Race It: GrindFest 2015: Grind Over Matter

Ever wonder what happens when some of the fastest men and women in the area get together? We’ll tell you what – GrindFest – an opportunity for the fastest of the fast in the MKE area to duke it out and see who can last the longest in a progression run at the Pettit National Ice Center indoor track.

When: Sunday, Dec. 27; Women’s race starts at 7:30pm. Men will start around 7:45pm.

Who: Everyone is welcome! Ladies will start around 6:30 pace and grind down from there. Men will start around 6:10 pace.

Registration: $10, onsite starting an hour before the race

Below, Grind Master Thomas Breitbach explains how it works and shares a few favorites for this year’s race!


How did GrindFest get its start and how many years have local runners been grinding it out at the Pettit?
GrindFest started in 2013, so this is the third annual ‘Fest. The event is the brainchild of Terry Witkowski (Kettle Moraine HS alum and an All-American at UW-Stevens Point), and has continued to grow from his original vision. We’ve added team scoring competitions, a prediction contest, and even more prizes to make this THE most exciting indoor progression run held between Christmas and New Year’s in the Milwaukee area!

Can you explain how the event works? Participants start running … and then what?
Basically it’s a progression run where the pace drops by 2 seconds per lap (about 8 sec/mile) every 3 laps. Participants keep running until they can’t keep up with the pack and the pace. After you’re done, you can pull off the track and watch the rest of the race unfold. Once it’s down to two athletes left, it’s a 3-lap race to the finish!


What are the rules participants need to follow?
Other than having to stay running with the pack (you’re allowed to drop behind a little bit once or twice, as long as you reconnect pretty quickly afterwards), it’s fairly simple. If the leaders of the lap are more than 2 seconds faster or slower for the assigned pace, they will be warned. After 3 warnings, you’re out. That’s never happened yet, as it seems like people get into the rhythm pretty well as things get rolling. We also have a one-time, one-lap bathroom break allowance, though only one person has successfully pulled it off.

From what we can tell, there were some seriously fast guys in the mix last year. Who are the past winners? What final pace/how many laps did the winners run?
Our first GrindFest Champ was John Dewitt, a UW-Oshkosh All-American and local math teacher who is an Olympic Trials qualifier in the marathon (2:17:38 at Chicago in 2014). Last year, John finished second in an epic duel with Joe Stilin, a 2008 Milwaukee King HS grad who is a sub-4:00 miler and current professional runner in North Carolina. In the first two races, we’ve usually seen the champion determined after about 10-11 miles of running (about 38 laps), finishing up with a last mile around 4:45.


Has anything crazy or unexpected happened in any of the previous years? Major upsets, etc?
Probably the most legendary GrindFest story comes from 2013. John Simons, an Arrowhead HS alum and also a sub-4:00 miler, pulled off the track for a “1-lap pit stop” and rejoined the leaders running right around 5:00 mile pace to finish in the top 5 of the inaugural GrindFest. I think we can all relate to that feeling, and John did it in pretty impressive fashion!

We’ve heard there will be a ladies division this year – can you tell us a bit about it? How will it differ from the men’s event?
The women will run 9 laps of the track on their own, starting just over 6:30 pace, and then progress down every 3 laps, until the men jump in at ~6:10 pace for their start.

Who’s already in for this year’s event? Any favorites in the mix?
With Joe Stilin unable to return to defend his crown, I think John Dewitt is a strong favorite at this point, though I know some other local studs are primed to push for an upset. Andy Ashenden was a surprise 3rd place finisher last year; Spencer Agnew is a Marquette grad with some pretty serious finishing wheels. My personal dark horse pick is Kyle Fraser, a former Badger cross country athlete and winner of this year’s Lakefront Marathon. That dude was born to grind.

On the women’s side, last year’s groundbreaking first female participant (and self-proclaimed Ruth Badur Ginsburg of GrindFest) Molly Woodford should be one of the top contenders. In addition, 2013 Wisconsin state cross country champion Elizabeth Flatley will no doubt be ready to grind. We’re hoping to land a few other high-profile athletes to the women’s field, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if a few of our ladies out grind some of the men in the race!

Are spectators welcome?
Absolutely! The spectators are such a big part of what makes this race truly an event. In addition to the thrill of the race, we’ve got a prediction contest, spectator spirit awards and even the coveted “Mom of the Year” prize. If you like running and runners, this is one of the most fun nights of the year!

Any other comments?
Feel free to check out our website at thegrindfest.com and contact us if you’ve got any questions. Looking forward to seeing a bunch of great folks at the race!

Thanks for chatting with us, Thomas!

Who’s running this year’s GrindFest? We’ll see you on the 27th!

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

Let’s Get to Know … John Dewitt

At the young age of 23, John Dewitt achieved what many MKE runners can only dream of – running an Olympic Trials Qualifying Time and finishing among the Top 10 Americans at the Chicago Marathon – one of the biggest races in the world. And did we mention this was his marathon debut??

Below, this amazing MKE runner tells us what led him to try the marathon distance, his training leading up to Chicago and what’s next on his list of running goals!


