Runners Counter Ice, Cold with Spirit, Grit at Inaugural Frozen Yeti

Editor’s Note: This is the first of multiple follow-up stories from the TARCtic Frozen Yeti. Several additional stories are in the works and will be posted in the next few days.

WESTWOOD, Mass. – As registrations for the inaugural TARCtic Frozen Yeti began rolling in months ago and the ultramarathon sold out, entrants were cautioned that they should prepare for bitterly cold New England temperatures and snow. A mandatory gear list straight out of the Ultra Trail du Mont-Blanc was established.

To put it bluntly, runners knew what they were signing up for.

Sure enough, temperatures in the region plunged 48 hours before race weekend, and a thick layer of ice and a light dusting of snow coated much of the course by the time 118 runners gathered in front of Powissett Lodge at 8 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 2, ready to start the race. It was 9 degrees Fahrenheit; the Frozen Yeti would in fact be a frozen affair. Some runners had the goal of running for most of the 30-hour time limit; others planned on completing just a few laps of the 15-mile clover-leaf course, pausing to warm up every five miles when the course brought them back by the lodge to the indoor aid station.

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A runner hikes past a frozen Noannet Pond at Hale Reservation during the inaugural TARCtic Frozen Yeti 30-Hour Ultra. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

During the 30 hours that followed, the Frozen Yeti took a hungry bite out of the runners in the form of slips and falls, blood and bruises, core-numbing cold, tender muscles and tired lungs. It took 26 hours for the temperature to finally climb above freezing; by the time that happened there were just a handful of runners still on the course.

The Frozen Yeti may have issued a stout challenge, but the runners were ready for it. Armed with their mandatory gear—and plenty of extra layers of warm clothing stashed in Powissett Lodge—they tackled the course and the difficult conditions with spirit and determination. Some ran solo; others stuck together in packs. Some wore Yaktrax or microspikes; others opted for poles to provide added traction. Almost everyone was forced to adopt a slower pace on the slippery trails, but the made the best of it.

In the end, 108 runners completed at least 30 miles for an ultramarathon finish; just four reached or surpassed 100 miles. Additionally, the Hale Reservation staff fielded an eight-person relay team that collectively completed 140 miles with each runner covering between 10 and 25 miles.

“The Frozen Yeti felt like a celebration of New England hardiness,” said Brian Burke, one of the 100-mile finishers. “I’m always amazed by how many of us choose to run through the winter. It’s not easy, yet we keep finding reasons to lace up the shoes regardless of temperature. I’m proud to have shown myself I can run 100 miles, but I’m equally impressed by the number of people who read the race description and thought that sounded like a good time!”

Women’s 30-Hour Race

It became clear after about 16 hours that Carolyn Harper was the favorite to win the women’s race; the remaining question was whether the 27-year-old resident of Somerville, Mass., would win the race outright. Harper was the second runner to reach 100 miles; the first, Josh Katzman, had decided to call it a day and was waiting for Harper when she checked in. He gave her a high-five, and then had a message to deliver.

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Carolyn Harper navigates an icy downhill early in the TARCtic Frozen Yeti 30-Hour Ultra. Harper was the overall champion at the race with 105 miles completed. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

“All I have to say is before you say you’re done …,” Katzman said. “You can win the race outright, the entire race. One more, that’s all you need.”

“You can walk it,” co-Race Director Surjeet Paintal added. “You don’t have to run it. You can walk it and win the whole race.”

Harper took those words to heart. There was still time on the clock. She was not done. She had five more miles in the tank. Out the door she went, back into the cold and onto the snow and ice. She walked some, ran some, and navigated the final slippery climbs and descents at a steady trot.

“Since I knew it was my last loop, I was able to run up a few hills that I had previously walked and be a little more daring with some of the technical singletrack in the last mile of the loop,” Harper said. “My thoughts were solely focused on how to be as efficient as possible so that Josh would finally let me stop running.”

Harper arrived back at Powissett Lodge to cheers and hugs, victorious as the outright champion of the race with 105 miles completed in 28:44:48.

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Sasha Oliveria of Worcester, Mass., found good reason to smile at the TARCtic Frozen Yeti — she was covering the final miles for her first ultramarathon finish. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

The second- and third-place women, Tess Harvey and Colleen Smith, each completed 60 miles before stopping. Harvey, 29, of Brighton, Mass., finished her 60 miles in 18:38:39 and secured her second-farthest ultramarathon finish. Smith, 35, of Nashua, N.H., finished in 28:32:35, marking the second time she has completed 60 miles at Hale Reservation. She was the third-place finisher of the 100K race at the 2016 TARC 100, the final year the event was held.

A total of 32 women completed an ultramarathon distance at the Frozen Yeti. That included 45-mile finishers Jodi Badershall, 41, of Freeman Township, Maine; Elizabeth Gillis, 30, of Lowell, Mass.; Marie Gryszowka, 34, of Spencer, Mass.; Theresa Berna, 49, of Lyndeborough, N.H.; and Shannon Plesh, 33, of Lincoln, R.I. Another 24 completed 30 miles, including ultramarathon veterans like Danielle Triffitt, 43, of Topsham, Maine, who is preparing to run the legendary Western States 100 in June, as well as first-time ultramarathoners like Sasha Oliveria, 32, of Worcester, Mass., and Leslie Allen, 36, of North Andover, Mass.

