We ran the Cape Cod Frozen Fat Ass last year for the first time and experienced what I called at the time the “most extreme weather and trail conditions” that I had ever raced in.
It’s funny how quickly our perception of past events can change. We had some snow and wind to contend with last year, but after running this year’s race in the midst of a nor’easter complete with driving rain, gale force winds and storm surge tides, last year’s race seems like a walk in the park.
This year our battle against the elements began well before the race even started. Peter, Jaime and I had driven down to the Cape on Friday night and stayed overnight about 40 minutes from our destination. We woke up on Saturday morning to an inch of wet snow on the ground, and the roads were a mess! The 40-minute drive ended up taking us an hour and 10 minutes, and we got to the race 10 minutes after it was supposed to have started! It was a stressful experience, but it worked out fine–the start was delayed since almost everyone was pulling in late.
Our view upon arrival.
We started the race at 7:30, and by that point the snow had turned to rain. The wind was fairly calm and the beach was fairly firm. Other than being wet, I thought the conditions were pretty good.
The race start–photos courtesy of Joseph Collin.
That’s me in the green jacket and yellow ear-warmer.
As we started, I immediately pulled to the front of the pack, running comfortably in the 9-minute/mile range. The course consists of 2 laps around a 16-mile figure-eight along the beach, through the sand dunes and on marsh trails. The start/finish is right in the center of the figure-eight, so we had access to aid there multiple times during the race. The first section of the course is a short loop of about 5 miles, and I found this part to be easy running with good footing both on the beach and on the back side of the dunes along the marsh trail. The only notable hardship this time through was a lake-sized, ankle-deep puddle in the parking lot, which I mistakenly ran through not realized how deep it was. Oh well, I wasn’t counting on my feet staying dry anyways. :/
I passed the aid station at the start without bothering to stop and continued on to the long loop of the figure-eight. This section consists of about 6 miles of trails through sand dunes and alongside the marsh, then about 5 miles back on the beach. Eleven miles is a long time to go without the possibility of aid, and if you’re alone, it can seem like forever.
Photo from last year showing the sand dunes.
Last year the loose sand of the dunes destroyed me. This year I had a strategy: follow in the footsteps of the person in front of me. It worked like a charm, and I didn’t feel like I exerted any extra energy getting through this section. The majority of the dunes are right at the beginning of the loop, and after that there’s a long stretch on an ATV trail along the edge of the marsh. This trail is firmly packed for the most part, and it was a welcome relief to have solid ground underfoot again! During this section I enjoyed running and talking with several different people, and the time passed quickly.
Photo of the marsh trail from last year–there was just a bit of slushy snow this year.
When I emerged onto the beach again for the final stretch of the first lap, I was immediately struck by how much the wind had picked up. I didn’t notice it as much on the marsh side because the dunes sheltered us, but out on the beach the storm was really picking up. I was soaked to the skin, had been for some time, and now with the wind cutting right through my wet clothes I got cold for the first time. I ran hard (probably too hard) to get out of the wind as soon as possible. I finished the 25K in 2:38 and in first place for women and around fifth overall.
At the race headquarters, I made a rather long pit-stop because I had to wait for the porta, re-fill my hydration pack and get an extra shirt from the car. LOTS of people were coming in behind me and dropping out as I did this, but I knew I wasn’t ready to quit yet.
As I headed back out for my second lap, the second place woman, Jenny, caught up to me, and we ran most of the short loop together. I was glad to have her company because the weather was getting increasingly awful, and I wanted something to take my mind off my misery. My extra shirt warmed me back up at first, but it was soon drenched like everything else, and I was colder than ever. I talked about dropping out when we got back to the aid station, but Jenny talked me out of it.
We bypassed the aid station without stopping (to avoid temptation), and set out through the sand dunes together. By this point the storm tide had come up so far that the marsh had flooded portions of the trail, and we had to do a little bush-whacking to avoid the icy water. Jenny pulled ahead of me as we crossed the dunes, and as hard as I tried to follow in her footsteps, I just couldn’t get my frozen legs to move fast enough. I gradually slowed to 10-minute miles and struggled to keep from despairing as I slipped further and further behind.
Soon she was out of sight, and I ran the rest of that lap completely alone, with no one in sight ahead or behind. I was cold even in the shelter of the dunes, and I was dreading the miles I still had to face along the ocean, taking the brunt of the storm. I wished like none other that I had just quit when I had the chance, but now I had no choice but to tough it out and get it done as quickly as possible.
As I walked up and over the sand dunes and onto the beach, I hoped that by some miracle there would be someone there waiting to drive me to the finish. No such luck. I ran on.
The tide was so high at this point that there was very little beach left, and since I had to run so close to the dunes, the sand was much looser, making my trek that much more difficult. The waves from the ocean lapped at my feet, and the thought crossed my mind that if I stumbled, I could very well fall into the path of a big wave, and I may or may not be able to get back up before being washed out to sea. For the first time ever during a race, I was literally afraid that I might be in a life or death situation. I was chilled to the bone, and it was hard to move my arms and legs, but I kept running as fast as I could make myself go.
What was left of the beach by the end of the race. Photo by Robert Jensen.
Finally, with great relief, I saw the Ranger driving towards me. I knew I was close to the finish at this point, so I didn’t want a ride anymore, but I DID want confirmation of how far I had to go. Looking back, our interaction was quite humorous:
Ranger: Are you ok?
Me: How far is it?
Ranger: About a mile. Are you ok?
Me: *nodding, with a glazed look*
Me: *nodding and starting to run*
I felt better knowing I only had a mile left and that someone was out there looking out for me and everyone else still on the course. Soon I could see the finish area, and I ran across the parking and burst through the race headquarters door, greeted with cheers and a blast of warm air. I’m not sure I can imagine a more satisfying finish.
My finish time was 5:40, and I was the 2nd female and 5th overall. Only 15 out of 50 people finished the 50K and that makes me mighty proud of this puppy:
Peter and Jaime did the smart thing and bailed out early. I’m not any tougher than they are–they’ve both done 100-milers, and I don’t even want to dream of doing one of those–but maybe I can withstand the cold better. Or maybe I’m just plain stupid. Either way, I’m proud to say I stuck with something that pushed me further than I wanted to go and made me much more uncomfortable than I wanted to be, and I finished. This race will always be a reminder in the future when things get crazy that I can do hard things.
And I would just like to say, for the record, that THIS race had THE most extreme weather conditions that I have ever run in. And I hope next year’s race isn’t going to top it!