Every year the St. Louis Track Club holds a Frostbite Series of races from late December to early February. All the races are held in Forest Park, which is where I do most of my long runs anyway, so I decided to join in for 3 of them this year.
The first race I did was the 10 miler, which ended up being round about 15 for me because I ran over there and back. It was the longest run I'd managed since Farmdale in mid-October, on account of a lingering dodgy knee. For 2-1/2 months, I'd tried everything-- ice, stretching, enough ibuprofen to kill a horse, even long periods (i.e., one whole week) of no running whatsoever. But it always got stiff and swollen if I attempted to go farther than about 8 miles. What finally worked was to abandon my "minimalist" 4mm drop New Balance trail racing flats and go back to my tried and true Mizunos. So much for barefoot running.
The night before the Frostbite 10-miler, we got a snow storm. By morning there was an inch (or two?) of snow on the ground, but the roads and sidewalks were not slick. I ran over to the start line, feeling pretty good except for the fact that I'd overdressed and was way too warm. After I registered for the race, I did a quick wardrobe rearrangement in the bathroom and then headed back outside to hide my cast-off under layer in some bushes by the playground at the visitor's center. This was one drawback to running over there and not having my car-- no place to store your stuff for either before or after the race.
Everybody filed over to the start line and we were off. Holy shit, it was icy. Where did all this ice come from? There had been no ice on my 2.5 mile run to the park, and to my knowledge, no ice anywhere else in St. Louis. It was all completely localized to the roads where the race was taking place within Forest Park.
I saw several people go down or wobble and flail precariously. I dropped back and went at a snail's pace. It was awful. It was like trying to run in the ice world on Mario Kart. With every step, I had no idea if I was going to fall flat on my face or manage to stay upright, and it didn't help that I was packed so tightly in a claustrophobic jam of other runners that I couldn't even see where each of my footfalls would land.
As the course veered up over a small bridge, a guy up ahead shouted, "Look out, this is as icy as shit!" and boy was he ever right. A woman ahead of me slipped as she began her ascent. I took a deep breath and managed to stay upright, but this sucked. I thought back to when Rob encouraged me to go out for the last 10-mile loop of Farmdale, in calf-high mud and a torrential thunderstorm. "This is as bad as it gets," he had told me. "If you can do this, you can do anything."
He was wrong. Ice is 10 million times worse.
I kept going. I tried to get in a grove. The race was 2 laps on a 5-mile course, and by the second loop, the sun had come out enough to melt some of the ice, although the bridges (I think there were 4 on each lap?) remained treacherous. There were enough ice-free corridors of asphalt on the second lap that I could actually run without fear of dying. I took advantage of the iceless safe zones and ran like a bat out of hell whenever I could. So much that I averaged something like 10:30 pace on the first lap, and 7:30 pace on the second lap. How's that for a negative split.
I crossed the finish line at 1:30:02. Feeling more than a little bit angry at all that ice. I went to go find the shirt I'd abandoned earlier; then I tucked it under my arm and ran home, with freezing fingers.
Two weeks later, it was time for the 20K. The weather was completely different this time. It was near 48 and gloomy but not quite raining. During my run over to the park, I again realized that I had overdressed, so I stashed my long sleeve shirt in a hidden location outside the visitor's center and decided to run in short sleeves and capris. Still, it was cold at the start line-- my teeth chattered so hard I thought they might break. When the gun finally went off, I shot out of there, jockeying for a position in what seemed to be the most congested race start I'd ever seen.
Less than a quarter mile in, I felt someone step on my heel, then barrel into me. I went flying through the air. I landed very hard on my right (i.e., good) knee, left hip, and left elbow. I'm not sure how I landed on all three of those places, but I did. It just happened so fast. I desperately tried to scramble to my feet, and two other runners-- a man and a woman-- stopped to help me up. It was really nice of them to stop and help, but I just felt bad that they were taking time out of their race to make sure I was okay, when really I was fine, except that I couldn't put weight on either my right or left legs because I had somehow injured both sides of my body in the fall.
I didn't think, I just kept going, and I got to the first mile marker at exactly 7:40. Oh, a little faster than I'd been expecting, especially considering that time I'd lost while lying face down on the ground. Adrenaline.
Despite my various wounds, I managed to hover around 8-minute miles for the first half of the race, but then my pace began to creep steadily upward. I just couldn't hang on. Even though I'd been cold at the start line, I was way too hot now that I was running. And my waist pack wouldn't stay in place-- it somehow kept rubbing the impact-point on my hip, which hurt a whole lot more than I would have liked. Plus, blood was dripping down my left elbow, as well my right thumb. This was one ugly race.
Rob and Will surprised me with a drive-by cheer along the course, and that got me to the finish in 1:42:31. I'd take it. I went to go find my shirt, and then I began a very slow run home. It was an approximately 17-mile day for me, with over 14 of it being after my crash.
THe final Frostbite Race I plan on running was just this past weekend-- the half marathon.
If the truth be known, I actually was a little nervous about getting trampled again at the start of the race, but I tried not to dwell on it. I mean, I've been running road races for almost half my life, and that was the first time something like that had ever happened. So what are the odds.
It was bitterly cold on the morning of the race (low 20's), but as I ran to the park, I discovered again, that I had overdressed. At least by this point, I have a favorite hiding placefor my extra clothes in the bushes surrounding the visitor's center.
I lined up for the start at the very back. I mean, the very, very back. Way behind all the women wearing mascara, even behind the elderly. I may have been the very last person to cross the start line. There was no way I was going to get trampled this time.
As a result, it took me forever to really get on my pace. Like 6 miles maybe. Well, not quite. But my first mile was 8:45, and I was still actively struggling to weave my way through slower runners.
I kept it around 8-minute miles for most of the race, but it was a huge struggle. I had a couple 8:20's/8:30's near the middle, but I managed to bring it back down closer to 8 by the end again. The hills really got to me, and I had a lot of trouble breathing. With the cold temperatures, my nose didn't seem to be working right, and I could only take in oxygen through my mouth. I felt like I just couldn't get enough air. I even had stomach cramps, which really slowed me down. Plus I felt hungry. In addition to cramping, my stomach was growling. I knew I would make it, but I was really light headed and super close to bonking from about mile 10 on.
If only I would have remembered that I had an emergency Z-Bar in my pocket!
Oh well. I made it to the end. I have no idea what my 1/2 marathon PR is, but this was at least several minutes slower at 1:48:19.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, I began guzzling water and inhaling peanut butter pretzels. Rob and Will were in the parking lot, and I went over to see them. Will smiled and fed me some chocolate teddy grahams. It was very tempting to ride home with them in the car, especially considering that my gloves were soaking wet and my fingers were beginning to freeze, but I toughed it out and ran/walked home. It ended up being an 18 mile day and a 40 mile week for me.
That last 2 miles (uphill!) to our house made me keenly aware that I'd left everything out on the course-- I'd given it all I had-- so even though I'm not breaking any records, I really did do the best I could. Can't be disappointed with that.
In all, the Frostbite Series was great. The races were low key (a plus in my book) and super well organized-- mile markers were (mostly) correctly placed, the course was clearly marked, cheerful volunteers did an excellent job controlling park traffic, and the scoring officials even emailed you your finishing time within an hour after the race was over. Seriously, most of the big-name marathons I've run haven't been nearly so well organized. But for me, one of the best parts was that I could just run over there from my house on the morning of the race and have company and course support during what would otherwise have been a boring and solitary long run. While I won't be doing any of the other Frostbite races this year, I definitely plan on joining in again next year!
Thanks for reading!