WESTWOOD, Mass. – Katya Divari’s eyes were locked on the narrow segment of singletrack trail. One last downhill, a final web of tangled tree roots and a quick uphill awaited her as she closed in on the finish line at Powissett Lodge. She made quick work of the descent, danced deftly through the roots and then paused before the final climb. The sun warmed the left side of her face as she spread her arms and looked up toward the blue sky above.
“Can you believe it?” Divari asked, a smile gracing her face. “So much better than yesterday.”
With that, she trotted up the hill and made her way to the doors on the back side of the lodge, stepping through where the timers awaited. She was officially done.
For Divari, a resident of Ashland, Mass., with more than 60 ultramarathon finishes on her resume, tough running conditions are something the New Englander is accustomed to. Still, for Divari and her fellow ultrarunners, the weather conditions at the Trail Animals Running Club’s 2023 TARCtic Frozen Yeti 30-Hour Ultra on Feb. 4-5 at Hale Reservation were just plain strange as they swung from dangerous on Saturday to delightful on Sunday.
It was a bone-chilling -9 degrees Fahrenheit with a wind chill of -28 when runners began just after 8 a.m. Saturday. For those who went the full time – or who, like Divari, started on Saturday, went home and returned to finish on Sunday – the final hours were a comfortable 46 degrees and breezy, making it a 55-degree swing during the course of the event.
The warnings were ominous. A dangerous cold snap was scheduled to descend on New England from Friday, Feb. 3, through Saturday, Feb. 4, bringing some of the coldest temperatures to the region in more than a half-century. Boston Mayor Michelle Wu closed the city’s public schools on Friday to help protect students from frostbite and hypothermia while waiting on rides. The worst of the weather was to strike late Friday night into Saturday morning, with temperatures plummeting well below zero and wind chills of -30 or colder.
The timeline overlapped with the Saturday morning start of the fourth edition of the TARCtic Frozen Yeti, but race directors Surjeet Paintal, Carolyn Shreck and Josh Katzman decided not to postpone or cancel the race, unlike in 2022 when they postponed it by a week due to a snowstorm that dropped more than two feet of snow on race day. Both the Boston Globe and WBZ TV ran stories about the event on Friday, noting that this year’s race would go on as scheduled despite the potentially treacherous conditions.
“I think after last year we knew it was possible to postpone; there was a discussion,” Katzman said. “Compared to last year where the potential of someone getting hurt or injured just trying to get to the race was very real, this year we knew if you’re here and following everything we’ve set out in our guidelines, we knew people would be prepared to be safe.”
Those guidelines included mandatory gear lists that runners must carry regardless of the conditions, required items after dark, as well as additional required gear should the conditions fall below -20F.
“The whole point of this race was to test your limits and test your gear and test your skill set in weather just like this,” Paintal said. “That was the expressed intent when Carolyn came up with this race.”
Sub-Zero and Sweaty
Runners huddled inside the warm, cozy confines of Powissett Lodge for the pre-race briefing, but as they ventured outside at 8:01 a.m. and made the short walk to the starting line, the temperature was a frigid -9 degrees Fahrenheit with the wind chill a bitter -28.
Of the 40 runners who started at the official time – another 10 would arrive later to begin their miles after dealing with frozen pipes at home or letting the temperature rise a few degrees – nearly every face was covered by a buff, ski mask, ski goggles or some combination of those items.
Though they would depart the lodge and head into the wooded trails, the runners wouldn’t be gone long. The Frozen Yeti uses an approximately 15-mile course consisting of three smaller loops measuring around 5.75, 4.4 and 5.2 miles, each mini-loop starting and finishing at the lodge where the timing table, aid station fare and runners’ drop bags with spare gear awaited them.
Shortly after beginning their first mini-loop, many runners reported either ditching layers or making plans to do so upon returning to the lodge. It turned out staying warm in the frigid conditions wasn’t the hard part, rather runners were concerned about getting too warm.
“I think because we haven’t had a cold winter, people forgot what their calibration was,” Paintal said, referencing southern New England’s extremely mild winter that has included many days in the 50s.
Medford, Mass., resident and 30-hour runner Brian Burke agreed.
“The problem was you didn’t have a chance to test your gear before the race,” Burke said. “I went out an hour before the race and put on my gear and walked my dog, and that was the only time I ever got to determine if my gear was sufficient for the race.”
