Monday, January 7, 2013

Polar Bear Dash Review

New Years Day was the 1st Polar Bear Dash 5K.  My friend Chris and I organized this race with a twist.  The 5K race had an optional dip in the frigid waters of Lake Michigan, a New Years Day tradition for many here in the north.  Being our first year and not sure how this race would draw, we had hoped for between 150 or 200 runners.  We were pleasantly surprised to have 246 sigh up and 211 finish the race.

The race took place in beautiful Grant Park in South Milwaukee where we had almost the entire course blocked to traffic and great scenery along with curious deer watching runners as they whizzed by.  Chris and I showed up at 6:30 AM to start setting up for the 11:00 start and it was cold and dark.  We set up some signs and then set up cones on the course along with the mile markers.  At one point, Chris tried to kill me by accelerating too fast and I slid out the back of his van as I set comes on the course.  Luckily I found quick footing and no harm was done, except for my trust in Chris.

After this, we headed to the beach to set up the finish area.  My job was to pound in the poles with Tiki Torches tied to them on the beach and in the water.  I had on knee high rubber boots but at one point, a bigger wave came in and in an effort to stay dry, I slipped and my entire left arm was submerged in the 44F water.  Let me tell you, that is COLD.  We finished setting up in good time and the first runners came at about 9:30 for the 11:00 start.

The Grant Park Golf Course Club House was the registration area and served as a warm spot to stay before the race and for the awards after.  It was crowded in there but not too bad.  Finally 11:00 came and the race was off.  I quickly grabbed the Hot Chocolate Container and headed the 1/4 mile to the beach for the finish.  As I mentioned earlier, we created an optional dip in the water at right about the 3 mile mark.  Runners who dared to join the Polar Bear Division would cross the ice at the shore and run about 75 yards with the frigid 44F water crashing into their legs in the 15F air temperature.  I would estimate that 40% of the runners actually took this option including the top 3 men and one of the top 3 women.  The first place runner even took a full "plunge" into the water.  See the video below taken by Tom Held from

All in all, it was a great day with some really encouraging words from the runners.  Lots of good comments and frozen smiles all around.  After all is done, I think I could have done the run through the water but not a full plunge but it does look exhilarating. 

See some pictures below taken by Bill Flaws from

Runners beginning the Polar Bear Dash on a sunny and cold (15F) New Years Day.

It was impossible to avoid all water in the Polar Bear Division.  The Cold waves did crash in.

Some runners chose to go deeper into the water than others.

The lake course was optional.  Many runners chose to stay on the beach and stay dry. 

Some runners wore less than others into the water.

Some runners finished the race and then went back for more water fun.

Video and interviews by Tom Held from

Did you run the Polar Bear Dash?  Please leave a comment and tell me what you thought.

Keep on Running!!!

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