Frozen Gnome 10K and 50K


On Saturday, Ornery Mule Racing kicked off 2019 trail running with its annual Frozen Gnome races. Held at Veteran Acres and Sterne’s Woods in Crystal Lake, runners enjoyed a single track, 10K loop, which 50K runners tackled 5 times.

This triple black diamond level course was extremely challenging and included steep inclines, uneven terrain, and sharp declines. One such decline was appropriately named “butt-slide hill”, where runners were forced to slow and crouch in order to descend without ending up tumbling their way down. Fortunately, Ornery Mule Racing made sure to have an energetic volunteer at the top of the hill advising runners to take caution and a rope for runners to grab, if they needed extra support.

Despite the tough terrain, this course is a beauty; nearly the entire course is tree lined and features beautiful nature scenes. There are very few sections where a car could be heard or a building could be seen. It is truly an escape from the day-to-day in this picturesque trail.

The races began together at 7:45 a.m. and the 10K-ers made the loop in almost pristine racing conditions. There was very little wind and no precipitation. The temps were in the low-mid 30’s and running was quite comfortable for me in a single layer with a vest. It was quite the change from last year’s sub-zero temps.

50K-ers were greeted with a snowfall during their last loops. Snow began in late morning and continued through the afternoon, making for a winter wonderland of sorts for those ultra-runners who kept at it.

As with all Ornery Mule Racing events, Michele Hardwig and her team of staff and volunteers did an amazing job. Pre-race communication was thorough, race day was timely and organized with a fun vibe, and the swag was original and creative. All racers received a Headsweats branded, long-sleeved technical t-shirt, great for winter runs and a bright blue metal with the frozen gnome smiling up at us.

If you have not yet begun your year with this race, I encourage you to put it on your January schedule for next year and check out the rest of the Ornery Mule races at

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Mandi began running in middle school and never stopped. As a high school and college cheerleader, running was the exact athletic counterpart to keep her fitness levels high. While attending The John Marshall Law School in 2007, Mandi ran her first Chicago Marathon, the final year it was partnered with title sponsor, LaSalle Bank. Mandi has continued to run several marathons and half marathons each year. An Illinois licensed attorney, Mandi is currently the Executive Director of the Lake County Municipal League, a council of government representing 42 municipalities in Lake County. An avid weekend race warrior, Mandi tries to run 2-3 races each month from Milwaukee to Chicago and loves the opportunity to report about her experiences in Chicago Athlete


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