Burke was one of many runners who ditched layers after the first mini-loop.
“On that first loop I was sweating through my gloves, had sweat streaming down my back,” he said. “I had to spend 15 minutes here (in the lodge) just swapping out gear after one loop. I was like, ‘Oh, you’re not dialed in.’ You have time to adjust, though. This isn’t a panic out the door kind of race; it’s a situation where you figure your thing out and then go back out or else problems will really accumulate.”
For Burke and his fellow runners, the layering adjustments came early and often as they endured the coldest of the temperatures.
Warm Weather Awaits
Though it was freezing for the first several hours, it didn’t stay that way. The forecast called for a major temperature swing to the warm side as the race went on.
“It was great knowing all week this is the worst it’s going to get,” said Gordon Collins of Poland, Maine. “If you can get to the start line you’re going to be fine. Mentally it was good to know that. It’s a long event – 30 hours is a lot of time; a lot of things are going to change.”
The temperature climbed to 13 degrees by mid-afternoon Saturday and the wind calmed to a light breeze, bringing the wind chill to a manageable 0. It would get warmer from there, inching a few degrees higher during the overnight hours as Collins, Burke, Bruce Leung of Natick, Mass., and a handful of others battled through the dark, navigating the course by headlamp and biding their time until sunrise.
With the arrival of daylight Sunday, runners ditched their headlamps and eventually some of their layers as the temperature surged from the 20s through the 30s and up into the 40s. There was a light breeze and blue sky overhead. The swing from historic cold to unseasonably warm conditions was a reward for those who spent the most time on the course.
“It’s such a unique event. The weather sort of added to that where this is going to be a good story,” Burke said shortly after finishing. “One person got to enjoy the 46 (degrees), and everybody had to deal with the -28. That was the kicker. If you stay for 30 hours you’ll get an hour of sunshine. It felt like a pleasant winter day.”
Burke was the first runner to reach the 100-mile mark, doing so in 25:32. He kept going and ultimately set a new Frozen Yeti record with 110 miles completed in 28:46 while earning the overall victory. Only one more runner pushed on to 100 miles. Collins entered the weekend with 100 miles on his mind and ultimately got it done in 27:03, finishing second overall. Patrick Kistner of Lisbon, Maine, was third with 65 miles in 21:35. Leung finished fourth among the men and fifth overall with 60 miles in 27:32, achieving his goal of running at least 58 miles just a few days after his 58th birthday.
The top two women both went through the night and earned 60-mile finishes. Tiffany Woodger of Granville, Mass., reached the milestone first and earned the women’s victory in 26:21 while finishing fourth overall. Julie Huber of Newton, Mass., finished 60 miles in 29:21 to secure the women’s runner-up position and sixth overall spot. Frances Hiscox of Waban, Mass., rounded out the women’s podium with 55 miles in 17:39 and placed seventh overall.
Rounding out the overall top 10 were 50-mile finishers Jonathan Lagoa of Fairhaven, Mass. (13:53); David Milner of Portland, Maine (14:16); and Eric Nelson of Somerville, Mass. (15:51).
Runners Show Caution, Avoid Cold Weather Injuries
Despite the warnings from meteorologists and doctors about the risks of extreme cold weather exposure, the runners at the Frozen Yeti emerged unscathed.
Around 80 runners signed up for the 30-hour race and around 30 of them did not start. Of the 50 runners who took part, none reported frostbite or other cold weather-related injuries.
“We had no issues of any cold weather-related injuries,” Paintal said. “We had no issues with stomach stuff this year. There were a couple trips and falls which you get at every trail race, but I think for the most part everyone was looking out for each other and everyone was taking care of themselves. It seemed like people were taking slightly longer breaks in (the lodge), and we had a couple folks that started a bit later. A couple folks planned to start later and a couple that had pipe issues so they showed up after they resolved them.
“I feel like every ultra I’ve volunteered at the aid station there’s a meltdown of some kind; there were none. There was nobody sitting in the corner nauseous. There was nobody sitting in the corner shivering. There were no stomach issues. Everybody took care of themselves. They were smart and they were cautious. Some people came out with big agendas and they executed really well, and some people came out with other agendas and they executed those well.”
