Race Preview: Gold Medal Challenge 2016

Every year, MKE runners look forward to the Icebreaker Indoor Marathon, Half Marathon, Marathon Relay and 5k. All are wonderful events that are as fun as they are competitive.

And for those who really love a good challenge – and lots of running in circles indoors – there’s the Gold Medal Challenge. Two days of running, 39.3 miles. This year’s challenge kicks off on Saturday so today Race Director Chris Ponteri is here to tell us more about the challenge and share this year’s top contenders.

sm20150124_070342_IMG_0081Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

Tell us a bit about the Gold Medal Challenge – What do participants need to do to complete the challenge? Why do you think this type of challenge appeals to runners?
To complete the Gold Medal Challenge you must run the Half Marathon on Saturday and the Marathon on Sunday. We then add up your times to determine the winners. I think it appeals to runners who like to push themselves. Many of them are ultra runners.

Can you tell us a bit about the history of the Gold Medal Challenge? How did it get started and how many years has it been run?
This is the eighth Icebreaker and the seventh time we have done the Gold Medal Challenge. I copied the idea from the Goofy Challenge, which is part of the Disney Marathon.

What are some memorable moments from past Gold Medal Challenges?
One of the highlights was last year when both the male and female winners (Matt Jacobson and Ruth Lunz) had a small lead over the second place person after the Half Marathon and decided to employ a similar strategy on Sunday, which was to follow the second-place person as long as possible. In both cases, the second-place runners ended up falling back. It was a smart strategy by the winners.

sm20150125_122242_IMG_1393Last year’s Gold Medal Challenge winners, Matt Jacobson and Ruth Lunz. Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

Another highlight came several years ago when the male GMC winner, Mac McCauley, swept both the Marathon and the Half Marathon. That is the only time that has happened, although a few others have come close.

What’s the best strategy for completing the Gold Medal Challenge in one piece? Also, any tips for runners hoping to win or place?
The key is to take it easy in the Half Marathon. If you are a 1:30 half runner, you will want to finish around 1:35. The best strategy I can offer for winning is to know where the competition is at all times.

Who are this year’s top contenders and what makes them ones to watch? Are any past winners returning this year?
The favorites on the women’s side are three-time champion Mary Flaws and Icebreaker newcomer Kim Arbinger. Mary is running very well right now and had a big year in 2015 while Kim is coming off a strong finish at the Lakefront Marathon (3:25) and a third-place finish at the Glacial 50-miler. Both ladies put in a lot of miles and should challenge each other. On the men’s side, it is wide open.

sm20150125_080416_IMG_0053Mary Flaws, in blue, is a top contender in this year’s Gold Medal Challenge. Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

Are spectators welcome at the races? What makes the indoor races especially exciting to watch?
Spectators are certainly welcome and admission is free. It’s a real treat to watch these races because how many times can you see a distance race up close like this? In outdoor races you are lucky to see a certain runner 2 or 3 times, but here you can see them every lap. The spectating experience is as unique as the running experience.

Thanks for chatting with us, Chris! If you’re interested in checking out this weekend’s Icebreaker events, visit indoormarathon.com to get the full schedule. We hope to see you at one or more of the distance events!

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

Let’s Get to Know … Bill Flaws!

What’s one thing we all do after a race? We look through the race pics!

Sometimes, a pic captures a runner at his or her best, while other times the struggle is evident. But no matter what, they are a memory of the day and evidence of another race in the books.

Race photographer, Bill Flaws, has photographed about 400 races to date so he’s just about seen it all. Read on to learn more about how he got started and what he loves about taking race pics!

7155_10201382491070607_1905443729_nAll photos by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

Has photography always been a business or hobby? If so, what types of things do you photograph other than races?
Race photography and photography in general has always been a hobby for me. When I’m not taking pictures at races, I enjoy taking landscape and architectural type photos.

When did you start taking race pics and what inspired you to start?
I started taking pics at races when my wife (Mary Flaws) started running. It was a way to document her races. As she continued running more and more races, I decided that since I was there to support/cheer her on, I might as well snap pics of the other runners. I started posting these pics on our Running in the USA website as a way to generate some interest in the site. Eventually I had people asking if they could buy prints or digital downloads. That is when I decided to create an account at SmugMug to allow people to not only view all the photos but purchase prints, merchandise or downloads.

10411218_10205728319624279_6984104247392407232_nBill with his wife, Mary

To date, how many races have you photographed? Also, what are some of the highlights?
It looks like I’ve taken photos at about 400 races (running/tri/du) and have taken close to a quarter million photos. Oh my, that sounds crazy doesn’t it?!?

