Let’s Get to Know … Brian Frain

When Brian Frain first began running it was to shape up and lose a few pounds. But like many of us that started running for the same reason, he was quickly hooked. After a few years of hard work and careful training, he now has a BQ time to show for his efforts.

Read on to learn how this local runner went from being unable to run a single mile to earning a coveted BQ time!

Age: 36

Team affiliation: Performance Running Outfitters

Years running: 4

Favorite workout: Hill Repeats

Favorite gear: Clothes from Lululemon, shoes from Altra, and Swiftwick socks!

Pre-race routine: Mostly panic and stress!

Favorite post-race treat: A chocolate shake from McDonalds

Favorite race distance: Half marathon

Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

Why did you start running?

I started running to lose those infamous “last 10 pounds”. I was out there in basketball shorts and a cotton T shirt, and I couldn’t do a single mile without stopping and gasping for air. I signed up for the Brewers Sausage Race 5k as an excuse to run around the outfield at Miller Park, and was hooked after that.

How does running improve your outlook? What keeps you motivated to run?

To be honest, running doesn’t always improve my outlook. I’ve been trying for a BQ for nearly three years. There have been more than 10 marathons that I trained for and didn’t get the goal. That’s a hard thing to experience that many times! But on the whole, I love the structure and discipline that comes with training for a race. That structure helps me stayed focused, both on running and outside of running. My motivation to run was always to keep training for the BQ. But now that I’ve achieved it, the motivation to keep running is simply that I love it. I love feeling tired and sweaty and like I can’t go another step, because inevitably that next step always happens. And when it happens, I learn that there is unlimited potential inside me (and all of us).

Who do you look up to in running? Do you have any role models in the sport?

I look up to Annie Weiss, my fiancé. One of the reasons it took me so many tries to get my BQ is because I lack the ability to push myself into that “next level” of pain. When things really hurt at mile 20, you can grind it out or back off, and I’ve always had difficulty grinding it out. Annie is able to push herself harder the more things hurt. When the going gets tough, she gets faster because she wants the race over. That’s something I don’t have in me! I also have a great admiration for Mike Wardian, who has completed races all around the globe, including the World Marathon Challenge (7 marathons on 7 continents in 7 days)!

Congrats on getting that BQ at your recent marathon! Let’s talk training for a bit – how did you focus your training to get you to your goal?

My first marathon was the finale of the Dopey Challenge in 2015. At that point I was aware of the Boston Marathon, but I wasn’t aware that the requirements to get in were so difficult. Once I learned more about the standards, I was hooked. My training became focused over the past six months, when I started doing more mileage per week (averaging about 60 per week), but most of them were at a very slow pace. I’d have 4 days of long and slow, and then 2 days mixed in of speed work. The longest run I did in the past six months was about 18 miles in preparation for my marathon.

What running goals are you looking to tackle in the next few years?

After running Boston in 2018, I would like to focus more on the ultra distances. I completed my first 50 mile race earlier this year, and I’m going to do more of those. I also would like to do the Dopey Challenge a second time – the first time I did it, I was so concerned about making sure I had enough energy to complete the four races that I didn’t exert a lot of effort in the early races. I’d love to go back and pour my heart into all of them!

What race has been the most memorable for you?

I’ve had several interesting marathons over the last few years. I did the Rome Marathon which started nearly an hour late and was almost entirely in a downpour. I did a small marathon in Central Illinois that was black flagged due to a severe thunderstorm, and I ran the last 4 miles in ankle deep flash flooding. But the Erie Marathon 2 weeks ago will be the one that I’ll forever cherish. Perfect course, perfect weather, and a 9 minute PR will be the thing that I’ll never forget.

Do you have any favorite Milwaukee races?

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, without a doubt. I’ve done it the last two years, and both times were great experiences. There is great crowd support, and for me it’s always helpful to be running on a course that I know. Those last few difficult miles of a marathon seem to be a little bit easier when I can visualize exactly how they will look.

What makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?

The community. We are extremely lucky to have such incredible support for both roads and trails. In the trail world, groups like the Lapham Peak Trail Runners are made up of some of the kindest, most gracious people I’ve ever met. The Badgerland Striders have a huge membership and they organize some great events each year. Trae and Jess at Performance Running Outfitters would do anything in their power to help anyone that needed it. Beyond the organizations, there are some incredible individuals who have dedicated huge blocks of their lives to making running an enjoyable experience. Matt Thull at Thunderdome is a world-class coach who is literally in our backyard. There are so many people who care so much about the Milwaukee running community, and all of us have an easier, more enjoyable time on race day because of them.

Thanks so much for chatting with us and sharing your story, Brian!

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!

Will a Local Runner Break the Ice Age Trail Speed Record?

Many of us are thinking about spring racing in terms of 5ks, 10ks, half marathons, marathons and, if you’re testing your endurance, a 50k or perhaps a 50 miler. Elite ultrarunner, Annie Weiss (based in MKE), is taking on a lot more – starting on May 1, she will attempt to break the speed record for traveling the Ice Age Trail through Wisconsin – a total of 1,204 miles.

The current male record is 22 days, 6 hours and the female record is 36 days. Annie is attempting to break the current male record for the fastest overall time. Her goal is to run the trail in 19 days, starting at the MN border and finishing in Door County.

Below, Annie tells more about why she’s going after this record and her plan for completing the journey.

Annie Weiss

Why did you decide to go after this record?

I decided to do this for a couple: First, I think I can do it and second, I want to narrow the gap between a male and female record. There is no reason a female can’t smash any record set – women can set the same records as men! I also want to do this because I need a change from racing. The expectation of myself is to be racing and winning. This changes that mentality for me – it’s not a race against anyone but me, which is really great.

How have you prepared for this journey?

I’ve been preparing for years – since starting to run. There is no super long distance you can just decide to do and train a couple of months to succeed at it. I decided to complete this FKT around Christmas time, but the groundwork has really been set for a few years now. I run, hike, cycle, weight train – everything. The ‘everything’ part is so important. It’s not just running. Much of training is having the time for it. I do on average 100 miles per week just running and hiking, with 20-30 miles of cycling, and about 3 hours total of strength training. I stretch, roll and REST. Lots of rest. It’s not going to work if you don’t recover and rest. Nutrition has played a huge role as well in the ‘training’ process. It can’t be neglected and so much energy is needed each day to keep up with the workload.

What is your plan for the run?

My plan is to run 60-65 miles per day. I’m a morning person so expect early morning starts! A handful of people have already stepped up to run with me for various segments, which is much appreciated, of course!

