West Grand Traverse Bay, Feb. 5, 2014. I ran part of my long midweek run ON the bay, along the shoreline. Not so sure I want to run further out on the bay, which is now officially frozen over.
West Grand Traverse Bay, Feb. 5, 2014. I ran part of my long midweek run ON the bay, along the shoreline. Not so sure I want to run further out on the bay, which is now officially frozen over.

High of 19, low of 14. Cloudy. 30 percent chance of snow. This is the forecast for Saturday, a day on which my training plan calls for 15 miles.

Hey, this is warmer than normal these days. We’ll take it–and Sunday may even see sunshine and mid 20s!

So why not mix things up a bit, celebrate this crazy-cold winter we’ve had, and run across parts of Lake Michigan. I mean literally, on top of the ice that’s covering parts of this Great Lake. Sounds fun, right? After all, both West and East Grand Traverse bays have officially frozen over–the first time since 2009–and wouldn’t it be cool to say I’d done this at least once in my life?

Image of an icy, snowy Lake Michigan./Interlochen Public Radio photo.
Image of an icy, snowy Lake Michigan./Interlochen Public Radio photo.

A group of Traverse City runners is planning to do just this, and I’ve been pondering joining ever since I received the Facebook invite from a high school friend earlier this week. I’d actually heard about running across both West and East Bay (Old Mission Peninsula sits between these two bays that are part of Lake Michigan) from another runner friend a few days prior to the social media group “Run Across the Bays” forming. A longtime runner and former northern Michigan race director, Dave shared that he and some friends had done this in 2003, another year when the bays had frozen over. “We ran from Cherry Bend, across West Bay, up and over McKinely, and then across East Bay to Acme,” he said, adding that he has his eye on doing it this year and asked if I was interested in doing it, too. “It was pretty cool being out in the middle of it all.”

My initial reaction: yes, I am definitely interested! I’m up for adventures, especially of the running sort. But then, as I thought more about it, I admit to wondering if maybe this would be too dangerous. I mentioned it to Joe, who by now is used to my sometimes-nutty outdoor running ideas, and he replied without missing a beat, “That’s crazy.” He went on to tell me about a guy he knew in high school who fell through the ice on a small inland lake–he was on a snowmobile though, I replied, to which Joe said, “Does it really matter? He still fell through. What if there’s a patch of ice that’s not thick?” In a half-joking, half-serious way, he also sent me a link to an article he’d serendipitously just read: How to Survive Falling Through the Ice, an Illustrated Guide. Thanks, honey.

But Joe, as he always does when it comes to my running plans, did ultimately tell me he supported whatever I wanted to do. This is the man, after all, who I convinced to come along and run into the icy waters of West Bay a couple of years ago on New Year’s Day (and he actually dove under twice!). Ever the joking guy, he added with a smile, “Anyway, your life insurance is all paid up!”

I am thinking maybe it wouldn’t be such a bad idea–sure, there’s a little risk, but we’d be running not far out from the shoreline where the ice would be thicker (at least, that would be my plan), and all told, it would be about 5 miles. I could incorporate the run across the bays into my 15-miler, by logging several miles beforehand and a few afterward.

I’m still pondering. I also would love to have a couple of my close running friends join me, though I’m pretty sure they, too, are in contemplation mode.

So this is where I turn to you all. What would you do? Run across the icy bays? Or opt to stick to (snow-covered) land? Has anyone else ever done this before, either on a Great Lake or an inland lake? If so, what was your experience?


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8 Responses to “Running on (frozen) water: a winter adventure to try?”

  1. I’m with Joe. This is nuts. I grew up in St. Joe and people go out onto the Lake Michigan ice all the and some shmuck ends up breaking through. It does sound crazy badass, but I’d make sure it was after a few VERY cold days so that ice hasn’t had a chance to melt even a little bit.

  2. I read it to my husband and he wasn’t thrilled either. He took the kids out by Clinch last weekend and they took the spud bar to see how deep the ice was. He said in spots it was only 3″. He ice fishes every winter and to me, if he thinks it isn’t safe, I believe him. That being said, if you were to stay close to shore, it seems like it would be okay. But, honestly, I don’t want to get wet even if it is only in 12″ of water; I am so tired of being cold! I would look forward to reading all about it if you go though :)

    • Hey Holly! Well, your note reminded me of something another friend suggested to me, which was: call around to the local bait shops to see what the ice fishermen are saying about the ice. These people know the ice! :) Thanks for weighing in…good to hear what your husband has to say, too. Hmm…. I’m with you, I am ready to be warm again!

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