Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon will get a new southern route – Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon will get a new southern route  Milwaukee Journal Sentinel



The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon was in trouble.

Not to be confused with the other marathon that’s had some troubles over the last five years, this is the Lakefront Marathon, the city’s crown jewel of a running event. It’s the original marathon with four decades of history and a well-run reputation thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers backed by a large and thriving running group. And it was briefly in jeopardy of not happening at all in 2022.

That’s the bad news. But let’s start with the good.

Moving south

The 2022 Lakefront Marathon is going to look drastically different this year – and likely for a couple of years to come – with a new route plus a whole new event, a half marathon.

Road construction and the inability to acquire needed permits as a result killed any chance for the event to go on as usual from its typical route – a point-to-point, 26.2-mile course beginning in Grafton and finishing at the Milwaukee lakefront. There was no compromise; it was not an option.

So race organizers had to pivot and create a whole new southern-based route to keep the race going for Oct. 2. And it looks great.

The Lakefront Marathon start line is now at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee. From there, runners will pass through the Third Ward, Walker’s Point and Bay View, and then toward Lake Michigan and south on Lake Drive.

After the turnaround point at Mile 10 – near Warnimont Park in Cudahy – runners will make their way north along the gorgeous Oak Leaf Trail, where the view will open up to some of the best skyline scenes of the city, the water and surrounding parks, trees, beaches and trails.

It gets better. At Mile 15, marathoners will traverse up and over the Hoan Bridge – a rare treat, as the bridge is rarely open to pedestrian traffic. It then continues north past the Milwaukee Art Museum toward Milwaukee’s beaches, still on the Oak Leaf Trail, with a turnaround near Lake Park. Runners will finish with about a 1-mile loop through Lakeshore State Park – again, one of the best maintained and photogenic parks we have – and cross the finish line at the Summerfest grounds.

Some details are still being worked out, and organizers are working to ensure the new 26.2-mile course design will still be USATF-certified and a Boston qualifier. And yes, it will be a little challenging, with an elevation gain of 626 feet; the old route was overall a fast course known for a general descent.

A new event and a new logo

In addition to the new marathon course, the event also will feature a half-marathon distance for the first time. Half marathons are the most popular running distance and this event likely will sell out.  

The Lakefront Marathon even created a new logo for 2022 featuring the colors from the Milwaukee flag and a depiction of the Hoan Bridge by Courtney Anderson, a student at Homestead High School.

What’s crazy is the herculean efforts it took for race director Scott Stauske to pull this off, how long he was able to get enough people on board despite increasing pressure from outspoken runners, and crazier still that he’s waiting for final approval on a couple of issues.

Here are the highlights of the mess – and to think, this sounds worse than pulling off the 2021 race in a pandemic – as well as some nods to those who stepped up to help.

Wisconsin DOT

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation was the first to notify Stauske in mid-November 2021 about the road construction. “They said we are going to tear down bridges, and it’s going to affect your route for the next three years,” Stauske said. That gave him time to plan.

North Shore said no

Thinking he could run the route through the North Shore communities to get to Lincoln Memorial Drive, Stauske was denied. Why? Stauske said he was told he needed to ask for permission before Nov. 1, 2021. He pressed on anyway and worked with many groups. One issue was needing his runners to go down Lake Drive.

“They finally just said, ‘No, you can’t, you can’t shut down just one lane because of the Waukesha Christmas parade incident,’” Stauske said. “And so you have to shut down the whole road…but you can’t shut down Lake Drive.”

There really aren’t other great options besides Lake Drive.

A start in Milwaukee

Stauske came up with a new route altogether, with a start in Milwaukee, and even that hasn’t been easy. He’s waiting for final approval from the city but expects to get it, he said.

“It took a long time to be able to convince the city that the community will support this event,” Stauske said. “The organizers are aware that it can be an inconvenience for some residents for a period of time, but that we are inviting the community to support this event by cheering and holding viewing parties, whatever we can do to try to make it a positive instead of a negative.”

But since the whole race isn’t in Milwaukee, he couldn’t get help from Milwaukee-based tourist organizations like Visit Milwaukee.

Scooped

Stauske was still trying to make 100% sure everyone was on board – a race like this costs thousands of dollars – before he announced it.

“I use Map My Run,” he said. “Some ingenuity-person basically did a search through Map My Run, found it and posted it. I’m like, oh, dear Lord, it’s not ready to be posted…”

Green light, go? Almost

Stauske felt comfortable announcing the new route last Friday. And so far all is well. But he is still refining some small parts of the route.

“It’s subject to change if I can make it better,” Stauske said. “I did have a meeting with Cudahy and they were very supportive and they’re going to work with me. St. Francis has been extremely supportive. I feel as though we’re ready to roll. I’m just trying to make it better right now. I applied for a permit with South Milwaukee.”

Milwaukee County Parks

One issue is a popular golf course in the area and whether it will compete with the race.

“They basically presented to me that you can’t use Sheridan Drive because the Warnimont Golf Course golfers wouldn’t be able to get through,” Stauske said.

Stauske can’t afford to rent out the whole golf course for the day; that’s way too expensive for a marathon race.

No sponsor

This race has been sponsored by Miller and Dannon in the past. Unfortunately, there’s no major title sponsor now, and that makes everything tougher: paying for permits, paying overtime for police officers, paying for non-volunteer staff. Stauske and the Badgerland Striders don’t need to take all of this on, but they have.

The bottom line is that this has turned into a family event with the half marathon, 5K and kids race, and last year runners from 46 states and seven other countries participated. The Hoan Bridge hasn’t been open to runners since Rock ‘N Sole folded a few years ago, and some locals know how fun it will be to run over it.

Here’s hoping that all goes well. Our community is lucky to have an event like this. It’s a draw of people from all walks of life, with thousands of different stories, and their friends and families who come to cheer them on.

The race’s first whole-staff meeting is scheduled for Monday. With any luck, a few of the leaves will be just starting to change color on race day and the air will be a perfect temp in the 50s for the endurance athletes. Maybe event records won’t be shattered, but that bridge is a gradual incline for the most part and could be a unique aspect of the race.

Stauske initially missed a May 1 deadline while trying to acquire permits and he got that pushed back to May 15. Behind the scenes, he was calling cities every day, trying to get an update, and receiving none.

“When I extended it to the end of May, then people started getting really, really mad and angry at me,” Stauske said. “Runners every day: it’s ridiculous that you’re not publishing a route. But mostly from my staff. …

“It would be ideal to be able to – instead of having to deal with all the trials and tribulations – just say, what an amazing course we’re going to have,” he said. “That’s 80% of the course right along the water. And this is going to be a big crown jewel for the City of Milwaukee.”

To register: milwaukeelakefrontmarathon.org/

Current course info: milwaukeelakefrontmarathon.org/course-information/