I stay hydrated with basic water and sometimes Gatorade liquids. Because I’m an endurance athlete, I use real food – I make Nutella sandwiches for long days on the trails and use Clif products. I recover with Fluid Nutrition – it’s honestly been the more consistent item in my nutritional regimen and I believe has allowed me to recover even better day to day.

What types of challenges are you expecting along the way?

I honestly expect a lot of challenges! Of course weather being at the top of the list! Getting lost is a close second though! Those two will be the biggest challenges with other minor things along the way. I’m not too concerned about chafing, blisters or terrain – once you are on cruise control you just have to get over that and keep moving.

How will you overcome challenges?

Definitely with patience and gratitude! Probably help from my crew, Brian, as well 🙂

What are you looking forward to most during your upcoming journey?

The amount of food I get to eat! Lol – just kidding 🙂 I am looking forward to being able to cross out each completed day on my calendar and watch the miles completed fade away. That is the best feeling – for me, it’s always about how much I’ve completed, not how far I still have to go.

How can people help support you during this record attempt?

Definitely find me on social media (https://www.instagram.com/ani_weiss/) or come out to run along on the IAT. Realize that goals can be reached no matter what!

Any other comments?

Coached by Tommy Rivers Puzey and working with the Iron Cowboy, James Lawrence, I am preparing for this adventure both physically and mentally because for any runner it will take strength and courage. This is not only a personal goal of mine as an ultra-distance runner, but also a message of complete inspiration. The body image stigma within the running community is quietly building – I am often asked, “You are a runner?! You don’t look like a runner.” Comments like this don’t feel good and lead most runners, men and women alike, to think we have to look a certain way to be respected athletes. As a dietitian working with eating disorder patients, I hear from a myriad of parents that their child can only be successful at a particular weight even if it’s harmful to their health. By completing this adventure, I want to show people that it doesn’t matter what your size, shape, or build is; talent is not defined by the shell of our bodies, but rather perseverance, motivation, and hard work. Anything is possible. It’s the age-old saying: don’t judge a book by its cover…ever.

Thanks for chatting with us, Annie, and best of luck on your upcoming journey! Remember, you can follow Annie’s record attempt on Instagram.

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

Let’s Get to Know … Nicole Hengels Gainacopulos!

Thanks to encouragement from her dad, Nicole Hengels Gianacopulos started running at a young age. These days, she’s the one encouraging runners – beginners, those in the hunt for a BQ, and everyone in between.

Many of you know her as Coach Nicole – she’s the owner of Momentum of Milwaukee and also manages all of Performance Running Outfitters training programs. Today, she shares with us a bit about her own running as well as what it’s like to coach everyone from high schoolers to weekend warriors to marathon winners.

Age: 29

Years running: 20?

Favorite workout: 400m repeats. I could seriously do them every week and be thrilled. My second favorite workout is hill repeats varieties and my favorite right now is at a steep hill after a warm up: 90 seconds AFAP up, rest down, 60 seconds AFAP up, rest down, 30 seconds AFAP up, rest down. Repeat this 3 times!

Favorite gear: Saucony shoes (Ride, Kinvara, or Freedom), SmartWool socks, Any apparel at PRO!

Pre-race routine: Usually a 1 Mile warmup (depending on the race) + 3-4 strides. I try to teach my runners to do dynamic warm ups but for me I usually prefer to not do them on race day.

Favorite post-race treat: Cookies. Always cookies.

Favorite distance to race: I haven’t raced a marathon since 2014, but I’m looking forward to getting back to them in 2017 (first one is Grandma’s Marathon in June!). The past couple of years I have really enjoyed racing half marathons and I paced a few as well either as an official pacer or pacing clients.

Favorite inspirational running quote: “Running is 90% mental, and the other 10% is thinking about it.”

How did you start running?  

My older sister, Laura, was in high school cross country, so over the summer my dad and I would run with her to help prepare her for the upcoming season. I HATED it. One time my dad needed some repairs on his car so we drove it to the repair shop and ran home (about 5 miles). I remember hating every second of it until we got home and I felt amazing. From there, my dad and I continued to run each weekend and I eventually learned to hate it less, which turned into a love for the run and time with my dad. I had a fantastic high school coach and team, which truly blossomed my love for running.

How does running improve your life/outlook? What keeps you motivated to run?

Anytime I am grumpy, upset, confused, or way too energetic, I get out the door. I’ve made some of the best decisions while running, such as starting Momentum of Milwaukee and marrying my husband! It also helps a person get away from technology, appreciate what is around us, see what our body/mind is capable of, and explore new neighborhoods.

The days that I am having a hard time with motivation, I grab my dog’s leash, and there’s no turning back at that point. I also get motivation from my clients and they remind me why we run in the first place!

If you could run with anyone, who would you pick and why?

My husband, Nikos. We got to know each other as friends though running, and I always look forward to runs with him even though he’s gotten so much faster (he started listening to my running advice…lol). Unfortunately, due to our schedules, we don’t get as much time to run together so I really value the runs and races we can do!

If I had to pick someone famous, then no question, Paula Radcliffe. I have always idolized her and watched her races. Her book, “My Story So Far” is the first running book I read in high school and it led me to start believing that running was not just a workout, but a lifestyle.

What does a typical training week look like for you?

Right now, I’m at about 40-50 miles per week as I’m training for Grandma’s Marathon (my first marathon since 2014 and my 23rd marathon total). Usually about 20 of those miles each week are with the training programs that I coach at Performance Running Outfitters or with clients. The other miles are what I can squeeze in to my own actual running schedule.

I run 5 days a week with 1 long run, 1 speed or tempo day, and the rest of the miles at an easy pace. I’m coming off of a broken toe (playing with the dog), so I’m trying to just make sure the runs all feel good. I typically do strength training 2 days a week and core 4 days per week.

Tell us about your coaching business, Momentum of Milwaukee – what services do you offer and what types of clients do you accept? How is Momentum different from other coaching services in the area?

I started Momentum in 2012 and focused on personal training. But I kept gravitating toward clients who were runners. I knew a lot about running, but I wanted to start programming training programs better. So I started completing running certifications and traveling to running camps for coaches to develop my skills better. Now I typically only take on runners or people who are interested in getting started in running. I currently coach runners who have literally never run to the mailbox and want to complete 1 mile to runners who are winning marathons and focused on BQ times.

How is my coaching different? I offer monthly online coaching for $75 per month as well as in-person services. I custom design each runner’s program to fit their needs and what is needed to hit their goals (that I help them establish). I also help them fit training in to what realistically works into their life. I know when to be the push my runners need vs. when they are pushing themselves too hard and I need to be the voice of reason.