Men’s 30-Hour Race

After a dominant five-year stretch on the New England ultrarunning scene from 2009-2013, Josh Katzman spent the majority of the past five years race-directing and volunteering at TARC events rather than racing.

“It hasn’t been something that I’ve missed,” Katzman admitted of racing, “because nearly every run the last year or two has been an absolute joy.”

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Josh Katzman savors some early miles at the Frozen Yeti while running along the edge of Noannet Pond at Hale Reservation. Katzman was the men’s winner with 100 miles completed in 24:57. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Rather than getting caught up in competition, winning or setting course records, his mind has turned its attention to a sort of meditative focus while logging miles. For Katzman, running has been a time to think, to feel, and increasingly to “be present,” appreciating the act of running, the friends who surround him, and the forests, mountains, rocks and roots that challenge him.

While helping re-mark part of the course a few nights prior to the race, he found himself hypnotized by the beauty of Hale Reservation as the glow of his headlamp bounced off the snow, trees, and reflective course markers. He knew this place at daytime; now he was seeing it under darkness. At the Frozen Yeti he would watch it transform during the course of 30 hours, and he found that to be enticing.

When he stepped to the starting line on Saturday, Katzman was there to be present and enjoy the journey.

“My goal was not around performance but around presence,” he said. “I wanted to bring myself to a place that embraced every moment of the run, which I’d hoped to be 30 hours. I’ve been able to get to this sort of presence a few other times on runs, but never for that long and it’s always easy to lose awareness of the moment when something like a finish line looms.”

Katzman didn’t wear a watch during the race so he wouldn’t be distracted by time. He spent the first 15-mile loop running with the pack, and then the 39-year-old resident of Arlington, Mass., moved ahead and ran solo for a while, admiring the forest around him and smiling at the sound of the Noannet Pond ice croaking as it began to melt in the sunlight. He spent many of the overnight hours sharing the trail with friend and fellow runner Will Holets, enjoying the camaraderie and conversation.

“Ultimately my expectation was to watch the land at Hale very closely over 30 hours,” he said. “Indeed, save a few hours at the end, that expectation was surpassed. I remember watching the sun cross the sky during the day and keeping track of time based on that, and just before I shut my headlamp off in the morning I was running through that section I was marking pre-race, right on the cusp of night and day. Yep, that was pretty special.”

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Ron Woolley of Cohasset, Mass., wasn’t slowed down by a heavy — and warm — hat while knocking out the miles at the TARCtic Frozen Yeti. Photo by Chris Wristen/MassUltra.

Katzman was the first runner to reach 100 miles, doing so in 24:57:23. He decided to stop at that point and turned his attention to refueling and then supporting other runners. He prodded Carolyn Harper to go for the overall win once she hit the 100-mile mark, and then he cheered on several other runners whose races were wrapping up. That included two more men who joined Katzman in completing 100 miles.

William McElroy Jr., 42, of Malden, Mass., and Brian Burke, 37, of Somerville, Mass., connected midway through the race. Both had their sights set on running 100 miles; neither had a pacer. The friends teamed up, stuck together through the cold night and chilly Sunday morning, kept each other accountable for moving forward as the miles grew tougher and fatigue took its toll. Ultimately, McElroy Jr. and Burke finished side-by-side in 28:48:19.

Jean Labedan, 47, of LaSalle, Quebec, finished fourth among the men’s field with 90 miles completed. Another six runners – Sylvain Gelinas, 46, and Sylvain Rousseau, 51, both of Sherbrooke, Quebec; Fernando Salcido, 46, of Somerville, Mass.; Will Holets, 30, of Boston, Mass.; Ron Woolley, 48, of Cohasset, Mass.; and Patrick Hayes, 35, of Newton, Mass. – completed 75 miles apiece.

Seventy-six men finished at least 30 miles at the Frozen Yeti.

Caron, Smith-Tripp Take Top Honors in 15-Mile Race

While the 30-hour race was the showcase event, runners seeking just one trip around the Frozen Yeti race course took on a 15-mile race on Sunday morning. Unlike the ultra, the 15-miler didn’t throw as much of a freeze at the runners. The temperature was in the upper 20s at the start and climbed above freezing by late morning.

Of the 61 runners who started the race, 55 finished. A handful of them brought the heat, led by 21-year-old Patrick Caron of Needham, Mass. Caron spent most of Saturday spectating and supporting runners in the ultra. On Sunday, he threw down the fastest performance of the day, winning the 15-miler outright in 1:53:50. His closest competitor, 36-year-old Evan Gunduz of Cambridge, Mass., finished in 2:04:16. Christopher Knighton, 30, of Allston, Mass., rounded out the men’s podium in 2:06:45. Meanwhile, 22-year-old Sarah Smith-Tripp of Wellesley, Mass., placed 11th overall and was the women’s winner in 2:43:40. Ann Welch, 38, of Medford, Mass., finished second in 2:56:28, followed by 31-year-old Jackie St. Louis of Somerville, Mass., in 3:26:51.

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