The furthest away race was the Big Island International Marathon in Hilo, HI which was Mary’s and our friend Joey Heinrichs’ 50th state. I believe I’ve taken race photos in 48 different states – no New York or Kansas for sure. Mary did the New York Marathon during a girls’ weekend trip to New York and she decided to do a marathon in Kansas when I had already committed to take photos at a race here in the Milwaukee metro area. I’m sure someday I will have the opportunity to finish out those two states!

One of the smallest was probably a race that Mary ran in Wyoming on a mountain ski hill. That race had a 50M, 50K, marathon and 10K. Mary was one of about 25 marathoners. As for the largest race I’ve taken photos at…you’d think Chicago Marathon would be an obvious answer since its close and one of the largest (and Mary did run the Chicago Marathon), however I did not take photos when she ran that race! Probably the largest I’ve taken photos at is the Boston Marathon or the Marine Corps Marathon.

What is your strategy when taking pics at races?
Before a race I try to take a look at the course along with checking out Google maps of the general area. From those, I decide which spots on the course I can get to, how far into the race is the location, where will the sun be, etc. At the race, I try to get pics of the start and at least one other spot during the race where the runners have thinned out a bit. I generally try to avoid being right at the finish line so as to not get in the way of spectators/family cheering on their runner.

After photographing so many races – and also being married to Mary – are you also a runner or did you run at some point?
This may be one of the most asked questions I get…So, do you run also? I did run some track in high school. Short distances…200 and 400. That was enough for me! I love the challenge of trying to capture and record athletes in competition. I like the determined looks on their faces and the emotion that comes out when athletes realize they are going to finish a race – be it a 5K or 50 mile. The energy from the spectators is great at most events and I’ve met lots of awesome/inspiring people through this little hobby. Since I don’t run, it’s my way of giving back to the running community.

What are some of the funniest/most interesting ‘poses’ you’ve seen runners do during races?
I usually see the standard things – arms out with a big smile on their face running right at the camera; peace sign; thumbs up; sticking tongue out along with the “moose ears” maneuver (which is mostly from Mary!). I will occasionally get people that see me and jump in the air with a fist up. If you do this, please be careful…I actually had someone do that and he cramped up right as he landed – felt bad for him as he hobbled down the road. I’ve had lots of times when groups of women will stop to pose or a group of friends running side-by-side who will hold hands above like a victory salute. It’s all fun and gives me a chuckle.

What are some memorable races that you’ve photographed?
Some are memorable because of the weather that day or the scenery was awesome or my wife/friends had a spectacular day on the course or the friendly spectators/locals that I talked to. But here are a few that I won’t soon forget …

Run/Walk to Irish Fest in Milwaukee – This was not a good memory but memorable for sure. I had parked my vehicle on Lincoln Memorial Drive and during the race someone did a smash and grab. Broke the passenger side window and took off with a camera backpack and another bag with a backup camera body, lens and other accessories. Never saw that stuff again.

Salmon Marathon in Salmon, ID – This was a memorable one for me because of the locals I talked to did not mention the scenery. I had picked out a spot to take photos and a couple of guys had come out to watch the marathoners go by. They saw me with a big camera and came over to chat while I waited for the marathoners. I was probably there for over half an hour. They were not runners but were very appreciative of this marathon coming through their community and genuine enjoyed cheering for the runners going by.

Boston Marathon – I’ve been fortunate to be able to accompany Mary and other running friends to the Boston Marathon four times. My favorite is taking ‘the T’ from downtown Boston out to mile 17. Lots of spectators but you can still find space to get to the edge of the road to see the lead women and men along with the media trucks, etc. – and then see the rest of the field and hopefully spot your friends! Quite an awesome sight to see and the energy is great.

What are your top tips for taking a great race pic?
The first three are the real tips … the last three are suggestions:
1. Keep the sun at your back, but watch where your shadow falls!
2. Background – Try to pick a spot where the background won’t clutter up or distract from the main focus of the photo, the athlete
3. Get low – take pics looking up at runners, makes runners look better plus if you are taking photos of running kids, you are then down at their level as well
4. Take lots and lots of photos and then select the best ones.
5. Keep the camera as level as possible
6. Try to keep shutter speed well above 1/250 second which will help ‘freeze’ the action.


One thing we’ve noticed is that Running in the USA race pics are very reasonably priced compared with other companies. What was behind the decision to keep prices down?
I did this on purpose. This truly is a hobby for me and this is my little way of hopefully giving back to the running community. Earnings from the sales goes back to paying the hosting company fees for hosting the photos and to buy/repair/replace/upgrade camera equipment.