We’ve heard you also coach at Dominican High School – how did you get started with the team and what has been your experience coaching high schoolers?

I re-started the track team at Dominican HS (after they had a couple years without a team) on the agreement that I could start a cross country team the following fall. While I like track, I LOVE cross country. I no longer coach track but their program continues to grow and the athletes flourish. Our cross country program is picking up, and while our team is young, they have amazing heart and dedication.

Dominican’s cross country and track programs are drastically different than the HS program I came from in Illinois. My HS team had almost 100 girls on the team, and my Dominican XC team is coed with about 15 members. It’s been an unforgettable experience watching my runners improve, mature as humans, and my ultimate goal is to allow them to see running as a lifelong sport.

You also manage all of Performance Running Outfitters training groups – How did you get started and what’s your experience been like working with so many community runners?

I LOVE working at PRO! I have been working there since 2014, initially at the Shorewood store doing the training programs for the 5k and 10k beginners. Since then, my role’s expanded to managing all of the training programs including: Half Marathons, 5k, 10k, Speed Class, and Strength Running.

It is such a difference group coaching adult runners, who have real lives and struggle to fit running into their schedule but make such a dedication to it. It’s fantastic to see the transformation when a runner starts at the 5k class and can’t run a ½ mile and then the next season they are completing a half marathon! One of my favorite stories is one of the runners who sent me an email before starting the 5k program and said, “I’m old, I’ve never run before, and I’m terrified to do this class.” Well now she has run several half marathons and counts on running as her normal in her life.

Being a part of the PRO family has been beyond anything I expected. It’s such an amazing experience at PRO and I’m so thankful to be there!

What running goals are you looking to tackle in the next few years?

My biggest goal is figuring out how to balance coaching and my own running. With running so many miles at other runners’ paces, I sometimes forget to focus on my own. Of course I’d still like to BQ, but that’s not at the top of my goal list as I’m just getting back into marathons again. I just want to love them again and not take two years off from being burnt out. My dad is trying to run 50 states, so when possible, I really like joining him (I only have 20 states; he has 40!).

What are some of your favorite Milwaukee races?

I love the Milwaukee Marathon (half marathon was my favorite) as I think it’s so amazing to bring so many different aspects of the city together (spectators, runners, stores, local businesses, etc.) and to get to run in areas I typically wouldn’t. I also love Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, as it’s a beautiful course; Rock ‘n Sole; and Brewers Mini Marathon. I also really love going to the super tiny races that not many people go to and just enjoy!

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Nicole!

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!

Let’s Get to Know … Alison Newcomb!

It’s no secret we adore Performance Running Outfitters – their stores are the place to find the best running gear in MKE. So today we’re excited to feature one of their assistant managers, Alison Newcomb.

Alison began running at an early age but, like many of us, took several years off before getting back into it a few years ago. Read on to learn how she got her passion for the sport back and how she’s now training to run stronger than ever!

Age: 33

Years running: 20 (with a nine year break in the middle due to an injury that kept me out of it as much mentally as physically)

Favorite workout: I’m a big believer in strength training since I’ve come back from my injury. One of my favorite workouts is my heavy leg weight lifting days – doing squats and deadlifts. Exercises that I couldn’t do properly with just my body weight two years ago, I’m now doing with more than my bodyweight. I really feel accomplished when I do these workouts. When it comes to my running, I still love my LSD runs (long slow distance). There’s nothing quite like it for clearing your head and getting a little perspective.

Favorite gear:

  • Garmin 235 – I am a big techie, so my GPS watch is a favorite. I love seeing all the details about my run, especially on hill or speed workouts – the graphs are great. Some days I’m at a loss for how I trained before it because of all the features.
  • R8 by Roll Recovery – This recovery tool is sooo amazing. I know how important rolling is, but sometimes I don’t want to get on the ground and do the work. The R8 does deep tissue massage without the awkwardness of a foam roller. Plus, it’s compact, so it’s easy to take to a race or training session. In addition, it’s an FDA registered device!
  • Momentum Wraps and Sweaty Bands – These both add a little style to my workouts. The Momentum Wraps are a great pick me up. I wear them pretty much 24-7. While they’re perfect for workouts, I love them for when I’m going out, too. As someone with bangs, the Sweaty Bands are perfect for keeping my hair out of my eyes during a workout. Plus they’ve got great patterns and colors. I always make sure both match.

Pre-race routine: My breakfast has become a major part of my routine. I was having problems with GI issues due to the fiber content in my traditional pre-race breakfast and finally tweaked it to what it is now. It’s a little odd, but it works for me: one egg over hard, a Greek yogurt, and a piece of English muffin toast with half peanut butter and half raspberry jam. The amount consumed is tweaked based on the distance. At the race I do a half-mile warm up and stretch. I try to throw a few strides in as well.

Favorite post-race treat: A Papa Murphy’s Delight pepperoni pizza with green olives (I like the salt) and a NAP!

Favorite distance to race: 10K – at this point in my running career I don’t have to change up my daily running routine much to get ready for a 10K, meaning I can still have a social life while getting ready for a race. I actually ran my first 10K in Germany and took first in my age group. When they presented me with my award they said I had come “all the way from America” to beat the Germans.

Favorite inspirational running quote: Currently I am feeling really connected to a line from Bart Yasso’s book My Life on the Run, “If you don’t feel welcomed in a sport or a job or a family, you don’t stick around. Running is about acceptance—of yourself and others.”

If you could run with anyone, who would you pick and why?

Probably my cross country “brother” and “sister”, Kraig and Erin. My dad coached high school cross country, so even when I was little I hung out with a lot of runners. Kraig was on my dad’s team when I was quite little and spent a lot of time at our house. He did very well in high school and college and ended up competing in the Olympic Trials. Erin ran with the high school team while she was in middle school. I took her under my wing and she became the little sister I never had. Erin went on to have a very successful high school and college running career as well. While the three of us have vacationed together and done other “family” activities, we have never raced together. I would love to do a destination race with my cross country “family” and their families. It would certainly be a fun, memorable run.

How/Why did you start running?

I started running the summer before my freshman year of high school. I had been a jack of all trades when it came to sports in elementary school and middle school, so when it came time to pick A SPORT, I was at a bit of a loss. Turning to my family for guidance was just the thing I needed since my dad was the boy’s cross country coach and nearly everyone in my extended family runs. That first summer I ran with our rec department’s Runner’s Club and went from not being able to run a mile to making varsity for our team’s first meet that fall. It was a huge learning experience for me and an amazing confidence booster – I was hooked.

How does running improve your life/outlook? What keeps you motivated to run?

