Sunday, January 15, 2012

Coleen's Frozen Ass Run

Chris Ford and Author signing in at Coleen's Frozen Ass Run (Hawks Coleen and Gary also pictured)

It was a pretty fun week for running. It was pretty fun, but I didn't do a lot of it. In fact, prior to Friday night's Frozen Ass Run, I had knocked out a whopping 10 miles. It was warm early in the week when I did the miles. As the week progressed, I moved indoors to the bike trainer and the Nordic Track. I also managed to get a swim in every day. So I wasn't exactly shirking. I simply didn't wish to step outside and embrace the cold as much as I have in past Winters. I think the warmth has softened me somehow this season. I no longer see the romance of hearing ice crackling underfoot as I traverse a path (or parking lot). The thought of biting wind pinching at my cheeks like an over-eager aunt, also induces a wince.

But all of the coddling from this blandest of Winters ended on Friday. Chris Ford and John Hampton Tyson (more commonly referred to as simply, Jack) stopped by for a dinner of rice, beans, tortillas, and vegan cheese (in any combination they wished to use). We also drank a lot.... of water, because we were heading off to participate in a local trail runners' rite of Winter, Coleen's Frozen Ass Run. The run, a counterpart to Coleen's Sweaty Ass Run that occurs in Summer, takes place once a year in January in the countryside just on the far western edge of Olathe (I know that in your mind, dear reader, you just went O O O O lath uh, didn't you?). It commences at 8 pm, and goes until 6 am. The run is actually a series of 3-ish mile loops, through trees, fields, and around a little lake. Runners can do as many or few of these loops as they wish for the 10 hours of the run. Most runners seem to do 1-3 and then call it a night. Some of the ultra-types, training for 50K + races, stay all night, circumnavigating the course 10 or more times.

Our plan was to run it 3-5 times and call it a night. It was, after all, cold as hell. It is always a conundrum, to figure out what to wear on runs in the cold. I like to be warm enough that I don't freeze (particularly the neck, hands, and face), but cool enough that I don't sweat excessively. The three of us all had slight variations on a theme as we chose our sartorial fare. Chris dressed in a cap, some shirts, a hoodie, a Southwestern University Track Team Jacket (ummmm, a little more bling than your average race shirt), super warm long underwear, and warm long running pants. Jack wore a cap, a couple of wicking shirts (one of them long-sleeved), shorts, and two pairs of socks. I had on a couple of wicking shirts, a sweatshirt, a windbreaker, a cap, and long (yet light) running pants. As the middle dresser, I would have switched with Chris if it came right down to it, but I thought Jack was bat-shit crazy. But there were other people running in shorts as well. They didn't seem unstable, but you can never tell. It really is amazing how different runners' temperatures are. That we were all in the same location, on the same night, doing the same thing, and dressed so dis similarly, was a reminder of how unique we all are (though some really are just plain crazy).

Anyway, we took off on our first circuit. It was on the same course as the Sweaty Ass Run in the Summer, except it was run backwards. OK, hold it.... That reads weird. We did not run backwards. The race goes in opposite directions depending on the season. I mean, sheesh, we're tough. But running backwards, at night, through ice and snow is probably just a bit over our abilities. So, where was I? Ah, yes, we took off into the blackness that is outer Olathe. It actually was beautiful. The course is hilly, tree-lined, and has 3 water crossings (which were mainly, mercifully, frozen). The runners' headlamps in front and behind us looked like a current of lightning bugs meandering through the brush. We truly went over hill and down dale. Our favorite spot seemed to be where the trail actually went into a sort of light forest, with trees on either side.

Each time we finished a loop we were asked to sign in. The course officials (read Coleen), did not want to have to track someone down at 4 in the morning in the frozen tundra. The sign-in table was next to several other tables with a freaking smorgasbord of food runners would want. Fruit, cookies, salty snacks, gel packs, Heed (an electrolyte drink), etc... On each successive lap we vowed not to spend any time at the treat buffet. But every time, we seemed to linger longer.

On our fourth time around, we began to feel the effort that the run was taking. My calves started to freeze and contract. Chris was feeling it in his hips. And Jack was feeling it in both his calves and his hips (hah, take that, short-wearer). About half way through the loop, I was really unsure of my ability to finish. But then a miracle happened: Chris pulled pretzel pods encircling peanut butter out of his pocket and shared them with Jack and me. He, Chris, had grabbed a handful at the treat pile, and was willing to share. Even being handed over in his frozen, snot-covered glove, the pretzel looked appetizing. It is odd how situational sustenance becomes. On the prior lap, the three of us had shared a banana, carefully grabbing pieces that no one else had touched. On the final lap, we shared Heed (out of my frozen hand-held bottle -where ice kept forming in the cap - hey it was really coooold), and then the pretzels. And they really did make all of the difference. The little bit of energy stored in those salty snacks (probably psychologically) allowed for a burst of energy and a strong finish.

We signed out, and repaired to the lodge that served a race HQ for some hot, vegan, chili/stew. It was really wonderful. The four laps we did had gotten the endorphins flowing. Jack, a good runner, got in the longest run of his life. Chris and I had gotten in the longest cold runs (probably) of our lives - beating even the 8.5 mile knee-high snow run of ought 10 (although that run might have been a little tougher).

We ran into a ton of Hawks, Nerds, and Mud Babes. It was great to see everyone, and to meet people I had only written to and about prior to Friday.

I am so grateful to Coleen and the others who made the event such a special time again. I now have to wait about 6 months for the Summer version of the run. I have a feeling I'll be wearing shorts.

Eric "Banjo Hawk" Henry couldn't make Coleen's Frozen Ass run. But he was there in spirit.


  1. Thanks SO much for coming out and bringing your friends! Gotta love snot encrusted treats... at least he shared!

  2. It was good to finally meet you :) It was such a awesome time even though my Fat Ass ended up on the icy stream!

  3. So fun. Can't wait for Summer.