John Dewitt

Age: 23
Team affiliation: Wisconsin Road Racing Team/ Brooks ID Development Team
Years running: 12 years
If you could run with anyone, who would you run with: Ryan Hall
Favorite workout: 2 miles @ 10k pace, 4 miles @ 10k pace + 45 seconds, 2 miles @ 10k pace (no rest)
Pre-race routine: Listening to music (Taylor Swift is a personal favorite)
Favorite post-race treat: Swedish Fish
Favorite distance to race: Half Marathon
Significant wins/placings/awards:

  • 2012 NCAA Division 3 Cross Country All-American
  • 2013 NCAA Division 3 Track and Field All-American (10,000m)
  • 3-time CoSIDA Academic All-American (2011, 2012, 2013)
  • 1st at 2013 Citizen’s First Fox Cities Half Marathon
  • 23rd at the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon (10th American)


Why did you start running and what’s kept you running over the years?
I started running as a part of the McDill Running Club in 4th grade in Stevens Point. It was just a few miles, 3 days a week, but it really got me excited. I was always a young man with a lot of energy, so it was a great way for me to burn some of it and be competitive in the process. After a few years of doing that, I put it down and picked it back up my sophomore year of high school, when I joined track and field. Ever since my first two mile, I have always loved how exciting it was to push myself to my limits. I quickly fell in love with running and haven’t stopped since.

Can you tell us a bit about your running career to date?
As I said, I picked up track as a sophomore in high school and then proceeded to join cross country as junior, where I made my first trip to the State meet. From there, I qualified for State again as a senior in both cross country and track (2 mile). As my high school career wrapped up, I decided to go to the University of Wisconsin – Oshkosh with the dream of becoming an All-American. Finally, after 14,000 miles of running and 4 NCAA National Championship appearances, I achieved my dream in my senior cross country season, finishing 32nd at the 2012 NCAA Division 3 Cross Country Championships. I followed that up in track with a 5th place finish in the 10,000m run, and my second NCAA Division 3 All-American title. After college, I had to find a new dream, which quickly became qualifying for the Olympic Trials. I ran my first half marathon in fall of 2013, where I was 40 seconds away from qualifying for the Trials. Another year passed, and I decided to take a step up to the marathon, making my debut at the 2014 Chicago Marathon. In my debut, I ran 2:17:38, which was under the qualifier for the 2016 Olympic Trials in Los Angeles.


Congrats on an amazing marathon debut and OTQ time your first time out. What prompted you to move up to the marathon distance?
Throughout my running career, I had always gotten better as the distance had increased. I was a better 2 miler than a miler and a better 10k runner than a 5k runner. So, naturally, I knew my best shot to qualify for the Olympic Trials would be in the marathon. After I got so close in the half marathon in 2013, I knew it was time to give the marathon a try, and it’s worked out pretty well thus far.

What did a typical training week look like for you leading up to the marathon?
In my peak training time, I run around 90-100 miles a week, in 3-week bursts. So, every 4th week, I take a week down at around 70 miles per week. In those weeks, I do a lot of runs at a faster pace, just based on feel. However, each week is focused around 2-3 workouts, one of which being a long/hard effort, typically early on Sunday morning.

Did you have any expectations going into Chicago this year?
My goal was to qualify for the Olympic Trials, so I was super nervous headed into the race. Everyone had talked about “the wall” and how awful the pain in the marathon was. At halfway, I was super nervous and wasn’t sure if my body would hold up for the second 13.1 miles. However, I just kept moving along and, despite the major pain, was able to hold on to that 5:15 pace per mile.


Looking back, are there any things you would have done differently during or leading up the race?
Honestly, not really. It was one of the best races of my career and I ran it nearly as well as I could have. I just wish the day could’ve been more than 24 hours.


Finnel and I

Along with your own training and racing, you also coach high school track and cross country. Can you tell us how your own experience helps you help your teams? Also, how does coaching benefit your own running?
I’m not sure that coaching helps my running; it is a large time commitment, where I am focused on the athletes’ training as opposed to my own. That being said, I absolutely love it. I love getting to hang out with my West Allis Hale boys and I get to live life with them, really using my experiences to give them perspective. With all the experience, I feel like I can offer insight into how they can make steps toward the next level and how they get back on track when the going is tough. Overall, I love being around the team and the guys. They continually remind me of the joy of running and being a part of a team.

What running goals are you looking to tackle during the next few years?
The next big thing on my calendar is the Olympic Trials in 2016. My training will revolve around trying to be fully prepared to perform my best at the Trials.

Who do you look up to in running?
I have been fortunate enough to have many great role models along the way. Honestly, there are simply too many great coaches and teammates from my time at Oshkosh West and UW Oshkosh that I looked up to, but I can say that each and every one of them had their impact on my career, in some way or another. However, most notably, is the impact my family had on my life. My parents taught me how to work hard and believe in myself. My brother modeled what it was like to be dedicated to running and chase after your dreams. And my sister continually reminded me how to take joy out of all situations. From my coaches, teammates, and family, I have grown a lot to be who I am today.

Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?
I love to run along the lake, as the Oak Leaf Trail is a personal favorite of mine. Along with that, I use the lagoon in Veteran’s Park to do a lot of workouts. Also, I enjoy running on the dirt trails by the river in the summer. They aren’t the easiest to maneuver all the time, but I appreciate the soft surface and the feeling of being away from the world.

In general, what makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?
There are just so many good runners in the area that it creates the opportunity for us to get together and build off each other. More than just training together, we get to watch each other be successful, which drives everyone to work harder and get better.

Any other comments?
I just want to give all glory and praise to the Lord Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior. On top of that, I would just like to thank all the people who have been a part of my life in some way or another; it really has been quite the journey and I can’t wait for it to continue.

Thanks for chatting with us, John!

If you’re a runner in MKE, we’d love to chat with you. Send us an email at keeprunningmke@gmail.com if you’d like to be featured or know someone who should be featured in an upcoming Let’s Get to Know . . . post.

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!