I believe running is about personal growth – both on and off the course. I became more confident, outgoing, compassionate, and driven because of running. That personal growth is why I keep running. There is always a new goal to set.

What does a typical training week look like for you?

I try to cover a lot of different areas during my weekly training. This year, I’m working with my running coach, Nicole (Momentum of Milwaukee and Performance Running Outfitters’ training guru) and my strength coach, Max (AMC Energy Fitness) to really tailor my program to be more strategic in my training. I normally do a variety of types of runs, including pace work, speed work and hills. I’ve also added more biking to my cardio cross training this year. I work major muscle groups on my strength days – legs, chest, back, shoulders and arms. I’ve also refocused on core this year, which means about four days of core exercises engaging various muscle groups. Lastly, I try to hit up a yoga class. It’s another great core workout and helps me with my flexibility.

How are you involved in the local running community? What prompted you to get involved?

When it comes down to it, finding like-minded people who I could train with and learn from was the reason I got involved in the local running community. I work at Performance Running Outfitters in Oak Creek, so I engage with runners on a daily basis. Before I started working at PRO, I attended almost every single one of their fun runs. Running with PRO was a no brainer. It was a wonderful way to meet like-minded people, try out new gear, and, most of all, have fun. Now that I coordinate the fun runs I get to help build that community. I’m also a Mother Runner (although I’m only a puppy mama) and member of Badgerland Striders and Oiselle’s Volée. While some of the community that comes from these groups is primarily online, I appreciate the fact that while I have a retail schedule, there are people cheering me on and going through the same sorts of struggles that I am. Some of these friends I see in person, but even if I never do, I know they are there for me. I also try to volunteer at a local race at least once a year. Take the time to hand out medals at a local race sometime – it’s a truly transformative experience.

Tell us a bit about what it’s like to work at Performance Running Outfitters – we imagine it must be super motivating to work while surrounded by runners, running shoes and running gear!

Working at a store devoted to your passion is AMAZING. Not only do I get to see and test all of the shoes and gear, I also get to learn from my coworkers, customers and vendors about all things running. What was at first totally overwhelming is now really rewarding. The more I learn, the more I can share with our customers. I also love getting to know each customer – their experiences and goals – in order to tailor their experience whether they are a new runner or seasoned veteran. Plus I get to run at work when we host our in-store events, a total plus.

Tell us a bit about your most memorable race – what makes it stand out?

My most memorable race to date was the Disney Princess Half Marathon in 2015. After a stress fracture in my tibia in college, I hadn’t run for almost nine years until I found a “shiny” new pair of running shoes, which helped me find my passion again and set the goal to run my first half marathon. I had just finished looking at pictures from the 2014 Princess Half and how fun it looked and thought, that’s the goal. A perfect goal for a runner who is a self-proclaimed DisNerd. My family, friends, trainer and physical therapist became the best possible support system I could ask for. The race was so emotional; not only was I running at Disney, which was an experience in itself, but I had worked hard toward my goal and found my passion for running again. My parents and husband also attended the race and were the best cheer squad I could ask for.

What’s on your race bucket list?

Disney Wine and Dine Half Marathon (just registered for!), The Tenacious Ten, Nike Women’s Half Marathon (somewhere abroad), Walt Disney World Half Marathon, The Runner’s World Half Marathon (and Festival), and the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. I’m all about the racecations.

What running goals are you looking to tackle in the next few years?

My main goals are to continue to stay healthy and grow as a runner, whether that means new training, new distances, or new personal bests. This year I am specifically focusing on being more strategic and training smarter. I’m looking to make core and recovery a priority, support others in achieving their goals, and continue to eat balanced meals. With everything that I am working on, I’m hopeful I’ll PR my half as well.

What are some of your favorite Milwaukee races?

Firecracker Four – The Firecracker Four is the perfect local 4th of July run. Running through Hales Corners is such a treat because families come out and sit in their driveways to watch the race. You may even get to run through a sprinkler or get shot by a super soaker! It also brings a large community of local runners together. It’s a great opportunity to catch up with people you may not have seen over the winter months.

Brewers 10K – The Brewers 10K was the first race I ran after coming back from my stress fracture. It’s a very sentimental race for me because of that. I also enjoy that you get to run on the field – my husband and I are Brewers’ fans. This past year was especially fun, because my PRO family was in the stadium cheering me and other runners on. It was great to get a little push at the end.

What makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?

Milwaukee is a great place for runners, because there are so many opportunities to connect with one another – lots of running groups, fun runs and races. There isn’t a week in Wisconsin that there isn’t something going on, which is pretty amazing. And there is something for everyone; whether you are running your first 5K or completing your first Ironman. Plus, there’s always someone there to support you in your journey, you just have to look.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Alison!

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!

Let’s Get to Know … James Koceja!

Hey everyone! Sorry we’ve been a bit off the radar these past two weeks. We’ve been out running, racing and getting to know more runners in the MKE community.

One of the runners we recently met is James Koceja, a new member of Performance Running Outfitter’s Elite Team. His main focus is distances ranging from 8k to the half marathon, although he’s also raced a few marathons. But no matter the distance he is always up for putting it all out there and racing hard.

Read on to learn more about his training, Milwaukee running faves and how coaching high school cross country and track has positively influenced his own running.


Age: 31

Years running: 17 Years; I started competing and running seriously when I was around 14.

Favorite workout: I like more “grinding” and mentally challenging workouts. One of my ultimate favorites is simply going for a 60- to 75-minute run, starting at a conservative pace and getting down to sub 6-minute pace for the last half of the run. Another all-time favorite is a cut down ladder, such as 1600-1200-1000-800-600-400. I am more of a strength runner as I arguably hate anything below 600’s. I will do them but they are usually on the bottom of the page; the way bottom. I usually tend to just go with the flow of workouts and see what the day brings.

Favorite distance to race: I really enjoy the longer races such as 8k up to the half marathon. I have only done a handful of marathons as I am fairly a rookie when it comes to the 26.2 mile distance. I always try to compete at the best of my ability, enjoying the challenges of competing against myself and others that surround me.

Pre-race routine: I drink coffee (always coffee) and eat a bowl of oatmeal and a banana for breakfast. I always warm up about 45-60 minutes before my race, do some drills, put on my racing flats and prepare myself to compete to the best of my ability.

Favorite post-race treat: Chocolate milk and a banana. Occasionally I will a have a nice adult refreshment afterwards – just depends on how the race goes.

Favorite race shoes: Nike Mayfly, Nike Lunaracer

Significant wins/placings/awards/accolades:

  • 2x Individual Champion Firecracker 10k
  • Individual Champion Talmer Turkey Trot 5k
  • 2x Junior Olympic Qualifier (Cross Country)
  • Three Top Ten Finishes at Lighthouse 10 mile Championships


Why/How did you start running?

