Taking on the Race Director role for Milwaukee’s oldest marathon is no joke. But Erin Smith is up for the job.
Read on to learn more about how Erin got started in running and race directing and what to expect at this year’s Lakefront Marathon!
What’s your background as a race director and also as a runner? Are you from the Milwaukee area?
For the past three years I was the race director for the Firecracker Four or FC4 as I lovingly refer to it. I kind of took on the role by accident. I was at one of my first Badgerland Striders monthly meetings and someone asked if I wanted to help plan a race. I was new to the Striders and wanted to get more involved in the club so I said I’d help. Before I knew it, I was organizing (and successfully pulling off) one of the Striders highest attended races. FC4 has had over 1,000 registered runners for each of the three years I was director, with almost 300 of those runners registering on race day! I’m glad that Lakefront has a runner limit and sells out in advance of the race; it should make planning for race day a lot easier.
As for my running skills, I’m not an age group winner by any means but I love running. I ran my first 5k about 5 years ago before I was a runner. I signed up for an event with a friend who was into running. I wanted to support her, so I figured I would just walk the distance and get a shirt for doing it. Well, when the gun went off, I ran…the whole thing. When I returned back to the finish line 28 minutes later my husband looked astonished and asked me what I was doing. I guess I was running. The whole thing kind of took off from there, the distances and intensity continued to increase. I completed my first 50 miler in October 2015 and look forward to running Ice Age 50 in May. I’ve been toying with the idea of a 100K or 100 miler but we’ll have to see what happens.
I’m not originally from the Milwaukee area. I grew up in Luxemburg, WI, a small town east of Green Bay. I’ve lived in the Milwaukee area for the last 10 years and just recently moved to Hales Corners.
What’s your experience with LFM, both as a runner and volunteer? What are some of your favorite aspects of the race?
I ran Lakefront in 2012 as my first marathon and then again in 2014. In 2012, I was still relatively new to running but thought if I was going to be a runner, then I should run a marathon. I joined the Striders and participated in their marathon build-up program. I was really impressed by the whole event from the expo to everything about the race experience. I can very vividly remember crossing the finish line of my first marathon and being greeted by Kris Heinrichs, the former race director. She gave me a hug and said “Congratulations Erin, you’re a marathon runner.” I was so impressed that she would give a sweaty stranger a hug and congratulate them. I ran Lakefront again in 2014 as a recon mission but also as my farewell to running the course for a bit. It was in the works that I would take over when Dr. Jon (former Lakefront Marathon race director) stepped down and I wanted to make sure I had the chance to see the course again as it is on race day. I often bike the course but it doesn’t have the same magic as it does on race day.
For the past three years, I have been the volunteer coordinator for LFM. It’s kind of a thankless job but I really enjoyed it. I was responsible for finding upwards of 1,000 volunteers for race weekend. I love planning and organizing so coordinating volunteers came naturally. The volunteers are one of my favorite aspects of the race. It’s so amazing to me that the Striders can put on this top-notch event and have it run solely by volunteers. The time, talents and dedication of so many people are really what make LFM so awesome. I also really like the unlimited free beer at the end of the race.
Why did you want to take on the role of LFM race director? How did you get the position and what were your thoughts upon learning the position was yours?
I wanted to be race director to be part of something big in the running community. Since I have taken on the RD role I have had people personally congratulate me, clap for me and give me praise. I mean really, I haven’t even done anything yet. You might want to hold that applause until October, just in case I mess it up. Honestly, LFM is a first class event and like I said before it’s completely run by volunteers; that includes me as well. I’ve had a lot of people thank me for taking on the role but I’m actually quite honored that the Striders have that much faith in me to carry out such a huge undertaking. As for getting this position, there wasn’t an interview process or an application. I said that I was interested and apparently proved myself so a few conversations happened and, voila, I was the next RD. I’m really excited to take on this challenge but I’ve also had the occasional freak out moment where I question my sanity for volunteering to organize a marathon!
What should participants expect at this year’s race? Do you anticipate making any changes?
As always, runners should expect a high quality race, amazing course support, smiling volunteers and some awesome LFM merchandise. I don’t anticipate making any huge changes for 2016. We did decide to increase the capacity from 3,500 runners to 4,000 runners. This decision was made very recently so it might be a surprise to some people. My number one goal for the upcoming race is to have a seamless transition from Dr. Jon to myself. My ancillary goal is to not mess it up!
As always, LFM is expected to sell out several months in advance of the race – Why do you think the race is such a popular one in the area?
I think the race is popular because it’s a well-run event. People look for quality and bang for their buck. They definitely get both at Lakefront. The Striders also provide amazing runner support outside of race weekend: the marathon build-up program, fun runs, speakers and track workouts. I also think the elevation profile lends itself to the popularity. It’s a flat and fast course and lots of people qualify for Boston at Lakefront.
We’re working on building some partnerships with local businesses to get more pre-race events in the area to build up some hype for the race. I don’t have any huge plans in the works or anything over the top planned but you never know what might happen.
What are some of your favorite Milwaukee races and why?
I might be a bit biased when it comes to races but I really like Firecracker Four. I’ve only physically run the race one time, but I run the course almost daily now that I live in Hales Corners. I love the atmosphere of FC4; the community support is over the top. Lakefront is also one of my favorites, but again with the bias. I really like the half marathon distance so Strider Half, South Shore and Trailbreaker are some good ones. My all-time favorite race is not in Milwaukee but in Stevens Point, the Point Bock Run. It’s a 5-mile out and back course that starts/finishes at the Stevens Point Brewery. It’s usually blistering cold for the run in March but they have a huge heated tent at the finish and happy people waiting to serve you Point Special.
Thanks so much for chatting with us, Erin!
There’s still time to sign up for the 2016 Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon. To learn more, or to register, visit MilwaukeeLakefrontMarathon.org.
Keep Running MKE – You’re doing great!