I decided to do this race for several reasons. For one thing, I had never been to Milwaukee before and I had a secret desire to visit this Midwestern city. Perhaps it was because I’d watched too many episodes of Laverne and Shirley during my formative years, but Milwaukee has always had a certain appeal to me. I had also read some very good reviews about this race on Marathonguide.com, and while I usually approach those reviews with a certain degree of caution, I was swayed by the preponderonce of positive comments. Another reason was to check off Wisconsin for my second go-around of the states.
It was good that I signed up early in the spring because the race filled up by April; the race allows only about 3000 entries. The event is put on entirely by the local running club, the Badgerland Striders, and the club and its 1500 members and volunteers do an admirable job. In June, I had met the race director, Kristine Hinrichs, and Betty, another club member, on the bus to the Mayor’s Marathon, and they had reassured me that their race does indeed keep the finish line open the full 6.5 hours. Note that I am always concerned that race officials keep their word about finish line promises since it’s very important for us back-of-the-packers.
Up at 3 am on Saturday, October 1, I made the 2 hour drive to Jacksonville and two short flights and an airport shuttle later, I soon arrived at the Hyatt, one of the host hotels. My room was ready (hooray) so I set my bags down and headed outside to grab a shuttle to the expo at the Kern Center. Of course, I had no idea where I was or where the Kern Center was – I just headed out the door of the hotel looking for a likely bus. After a few minutes, no bus appeared but I did see several people wearing Boston marathon jackets walking by and I asked them how to get to the expo. They had been waiting about an hour with no luck so they had decided to walk and I joined them. It was not very far, perhaps a half mile (the trick was finding my way back to the hotel afterwards – that took me quite a bit longer).
Packet pickup was quick and easy. Our names were in big easy-to-read letters on the bibs and the Champion chips did not have to be returned so we could attach them our laces and then keep them as momentos. The tee shirt was long-sleeved technical in a burnt orange color, with a nice design on front and back. No advertising since the running club is the only sponsor. Kind of nice, that. The expo was relatively small, with a few booths selling running gear, clothes, and shoes. I don’t buy too much before a race, especially when I have to squeeze everything into a small suitcase, so I usually just walk through once and leave. However, several talks were scheduled and I was in time to hear Bart Yasso from Runner’s World Magazine and a brief course description. Then I headed back to the hotel for my usual pre-race meal and bedtime.
Sunday morning was chilly, around 41 degrees, but temps were supposed to get into the 60’s around noon. I dressed warmly and in several layers, with my mittens and handwarmers and scarf. The course is a point-to-point with buses taking people to the start at Grafton, a town 26.2 miles north of Milwaukee. Impatient and nervous, I managed to get on the first bus which left at 5:45 am. After a 30 minute ride, we entered the toasty warm high school where we could sit, use the restrooms, and comfortably await the start of the race at 7:30 am. I met up with Betty and her friend Mary and we spent the time chatting. Before I realized it, the sun was up, and it was time to go.
The race began right on time. The course has a few rolling uphills in the first 5-10 miles but after that is fairly flat with the final miles blessedly downhill. We traveled south through quiet countryside and farmland (very nice), beautiful upscale neighborhoods, the Concordia College campus, and finishing along the shores of beautiful Lake Michigan. At every mile, there were volunteers calling out times, which was very helpful, and aid stations at least every 2 miles or so with Gatorade and water. Quite a few spectators, mostly neighbors, lined the streets and almost all would call out my name (since it was printed in large letters on my bib).
Around mile 6, the still sore and nagging blister on my left foot began to bother me; I had to forge on and just ignore it. A few miles later and I began to feel the effects of walking on hard road surfaces as my shins began to hurt. Perhaps I hadn’t rested as much as I should have after Cleveland. Well, I was not going to let that drag me down. I pushed on, enjoying myself despite the pain. It was a beautiful day for a race; the sun was shining, there was no rain, I was surrounded by beautiful scenery and friendly people, and every mile was another step towards Milwaukee and the finish line.
By mile 20, I got a resurgence of energy and began to pass a number of people. These are usually my favorite miles in a marathon; I just love that rush of heading towards the final miles. I finished in 5:45 (right where I usually finish), pleased with the result. Bart Yasso was announcing the runners as they crossed the finish line and he did so for me, a volunteer put a medal around my neck, another handed me a bottle of water, and then I picked up a bag of food treats, stopped at the beer table for a cup, and made my way to the bus to take me back to my hotel.
One unusual thing about the Lakefront Marathon this year was the Jennipede. This was a group of 62 runners who were determined to set a Guinness World Record for the most runners finishing a marathon while tethered together by a rope. They were doing this to benefit local runner Jenny Crain who had been hit by a car while training for the 2007 Olympic trials. I believe they raised over $100,000. This was really a sight to see! For a while the Jennipede was ahead of me, but when they stopped to take turns at the lines of portapotties (and THAT was pretty funny), I managed to get ahead and stay ahead of them. For the last .2 of the race, Jenny Crain rode alongside in her wheelchair and Jenny and her Jenniped finished the race in 6:20.
I’m already planning to do this race again next year, and I hope to spend more time exploring Milwaukee and visiting some of the microbreweries. If the Gators are not playing a home game on October 7, 2012, my husband may want to come, too.