As a young child, running was always something I was exposed to as it was just a natural habit and part of my everyday lifestyle. My father, Richard Koceja, was a highly competitive runner who competed for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and later was selected to run for the Wisconsin Runner racing team earning significant wins and accolades at various race distances and major events. He was also a well-respected coach at Burlington High School, coaching both boys and girls in cross-country and track. From this exposure, I just fell in love with the sport.


Is there a quote or philosophy that inspires your running and racing?

I have a couple quotes and philosophies that continue to inspire me. One is the wisdom that my father always brings; he is the biggest inspiration that I have and always speaks with so much enthusiasm and positivity. The best advice I have ever gotten from him is to have strong beliefs in my gifts, talents and abilities. If you have strong beliefs in yourself as a competitor then the results remain endless. There is nothing more terrible than the habit of doubt. Doubt weakens and divides your talents and abilities. Once doubt comes into play, it’s over and hard to overcome. “Be tough, think big and get the job done.”

What does a typical training week look like for you?

While training for longer races, I usually run between 50-60 miles a week, doing one or two long runs of 60-75 minutes during the week. I always tell others that there is a huge difference between being in “shape” and being in “race shape”. During the race season I will always try to include some sharpening workouts like intervals, tempos and fartleks. During the school year, it gets a little hard with coaching, and I try to get in early runs to satisfy my mileage. On occasion I will run a workout with the athletes I coach, but I run with them as it’s their workout.

Can you tell us about a workout you do that lets you know you’re ready to race?

I can’t list one specific workout as they are ever changing. I am very laid back when it comes to workouts and intensity. During the week, I will try to do a solid workout on Wednesday, giving me a couple days to recover before a race. An example of this would be a threshold run where I am consistently hitting splits within five seconds of each other. Once I am hitting mile splits around the 5:30 mark, I’m good. I always try to gauge myself on effort and feel. If I feel I am struggling during a planned workout, I will adjust. My best advice is to listen to your body. Pushing your body too much or beyond its capability will sometimes do more damage than good.

Along with your own training and racing, you also coach high school track and cross country. Why did you decide to start coaching? Can you tell us how your own experience helps you help your teams?

Great Question! I decided to get into coaching for a number of reasons; a major reason of which is to help contribute to a sport that has done so much for me, and I figured that I could give back and offer developing athletes a chance to find their own success in the sport. Through watching my father coach and watching other coaches’’ styles and philosophies, I felt that I always had the appropriate tools and mindset to help others. Some of my greatest coaching influences are my father Richard Koceja, Jeff Miller at UW-Whitewater, Matt Dollins, Michael J. Sliwa, Paul Hiegel, Pete Henkes, Richard Dodd, Mike Dewitt, Mike Mulrooney, Tom Scheller, Bill Grieten, Michael Butcher and Wally Bradford. All of these men have very dynamic personalities and philosophies. From an experience standpoint, I always try to develop an appropriate relationship with the student athlete and use my own dynamic personality to help them succeed. I always tell them to not sweat the little stuff and to just focus on their own goals and performance instead of being overwhelmed by the performances of others. I tell them to compete with a one-track mind and avoid a world of stress and confusion. I sometimes have to pull out a past story involving my own running career that may help their situation. I have a whole book of stories as does everyone – some good, some bad.


What have you learned through coaching? Has it benefitted your own running?

I’ve learned so much! I have been coaching for about 10 years at the high school level and I can honestly tell you that every day I keep learning something new. I feel that at the high school level, athletes seem to stress out about such little things; it’s quite entertaining at times. Sometimes I can’t help but to scratch my head and laugh. At times, I have to reset my mindset and acknowledge that a long time ago I was once a high school athlete, too, and that I do understand (even at times when I really don’t). It’s the little things, like having a down-to-earth conversation, that allow the athlete to become more comfortable and adaptive to your coaching style. Just being around these athletes makes me more aware of the special gift and talents I have in the coaching world and make me that much more grateful for the opportunity to work with so many great athletes. Coaching high school athletes has definitely helped improve my own running, inspiring me to compete at a higher level. If anything, coaching also gives me a great background in sports psychology 🙂

You’re a newer member of Performance Running Outfitter’s Elite Team – how does running as part of a team enhance your running?

I am so grateful that Jessica and Trae Hoepner offered me this opportunity to compete on the PRO Elite Team this year. I believe that running as part of a team is a huge component that can automatically enhance your own abilities and performances. I feel that teammates are very crucial and can help propel you further. Through positive feedback, I have heard many great things about Performance Running Outfitters and I am very fortunate and grateful to have the opportunity to promote this outstanding organization. Big shout outs to my new teammates, including Jessica Hoepner, Trae Hoepner, Jackie Giacalone, Andy Ruffalo, Matt Barcus, Kyle Fraser, Richard Dodd, James Daul, Angie Kaiser, Cameron Ausen, Ben Garbe, Nathan Lanser and Mac Laksa.

What running goals are you looking to tackle in the next few years?

I would just like to continue to use my gifts and talents to the best of their abilities and continue to contribute to a sport that has done so much for me. To put it bluntly, my goal is to kick some butt in whatever races I decide to run.


What are your favorite Milwaukee races?

I really enjoyed competing at Al’s Run. I’ve only participated in the event once. From my experience, I was overwhelmed at the amount of support and encouragement that the city of Milwaukee brought to this meaningful event. I remember jogging to that starting line on Wisconsin Avenue thinking “This is freaking amazing.” I also really enjoyed competing at the PNC Milwaukee Running Festival as race director Chris Ponteri did a truly outstanding job managing the event.

Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?

I often enjoy the scenic views of Grant Park in South Milwaukee or Eastown Tosa. My girlfriend resides in Oak Creek, so I am always extremely eager to venture off and discover new areas to run. Be back in half an hour? Yeah … right.

What makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?

Milwaukee is truly a great community. Everyone is so welcoming. I have been very flattered and humbled by the amount of support and positive encouragement throughout this community. You can meet so many outstanding people and interact with a community of runners that seek enjoyment in fulfilling their passion for the sport of running.

Any other comments?

Thank you for the interview. I am truly grateful to have this opportunity. A very special thanks to Jessica and Trae Hoepner for allowing me to contribute to PRO Elite by becoming a new member.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, James! 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!

Let’s Get to Know … Jennifer Hubbartt!

Many marathoners train to tackle the distance one or two times per year. MKE runner Jen Hubbartt loves the distance so much she once ran three marathons over the course of six weeks. It’s no wonder she was accepted into the Marathon Maniacs – a club for runners who can’t get enough of racing 26.2!

