After a couple of unusually wimpy Manitoba winters, actual cold is back this season with a skin-numbing, extension-cord-shattering, vertebrae-contracting vengeance.
While that's bad news for whiners who refuse to dress in layers, it's absolutely perfect for winter races where competitors actually look forward to running or cycling in the cold.
While racing in genuinely frigid weather may not appeal to every weekend warrior, it is growing in popularity in Manitoba. For example, a record 60 people have registered so far to run or bike in next month's 130-kilometre Actif Epica race, which is more than double the number of entrants who took part last year's endurance race.
Racing in the cold poses challenges -- deep snowdrifts, for instance.
Participants from as far away as Colorado and California have signed up for the 2014 edition of Actif Epica, which has the potential to be another successful example of how Manitoba can market its extreme winter weather.
Here's a selection of what's planned for Winnipeg in February, for people on foot or on bikes:
Ice Donkey Winter Adventure
Saturday, Feb. 8, University of Manitoba
The race: A five-kilometre winter obstacle course on the Southwood Lands, the former golf course on the north side of the U of M campus. There are at least 16 obstacles on the course. The race is also a fundraiser for the United Way.
Who can take part: Pretty much anyone. Initially an adventure race, with about 70 competitors, Ice Donkey was retooled in 2013 to be accessible to more people. More than 500 people took part last year and up to 600 can be accommodated this year.
Entrance fee: $69. Individuals who raise more than $200 for the United Way receive a full refund.
Registration deadline: Sunday, Feb. 2.
More info and registration: www.swampdonkeyar.com/ice-donkey
Saturday, Feb. 15, Red River Valley
The race: A 130-kilometre endurance race from St. Malo, Man. to The Forks in Winnipeg, open to both cyclists and runners prepared to prepared to finish the route in under 24 hours. Last year, the winning cyclist completed the route in seven hours, while the top runner finished in about 16. Both runners and cyclists must contend with the cold and snowdrifts, though race organizers do try pack down problem areas.
Who can enter: This one's for hardcore endurance racers only. To qualify, runners must have a foot race or multi-sport race of 80 kilometres or more under their belts, while cyclists need to have finished a 160-km off-road race, 320-km road race or a winter endurance race such Minnesota's Arrowhead or Wisconsin's Tuscobia.
Entrance fee: $105.
Registration deadline: Saturday, Feb. 8.
More info and registration: actifepi.ca.
Sunday, Feb. 16, start and finish at The Forks
The race: The 14th annual slate of ice-and-snow races organized by Woodcock Cycle features seven races on the Red River and St. Boniface. Three races are for kids, aged seven and under, nine and under and 13 and under. There are three adult races of various lengths (up to six, 12 and 18 kilometres, depending on the weather) and one race for people riding bikes with fat tires.
Who can enter: Anybody, riding any sort of bike, although some form of tread is advisable. Age restrictions apply to the kids' races, of course.
Entrance fee: $15 for each kids race and $35 for each adult race.
Registration deadline: The morning of the event.
More info and registration: www.prairiethunder.cc