It was with heavy hearts that the Trail Animals Running Club announced in August 2016 that it would be discontinuing the organization’s namesake event, the TARC 100, following a four-year run.
The event underwent a variety of changes, including venue relocation and a move from June to October, but it struggled to gain traction at a time where runners were presented with new 100-mile races all over the country – in particular during the race-heavy summer and fall months. On top of that, the Trail Animals had taken over the Ghost Train Trail Races – an annual 30-hour event in October – meaning the club had to organize major volunteer efforts just a few weeks apart. It was a daunting task, and after four years of hard work, creative problem-solving, and occasional frustration, the club decided to take a step back. The TARC 100 was mothballed after the 2016 race with organizers noting that “we realized that having two 100 milers for the club is too much right now.”
The term “mothballed” was carefully chosen because it indicated that the race wasn’t necessarily gone for good, rather it was being set aside for a time. Josh Katzman, one of the TARC 100 organizers, noted at the time that the race might return in a different form in the future. He was hopeful that it would, but he made no promises.
It turned out Katzman wasn’t the only hopeful person. Longtime TARC volunteers and runners Surjeet Paintal and Carolyn Shreck were hopeful, too, and it was their hope and optimism that ultimately led to the race being reincarnated for 2019 in the form of the TARCtic Frozen Yeti Trail Races. The event will use a 30-hour timed format and take place starting at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, at Hale Reservation in Westwood, Mass.
It took two years of dreaming, brainstorming, and strategic planning, but the groundwork for the Frozen Yeti was already being laid as the TARC 100 was packing up on October 9, 2016.
“Josh, Surjeet, and I were already talking about ‘the next TARC 100’ while cleaning up the 2016 event, and since then everyone has been asking for it to come back,” Shreck said.
For Paintal, the desire to revive the race was deeply personal.
“Folks were pretty bummed when the TARC 100 was discontinued two years ago,” she said. “I volunteered in some capacity at the last three TARC 100s, and it was my husband’s first 50- and 100-miler. So despite not being much of a runner these days, the race holds a special place in my heart. Watching folks fall apart and put themselves back together is what keeps me coming back to volunteer at ultras.”
Ideas of a TARC 100 revival simmered for a while, and earlier this year Shreck brought up the idea to revive the race with Paintal. That initial conversation eventually led to plans being put in motion.
“At some point earlier this year, Carolyn mentioned to me that she wanted to figure out a way to bring the TARC 100 back, and that she thought we should do something in February because there’s not a lot going on in New England in the winter,” Paintal said. “I noted that I had no idea what I was doing, but I would be thrilled to help make it happen. Sporadic semi-serious brainstorming happened over the next couple of months as we discussed various locations and logistics and after a while, a realistic idea seemed to come together.”
The semi-serious discussions soon evolved into serious planning. There were three main areas of focus that needed consideration: when to have the race, where to have the race, and how to staff it with volunteers.
Shreck thought a winter race made the most sense because that was the lone gap in what is an otherwise jam-packed Massachusetts ultrarunning calendar. She confirmed with the race directors of the Cape Cod Frozen Fatass that their 2019 race would be in January rather than February to ensure there would be no conflict between events.
“While we never would have guessed it to be a winter version, it’s actually pretty appropriate,” Shreck said. “There has been a ‘mud year’ (2013 in Weston), a ‘hot year’ (2014 at Hale), and a ‘fall year’ (2015 and 2016 at Hale) … so it just makes sense to have a ‘frozen year,’” hence the Frozen Yeti name.
Then she and Paintal pondered a variety of potential race venues before settling on Hale Reservation – home of the TARC 100 from 2014-2016.
“We mapped out a few different courses at locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts that had access to warm buildings (lodges and outlying warming huts) and miles of snow-covered trails,” Shreck noted. “Hale won out as the location because of its close proximity to Boston and the fact that their amazing lodges are very underutilized in winter.”
They also took into account one of the greatest challenges encountered during the previous go-round: staffing four or five aid stations with volunteers for 30 hours. Their solution was to have only one aid station and design a course that would utilize that location multiple times. That way they could minimize the total number of volunteers needed while making the most of the volunteers’ time.
That became Shreck and Pantal’s biggest selling point when they pitched their plan to Katzman. He was keen to the idea.
“Once we started talking more, I ‘caught’ their enthusiasm and realized that a single aid station, with multiple loops, would actually be a lot easier for volunteers (in terms of numbers needed and just letting them be able to hang as a group), would be cheaper wherever we ended up (one building to rent), and would make it – at least objectively – a bit safer,” Katzman said.
He agreed to help them organize the event, including using his deep knowledge of the Hale Reservation trails to help craft a clover-leaf course that would loop back to the aid station after each of three approximately five-mile loops. That’s where runners could stash their supplies in a heated cabin (Powisett Lodge) and where aid station volunteers could spend their time supporting the runners in a warm, safe environment.
“One of the biggest problems we had during the original TARC 100 was making sure we had enough volunteers,” Paintal said. “The single aid station clover-leaf course grew out of that and a concern for safety. Having a single aid station minimizes the number of volunteers we would require. And with the unpredictability of New England winters, making sure the aid station had indoor and heated refuge was a necessity. Both for the safety of the runners and the volunteers. Given the weather unpredictability, having a timed event that allowed a runner to get credit for what was accomplished also seemed to make sense to me. Fifty miles in lightly packed snow won’t be comparable to 30 miles of slick ice in a sleet storm.”
By deploying the clover-leaf course design with three approximately five-mile loops, the Frozen Yeti will use a similar approach to Ghost Train. Runners will have 30 hours to run the full 15-mile course as many times as they want. That includes the opportunity to complete 100 miles. Runners who accomplish that feat will have the opportunity to purchase a TARC 100 belt buckle. Also similar to Ghost Train, the Frozen Yeti will have a 15-mile race on Sunday morning for runners who want to tackle one loop of the course.
The greatest concern that the race organizers want runners to prepare for is the weather. A required gear list will be distributed closer to race weekend, but the likely list resembles the mandatory gear list at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, including waterproof shell, gloves, emergency blanket, headlamp, spare insulated warm layers, and more. The final list will depend on the forecast, which can be highly unpredictable in New England, however Katzman noted that they’d prefer runners bring too much gear rather than not enough since they’ll have frequent access to Powisett Lodge.
“We submitted a request for dry, seasonably warm temperatures but Mother Nature noted she had a backlog of requests at this time,” Paintal joked.
“I am hoping it will be a true ‘winter’ race and that the trails will be snow-covered,” Shreck added. “If we have good snow cover that gets packed out to the equivalent of a sidewalk in the days before the race, this could be a rally, really, really fast 100-mile course. Conversely, if it’s freezing rain on race morning, runners are going to be choosing footwear and traction completely differently. The underlying roots and rocks of this technical singletrack course will definitely affect everyone’s speed.”
Whether runners aim to use the Frozen Yeti as a goal race or as a glorified training day for a mid-year 100-miler, the race is on to make the inaugural event a sellout. Registration closes on January 30, but race schwag (race logo-engraved emergency whistle and race logo-printed Buff) and pre-purchase of T-shirts and sweatshirts is only guaranteed to runners who register by December 2. The event is filling quickly. Forty-six runners have already entered the 30-hour race as of October 31 while 22 have signed up for the 15-mile race. Registration can be done at UltraSignup.