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Hundreds gather for snowy run, Penguin Plunge into Utah Lake

By Harrison Epstein - | Jan 29, 2023
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Brandon Buckner, left, and Josh Buckner jump into Utah Lake for the Penguin Plunge after competing in the Frigid 5K on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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Runners start the Frigid 5K at Utah Lake State Park on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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A pile of medals dusted with snow waits at the finish line of the Frigid 5K at Utah Lake State Park on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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David Cruz, of Pleasant Grove, backflips into Utah Lake for the Penguin Plunge on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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Fernando Turcios, center, is handed a keychain for completing the Penguin Plunge at Utah Lake on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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Andrew Pontious, of Springville, runs the last leg of the Frigid 5K at Utah Lake State Park on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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Shawn Ormond, of Lehi, climbs out of Utah Lake after completing the Penguin Plunge on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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Runners cross the finish line of the Frigid 5K through snowfall at Utah Lake State Park on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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People wait in line for the Penguin Plunge into Utah Lake on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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Jake Beck, of Provo, jumps into Utah Lake for the Penguin Plunge on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.
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Runners dressed as penguins wait to start the Frigid 5K at Utah Lake State Park on Saturday, Jan. 28, 2023.

With temperatures in the teens, 698 people were ready — eager even — to get moving and take in the sights and sounds of Utah Lake. For over a decade, people of all ages have gathered near the lake every January for a 5K run and, for those willing, a Penguin Plunge.

“Being here on race day seriously makes you forget that you only had four hours of sleep last night and that it’s ridiculously cold,” said Rachel Moody, race director. “When else do you get a chance to jump into a frozen lake?”

The Penguin Plunge is the post-race opportunity for people to jump feet first into Utah Lake through a hole cut in the ice. One by one, over 200 people leapt into Utah Lake, which was about 37 degrees, according to volunteers.

Running the race for the first time were friends Brock Robison, of Eagle Mountain, and Bradley Biddulph, of Lehi. The two also decided to take the plunge, emerging bright red, shivering and excited to do it again next year.

“It was my idea. I made him do it and it’s good for you to get really cold. The cold plunge is supposed to be good for your mental and physical health or whatever, your muscle recovery,” Robison said. “The pain is good.”

The two were not alone in their assessment as waves of runners of all ages — from 7 to 80 — jumped into the water with their own unique touch. Some jumped still in penguin costumes or their running clothes while others brought bathing suits. Whether they jumped in straight down while plugging their nose or with a backflip, drawing recognition from those in line, every jumper was excited to make a splash and earn their commemorative penguin keychain.

While the lake jump was the highlight of the day for those willing to take the plunge, only 200 opted for the barely-above-freezing water. The 5K followed the same path this year as last, according to Moody. Runners began in front of Utah Lake State Park’s visitor’s center before traveling down North Boat Harbor Drive then turning south, briefly, onto Lakeview Parkway and back toward the visitor’s center, going along Provo River Parkway.

Spanish Fork’s Shiloh Herr, running the race for the fifth time, praised organizers for using the route instead of an “out and back” track.

As the first runners made their way through the race’s final kilometer, snow began to fall. By the time groups reached the last leg en masse, snow piled down into a sometimes slippery blanket. With snow sticking to beanies, coats and eyelashes, hundreds continued through, determined to finish.

“There’s something peaceful about the snow falling, and you run and there’s just a little sense of peace,” Herr said. “I take it over the rain any day.”

Herr and Kellie Colunga, a friend running the Frigid 5K for the first time, enjoyed the opportunity to participate in a “get your year going race” but opted out of the jump.

All race finishers received a medal and a beanie, along with various gifts from the day’s sponsors and other local companies. The top three male and female finishers each received a gift card and free entry into next year’s race.

The top three finishers among male runners were Cedar Hills’ Josh Ericksen (15:36.68), Alpine’s Dustin Bybee (16:10.01) and Provo’s Samuel Clayton (17:02.66). It was Ericksen’s first time in the race while Bybee was the top overall finisher from 2019-2022. Clayton also finished in third place last year.

For the female runners, the top finishers were Salt Lake City’s Adria Favero (18:24.03), Provo’s Samantha Chipman (19:26.93) and Alpine’s Maya Bybee (19:39.59) — all of whom were competing in the race for the first time.

According to Moody, a portion of registration fees goes to the Wolfpack Running Club, a nonprofit USA Track & Field youth running club. Favero and Maya Bybee, both 13, are members of the Wolfpack cross-country team who won the National Junior Olympic Cross Country Championship title.

Among the costumes and traditional runner’s gear were dozens of runners in matching black shirts reading “Run on Don; Remembering Don Hutchings” in yellow. Hutchings was a fixture in the running community before his death in December 2021, whose obituary noted he “finished his final race and crossed the finish line.”


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