Read on to learn more about how she got started in the sport, what a typical week of training includes and her goals for this year.

official marathon photo 2013_Chinatown

Age: 38

Years running: 14, although more seriously for the last 8 years

Favorite workout: The long run of the weekend

Favorite distance to race: Marathon

Pre-race routine: I get everything ready the night before: on-course nutrition, gear check bag, outfit and race bib/timing chip, and set my coffee pot for the next morning. On race morning, it’s an early breakfast of either peanut butter, banana and honey on toast or eggs, sweet potatoes and avocado, then coffee drinking and weather stalking.

Favorite post-race treat: This is a decision that I will agonize over from days before a big long-distance event throughout a marathon. I am partial to a margarita and chips and guacamole at my favorite Mexican restaurant, or Kopp’s frozen custard. Or both.

Favorite shoes to race in: These days I race in Brooks Ghost, although I will do shorter runs in Saucony Kinvaras, and I am trying to find the perfect trail shoe.


How did you get started with running and what’s kept you running over the years?

In 1997, I finished my first year of college at least 40 pounds overweight and with a newly diagnosed thyroid disorder. I came home that first year unhappy with how I looked and felt. I lost some weight initially through diet and exercise, but not in the most healthy of ways. A few years later, my boyfriend (now my husband) and I had joined a gym to get in better shape, and working out became a bit of a habit. After a while I saw an ad in the newspaper for a local women’s triathlon and decided to try it out – without having a bike, any swimming abilities, or much running endurance. Upon completing that sprint distance race I was a little hooked, and suddenly signing up for 5K and 10K races and other sprint distance triathlons nearly every weekend. A couple of long-distance moves and a having a baby put fitness on the back burner for a while, but once I settled into a routine upon moving to Milwaukee almost ten years ago, I began getting into more of a workout routine again, and decided to run the Chicago Marathon the year I turned 30. After finishing my first 26.2, I wanted to run one marathon per year during my 30s. I’ve recently completed marathon #16 at the Trailbreaker Marathon on April 2, which, of course, averages to more than one marathon per year to date. Needless to say, I became more hooked on the marathon distance.

What has kept me running all these years is the fantastic running and multisport community I have found in Milwaukee. Through the Badgerland Striders, Milwaukee Running Group – OMG, and my newest crew of trail-running friends (woot!), I am encouraged to try harder and keep up with my running buddies. There is also no shortage of outstanding races right in our area, anywhere from the 5K distance to ultramarathons. If only I had unlimited funds to run all the races!

Do you have a quote or philosophy that inspires your running?

It’s not so much a quote or philosophy that inspires my running, but it’s my two young daughters. I want to set a good example, both in the importance of starting healthy habits early, and that hard work and discipline are important for achieving your dreams – and the journey toward those dreams is very rewarding.


What are your running goals for the upcoming year?

This year I’m excited about tackling the 50K distance for the second time at the Ice Age Trail Race. My biggest focus this year is Ironman Wisconsin, my first full-distance triathlon. After that, I’m pacing the Lakefront Marathon – my first time as a pacer for a full marathon! – and I have some unfinished business with those hills on the Milwaukee Running Festival’s marathon course. After that, I have my eye on working toward the coveted BQ.

What does a typical training week look like for you?

These days I run three days a week (a “run whatever feels right” pace, speed work and a long run), bike three times a week, swim three times a week, and strength train twice a week. The hours on the weekends will get longer as I get further in my Ironman training.

Tell us a bit about Marathon Maniacs. How did you get involved with the group?

Joining Marathon Maniacs was a bit on accident. I had heard of the group from a friend, and briefly looked up their requirements online. A few weeks later, when it was time to consider which fall race to run the following year and I’m was flooded with all of the promotional emails, I found I couldn’t decide between Lakefront Marathon and Chicago Marathon (one week apart) and the Madison Marathon, which was then four weeks later. A friend somehow convinced me that it wouldn’t feel as hard as I thought it would be – so, figuring I’d also qualify to be a Marathon Maniac, I ran all three marathons that year (decent finish times for me, too!), signed up to be a Maniac, and bought my pink singlet that advertises how certifiably insane I am! I don’t run marathons every weekend across the country to achieve higher Maniac statuses…yet.


Why did you decide to take on the Ironman challenge? Have you had to change your running to accommodate training for a triathlon? Do you think triathlon training has benefitted your running?

I always thought the 140.6 mile triathlon challenge was crazy and impossible for me. But then I ran three marathons in five weeks – in the same year my husband Andy completed Ironman Wisconsin himself – and then thought it was definitely possible. Seeing the incredible crowd support on race day – especially at the end of the day when I saw one of the triathletes turn the corner just after the Capital building and see the finish line and wipe a tear from his eye – I knew this was something I needed to experience. That was almost three years ago, and this year happened to be the year it worked out best with our family’s schedules and finances.

Ironman training will actually require less running than I would normally put in for a typical marathon training cycle. Much of that race day will be spent on the bike (also my weakest sport) so I will need to spend more hours in the saddle, but I will still put in three days a week of running, and occasionally brick workout, where I practice running right off the bike and experience a new set of fatigued muscles. I think the triathlon training will benefit my running from continuing to build up my overall endurance even more and engaging new sets of muscles through the other disciplines, as well as not getting burned out mentally on any one sport.

Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?

Definitely the lakefront and Lapham Peak for trails. I appreciate that the Oak Leaf Trail is accessible from so many places, including a short 2.5 mile run from my house.

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

It’s so hard to choose…Lakefront Marathon will always have a special place in my heart as it’s a race I had a huge PR and my first sub-4:00 marathon my first year running. The Milwaukee Running Festival marathon gave me a great tour of my adopted city, opening my eyes to so much of what MIlwaukee has to offer. Having two great marathons so close to home is perfect for an endurance junkie like me.

What makes Milwaukee a great place for runners?

With access to so many trails, paths, the scenic lakefront, races big and small, and an inviting running community, Milwaukee makes for an endless playground for endurance athletes. The local brews and custard for which MIlwaukee is famous make for great post-race treats, too!

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Jen!

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!

Let’s Get To Know … Steve Pavlik!

With 37 years of miles logged, 57 marathons to his name and an RRCA Running Coach Certification, Steve Pavlik knows running.

Read on to learn more about his training (there is no typical week!), most memorable race moment and  favorite local races!