What upcoming races will you be at and how will runners know it’s you so they can give a friendly wave?
Well, as I tell everyone … I will most likely be at a race that Mary is running or local races in the Milwaukee metro area. So, you may see me at the Mad City 50K in Madison, WI (4/11/2015), maybe at the First Call Half Marathons in Waukesha, WI (4/12/2015), certainly at Run for the Hills in Brookfield, WI (4/26/2015) and Ice Age 50 in La Grange, WI (5/9/2015).

If you see a goof with a big camera and white lens over his shoulder, usually a black hat and crouching near (but not right at the finish line!) … pretty good chance it’s me. Just yell Bill, that’s what most do!

Thanks for chatting with us, Bill! To learn more about Running in the USA, visit www.runningintheusa.com.

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

Let’s Get to Know . . . Mary Flaws

Three-time winner of the Indoor Marathon Gold Medal Challenge, 100 mile weeks, ultra and trail runner – and to think she just started running at age 32! it’s fair to say, Mary Flaws is an inspiration to us all.

Read on to find out how she got started, training tips and a few of her favorite local races!

sm20130727_102242_img_1024With training partner, Dennis Hanna, at the 2013 Heatbreaker

Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

Mary Flaws

Co-Owner of Running in the USA

Age: 46

Years running: 14

Favorite workout: Marathon pace run

Favorite distance to race: Marathon

Significant past wins:

  • Gold Medal Challenge 3 years in a row: 2010, 2011, 2012
  • I’ve won one 50K, 2 trail marathons and 6 road marathons. Bismarck was my first marathon win in 2009.

Favorite song to get pumped up pre-race: Foo Fighters: Overdrive

Favorite post-race treat:  Big ol’ bacon cheeseburger with those deep-fried onion string thingies

sm20130602_101856_img_0697Flaws with Joey Heinrichs at the North Olympic Discovery Marathon, June 2013.

Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

How did you get started with running?

I started running after talking to two different people who were training for the Chicago Marathon. One was a newbie and one a veteran. The newbie explained the 18-week buildup that started from being able to run 3 miles. I asked my husband if he thought I could run a marathon. He gently said no. I asked him if the thought I could run a half marathon. He gently said no. I asked him if he thought I could run a 5K, and he kinda shrugged. So I found the Couch to 5K and ran my first 5K three months later. I ran my first half marathon a year later and my first marathon a year after my first half. My husband jokingly says I was just trying to prove him wrong.

What does a typical training day look like for you?

It could be anything from speedwork, tempo run, short run or long run with training partner, Dennis Hanna. Long runs up to 35 miles.

How has your training and/or racing changed as you’ve aged?

I didn’t start until I was 32 and was a mid-pack runner until about 42.

You’ve been the top female at the Gold Medal Challenge (Icebreaker) and the Inferno Challenge (Heatbreaker) several times. What draws you to these types of events and how do you train for them? 

I love the atmosphere of the Gold Medal Challenge and Heatbreaker. Instead of running only with those running your pace, you get to run with everyone. Also, knowing race director Chris Ponteri, and his staff, and many of the volunteers, spectators and participants, it has a very comfortable relaxing feel to it. It’s like being at an open-house gathering, while running in circles.

Do you have any training tips or tricks that might also benefit other runners?

Don’t be afraid to try something new or untraditional. Don’t be afraid to run so hard you want to throw up. Don’t be afraid to fail. Failures make better stories.

Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?

Milwaukee? How about SE Wisconsin? My favorite is probably the trails in the Kettle Moraine State Forest.

What are your favorite Milwaukee races and what do you like about them?

  • Prowl the Peak – Running at night on the ski trails is a blast
  • The Bacon Race – Eating bacon during a race is a unique challenge
  • Indoor Marathon and Heatbreaker – Great atmosphere, friendly feel
  • Lakefront Discovery Run – Running and socializing with friends and a great party after

sm20130801_184010_img_0120Flaws at the 2013 Race for the Bacon, getting bacon at mile 1.5

Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

What are your running goals for the upcoming year?

I am on a quest to run a sub-4 hour marathon in every state. I have 34 done. Joey Heinrichs, son-in-law of training partner Dennis Hanna, told me about this group. He also has 34 states done. We plan to finish in Hawaii in 2015.

In general, what makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?

There are so many runners here and so many great places to run … Oak Leaf Trail, New Berlin Rec Trail, Muskego Rec Trail, Hank Aaron Trail, Fox River Bike Path, Glacial Drumlin Trail. So many races to choose from. And absolutely any weather you can imagine.

Thanks for chatting with us, Mary!

If you’re a runner in MKE, we’d love to speak 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!