Call it a form of active hibernation.
More than 800 runners from 21 states will tuck themselves into the Pettit National Ice Center and race this weekend in the fourth annual Icebreaker Indoor Marathon.
In the cool confines of the ice center, dashers and plodders will turn thousands of laps in a 5K, half marathon, marathon and marathon relay. The truly committed will compete in the Slendertone Gold Medal Challenge, combining the half-marathon on Saturday and full marathon on Sunday.
For them, the weekend will be spent turning left, through 143.1 laps on the 443-meter track that circles the ice oval.
Inspired by the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor marathon at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., Chris Ponteri created the Icebreaker in 2009.
It took off.
“This year will be our biggest yet event,” Ponteri said. “We added spots to the 5K race, due to high demand, and those additional runners will put us ahead of 2011 in terms of total runners through the weekend.”
Local ultra marathon runner Mary Gorski described the appeal: “People are keyed in to find that next physical challenge, whether it’s a personal one or for bragging rights. It’s almost a drug for some of us.”
A good portion of that 800 will be repeat runners, going for another fix.
Mary Flaws, of Waukesha, and Stephen Tietz, of Fond du Lac, will race for three-peats in the Gold Medal Challenge. Both picked up the pace and won their respective divisions in 2011.
Tietz finished his 39.3 miles in 4:19:24, seven minutes under his win in 2010. Flaws posted a combined time of 4:49:05, nearly 30 minutes better than her winning effort the previous year.
Tietz, Flaws and their challengers will run with a focused determination, while their counterparts in the marathon relay will turn their race into a chaotic celebration of running.
The marathon relay attracted a full field of 105 teams, each made of up two to four runners who will compete in a tag-team fashion.
“The marathon relay has quickly become a favorite event of many runners making for a fun, lively and contagious atmosphere on the Pettit’s track,” Ponteri said.
The Fit Milwaukee Marathon Relay starts at 1 p.m..
The Revolution Natural Running 5K, a new race in the mix, kicks off the weekend at 7 p.m. Friday.
Click here for the full schedule.
It should be noted that not all runners in Wisconsin will turn indoors to race this weekend.
New Richmond hosts the Frosty Hustle 5K on Saturday, part of the Decide. Commit. Succeed! Series.
In Madison, the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers of Wisconsin host their 31st annual Freeze for Food 5K and 10K races at Vilas Park.
The Waukesha Janboree offers the Frosty 5K Run in Frame Park.
And for the truly adventurous, the Fat Otter Adventure Sports will put on one of the toughest races in the Midwest, a 64-mile run on the Ice Age Trail in the Northern Kettle Moraine State Forest. There is a 32-mile option.
Those well-layered runners will start at 10 a.m. and toil through snow and temperatures in the teens Saturday night.
By comparison, conditions in the Pettit will be 55 degrees and dry.