“Best Day Ever”
With 24 minutes remaining on the official race clock, Melrose, Mass., resident Bill Ozaslan stepped through the back door of Powissett Lodge, concluding his 30-mile effort and officially bringing the Frozen Yeti to a close.
After running in frigid conditions the day before, Ozaslan savored every step of his Sunday miles in the sun as the temperature climbed toward the upper-40s. It was a stunning meteorological swing that left Ozaslan echoing Divari’s comments from nearly an hour earlier.
“The best day ever!” Ozaslan declared, a broad smile stretching across his face. “What a difference a day makes!”
NOTES FROM THE FROZEN YETI
Caron, Nordhoff Victorious in 15-Mile Night Race
It was still plenty cold for the start of the 15-hour night race at 8 p.m. Saturday, though the 13-degree temperature and 4-degree wind chill were considerably warmer than when the ultra began 12 hours earlier. Fifty runners started the night race and 44 ultimately finished their single trip through the Frozen Yeti course’s three approximately 5-mile mini-loops.
Nobody hit the trail harder than Patrick Caron. The 25-year-old from Needham, Mass., started his day by volunteering at the ultra and finished his day by smoking the cold course, cruising to the overall win in 1:50:12. His closest competitor, 21-year-old Jacob Carroll of Plymouth, Mass., followed in 2:14:30 while 28-year-old Matthew Masi-Phelps of New York, N.Y., was a close third in 2:16:57 to round out the men’s podium. Evren Gunduz, 40, of Cambridge, Mass. (2:23:46) and David Lane, 35, of Haverhill, Mass. (2:34:29), rounded out the men’s top five.
Ruth Nordhoff, 24, of Brighton, Mass., raced to a seventh-place overall finish and earned the victory in the women’s field in 2:41:14. She was joined on the podium by 29-year-old Sara Tannenbaum of Brookline, Mass. (3:07:54) and 38-year-old Jennifer Boshco of Billerica, Mass. (3:19:39). Maine sisters Eleanor Snyder, 27, and Kathryn Snyder, 24, rounded out the top five, finishing together in 3:27:24 and 3:27:25.
Hale Relay Team Delivers Big Miles
As has become tradition at the Frozen Yeti, members of the Hale Reservation staff have joined in on the fun by competing as a relay team for the 30-hour race, making the Trading Post their home base between laps. Though this year’s relay team didn’t match its record performance of 155 miles at the 2020 Frozen Yeti, the Hale Team hammered out an impressive 135 miles this year. The final miles featured a dramatic dash by runner FJ Perfas as he attempted to track down Burke during the solo champion’s final stretch. As Burke topped the final hill before returning to Powissett Lodge he spotted Perfas racing through the woods in hot pursuit, causing Burke to dash the final tenth of a mile to avoid being passed.
“One of the best things I’ve seen in this race is you coming down the hill and checking behind you,” Katzman noted to Burke as he and Perfas shared a laugh about their spirited finish while relaxing outside the lodge moments after finishing.
Hot Off the Stove
One of TARC’s many traditions is aid station innovation, and the TARC test kitchen was busy cooking up new creations at the Frozen Yeti. A group of Arlington High School juniors, organized by Cooper Katzman, earned rave reviews for their efforts.
“They were holding down the kitchen like champs, my gosh,” Paintal said. “It was like a good six hours where I didn’t even know what they were doing in there, but it was amazing!”
The students started with salted rice balls, and then put pickles in the middle. After receiving positive reviews for the pickle balls, they tried cooking the rice in pickle juice, creating the Saturated Pickle which proved to be superior.
But they weren’t done yet. They built on that idea by going for a tasty, Sicilian specialty – Arancini balls – with a TARC twist. They stuffed rice balls with cheese, melted the cheese and then fried it in bacon fat, creating a crispy, greasy, savory treat to warm the runners’ bellies after hours in the cold.
Up Next for the TARC Trail Series
The Trail Animals spent plenty of time at Hale Reservation for the Frozen Yeti, but they’re not done yet. They’ll return to the venue for To Hale and Back, a 6-hour ultra and 5K on Saturday, March 25. The race will use a 3.1-mile loop course that covers some of the same trails used for To Hale and Back, though sometimes in the opposite direction. The ultra is sold out and a handful of spots remain for the 5K. Additionally, volunteers are still needed for the event and can sign up for positions here.