What started as a good idea for a Bemidji man 40 years ago, has turned into an annual tradition.

Bob Conner crossed the finish line of the 40th annual Freeze Yer Gizzard Blizzard Run Saturday morning as the only person in race history to run all 40 events. Fittingly, he wore bib No. 40.

"I had some coworkers who told me about the race and it sounded like a lot of fun," he said of why he originally started running the FYGBR in 1981.

The first year he ran, it was 30 degrees outside. The second year was a little different.

"That was the year the windchill was about -72 degrees below," he said of the 1982 event. "I told myself if I could do that, I could do anything... And here I am."

With his cheering section on site to support him, Conner said he plans to keep running the race as long as he's able.

"I love coming up here and doing this," the 62-year-old said. "I'm just not very fast."

Winn wins

The fastest runner Saturday was Aiden Winn of Red Wing, who won both the 5k and 10k races. Winn said it was the first time he's participated in the event.

"The community support is great," he said. "I really liked this race."

After finishing - and winning - the 5k race, Winn said his legs were a little tight, adding to the 10k challenge. 

"The track was a little soft," he said. 

Between Friday night and Saturday morning, about 9.3 inches of fresh snow blanketed Borderland, causing some early-morning snow removal efforts before Saturday's main events. 

For some, it made travel to International Falls more difficult. 

John Cowman said it took him about six hours to travel from Grand Forks, N.D. to his hometown of International Falls. 

"It took me three hours just from Blackduck to (the Falls)," he said. "But I wouldn't have missed it."

And while there was plenty of fresh snow, temperatures were more manageable for the 2020 race. At both the 5k and 10k race start times, the air temperature was 19 degrees, making it 50 degrees warmer than last year's start temp of -31 degrees below zero. 

40-year success

Chamber of Commerce President Tricia Heibel said she thought the 40th Icebox Days was a success.  

“I am beyond ecstatic with the overall turnout of the 40th annual Icebox Days," she said. "I have been thinking about this banner year since my first Icebox Days at the chamber in 2018, and it couldn’t have gone off better than it did. Involvement from the community was amazing."

The mild temperatures may have had an impact on attendance, as many events this year had record-breaking participation and crowds, she added.

Heibel said she was happy the events appeal to such a wide audience, adding that the furthest traveled runners in the FYGBR came all the way from California. 

“We like to plan community events that are for everyone and the phrase 8 to 80 is often used to describe the target audience," she said. "Well, our oldest runner in the 5k race was 79 years old, and the youngest runner was 8 years old, so we covered that in this one event alone.” 

Frozen turkey bowling

Many came to the Backus Community Center parking lot to roll frozen fowl across the snow, hoping for a strike. Winners received ice cream cones.

After The Journal published an Icebox Days timeline lacking the origin story of turkey bowling, reader Marilee Simons sent this one in:

“My mother and I owned the Higher Ground Christian Bookstore in Shannon Square from 1983 to 1999. It was during that time, in late October 1989, that my husband, Dale Simons, and I were in Grand Rapids and saw a similar bowling game in the corridor of their mall. I thought that with a little "tweaking" it could be a great game for Icebox Days. I came back home and since I was a part of the Downtown Merchants Association, I approached the downtown bowling alley about sponsoring it in front of their location. They did not act on it for the 1990 Icebox Days, so I also approached them the following year. 1991 Icebox Days came and went without a Turkey Bowl so I approached the Shannon Square Association about the Square sponsoring it so several of the merchants jumped on it and with the help of Dale Simons hauling in hay bales, the bowling alley donating the bowling pins and SuperOne donating the frozen turkeys, the official Turkey Bowl began in 1992.”

Frostbite Falls 

Out at Thunderbird Lodge, an organizer of the Frostbite Falls Open reported a successful fifth annual golf tournament. 

Megan Bond said 18 teams participated in Icebox Days' only charity event.

"We are slated to have raised just as much money as we have in previous years for the Falls Hunger Coalition between the event and the raffle, which was made up entirely of prizes donated by our generous local businesses," Bond said. "(The event) is organized and put on entirely by volunteers, donations from local businesses and organizations, and the hard-working staff at Thunderbird Lodge."

Bond said the snow didn’t stop the golfers from enjoying the event, despite slush on the course. The group is already planning for next year. Participants can register for the 2021 tournament at frostbitefallsopen.com.

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