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Get outside and enjoy the deep freeze this winter.

Whether running half-marathons or mushing or maybe even enjoying a January plunge into Lake Michigan, midwesterners from Chicago to Northern Wisconsin to the Dakotas are competing for fun — and sometimes for good causes.

There’s nothing like a little competition in the snow to warm you up when wind chill temps dip down to the minus double digits. Here are 17 great events coming up in the months ahead that embrace this cold. Register early to compete, or go as a volunteer or spectator. Just be sure to bundle up and have fun!



New Year’s Day 5K Run & Walk

Hard to believe this annual event is in its 31st year! An expected 1,500 participants will start the New Year on the right foot at Chicago’s New Year’s Day 5K Run & Walk, which kicks off at the south end of Lincoln Park. Part of the marathon’s proceeds will go to the Lake View Citizens’ Council, a non-profit civic organization that works to improve the quality of life for those living in the neighborhood.


F^3 Lake Half Marathon and 5K

The seventh annual F^3 Lake half marathon and 5K races take place on January 23 at Soldier Field in Chicago. The organization was “started by a group of runners / drinkers who like to run and drink en masse.” That might explain why organizers decided to hold the event in a month when extreme weather conditions could delay the races.


Fly With the Eagles Half Marathon

Established more than 30 years ago, the River to River Runners Club holds running events throughout the year. One of its annual runs is the Fly With The Eagles Half Marathon, which takes place February 13 at the Crab Orchard National Wildlife Refuge in Marion, Illinois. You can run or walk the race, which goes through fairly level terrain, but remember that the weather in that neck of the woods is usually cold and snowy.


Get Lucky Chicago

Team Ortho is a public charity founded in 2004 to get people active and to raise money for  orthopaedic research. The organization produces running events including the Get Lucky Chicago Half Marathon, the next planned for March 12. You can walk the Get Lucky 7K, which has a 2-hour time limit. The half marathon, however, is timed for runners only.


March Madness Half Marathon

If you’d like to run a course regarded as “the most challenging in Northern Illinois,” you’ve got your chance on March 20 at the March Madness Half Marathon in Cary, Illinois. Hills make this run especially difficult, especially as they can be icy at this time of year. The Hill Striders Running Club organizes this race, and the first 1,000 pre-registered runners will receive a wind jacket commemorating the 38th running of the March Madness race.


2016 Southern Illinois Spring Classic

Three events make up the March 26 Southern Illinois Spring Classic in Lawrenceville, Illinois: A half marathon, a 5K and a kids’ half marathon. The half is a mostly flat, 31.1-mile course that closes four hours after the start time. Participants in the half and the 5K will be entered into a $500 cash draw. The event serves as a fundraiser for Kids Shopping Day of Lawrence County, which provides local children with clothes and supplies for the new school year.



Skiing and Speed Skating

Central Cross Country Ski Association — Junior National Qualifiers

The Junior National Qualifiers start in mid-December and run through mid-February. The Midwest Junior National Team will be made up of those athletes who place in the JNQ races, held at

  • Houghton, Michigan;
  • Wausau, Wisconsin;
  • Cable, Wisconsin;
  • and Minneapolis.

Many of these CXC participants have Olympic aspirations, and the qualifying races reflect the distances and formats of the annual Junior National Nordic Ski Championship races.


Special Olympics Illinois Winter Games

Book your calendar for the first week in February to enjoy the Special Olympics Illinois Winter Games at Chestnut Mountain in Galena. Some 400 athletes will compete over three days (February 2–4) in alpine skiing, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing events.


American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation

If you’re near Hayward, Wisconsin, on February 18, you’ll be able to take in the American Birkebeiner Ski Foundation Elite Sprints, a competition that features some of the best skiers in the world.

If you happen to have a bunch of friends and family members with you, the fifth annual Birkie Giant Ski is also happening on that date. This is when teams of six race on 25-foot long skis. Another annual race takes place on the same day, the Barkie Birkie Skijor, cross-country ski races that include skiers’ dogs.


Heartland Racing Series

Heartland Racing was created to develop speed skaters’ racing skills. Meets take place throughout the Midwest, and skaters can race about once a month through the winter months. Upcoming races include:

  • The Midland Winter Fest and Heartland Event #4 on February 6 at the Midland Civic Arena in Midland, Michigan;
  • the Cheese Cup Short Track and Heartland Event #5 on February 27 at the Cornerstone Community Ice Center in DePere, Wisconsin;
  • and Land of Lincoln Short Track and Heartland Event #6 on March 5 at the University of Illinois Ice Arena in Champaign, Illinois.


Snowmobile Races

Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus

The Wisconsin Kids Snowmobile Racing Association will host the Ironwood Snowmobile Olympus on January 2 and 3 in Ironwood, Michigan. This children’s non-profit racing group is for kids between the ages of 4 and 15, and holds events each weekend during January and February, throughout Wisconsin and Michigan.


WKSRA Snowmobile Week in Eagle River, Wisconsin

Two world championships are taking place in Eagle River, known as the snowmobile capital of the world:

  • The Trig’s Smokehouse Snowmobile Vintage Derby on January 8,
  • and the AMSOIL Snowmobile Derby on January 14–17.

With some 1,000 racers and over 25,000 fans expected, coming from nearby Canada to as far away as Japan, Eagle River Derby Track is the place to be in the New Year.


USXC Cross-Country Snowmobile Racing

The first weekend of January is also when the USXC snowmobile 250 race will take place at Devils Lake in North Dakota. Later that month, races will be held in Park Rapids and Thief River Falls, Minnesota, as well as Grafton, North Dakota.

There had been some question about the last race, but USXC Racing has confirmed in its news feed that “due to popular demand in the city of Grafton, the cross country snowmobile race in Grafton on January 30th is back on!”


Cor PowerSports

Wisconsin’s Cor PowerSports will hold two cross-country series of snowmobile races in 2016: the XC (with rounds through January and February) and the MESC Triple Crown (March and April). The events take place at various locations throughout Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The season will start with unplowed lake races, and Cor PowerSports confirms that the pro stock races will be 100 miles at every round.



Sled Dog Races

Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race

Mushers from across the nation and around the world will be at the 17th annual Tahquamenon Country Sled Dog Race in Deer Park, Michigan. The race is on Saturday, January 9. Sanctioned by both the International Federation of Sleddog Sports (IFSS) and the International Sled Dog Racing Association (ISDRA), the race will feature some 60 teams, from 4-dog to 10-dog sleds


Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club

The Wisconsin Trailblazers Sled Dog Club has posted its 2016 schedule of races, which include the Merrill Winterfest on January 23–24, and the Willow Springs Round Barn at the end of that month in Wausau. Three more races are scheduled in February, with the Midwest American Championships taking place February 12–14 at Camp Ripley, Minnesota.


In A Class of Its Own

The Lakeview Polar Bear Club Plunge

The 15th annual Polar Plunge into Lake Michigan is set for January 30. This fundraiser sees LPBC members and friends jump into the lake’s frigid waters from the Chicago’s Oak Street Beach as a fundraiser for local families in need.

“My guess is we’ll have between 300–500 polar bears this year,” Brian Marchal of LPBC told us. “It’s hard to gauge, as participation is driven so much by the weather during the 3-4 weeks leading up to the plunge. If the winter is average/mild, then we will be closer to 500. If it’s a brutal winter, we’ll be closer to 250–300. Keep your fingers crossed for decent weather in January.”


images by:
Anja Osenberg, Stefan Schweihofer, Viola

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