Skip to main content

The Frozen Gnome 10K (or How to Have a Positive Run in Negative Temperatures)

All photos by Anh Bien (center)
In 2013 I discovered a crazy race called the Frozen Gnome. It's in Crystal Lake and what makes it crazy is not just that it's a 10K trail race in early January but that it also has a 50K option tied in with it. This seemed crazy when I ran the 10K a few years ago when it was 25 degrees, but on Saturday morning with the temperature stuck at -2 (let's not even get into what it was with wind chill) it seemed truly insane (in the nomenclature of this article "insane" is less rational than "crazy").

At 6:15 I got into a car with my friends Anh and Mike to head to Crystal Lake. We all had on more clothes than I think we've ever worn to run in. Personally, I had on running boxers, tights, pants and shorts as well as a pair of wool socks and a pair of tube socks (from the Original 5K) and a wool running shirt, regular running shirt and two jackets. By the time I was at the starting line I had also added two pairs of gloves, a balaclava and a hat to my outfit. I may have gotten a bit warm on the course by the end, but I still don't feel like this get-up was overkill.

We got to the race around 7:20, checked in and collected our sweet Frozen Gnome hats and numbers and then went back to sit in the car and wait til we absolutely had to head to the starting line (seriously, it was -2 degrees).

The race kicked off right at 7:45 - I don't think any of the runners were ready to stand around and tolerate a starting delay. There was a good deal of snow on the ground, but luckily we all had cleats for our shoes which alleviated some of the slipperiness of the various hills throughout the course.

Almost immediately after starting I ran into difficulties. My exhales into my balaclava were creating condensation and then freezing making it harder to breathe. I also had to take my sunglasses off after less than a minute because they fogged up and then that fog froze. It also felt like within my two pairs of gloves all of my fingers were solid chunks of ice. I removed both gloves from my left hand and tried warming my hand in my pocket but it only made it worse so I put the gloves back on. Very quickly I realized that I had to remove my balaclava to be able to breathe, which meant running with an exposed face, but plenty of other runners seemed to be handling this fine so I took the plunge. At first it was a shock but then I got used to it and only really noticed on sections of the course that came out of the woods and allowed the wind to really run across the trail.

For the most part, the entire course was in the woods - up and down various snow-covered hills (including one so steep that you were supposed to slide down it and get a fun picture made... I didn't realize this and so fought heartily to maintain my balance while making my way down an extremely steep incline - "That's dedication," the photographer yelled as I was halfway down. I only realized when the next runner slid down, cheering loudly, that he meant it as a joke.)

As you can see in this picture, the majority of the trail was very snowy and just wide enough for one runner at a time, making passing a rare occurrence. Luckily after a few miles, runners started to spread out and I found myself mostly alone for the rest of the race. During this time both good and bad things were happening: my fingers started to warm up and icicles started forming on my eyelashes.

Around mile four there was an aid station with a water cooler - there weren't any cups but as I approached, a runner was kneeling in front of it with a volunteer pouring water into his mouth. I definitely didn't want to risk getting any water on me and having it freeze so I passed on refreshments and kept going. Throughout the run there were so many amazing views - snow-covered trees, the rising sun and rolling hills (the rolling hills were made a little less amazing when you actually had to run up them, but still).

Lost runners discussing which way to go
I finished over 13 minutes slower this time around than I did two years ago, but it was still good enough for 29th out of 121 runners. First place was a 52:04, which says a lot about how hard this 10K was! In fact, Anh was part of a group of runners that got so completely lost on the trail that they gathered together on top of a hill to discuss which way was the best way to get to the finish line (see above photo).

While it was definitely exhausting (and maybe even a little dangerous) to run in these conditions it was an absolutely thrilling experience. I was surprised to feel a little disappointed when it ended - not that I wanted to throw my hat in with the 50K runners and keep going for several more hours, but I definitely felt warmed up enough to run for a while longer.

But with the race over and with the (very sweet) Frozen Gnome knit caps on our heads, we ran to the car and then drove as quickly as the icy roads would allow to a nearby diner for breakfast. If you're looking for a challenge (and some great race gear), I definitely suggest that you add the Frozen Gnome to your list of races.


  1. Looks like a beautiful day and a nice course. It's good you wore cleats! :)


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

A Daily Guide to Chicago Comedy Shows in April 2018

April 1: Character Assassination presents The Roast of Disney Princesses at Laugh Factory The latest entry in the Character Assassination roast show series pits a collection of Disney princesses -played by Chicago comics - against each other. Starring Allison Dunne, Alex Kumin, Sarah Shockey, Gena Gephart, Audrey Jonas, Eunji Kim, Samantha Berkman, Stephanie Weber and Mandee McKelvey. April 2: Comedy Overload Open Mic at Gallery Cabaret A weekly open mic open to all forms of comedy that takes place at a sweet venue in Bucktown. April 3: Shake 'Em Up Comedy Showcase at Shakers on Clark   This free two-hour comedy showcase is hosted by Darrick J and Nate Galloway. Comics get between four and 10 minutes each and the hosts let comedians know a bit needs work by hitting a bell and "shaking 'em up." April 4: Comedians You Should Know at Timothy O'Toole's Really you should be catching this weekly showcase at Timothy O'Toole's e

Life of Pi: The Pi Day Pi K Returns to Fleet Feet Stores Across Chicago

I have run a grand total of ONE time since crossing the finish line of the Chicago Marathon in October of last year. I know, I know, I'm disgusted with me too. So when I got Fleet Feet's notice about the Pi Day "Pi K" Fun Run this coming Monday evening (3.14 - PI DAY, get it?) it seemed like a pretty solid way to get back out on the running trail without getting myself up super early or registering for a timed race where I would embarrass myself. Also, my wife and I ran this race back in 2014 and had a great time. Plus, after an article I wrote for the Tribune about xkcd creator and all-around baller Randall Munroe speaking in Chicago at an Illinois Science Council (ISC) event , I know a little more about the organization behind the Pi Day Pi K and their mission. Quick excerpt from the Trib article: Founded in 2006 by nonscientist Monica Metzler (who also serves as executive director), the ISC was created to help engage adults in science and technology

Chicagoland's First Annual February Fool's Goal Half Marathon/Debacle

A few weeks ago I was looking through the race listings for the month of February and noticed that there are three different races this coming Sunday. All in different cities. As I was trying to decide which one to run I realized that they're all taking place at different times... and then I started thinking... Why not just run all three? I talked to my running homey Antonio and after some discussion about logistics, we realized that based on the timing and location of the races, this would be an insane dash from Chicago to Highland Park to Hoffman Estates to Channahon and back to Chicago, with just enough time to park, get our bibs, run the races and (after carefully stretching, of course) head off to the next one. That's also when we noticed that by a pretty sweet coincidence, the three races just happen to add up to a half marathon.  So, obviously we decided that it had to be done. We registered for all three and created a new race: Chicagoland's First A