although, it didn’t take much time with our mittens off the start feeling like frostbite would certainly take away or digits.

Neither one of us slept very well. I suppose that as much as we tried to convince ourselves that the cold wouldn’t be all that bad and that we could handle the challenge we really were not convinced. Alarm rings and we jump up to check the temperature. -9 at 8am, -7 by 10, and warming to a balmy -2 degrees. We decided we would be in our bathing suits by 1:00! No more time for joking around time to apply butt paste in all necessary areas, vaseline on every part of our faces that had any chance of being exposed, dress, consume nourishment, wake the girls, clean ice off Ruby’s windows, and hit the road for the short 2 mile drive to Veteran Acres Park. The Frozen Gnome's beautiful course winds through the winter wonderland of Veteran Acres and Sterne’s Woods and is mainly single track trails on a lot of hills. It's a 10k loop that is repeated 5 times for the 50k runners. They also offer one loop for those 10k speedsters. There was one main aid station "The Gnome Depot" at the start-finish line that was stocked with hot soup, homemade goodies, coffee and drinks. There was one unmanned aid station with sports drink on the course. The course is set up so spectators/crew are able to see the runners quite a few times. Both aid stations had heated bathrooms!!!

I made a pact with Jen to stay together for at least the first three loops as a precaution since we had neither experienced running in those temperatures. Carrying our water bottles upside down because they freeze top to bottom, and packing our gels close to our bodies we took off with the crowd for loop one. The first loop was very slow because we didn’t pay attention to where we were in the lineup and there was a lot of bottlenecking. Passing on single track is even harder in the deep snow. Our next mistake was blindly following the crowd. About 30 of us missed a turn and went an extra half mile out of the way. Thanks to a runner with a cell phone, we got in touch with the RD who directed us successfully back on course! Halfway through the first loop we realized that the nozzle on our bottle was frozen. The only way to drink what was now a Tailwind slush was to open the lid and guzzle. By the time we got to the unmanned aid station we had to bang our bottles on the ground to loosen the frozen lid of our even thicker Tailwind slushies! One poor soul asked “where are the cups”? Guess he didn’t read the race instructions letting us know that this was a cupless race. Let that be a lesson to us all! Those instructions are sent to us for a reason!

We made it back to the start/finish area, we moved our drop box inside the heated bathroom, and thawed out our lids with the hand dryer- yes the hand dryer is a multifunctional tool! The second loop was much more enjoyable. We were beginning to figure things out and the snow was packed from all of the runners in the first loop, making the course considerably easier to run. Most 10k runners were finished so the crowd was thinned out and we were really able to take in the scenery. Memories from last years race came flooding back and everything seemed so familiar. One of our favorite areas was in the forest where the snow had fallen just a little heavier, leaving every tree branch draped in glistening white snow. It was the most enchanting, picturesque scene! Butt Slide Hill did not disappoint either. A rope was added for those who prefered scale down. Not Us! We chose the fast pace of an out of control slide down the frozen hillside on our booties! My method was to tuck my drink in my jacket, leaving my hands free to somewhat guide the direction in which gravity tried to chose for us. I have to say, thanks to the $3 wind pants, sliding down was fun every single time! On the last loop one older gentlemen was so happy that it was his last that he announced it to the world on his final slide down! He was quite a character. We ran beside him to the unmanned aid station. He was giddy with laughter most of the time and I do believe he laughed all the way to the finish.

Toward the end of the third loop Jen was a little apprehensive about being alone since the sun was being replaced by clouds, the temperature was beginning to drop, her bottle was still a big issue, her energy was starting to drop, and we had noticed a lot fewer runners were on the course. She realized that the gels she had been taking were not caffeinated. She got the needed caffeine to alleviate the energy issue, we both reslathered our faces with the shiny pot of vaseline, and began our 4th loop together. The course marshals who had been wrapped up in heavy clothing and cuddled in their sleeping bags looked to also be really feeling the cold even more so now. They still gave us a smile and cheered as we came past. I just wanted to give them all a great big warming hug for suffering the cold in order to keep us safe when signs could have taken their place. The volunteers are heros in my book! On the last loop they give everyone who passed an enthusiastic high five that would make Jacob Wells very proud!

When we rounded over to the unmanned aid station Jen could tell that I was chilled, insisted that I finish at my own pace so I could warm up, and sent me off with a big hug. I raced the last 8 miles with all the gusto I could muster. I stopped at the Gnome Depot just long enough to guzzle a big cup of Tailwind and drop my frozen bottle. Except for the high fives the last loop was a blur which made me later realize what I miss out on when I really race.

The girls met me at the heated bathroom and helped me quickly get changed into warm clothes before gathering my award and refueling on the delicious homemade soups, chili, and other goodies they had waiting for us at the finisher’s area. When Jen finished we offered up the same help to quickly get into warm clothes. We were both very happy with the race, the experience, and with our ability to problem solve and to keep ourselves level headed enough to stay on top of our nutrition. After hugs from Michele, the race director, we left Veteran Acres Park with a hot cup of cider, warm souls, and fond memories of our run through the cold forest. The Frozen Gnome truly is everything one could wish for from a winter wonderland race!

Things we learned about running in negative temperatures: 1) snot rockets don’t work in those temperatures because the snot freezes as it leaves your nose begging to stay in the warm canal. 2) keep your nutrition close to your body to keep it from freezing including your liquids 3) several small flasks tucked into pockets close to the body is preferable to a hand held bottle 4) mittens work much better than gloves - even gloves with a convertible mitten cover 5) clear anti fog glasses would have been nice to have 6) if you are unsure about your clothing being windproof enough then test it out by sticking your hand through the garment and blow to see if you feel your breath. If you feel your breath then don’t pack it 7) although very expensive, a wool shirt is worth every penny (I paid enough that I would like to be buried in it) 8) stop to eat the snow but make sure it isn’t yellow - you’ll feel like a kid 9)running with a friend is smart and safe 10)running with a friend who likes to talk as much as you do is even better. No It’s The Best!


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