Downtown Port Huron heats up with races, hockey tournaments, chili cook-offs, and more

At 7 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 28, the start to a very big day in downtown Port Huron officially begins. That’s when packet pick-ups open for the 11th annual PoHo Hot Cocoa, the yearly race that features hundreds of runners dashing through the streets of Port Huron.

But that’s not all. Also scheduled that day is a new-look Chilly Fest and the Silver Stick Finals, the 60th year for the international hockey tournament.

It’s a good day for downtown Port Huron, no matter how many layers you have to wear.

Bigger, safer, and more fun

Greg Whitican, director of PoHo Hot Cocoa and owner of Elite Feet Running Store, has been working hand-in-hand with the city, making sure that everything runs smoothly for the annual race. While we were talking, a police officer stopped by Elite Feet just to check in.

“Doing a race like this in January, you hope and pray to have safe conditions and the city has done a great job in making sure that that happens,” he says.

PoHo Hot Cocoa, now in its eleventh year, is regarded as one of the largest running races in January in Michigan. This year, the event starts and ends at the McMorran Place Theater, where there will be a post-race chocolate party and live music from Ian Smith. It’ll be the first year the event features live music, a point of pride for Whitican.

“From year to year, we’re always thinking about what we can do to make PoHo Hot Cocoa bigger, safer, and more fun,” Whitican says. “We’ve never had music before. It’ll be great for the runners as they enjoy their chocolate goodies.”

This is the PoHo Hot Cocoa, after all. The winners of each race will receive three-pound Hershey’s chocolate bars. Additional prizes are lined up for winners of each division. And the hot chocolate will be plentiful.

Whitican says nearly 600 runners have so far registered for the races, which break down into a kid’s mile run, beginning at 8:30 a.m.; a ten-mile run (9 a.m.); a 10K run (9:10 a.m.); and a 5K run (9:20 a.m.). Same day registration will remain open until 9 a.m. Sadly, approximately 70 registered Canadians won’t be able to cross the border to participate due to COVID-19 restrictions.

For those that register, they’ll receive a long-sleeve Brooks Dash zip shirt and youth runners will receive a long sleeve t-shirt with registration.

Proceeds from the race go toward local cross-country programs, a world of which Whitican is very familiar. He recently retired as the cross country coach in Yale after eleven years.

“What better way to divvy up the proceeds than to go to local cross country programs,” says Whitican. “In this day and age, we need events like these just to raise money for team uniforms and travel.”

Visit PoHo Hot Cocoa online to learn more about the day’s events.

But wait, there’s more

While the runners of the PoHo Hot Cocoa zip around town and reconvene at McMorran Place for the after party, that building will also be buzzing with another group of athletes: hockey players. The 60th International Silver Stick tournament carries on throughout the weekend, with a full slate of games scheduled all day long. A full schedule is available online.

And outside, yet another Port Huron tradition carries on, even if it looks slightly different than years past. The Chilly Fest returns downtown, this year with revelers enjoying the chili offerings of local establishments by visiting the bars and restaurants themselves. It’s a “chili crawl,” where visitors pick up a scorecard from McMorran Place and then sample and rate the chilis of participating businesses.

It’s a list that includes A Little Something, Chef Shell's Restaurant & Catering, City Flats Hotel, Kate’s Downtown, Lynch's Irish Tavern, Mama Vicki’s Coney Island, Moe’s Corner Deli, Raven Cafe, and What The Fry.

“We are incredibly excited to bring Chilly Fest back to Downtown Port Huron,” says Natacha Hayden, DDA Director for Port Huron. “Even though it will look a little different from prior years, we are carrying many fun activities that scream Chilly Fest through multiple great partnerships with local businesses.”

While participants hop from one establishment to the next, there will be plenty of outdoor options to keep them entertained. A s’more station and carriage rides will be available from McMorran Place starting at 11 a.m. A downtown window-decorating contest will keep city streets festive. And live ice sculpting will take place in the Military Pocket Park from 1 to 3 p.m.

The list goes on: there’s a scavenger hunt-style Penguin Hunt, Chilly Cornhole Tournament, an Outdoor Kid’s Zone, and plenty more.

There’s no shortage of things to do in downtown Port Huron this Saturday, that’s for sure.

“We have ice sculptures, carriage rides, s’more station, food trucks, fuzzy penguin hunt, live ice sculpting, window decorating contest, and chili, of course! I can say that our Downtown businesses are just as excited as I am,” Hayden says. “It is always a fun time welcoming the community to our downtown.”

Visit Chilly Fest online for more information about the day’s full line-up of events.