Posted on Jan 16
Runners Beat The Polar Vortex With Indoor Marathon
By: John S. Forrester for New Balance
The ground might be frozen, slippery and treacherous in polar-gripped Minnesota this January, but it’s not stopping 44 runners from across the country from traveling there to run America’s oldest indoor marathon.
“It’s a party disguised as a marathon,” says Greg Goebel, a marathoner from Florida who has run the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon in Northfield, Minn. several times.
Starting in 2006 with seven local marathoners looking to maintain their mileage in the winter without spending money on races in warmer climes, the race has become known among marathoners as a social running experience.
“If you want to have fun, you want to run someplace different and you want to meet a bunch of great people, that’s the place to go,” says Goebel. “It’s off the beaten path and it’s going to be cold outside, but it’s going to be perfect running conditions inside.”
The race is held on a square 282-meter fitness track at St. Olaf College, located about 50 miles south of Minneapolis. When the marathoners race on Jan. 12, they will run 150 laps to finish the 26.2 miles as classic rock blasts from speakers around the building. The course has two 72.10-meter straight-aways facing north and south and two 48.60-meter east-west straight-aways linked together in a square by four 10.15-meter curved turns. To prevent injuries to the joints, runners change directions on the course every 30 minutes.
“I think it attracts a different kind of runner. It’s not somebody who’s antisocial that’s trying to manage every split and get a personal record,” says Suzy Goodwin, a distance runner and running blogger from Fayetteville, N.C. who attended last year. “It’s people that want to have a cool experience, do something really unique and connect with the other runners.”
The idea of running 150 laps around a track might seem monotonous, but many former participants say the social nature of the race trumps the lack of scenery. The small field of entrants and the shifting of directions means participants of all levels can see and talk to each other throughout the race – a rarity in the world of marathons.
“When you have smaller groups, you tend to talk and socialize more with the people there. If I was running a marathon with a 1,000 people and say I run a three and a half hour marathon, I’m not going to be talking to anybody that runs a five hour marathon,” says marathoner Dan Kasper of Northfield, who has run every Zoom! since its inception.
This small event draws an array of runners with a myriad of motivations: Some are 50-Staters - runners who try to finish a marathon in each U.S. state – racing to check off Minnesota on their list. Some run it to gauge where they’re at while training for spring and summer events; and others are there simply because there are too few running events during the frosty months.
Like the unique nature of the race, the marathon’s name came out of unusual circumstances. Dick Daymont, Zoom! race director and co-founder, says his friend was trying to accomplish the unconventional goal of finishing 26 marathons, each event’s name beginning with a different letter of the alphabet. And, he needed a race that began with Z.
“The only Z marathon at the time was in Zurich, Switzerland and [my friend] couldn’t get there. So he says, I’m only going to do it if you start your marathon with the letter Z,” says Daymont, a former college physical education teacher who lives in Northfield.
Thinking about how runners were “going to zoom around the track,” Daymont named the event Zoom! Yah! Yah! to fit the Z requirement and as an homage to the chorus of St. Olaf’s fight song: “Um! Yah! Yah!” Since the race started, profits from each year’s race go to St. Olaf’s women’s cross country and track and field teams, both coached by Daymont’s wife. As the event grew from a handful of runners to a destination race, the field was capped at 44 participants because each runner is hand-timed by members of the college’s teams.
Demand to enter Zoom! has increased year after year, Daymont says. Those looking to join this small pool have to enter a lottery and hope to have their names picked. It's not a Boston qualifier because that event’s rules do not allow indoor marathon qualifying times, according to Daymont.
“It’s not one that you do if you want to make a very fast time, because with that many turns obviously it’s going to slow somebody down,” says Goodwin.
Zoom remains largely a race for recreational runners. The marathon has no sponsors and few elite runners have attended. While it’s not a competitive race per se, a runner at last year’s Zoom!, Nichole Porath, became the first woman to run an indoor marathon in under three hours, setting a new world record with a finishing time of 2:57:34.
There are no mile markers. Many who have run Zoom! say the focus is on enjoying the run and meeting fellow runners more than anything else.
“I actually took a very laid back approach and said, I’m just going to go,” Goodwin says. “It’s the one race where I didn’t really concern myself with split times or pace.”
Entry into the lottery for Zoom! in 2015 closes on August 31, 2014. For more information on the race, visit the marathon’s website at ZoomYahYah.com.
Photo: Running blogger Suzy Goodwin at Zoom! Yah! Yah! in 2013. Courtesy of Chad Thomas.