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Frozen Gnome 50K (and 10K for the rest of us)

Is this shirt sweet or what? A+ for shirt design
This morning I woke up at 5:40, put on several layers of running clothes (tights, shorts, shirt, jacket, socks, waterproof socks, shoes, hat, gloves) and headed out to catch a ride with my friend Matthew to Crystal Lake, Illinois (a city about 75 minutes northwest of Chicago that I had never even heard of until a few weeks ago).

We were heading to Veteran Acres Park, a wooded area in Crystal Lake where the McHenry County Ultrarunning Dudes and Dudettes (who call themselves M.U.D.D. for short) were hosting the first annual Frozen Gnome 50K and 10K.

Since we're only somewhat crazy runners, we were only tackling the 10K this morning and not going for the entire 30+ miles of trail running. The course promised to be challenging and it was about 25 degrees with a light snow falling, so the closer it got to race time the happier I was to only be running 6.2 miles through the snowy woods, but as we stood around in the heated pavilion waiting for race time to arrive and trying to stave off the cold, my admiration for ultrarunners continued to grow.

Before going any further, here are some of my favorite excerpts from the final email that the race director sent out a few days ago:

At the starting line - handmade race banner
"The Frozen Gnome course is challenging. It has a few areas that the hills are  steep and at times you will be running along a ridge that has a big drop off on the side."

"The course will be marked heavily with ribbons and pie plates with arrows on them. There are many turns so watch carefully... If you haven’t seen a ribbon for awhile you are probably going the wrong way. Stop, turn around and head back the direction you came from this should take you back to the place you got off course."

"We will have one full aid station every 10k loop. We will also have an unmanned station that will have Gatorade. This will be under a big pavilion about half way through loop... We are not putting water at this station because we think it will freeze."

Starting pavilion
So for a mostly urban runner who spends a lot of time on the flat streets of Chicago I was a little intimidated, especially since my training hasn't been up to par since Athens (unwarranted post-marathon self-satisfaction and holiday laziness don't work well together). But I was still really excited. This race sold out earlier this month and the cap was around only 150 people (of which probably around two-thirds were doing the 50), so it promised to be a small race on a unique natural course and that was enough to catch my interest. The name Frozen Gnome didn't hurt, obviously, and neither did the fact that the 10K was also tied to a 50K. A 50K. In January. On a snowy, woodsy trail. 

This gnome ran the first 100 feet or so to start the race
Anyway, the race was kicked off after a volunteer played the National Anthem on a trumpet, and though it certainly wasn't the most technically well-executed version of the anthem that I've heard, it was one of my favorites. Another volunteer was holding up the sheet music for the musician and even though it was freezing cold most of us took our hats off. I don't really get that into the anthem at the start of races (especially when they play a recording, ugh) but this one felt genuine and heartfelt. I found out the trumpeter's name was Mike Gasche - nice job Mike.

Anyway, I started off a little quicker than I should have and quickly regretted it when I hit the first hill (about 3/4 of a mile in). It was so steep that it actually had wooden stairs, but unfortunately there was about 1/2 inch of fresh snow covering it with ice underneath, so the stairs didn't help too much. And my legs are used to running straight, not climbing, so that first climb took way more out of me than it should have. There were several more hills throughout the course (and many much steeper than that first one) but that one was the one that really stuck with me, because it was such a wake up call to how untrained I am for anything that's not running in a straight, flat line.

Anyway, the trail was mostly beautiful, and mostly single-track, with only the footprints of the runners in front of me (and the heavy breathing of the runners behind me) disturbing the untouched quiet in the woods. It snowed for the first 20 minutes or so and I almost slid down a fairly steep hill (grabbing onto a tree branch at the last minute saved me) and I exhausted myself, but I had a great time.

The finisher's board.
Side note: I tried to get a picture of the course a few minutes in and my phone just shut down from the cold, so I have no pictures from the trail - thanks for the temperature protection Apple. 

The course was extremely well marked, with ribbons and arrows everywhere, but there were no mile marker. The part of me that enjoys running as a meditative experience loved this, but the part of me that was running a 10K race with other participants didn't know when to kick in and when to conserve energy... and had no clue what my pace was. This also made me wonder what it would be like to run this same 10K loop four more times - I have a feeling I would start to lose my mind a little bit out of exhaustion, repetition and lack of distinguishing course characteristics (aside from hills or trees or fallen logs to leap over). 

At the finish line, a volunteer tore the detachable portion of my bib off while another one called out my time to him. This is old-school running time recording like I remember from high school cross-country. I later found out that they stapled the bibs to a board in the order of our finishing times in order to determine places. Awesome.

First in our age groups
Despite feeling like I was being passed the entire time I ended up in 16th place, which was actually good enough to give me first place in the 20-29 age group (luckily a 26 year old - Robert Stoltz - came in 3rd place, bumping him to 3rd overall male and leaving me with first in our age group). Unfortunately, old Robert took the 3rd overall male plaque as well as my 1st place age group "medal" and left before I even got there. When the race directors couldn't find the medal they vowed to hunt down Mr. Stoltz and ask about getting the medal back. Watch out Stoltz.

They took down my name and contact information and said they'd either a. Mail me the original medal, b. Get a new one made, or c. Get some other kind of age group award for me. Now that is dedication to your race participants! In the meantime they gave me one of the normal finisher's medals to take home.

These "medals" are actually not medal at all, but wood squares with the logo and race name carved in. They're very awesome.

Matthew was 6th place overall and placed first in his age group as well. In a normal (read: larger) race there would be much more than 10 people between us crossing the finish line...

I know this is only the first race of done in 2013 but any other races will have a tough time living up to this one. Nice job M.U.D.D. - on both the race and giving me some insight into the scary world of ultrarunning... They're hosting another 50K in April and I'm vaguely considering trying to do it... though that race also has a 15 mile component that seems like a safer bet. We'll see.

UPDATE: I also wrote about the Frozen Gnome 50K and 10K for the new running/fitness site - you can check out my review at
Frozen Gnome finisher's "medal" - if justice is served I will have my 1st place age group medal!


  1. Looks crazy but a little bit fun. Congrats on the age group award. Go for the 50K! Haha. Or 15 miles.

    1. Ha! 50K... It sounds even crazier now that I'm over my running high.

  2. Sounds pretty fun to run through the woods in January. I like the race name. That's too bad about your medal. Maybe someone could hand carve you an extra one! :-)

    1. It was a great run. I think you might have been in the running for first on this one!

  3. Results are up:

    I think these results speak to the difficulty of this race. 1st place was a 46:14!

  4. Congratulations on not only finishing the race but also placing in your age group!

  5. Great race report Zach and thank you for coming out. We hope to see you at Earth Day!

  6. We did the 50k and it was a great time!

  7. Sorry about the necropost, but I just found your post last night when browsing the facebook page for the race. I wanted to confirm if you received your medal. My wife and I checked my awards and our pictures, and there's no evidence of me ever receiving a medal to go with my plaque. I'm sure I'd remember, as I really wanted a medal (though the plaque is pretty cool, too :) ). Hope to meet you at the race this year!

    1. Robert Stoltz! Nice! Not to worry - the race directors sent me the medal a few weeks after the race so maybe it was just misplaced. Thanks for reading and commenting! Definitely hoping to run this one again next year - one of my favorite (though most difficult) runs of last year. And luckily we'll be in different age categories this time around.


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