In the past decades, running a marathon had been considered the ultimate endurance race and the mark of a true amateur athlete. But with the rise in popularity of extreme races, events like the Frigus Snowshoe Festival have attracted every kind of person, athlete or not, to challenge themselves physically and mentally, while bonding with fellow racers.
In its fifth year, The Endurance Society’s Frigus Snowshoe Festival is taking place in New York for the first time ever. Race Director Mike Seaman fell in love with this event the first time he participated and since then not only have his kids joined him, but he’s also joined the company that is responsible for some of the most challenging and fun races in the country.
We asked Mike about the event, a first-time racer’s experience, and tips on how to train for it.
What is the inspiration behind the Frigus Snowshoe Festival?
Frigus started in 2015 and this is the 5th annual race. I participated in the 60k in 2017 and went back to do the marathon in 2018. It was [founder] Andy Weinberg’s idea and part of the larger vision of The Endurance Society: an organization that is dedicated to providing extraordinary physical and psychological adventures to the endurance community. The mission of The Endurance Society is two-fold: to create unique, life-changing, and mind-blowing experiences for adventure enthusiasts, and to utilize our members for community involvement.” I think that Frigus is part of the larger mission of “mind blowing experiences”. Running a marathon in the cold and potentially crazy harsh conditions, and doing it on snowshoes is just something most people can’t comprehend. Specifically for this year, I jumped in with the idea of moving it to New York. Located within minutes of I-87 it’ll be easier for people living farther away to travel to. I train and spend a lot of time at Moreau Lake so its also attributed to my proximity.
With an event like this, there are bound to be interesting race experiences. Can you share one that gives insight on the Frigus experience?
I fell in love with this event the first time I participated. I think what was most memorable was the weather conditions of the race. It started out warm in the morning and well above winter temperatures, with the prospect of rain later in the day. After just a few minutes into the race, people were running in shorts and t-shirts and the snow was wet, heavy and just hard to run in. Some were taking off snowshoes on shallow parts and putting them on in deep spots. Just managing gear was as challenging as any part of the race. I remember some time in the afternoon a water crossing had nearly flooded the course and we were knee deep in water. Rain finally came and it down-poured, and at that point I was putting on warm cloths and full rain gear. I was a back-of-the-pack finisher and by the time the sun went down the rain changed into an almost whiteout snow. The race threw everything at us that year and it was nothing like I have experienced in a race before.
This is the first year with a kid’s race of one mile. What was the motivation for adding it?
Kids and youth are always a part of keeping anything good going. I am a parent of four myself. I have always encouraged my kids to do race events with me and they always want to be involved. I have come home many times from races and had my kids ask about how to get a medal of their own. For me to be in a position as Race Director, creating that opportunity for them is as important as any other part of this event. It’s always a challenge to even consider a kids event. Parents don’t want to do a mile and kids typically aren’t running marathons. The challenge is setting up a race where both can happen. I think we have a great working design where the longer distances will all start on the kids course and the parents can run and participate with the kids. They will be able to finish the mile, get credit for the distance, drop their kids with another family member and then rejoin the race distance they are signed up for. Motivation for this is simple, from my kids and all the others who want to participate – to keep their enthusiasm going for future events. Every runner will tell you they can’t do what they do without their family support so this has to be a family event.
This race is happening in upstate New York in mid-February. The temperature is projected to be in the 30’s (Fahrenheit) and snowing. How does one train for an outdoor event like this? Can you share any cold-training tips?
I suppose my first Frigus experience gives a good snapshot of what kind of weather can happen. In reality it’s probably easier to plan for if it’s just cold and stays that way. Not to say cold weather is easy – there is no question that it presents its own challenges. You have more gear, more weight, and mobility issues. You might sweat more and ultimately get colder because you are wet. As far as training, my advice is to train cardio like you would any other race of the same distance. Don’t forget to train your core as you do have more muscle involvement than a typical road run. My fatigue in long races is always back and neck muscles way before legs and heart ever give out, perhaps because of the the gear. Lastly just get out in the cold, in the extreme, and get used to being in it for a few hours. When it snows, go out and run. If it’s zero degrees, get out in it. If you spend too much time in a gym or on a treadmill, you will not be ready to handle the extreme condition that mother nature may throw at you on race day.
What would a successful experience look or feel like for a first-time Frigus participant?
Honestly anyone who finishes, whether they come in first or last, is going to feel accomplished. The event will be full of people pushing their limits regardless of the distance and regardless of how they finish. Even for me having finished a 60K on snowshoes, I know that 3 miles is still very hard. This course will challenge everyone. No one is going to set a record 5k time or qualify for the Boston Marathon. There will be the pack of people trying to win, but everyone that even toes the start line will be successful for showing up, and anyone who leaves with a finisher medal will feel exhausted but a few inches taller.