What better way to ring in the New Year than running a 5k race with your family and friends and then cooling off with a dip in Lake Michigan? At the Polar Bear Dash, you can do both!
Below, race director Bill Schneider tells us about this year’s race and provides tips for those interested in taking the plunge!
For race specifics, view our Featured Races page.
Can you tell us a bit about the Polar Bear Dash and what makes this race unique?
The Polar Bear Dash is a 5K race that takes place on New Year’s Day in Grant Park in South Milwaukee. The weather is usually cold and the snow adds to the beauty of Grant Park. The unique feature of this race is an optional dip into the frigid waters of Lake Michigan. The finish line is on the Grant Park Beach only a few meters from the shoreline, allowing for a quick dip right after you finish. We also will have hot chocolate on the beach.
Is there anything new or different happening at this year’s race?
The new feature this year is that we will be ordering shirts locally. Last year, due to the huge UPS backlog, our shirts were not able to be delivered to us on time so we want to make sure they are available at the race this year.
Can you talk us through the dip into Lake Michigan – how does it work?
The dip in Lake Michigan is optional. You can run the 5K and still be eligible for awards even if you do not take the dip. For those that do take the dip, we have the South Milwaukee Water Rescue Squad at the water in case of any emergencies. We have awards for the first 3 men and first 3 women that take a FULL dip into the lake. And by Full, we mean every part of their body, including their head. In previous years, about 25% of the participants went into the water at least up to their ankles. I think we had about 25 participants that went in all the way. It is a lot of fun to watch.
Do you have any tips for runners planning to take the plunge?
There are a lot of runners who get to the water and then double guess themselves about going in. One tip would be to just decide before the race if you are going to do the dip, and when you get to the finish line, just don’t stop and head right in. Another tip would be to bring extra clothes with you and have them ready for you at the beach. Park your car by the beach and quickly change there. It is about a ¼ mile walk up hill back to the heated clubhouse. We will have port-o-lets by the beach but they won’t be heated. Another tip from a previous runner who took the dip was to have a bucket of warm water in your car to put your feet into. Sounds like it would help to me.
Can you tell us a bit about the course? Any tips for runners hoping to PR at the race?
If you look at the elevation, this would look like a very fast course. However, being winter, there is usually ice and snow on the road which will slow things down. The last ½ mile is a long downhill to a finish on the beach. We do not shovel a path in the snow on the beach just to make it interesting. The final 200 meters of the race is in on the beach.
What types of awards are offered?
We have plaques for the top three overall males and females. We have medals for age groups winners, three deep, up to 70+ in 10 year increments. There is also a special etched mug for the first 3 males and females that take a full dip into Lake Michigan. We will also have some Performance Running Outfitters gift certificates as well.
Is there anything participants should know about water stations, etc?
Due to the race taking place in the middle of winter and that the race is only a 5K, we will not have a water station along the course. This is for the safety of the runners so the road does not ice over.
New Year’s Day can be one of the coldest days of the year. Is there a heated space for runners to hang out before and/or after the race?
Before and after the race, we will have the Grant Park Golf Course Clubhouse available. The clubhouse is heated with restrooms inside as well. This is where packet pickup will be located as well as post-race refreshments. We will hold the awards ceremony here, too, right after everyone has thawed out.
What do participants get with their race registration?
Registration includes a high quality, long-sleeve Polar Bear Dash shirt, post-race refreshments and hot chocolate on the Beach at the finish line. Participants also get to start the year off on the right foot!
Any other comments?
Bring your family down to the race and they can watch you take a New Year’s Dip into Lake Michigan. Not only are you starting the year off on the right foot, but you are supporting out charitable partner, The National Multiple Sclerosis Society. Have a hot chocolate on us!
Thanks for chatting with us, Bill! We know you won’t want to miss this race and lucky for you, we have one race entry to giveaway!
To enter, leave us a comment on this post and tell us if you’re brave enough to take the plunge!
Best of luck to everyone who enters the giveaway. We’ll announce the winner on Wednesday, Dec. 17.
Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!