It probably comes as no surprise that some of the best race directors are avid runners themselves. Such is the case of Chris Ponteri – an MKE runner who has been logging miles for 25 years and is one of the friendliest and most supportive people we’ve met in this wonderful running community.
So read on and get to know him. Then say hi the next time you do one of his races!
Years running: 25
Favorite workout: Running slow
Favorite race distance: Marathon
Favorite song to get pumped up pre-race:
That depends on the distance. I take my pre-race “pump up” music very seriously, especially for a marathon since that song may be stuck in my head for 3 hours. I lean toward new music, usually indie-rock songs. And it does not necessarily have to be an upbeat song; I remember running the San Francisco Marathon a few years ago to “Hold On” by Guster, and one year I even used “Cryptonesia” by the Cold War Kids as my fire-up song for the Lakefront Marathon. It is a super-slow song and not very catchy … which may explain why I did so poorly that year. For last year’s Trailbreaker Marathon, I fired up to the entire Cars “Shake It Up” CD and it produced a successful result (4th place finish) so maybe I should stick to the old stuff! And on a related note, I refuse to listen to music while running outside. I think it’s just wrong. And that’s coming from someone who loves music just as much as running.
Favorite post-race treat:
When I run a marathon I usually ask my wife, Karen, to buy me a box of those little powdered-sugar donuts. I have been known to scarf down the entire box after the race. I’m also a big fan of Pop Tarts, but those are better before the race. They digest easily and have lots of carbs.
Under Armor makes some great shorts and for shoes, I run in Asics Gel Kayanos. I run on a treadmill seven months of the year (except for my long runs) so I don’t need much of anything else other than a good pair of headphones. Outside, I use a Spibelt to carry my phone. I use the Adidas miCoach app on my phone for GPS and timing. On long runs I will frequently use a Nathan hydration belt, especially if it’s warm outside.
How did you get started with running?
I actually ran cross-country in 8th grade and hated it. I thought running was boring and too much work. I finished out the season, but figured that was it for my running career. Fast forward about 10 years. After I graduated from college I decided that, not only was I going to start running, but I was going to train for a marathon (which, by the way, is how I operate … I like to do things without giving them much thought). So I signed up for the Lakefront Marathon then went to the library (these were the pre-internet days), found a book on marathon training, and set up a schedule. This was May, the marathon was in October, and I was a NON-RUNNER. I followed the schedule perfectly all summer and in October I became a marathon runner. I will never forget finishing that first marathon. I started crying coming down the hill on Lincoln Memorial Drive, knowing that I was going make it. It meant a lot to me because I was going through some tough times on a personal level and running seemed to be a good escape from that. I can tell you that I am a better person because of that experience.
I run for so many reasons, many of which are not fitness-related. For me, staying thin and looking younger than my age are only by-products of running. Most of my running is done first thing in the morning (I begin around 5 a.m.) and there is nothing better than starting your day like that. A good run sets the tone for the day. It is also when most of my deep thinking gets done. I am constantly coming up with ideas during runs or thinking of things that need to be done. I keep a pen and paper on my treadmill for when that happens, and if I’m outside I just record notes on my phone. So running makes me more productive, healthier and happier. I can’t think of another activity like that.
Do you have a quote or philosophy that inspires your running?
Running is a very simple sport; you get out of it what you put into it. If you want to be a faster runner, all you have to do is work harder. Bottom line is speed is directly proportional to miles run. Sure, there are tempo runs and interval runs and long runs to get you faster, but it all comes down to miles. And miles are work.
What are your running goals for the upcoming year?
After a year off from the long stuff (my last marathon was Chicago in 2012), I am looking forward to getting my mileage back up to 60-70 miles per week and seeing where that takes me. I don’t have any specific goals. I am so busy these days that I don’t have time to think about where I want my running to take me. I just know that I need to build my base back up and shed a few pounds. It’s really fun to be fast and I am proud that I PR’d at every distance in my mid-40s, but I realistically don’t think there are any more PRs in store for me, so I’m just going to have fun with it while continuing to work hard.
You’re approaching your 20th marathon – what attracts you to this distance? Is there anything big planned for the 20th race?
There is something special about the marathon distance. It’s the training-race cycle. You train for 20 weeks for this one event. Every training cycle takes on its own personality and makes you a stronger person. My next marathon will be my 20th. I would love to do something special and have even given thought to running in my own race, the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon, as my 20th. We’ll see … it fills up early so maybe I won’t even be able to get a spot.
You’ve done both high mileage and lower mileage with more intensity. What type of plan do you think you’ll follow for the upcoming training cycle?
Probably a mix of the two. I don’t think I’ll ever do 100-mile weeks like I had been doing the past five years, but I will get close to it. I’ve gone from running six days per week to five, and doing optional cross-training on that 6th day, so it’s harder to get my mileage up in the triple digits on five days per week. It’s nice to have more flexibility in my schedule, especially these days, since my non-running life is so demanding due to family, work, race-directing and watching football on TV.
What does a typical training week look like for you?
Monday = medium-paced run; Tuesday = medium-paced run; Wednesday = cross training on the elliptical; Thursday = speed work (intervals or tempo run); Friday = slow-paced run; Saturday = long run; Sunday = off. Distance depends on where I am in my training cycle.
How did you get into race directing?
Race directing is actually a lot like running marathons. You spend several weeks preparing for a race, then the big day comes and you are full of adrenaline and energy. And when it’s over, you crash. My race-directing duties started when I created the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon in 2009, and they have expanded to eight or nine races. It’s something I feel like I’m good at. My favorite part is the creative side of it. I look at every race like a movie or a work of art. I want to make them entertaining for participants.
What are some of your favorite Milwaukee races and what do you like about them?
The Lakefront Marathon holds special meaning to me for a few reasons: it was my first marathon and 19 years later it was the scene of the one and only time I went under 3 hours (by 2 whole seconds!). It has become such a well-organized race and I think the runners appreciate that. The Lakefront Discovery Run is a close second because it has a great balance between a serious race and a fun race. The 15k distance draws a competitive field but the post-race party and Halloween theme make it a blast. I also look forward to the River City 5k on the 4th of July in Waterford, which is a few miles from where I live. It’s so much fun to see all of the same people there every year; it’s like my version of Cheers. The Lake Country Half Marathon has a great course and the site of my top two half times – 1:22 in 2010 and 1:23 in 2009. And finally, I have to mention the S-NO-W Fun Run in Lake Geneva. It’s one that every runner should experience. I won’t say why; just sign up and find out.
Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?
The Oak Leaf Trail between South Shore Park and Grant Park is at the top of my list. There are so many great views of the lake and nice paths. One of my favorite long run routes is starting at the Pettit Center, taking the Hank Aaron State Trail to the Lakefront, then coming back west on a more northerly route, going through Doyne and Jacobus Parks and the parkway back to the Pettit. These last two aren’t exactly in Milwaukee, but for a scenic and challenging long run, I like running the roads around Lake Geneva; it’s about 21 miles and loaded with hills. And for trail running, definitely the Nordic Trails in La Grange. I would run there every day if I didn’t have a life.
In general, what makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?
First, there are so many great spots to run here. The park system in and around Milwaukee is first class. Second, it is a fitness-minded community. People laugh when I say that because of the “bratwurst and beer” image Milwaukee has, but this is vibrant place for runners. We have some great local specialty running stores, a large running club in the Badgerland Striders and one of the largest running websites in the country – Running in the USA – based in Waukesha. There are many people who are passionate about running in the Milwaukee area.
Thanks for chatting with us, Chris! If you’d like to learn more about Chris, you can connect here:
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