Age: 53

Years Running: 37 years

Favorite Workout: Mile repeats @ Sanders Park (Racine) – it’s a 1.2 mile loop

Favorite Race Distance: Half Marathon

Pre-Race Routine: A good night of sleep, shower in morning, simple breakfast, drive to race, a few strides, 10-min warmup run, stretching and a quiet alone moment for prayer and reflection.

Favorite Post Race Meal: Pepsi & a cheeseburger (or wings)

Must-Have Gear: Timex Ironman 100 lap Chronograph watch (but just recently got a Garmin)


How did you start running and what’s kept you going over the years?

I started running in high school. I tried but wasn’t really good at other sports. Running was a great way to stay active, and I loved competing and challenging myself. Over the years it’s become more about challenging myself instead of being competitive. Running is something many can do for a lifetime.

Do you have a quote or philosophy that inspires your running?

The one that keeps popping up is “HARD WORK PAYS OFF”. I’ve seen a hundreds of quotes on social media, but this is simple and true. It applies to running and life in general.

If you could run with anyone, who would it be and why?

There are so many options but first choice is my father, Emil Pavlik. He was always interested in my race results and enjoyed coming to races whenever possible. He never ran and wasn’t athletic and passed away in 2011 at 92 years old. I love seeing people running races with their parent(s).


What was your most memorable race moment and what made it stand out?

In so many years, I’ve had many great memories. My first marathon (Lakefront Marathon in 1981) is something that stands out from the rest. I had no idea of marathon training, but enjoyed racing 5M, 10K and 10-mile races. I saw the Lakefront Marathon flyer at Merritt’s Running Center in Racine and told my parents I’m going to run this race. They came along and dropped off a nervous 19 year old in Grafton. I was so unprepared, but quickly hooked up with a group and tagged along. I would see my parents at points along the course cheering. I lost the group about 17 miles in but managed to struggle through and finish the race in 3:36. I said something like – “I’m glad I didn’t qualify for Boston. I never want to run another marathon – EVER!” Well, that didn’t last long – I’ve now completed 57 marathons.

What does your typical training week look like?

There is no typical week for me. I have three key workouts I try to get in – a Long Run, Intervals and a Tempo Run. I usually run after work and some days are more exhausting than others, so I shift on the fly. I also enjoy cycling and triathlons – so sometimes my running will lag, but I might try catch up on cycling miles.

What are your running goals for upcoming year?

This year I am traveling to Canada for Ironman 70.3 Mont-Tremblant in late June. That is my “A” race, but I have also given much thought to the I-35 Challenge October 14-15 (Kansas City Marathon & Des Moines Marathon).

Can you tell us about the Pavement Gods running club? And how has running with the group benefited you and how might it benefit others?

It is a running club organized in October 2012. We started the group to race and workout together as a team. We did some races and sparked some interest in the local community. We have a long running weekly group run and interval workout night (May-Sept). It is like “open mic night” and you can never be sure who will show up, but something good always comes of it. It has been a huge benefit to me (and I hope others as well). Group running is good motivation. It holds you accountable and if there are faster runners, you may improve your running. We have no dues. We have a Facebook page where we try to keep others up-to-date with area events and club member results and we also host some type of social event during the year.


You’re an RRCA certified running coach -why did you decide to get the certification? What do you enjoy about coaching and has it helped your own running?

I decided to get certification when I suffered a torn Achilles tendon and had surgery to repair it. I wasn’t sure if I would run again (or if I even wanted to) but I loved the sport and had gained a lot of knowledge over the years. Eventually, I will retire from my career at the US Postal Service and I would be interested in coaching at the high school level. I haven’t set up a business plan, so my coaching is mainly working with the Pavement Gods running club and some individual consulting. It has helped my own running, because I need to stay active in the sport, keep up with latest topics and continue to grow in the sport.

Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?

I love the Oak Leaf Trail going north from Grant Park. I also enjoy the Pettit Center in winter – it is great place to run interval workouts, and I’ve learned to pace myself and “tolerate” longer runs inside on the weekends.

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

Race for the Bacon 5K is my favorite – it’s a nice event in a park setting. The post-race atmosphere with bacon “treats” is fun and the band and wide open park on a warm summer evening is perfect. The other Milwaukee favorite is Lakefront Marathon. I’ve run it about nine times over the years. It’s always nice to see friends running/working/watching the race. The course is roughly the same as it was in 1981, the crowd size is very manageable as opposed to some Mega Events and there is no travel involved. Over the years my family has enjoyed seeing me at different spots on the course – unlike many of the other races I’ve run.

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Steve!

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!

Let’s Get to Know … Carrie Hayne Fohr!

Last year, Carrie Hayne Fohr ran 27 races. That’s 5 half marathons, 4 10ks and 18 5ks. And that’s not even including the dozens of fun runs she participated in over the year!

Read on to get to know more about this MKE runner including what motivates her to run and a few of her favorite local races!

Rush on Festa 5k 2015

Age: 33
Years running: 4 years
Favorite workout: A long, slow, steady run with great company
Favorite distance to race: 5k
Pre-race routine: Outfit laid out and Instagramed the night before, wake up 2 hours prior to race, drink a Nuun and eat a bagel with peanut butter
Favorite post-race treat: Avocado, Bacon and Tomato Hash (minus the tomato) at First Watch
Favorite gear: Adidas Supernova Sequence 7 shoes, North Face tights or Nike shorts, and Minerva tank/tee


How did you get started with running?
I started running with Performance Running Outfitters’ run club as part of the 5k class. I then graduated to the 10k class and was a 10k mentor last year.

Do you have a quote or philosophy that inspires your running?
I run for fun!

What does a typical training week look like for you?
I’m currently attempting a 1-year Run Streak (start date: 08/01/15) and run at least 1 mile every single day. I also do the PRO Flapjack Fun Run on Saturdays and a long run with the Minerva Muses on Sunday.

What motivates you to run?
I love being outside and out of the house and listening to an audiobook (currently the Harry Potter series) or chatting with a running partner. I also love the pride of a new race PR, and I love having a training schedule to work toward the next big race.

Tell us a bit about Minerva Muses – what is the purpose of the group and how has running with these ladies helped your running/racing?
Minerva Muses was started by our fearless leader Micaela Ellevold and is about camaraderie, friendship and keeping each other accountable. The Muses are all about having fun while running and encouraging other women to join the sport of running!

Look for us in our coral shirts at your next Milwaukee race!


How else are you involved in the running community?
This year I’m a Nuun Ambassador and I’m also a Irun4 runner. This year, I’m running for Kassia, a 3-year-old girl from New York. She has a beautiful smile, a great spirit and an amazing mom, Kathy. She also has tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC), a genetic disorder that causes non-malignant tumors to form in many different organs, primarily in the brain, eyes, heart, kidney, skin and lungs. Kassia cheers me on for all my runs and races and I run 4 her! She motivates me to do more and make her proud! I am thankful to have been matched with such a great family and an inspirational little Super Hero like Kassia!

