The Frostbite Marathon Relay never fails to amaze me with how delightfully unpredictable and off-the-wall it is. It’s basically the lakeshore’s equivalent to the Barkley Marathons, only it always starts on time at 8am. Thankfully Alan has never decided to start the race in the middle of the night. Yet.
So what is there to know about the Frostbite Marathon Relay? Well, it started in 1908 by John G. Frostbite. Back then they had to run the whole marathon in the snow uphill both ways. Not really. It started in 1994 as a private event and opened up to the public in 1999. They’ve been doing the Frostbite ever since.
I use that term “open to the public” loosely. See, the great thing about the Frostbite Marathon Relay is that it has no website. No phone number, no hashtag, not even a Facebook page. There’s a Facebook group, but I didn’t even find out about that until I’d already done the race. You have to already know someone who has been on a Frostbite team, and then you beg them to invite you into the inner circle. That’s how it works.
Every year, team captains from the last year are invited to submit their registration by mail—actual mail to an address in an envelope with a stamp—to our fearless leader, Alan Martens. Alan prefers it this way because then he gets to talk to the mail carrier. Actually, I have no idea why it’s done on paper. It’s ludicrous. That’s the fun!
If you weren’t a team captain last year, but you somehow magically are in the Facebook group and watch for details on when registration opens up to the last few “new” teams, then you might be lucky enough to snag a coveted entry into the Frostbite Marathon Relay—West Michigan’s most exclusive marathon relay. I just made that up, but that should definitely be the tagline.
Okay, so why would anyone go through all of this trouble? I mean, printing a form, finding an envelope, buying a stamp, figuring out how a mailbox works? That’s a lot of work. Well, we do it because Frostbite is actual magic. The weather is unpredictable and usually quite frosty, the chili is amazing, the route is something different, and you just plain can’t beat the company. Also, baller Frostbite Marathon pullovers, but I’ll get to that later.
This year, the weather was wonderfully unpredictable, ranging from dark and frigidly cold, to swirling snow globe, to nice and sunny. Last year, we ran in light tights and long sleeve t-shirts because it was that mild. Hell, pics from last year’s race have visible grass in them. At the start of this year’s race you could see grass, but by the end, the snow plows were out. See, Holland in January is the perfect setting for this race because it’s just as bananas as the race itself.
So this year, 72 teams made the cut. The cap is 400 runners. Teams range in size from 2 to 9 people and have team names such as Yeti Yoggers, Dutch Oven, Drunken Ballerinas, Frosty Britches, Drinking Team With A Running Problem!, and (I think Alan’s favorite) Insert Creative Team Name Here. Coming up with a good team name is actually more challenging than running the race. If you don’t believe me, trying thinking of something clever that five people can agree on.
Now, packet pickup this year was at the Marriott just up from The Curragh, an Irish pub and restaurant in Holland. The Curragh houses the after party and is home base before and after the race, with the race starting and ending right outside the door. I’m not sure how Alan bribes The Curragh into letting a bunch of weirdo runners take over their pub for a day, but we just hope he keeps doing it because it is awesome.
Anyway, at packet pickup, you get an assortment of coupons and tickets for beer and chili, but the real prize is the pullover. These things are plush. In past years, I’ve really liked the pullover because they’re thicker and more heavy-duty than a boring long-sleeve tech tee, they’re always a good color, and they are legit enough to sneak into my business casual look if it’s Friday and I don’t have any meetings. They’re seriously nice. But this year, they were even better: extra fuzzy on the inside, perfect heather gray, and poppin’ accents of bright blue. So perf.
Regardless of how cool the new one is, I will always keep all of mine because you get way more street cred as a runner if you have the old pullovers. The one I have from 4 years ago is looking a little worn because it was my favorite for a few years, but worn out or not: I am never getting rid of it. How else will people know that I actually did all of these Frostbite Marathon Relays and lived to tell the tale!?
On race day, everyone gets up super early and immediately questions their life choices. Now, some years you wake up and it’s still dark and it’s not that cold outside. The sky is clear with stars still sparkling and you think, “Today will be a fun day!” But not 2018. In 2018, as with most days we’ve experienced in the last year, we face them with trepidation and determination with a healthy dose of pessimism. “This is going to be terrible,” could have been the slogan this year.
But it’s a good kind of terrible. The kind of terrible that’s freezing and difficult and calls into question your sanity, but then you look back on it when it’s done and you love it! Every minute was great!
So Frostbite Marathon 2018 rolls around and we packed on their layers, filled a car with snacks, and met up at The Curragh like usual. I kept an eye out for epic costumes and was not disappointed. This year the unofficial award goes to the people who ran in Viking helmets and I think also wore some kind of nudie bodysuit. I mean, I hope that’s what it was. I saw a full moon. 100% butt.
Like I said, we started with clear roads, but it was terribly cold outside. Bitter cold. I think the actual temp was about 15°F, but it got windy the farther we went toward the lake. And, in true Frostbite fashion, we foolishly thought the weather would stay clear as none of us saw any significant snow in the forecast. Ha ha ha! Silly humans. It started snowing within minutes from crossing the starting line and didn’t stop until we had a few inches on the ground. That happened in the span of the first hour.
Somehow things turned around after the second or third legs and we started seeing the sun come out. The snow stopped and, though it was still really freaking cold, we all enjoyed the sunshine.
And at the end, we galavanting gallopers all packed into the Curragh like sweaty sardines and filled ourselves with the most delicious white chili imaginable, lots of beer, and enough chips and salsa to make Chi-Chi’s blush. It’s great.
The Frostbite Marathon Relay holds a special place in our hearts because it’s old school. It’s special because you have to remember to look for it since you won’t get a bunch of reminders. You have to build your team early, come up with a theme and a name, and actually collect their information on paper. It’s just more fun—it’s more personal. It’s always a blast every year. We all get to know each other and cheer for each other. We share advice and laughs. I hope Frostbite never changes.