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The Winter Road Racing Alternative—Indoor Marathons

Running hundreds of laps is one way to change up your winter running.

For most Minnesotans, winter means subzero temperatures, slippery roads, snowy trails and limited daylight. Dick Daymont refers to it as marathon season.

He created and now runs the Zoom! Yah! Yah! each January, which he believes is the oldest indoor marathon in the country. Runners can escape the cold, the snow and the dark, and run 26.2 miles in a climate-controlled, well-lighted space—with more than 600 aid stations along the route. You just have to run 150 laps on a 282-meter indoor track at St. Olaf College.

“Yes, it’s a lot of turns,” Daymont says. “But you change direction every 30 minutes. And you have a personal volunteer to keep track of your laps. All you have to do is run.”

The Zoom! Yah! Yah! Is just one of a number of indoor marathons that bring runners inside during the winter to get their racing in while the outdoors are inhospitable to running. To call it a trend would probably go too far—these races tend to draw dozens of people and are only held in colder climates between November and March.

“Outdoor marathons get tens of thousands of people,” says Scott Sutter, who organizes the Arena Attack at the XL Energy Center in Hartford, Conn. On the other hand, far fewer run an indoor marathon every year.

Daymont says he came up with the idea for his indoor marathon “over two or three beers.” The 67-year-old teacher, who has run more than 100 marathons, was talking with friends about creating a fundraiser for St. Olaf’s track team, which his wife coached.

“We thought, let’s do a marathon at Carleton College on Saturday, and a marathon at St. Olaf on Sunday,” he recalls. “The Carleton marathon died a quick death, but this will be our 12th year at St. Olaf.”

The name plays off the St. Olaf fight song, “Um Yah Yah” (YouTube it, you’ve probably heard it before)—and had the benefit of being a recruiting tool for runners.

“I had a friend who wanted to do a marathon for every letter of the alphabet,” Daymont says. “He needed a Z, so we thought, ‘Why not?’”

Sutter, who ran on track and cross country teams at The Citadel, graduated and moved to New England.

“There was nothing going on in the winter, from a race perspective,” he says. He recalled running practices being moved inside the fieldhouse during rainy or humid weather in South Carolina, and he thought the nearby XL Center might be a good venue.

“Almost on a whim, I called them up, and they called me back like five minutes later, and were very open to the idea,” he says. “I told my wife, ‘I think I just rented the XL Center.’”

The Arena Attack series is now in its fifth year, featuring a marathon, half marathon and 5K run. Sutter added a new event at the Mullins Center in Amherst, Mass., this year.

For runners, there are several benefits to doing an indoor marathon in addition to the
climate control: no hills, as much on-course food and water as you need, easy bathroom access and constant companionship. One thing you can’t do, however, is qualify for the Boston Marathon—indoor race times aren’t accepted there.

“There’s a lot of fellowship at an indoor race,” Sutter says. “There’s a feeling that we’re all in this together.”

RELATED: Winter Running Advice From the Coldest Places in America

Indoor marathons being held in the U.S. this winter: 

MN Indoor Marathon
Nov. 27, St. Michael, Minn.

Hawk Indoor Marathon
Dec. 18, Arlington, Va.

Zoom! Yah! Yah!
Jan. 8, Northfield, Minn.
St. Olaf College

Arena Attack Hartford
Jan. 21, Hartford, Conn.
XL Energy Center

Icebreaker Indoor Marathon and Half Marathon
Jan. 28, Milwaukee, Wis.
Pettit National Ice Center

Polar Bear Indoor Marathon and Half Marathon
Jan. 29, Ada, Ohio
Ohio Northern University

Maple Leaf Marathon/Half Marathon
March 4-5, Goshen, Ind.
Goshen College

Armory NYC Indoor Marathon
March 24-26, New York City
The Armory