What are your running goals for the upcoming year?
My running goals for 2016 are to continue my Run Streak, sign up for fewer races, enjoy training with friends, and accomplish a new half marathon PR!

Cellcom Green Bay Half Marathon 2015

Where are your favorite places to run in Milwaukee?
Some of my favorites include the Milwaukee Lakefront, Wauwatosa Hoyt Park and Brookfield Fox Brook Park.

What are your favorite Milwaukee races and what do you like about them?
My all-time favorite Milwaukee races are:
• Brewers 5k Famous Racing Sausages – It’s a summer race and you get a free Brewers ticket and a beer & a hotdog at the finish.
• Summerfest Rock ‘n Sole – This is a great running tour of Milwaukee and it has THE BEST AFTER PARTY!
• Lighthouse Winter Series races – I love that there is a 5k or 10k option, immediate results and medals after the race, photographs on course, and seeing so many local runners at each race!

Thanks so much for chatting with us, Carrie!

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!

Can You Feel The Run Love?

Roses are red.
Violets are blue.
Is there anything runners love better
Than a new pair of running shoes?

All puns aside, we decided to make this post all about love in honor of this weekend’s Valentine’s Day holiday. But not about our love of shoes, watches, gear, etc. This time, we wanted to focus on local runners who found love through running.

Their stories are super sweet – especially the one about a proposal at a 50k finish line! And note to single runners – it seems running groups are where it’s at for finding your perfect running mate!

Angie Kaiser:
Fred and I met through the Pavement Gods running group, which is located in the Racine area. I think running brought us closer because we both have a huge passion for it and can talk about it for hours. We also understand the importance of getting training in, and we try to hold each other accountable to get out and run, especially on those days when you just don’t feel like it.

Fred and I had our first few dates running together. We got to know each other and he got to start meeting my friends and the people who I train with. I always get nervous introducing my date to my friends, but with running I was able to introduce him without all the pressure and see how easily he could fit in.


Because my daughter is with us most nights we don’t get to run together often. When it is nice out we will run some of our easy miles together and push her in the running stroller. We take turns since she is five and she takes a little more effort to push around, even with her being so small. Fred tends to push her more, which helps slow him down to my pace. But we usually find when we do get out for a run we settle into a pace that works for both of us. Once and a while I have to remind him to slow down because he is pushing the pace without realizing it.

Fred understands my addiction to racing and that I want to travel just for the medal because I think it looks cool. He also understands when training doesn’t go right or I am injured that it can really change my mood. When I had to take weeks off in April 2015 he would come over every night and keep me company while I had to ice bath my foot. He just gets it.

I learned a lot last year about relationships, and all I can say is do what makes you happy. Nothing is worth living a life that doesn’t make want to get out of bed every day! Runners are awesome and even better to have a relationship with!

Fred Smotherman:
I met Angie at a race where she was being her normal high energy and social self. I saw her bouncing from person to person and I knew I had to know more about her. Over the next few months a friendship grew through running and running clubs until it became more than a friendship.

Running is something that we both love and have in common. It allows us to be a big part of each other’s goals and dreams, and I think that’s helped us grow closer.


We do run together although maybe not as much as we would like with life getting in the way. Most days, we have to run at different times for both of us to get our runs in, but we work together to make sure we can get our miles in. We run at different paces, but our easy runs are close enough to be comfortable for both of us.

Running dates are great because not only are they cheap but they also keep you both in shape. It’s a win win. There are advantages to dating a fellow runner, such as having someone who can share in your success and failures and someone who understands all the work that goes into achieving goals. Also, there’s always something to talk about – and you can share a foam roller!

Meeting Angie changed my life in so many fantastic ways. Not only did running help me find a perfect woman, it changed my life. Woot!

Karly Sopcic:
Matt and I met four years ago through the Milwaukee Running Group. Everyone used to congregate by Collectivo at the lake before and after runs, so we became friends discussing races, craft beer and live music.


Running brought us closer together because having a shared interest allowed us to bond over past experiences and make new ones together, too! We were able to relate to each other more and complained about the same things, like bad shoes and being exhausted (haha).

I think running dates are great as long as you go slow enough to carry on a conversation while running. Matt’s fast and I’m slow so we meet in the middle when we’re running with each other. Otherwise, in the running group, he’s usually ahead of me and I try to chase after him 😉

Having a significant other who is also a runner is beneficial because we can motivate and inspire each other! My boyfriend challenges me to keep going on days I don’t feel like it. We also celebrate finishes together, which is much more fun when the other has been through the same race.

Bridget Sandercock:
My husband, Mike, and I met on a group run that was hosted by the Milwaukee Running Group/OMG. We were both training for marathons, so we attended a lot of the same group/training runs.

During a running date there isn’t the usual pressure that goes along with a normal date. You get to do something you both love while being active. Plus, after you’ve gotten your run in, it’s a great segue to grabbing a beer or, better yet, ice cream.

A few months after we started dating, Mike relocated to Madison for work. Around the same time, we decided we were going to run a 50k along the northern coastline of Ireland together the following year. Training for the same race was something we could do together, even though we lived in different cities. The terrain and views during the race were spectacular, but I’d have to say the most memorable part of the race was when Mike proposed to me at the finish line! He carried the ring in his Camelback for all 31 miles!

BridgetProposalBridgetProposalThe sweetest proposal!

Most of our runs are together, either just the two of us or with our local running group. I always say Mike slows down to run with me, and he says I slow down to run with him. We just enjoy running together, so we’ve gradually become similar in pace. I still think he’s faster than me though.


We like to run a lot of the same races, from 5ks to 50ks, obstacle races and half iron distance triathlons. We’ve even run a few relays together, like the Door County Fall 50 as a pairs team and we’ll run the Apple Creek 50k as a pairs team in May.

Being married to a runner is great! You always have someone to run with, to keep you motivated and accountable, to encourage and cheer you on. They get it when you just “need” to go for a run. They also don’t think you’re crazy when you register for a race at 12:01 a.m., because that’s when registration opened for “the” race. Since running has played such a big part of our lives, we felt it was only appropriate to take a few wedding photos with our running shoes 🙂

Thanks so much to Angie, Fred, Karly and Bridget for sharing their stories. We loved hearing how a love of running helped you find true love.

MKE Runners: Have you found love through running? Share your stories in the comments!

Coupled or solo, we wish you Run Love during your weekend miles!

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

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!