The Frostiest Fifty

2018 Frosty Fifty at Salem Lake. (Photo by Robert Hill)

Reprinted from the TCTC Flyer, March/April 2018

Of all years to finally sign up for the Frosty 50K, I had to choose the year it proved to be the coldest in the race’s history. About 600 of us lined up in single-digit temps to brave the cold, although most of us waited in the warmth of our cars until moments before the start. 

While I have completed more than 30 marathons, I’m a relative newbie to ultra races, so the pre-race butterflies were multiplying by the second. But as we all huddled together shivering, the energy and adrenaline were infectious. I was optimistic! Thirty-one miles seemed possible! 

For those unfamiliar with the Frosty 50K, this is a 12.5 kilometer course. Relay team participants run one lap each, 25K runners run two laps, and 50K-ers complete the circuit four times.

I spent the first lap settling into a pace and reminding myself how many miles lay ahead. The last thing I needed to do was to go out too fast and spend too much energy too early. I knew, or at least recognized, a few of the runners from TCTC. But as is the case in most races, the atmosphere of camaraderie made friends of strangers. Many of us chatted together over a mile or two, comparing training regimens and cold weather gear. Plenty of friendly, helpful, and encouraging volunteers staffed the three hydration stations and offered ample snacks. Before I knew it, I was crossing the start/finish line, and one lap was done.

A great perk at this race is the area near the start where runners can leave their gear and access it easily as they pass through. Many of us shed outer layers or swapped heavier ones for lighter weights as we began lap two.

There were still lots of runners for my second lap, since most of the 25k participants were still out there. Conversations continued but were decidedly less animated. Unlike the runners, volunteers piled on additional layers as they continued to cheer on and offer cups of water and Gatorade to the runners. My energy was still good, and while I can’t say I had negative splits, I managed to keep the pace pretty close to the first. I made another stop at the gear area for a sandwich from my bag, and I was off again. Halfway done.

Lap three was quite the contrast. There were still runners all along the route, but there were stretches where the closest runner was 50 yards or more ahead of or behind me. There were a lot more walkers. Those sturdy volunteers did not relent! The cheers and encouragement continued. I dove into my bag at the start/finish line for the third time. One. More. Lap.

Lap four was fairly quiet and isolated. Except for the occasional fresh-legged relay runner, most of us were definitely directed inward. Faces betrayed the mantras we silently repeated. Do not stop. Do not give up. Not much more. Other than an occasional “good job” as one runner passed another, there was very little conversation. I thanked every volunteer I saw and made sure they all knew they’d not be seeing ME any more that day!

When I completed that final fourth lap, I was surprised to see I had finished in 5 hours and some seconds, and I was handed an age group award. 

Whether you’re an experienced ultra racer or considering your first, it can’t get any better than the Frosty 50k. For runners in the greater Triad area, there aren’t many opportunities to participate in a well-supported and well-organized 50k in a beautiful, traffic-free setting without having to travel out of town. The 25K and relay options offer the same perks for runners who aren’t of the “ultra” mindset. Those who’ve done the race before will, no doubt, be return participants. I encourage those of you who haven’t to give it a try.