As a deep freeze descends on the region, most of us will probably hunker inside to stay warm — perhaps plopping in front of the television for a marathon binge while sipping a hot chocolate.
But those participating in this weekend’s TARCtic Frozen Yeti aren’t most people.
Swathed in layers of wool and first-aid kits tucked in their packs, they will brave the extreme conditions on Saturday morning for a 30-hour ultramarathon through the Hale Reservation in Westwood.
It could be record cold, with windchill as low as 30 degrees below zero. But the race will go on, organizers said. And on, mile after mile through the merciless cold.
“No one’s doing this thinking it’s going to be easy,” said Josh Katzman, one of the race directors and president of the Trail Animals Running Club, the nonprofit that holds the event, now in its fourth year.
The 30-hour race kicks off at 8 a.m. and the 15-hour race at 8 p.m.
It’s a daunting challenge in the best of conditions. But for runners — who despite the forecast were buzzing with excitement leading up to the race — the physical and psychological demands are part of the draw.
They are stay-at-home parents, teachers, freelance writers, marketing directors, and surgeons, united by a willingness to push the limits of their endurance. Many runners have 100 miles in sight — a feat only one competitor achieved last year.
“It’s not called the Frozen Yeti for nothing,” reads a post on the group’s Facebook page, acknowledging the expected conditions and asking who was planning to bring vaseline “to slather on their face” for protection.
“While most people are going to be tucked into their home watching Netflix, you get people who are psyched to be doing something that’s hard,” Katzman said. “It’s an adventure. It’s New England in February.”
Given the severe conditions, and the risk of frostbite and hypothermia, some runners have decided not to run or will start later in the day, he said. Temperatures are expected to “rebound” into the mid-teens to lower 20s around noon, forecasters said.
Organizers are asking runners to take precautions, providing a required gear list that includes a headlamp, gloves, emergency blankets, and a whistle. If participants do not bring the mandated gear, they will not be allowed to run the race, organizers said.
Participants are also never more than two miles from an aid station and will have access to the Powissett Lodge as a reprieve from the cold between loops.
John Sherback has run multiple 100-mile races before but has fallen short of that mark in his two previous Frozen Yetis. But he’s back to try again.
“That’s what kind of keeps pulling me back to it,” said Sherback, 43. “I still do have that as my goal, but I also realize that I need to be smart. The weather is obviously nothing to mess around with, and I certainly don’t want to do any permanent damage. It’s probably pretty unlikely that would happen this year.”
“I honestly feel like I’d be amazed if it did,” the North Easton resident added, noting that some runners have limited experience with such cold.
“Worst case scenario, I do a five-mile lap, warm up in the lodge, chat with friends, go do another five-mile lap. And it’s just a more relaxed day with people I know out on the trails,” he said.
Jennifer Rizzo, an ultramarathoner from Marblehead who has run the Frozen Yeti before, said she relishes the bone-chilling cold, calling it “sort of my jam.”
“I’ll put it this way: If the forecast was 90 degrees, I would be much more worried,” she said.
Growing up in a military family, she spent her formative years in Duluth, Minn., where it would often be “50 degrees below with a wind chill,” she said. Rizzo, 39, does snowshoe running and runs outside in virtually any weather.
The cold adds “an element of excitement” to the race, Rizzo said. “It’s sort of like putting yourself in a situation where you have a high probability of failure. You’re really pushing yourself to the limit to try to figure out how far you can go. I think that in today’s society, that’s not really something that people do a lot.”
Still, like others she is taking precautions.
Rizzo packs her water bottles in a vest, keeping them close to her body to prevent freezing and wrapping the lids in koozies. She carries extra batteries for her lamps (without a light, “you will fall,” she said), an emergency makeshift shelter, and of course, lots and lots of layers.
“All of my friends and family think I’m insane,” she acknowledged. “In these kinds of races — in this kind of running — you do have to take safety really seriously.”
Running at night is a unique experience. Coyotes howl, their eyes glowing in the darkness. Owls hoot from the trees and beavers smack their tails by the pond. But this year, the animals might be taking shelter, Rizzo joked.
“I don’t know that this race is going to be one where there’s going to be a lot of spectators hanging out,” Rizzo said with a laugh. Her husband usually comes to cheer her on and enjoy the overnight party atmosphere but will be staying home with the kids this time around.
“I’m more excited for this than I definitely would have thought,” she said. “More so than is normal for me, and I definitely think it’s because of the weather. It’s an opportunity to do something that’s even more unique than the typical ultra run.”
From all of us bundled up on the couch, Godspeed.