Race It: Pettit Indoor Marathon, Half Marathon & Relays

Although the Pettit Indoor Marathon is a new race, it will seem familiar to runners who’ve run a Pettit race in the past. There’s a new race weekend (Feb 9-11) and a few changes to the race distances, but one thing that’s staying the same is the fun factor.

Below, Race Director Bill Schneider tells us more about the race weekend and how there’s a race distance for every runner.

Let’s start with a Q we’ve heard a lot of runners asking – is the Pettit Indoor Marathon a new event or is it a new name for the beloved Icebreaker Indoor Marathon?   

The Pettit Indoor Marathon is a new event. However, it will have the feel of the old event as most of the organizing crew from Icebreaker is organizing the Pettit Indoor Marathon. I have been a part, in some form, of all nine years of Icebreaker having run the full marathon eight times and on the organizing team for seven years. Because of my familiarity with the crew at the Pettit Center, they asked me to organize this new event. I was more than happy to keep the great marathon tradition alive at the Pettit Center.

What distances are offered during race weekend? 

On Friday, February 9th, we begin with a new event, the Half Marathon Relay. Just as the name suggests, it a relay equal to the distance of a half marathon (47.5 laps) for teams of four runners. Besides the normal divisions: male, female and mixed, we have added a new boys and girls high school division to the half marathon relay.

On Saturday, February 10th, we will have two heats of the half marathon at 7:00 AM and 9:30 AM followed by a 1:00 PM full marathon relay. Then on Sunday, February 11th, we will run our crown jewel event, the full marathon.

Also returning will be the “Running In The USA 142.3 Challenge” for runners brave enough to run the half marathon on Saturday and the full marathon on Sunday. This year, not only will the 142.3 Challenge runners receive three total medals, but they will also earn themselves a dozen specially made Running in the USA Cookies.

What makes this event different from others in the area?

This event is unique not only in the area, but the entire nation. We are the largest indoor marathon in the world, on the longest running track in the nation. There are other indoor marathons in the US, but none with temperatures as perfect as at the Pettit Center (~50F) and gradual turns. Our 3-lane, 445 meter track allows for little to no extra stress on your turn leg and ease of passing throughout the race.  We have 95 aid stations for the full marathon and 47 for the half. There are 190 opportunities to use the restrooms only feet from the course. We are also the flattest race in the world, with an elevation change 0.

Can you explain how the relay races work? What types of strategies work best for achieving a fast time?

The relays are the fastest events of the weekend. Teams of two to four run the entire distance in relay format, alternating runners. Instead of a baton, runners exchange an ankle chip that counts laps. We allow teams to exchange as many times as they wish allowing for many creative strategies. It does take a few seconds to move the ankle chip from one runner’s ankle to another runner’s ankle (and, yes, it is REQUIRED to be worn on their ankle), so how long you run all depends on what is best for your team. I have seen teams running 4-lap repeats and some running 11 laps at a time. The chip exchange is always fun to watch. Teams may want to consider having a 3rd teammate do the exchange, thus saving a second or two.

We love the idea of a half marathon relay – can you tell us why you added this race to the weekend?

We decided to not have the 5K as the number of participants just wasn’t what it needed to be. When discussing what should be done instead. Randy Dean, the Executive Director of the Pettit Center, came up with the idea. The full marathon relay is always a very popular event, so, to be able to add more teams to the weekend, it was decided to add the half marathon relay. This allows runners who don’t run longer distances to participate (as the average distance per half relay runner is only 3.3 miles). So, if you are a 5K runner, this is right up your alley.

Obviously, the course is mega flat with ideal temps. But, do you have any tips for runners hoping to run a fast time?

Fast times are possible at the Pettit Center. Since a lap is 445 meters, making it virtually impossible to have mile markers, runners should review the pace chart in advance in addition to keeping track of their lap times. Every 445 meters can be seen if your lap time is on pace with your goal. Also, if all runners follow the rules as to which lane to run in, this will allow for the best possible passing situation. If slower runners are in lane 1, it makes passing difficult. If there is anything special you need during the race, please make sure you keep it trackside (along the wall on the east turn) for ease of pick up whenever needed.

Are overall and/or age group prizes awarded?

For full marathon and half marathon we will have awards for the top three overall males and females.  Each runner will receive a finisher’s medal. For the relays, awards will be given to the top 3three teams for males, females, and mixed. We will also have awards for the top boys and girls high school relay teams in the half marathon relay. All members of these teams must be in high school or younger.

What do participants get with their race entry?

All participants receive a goodie bag including a Pettit Indoor Marathon long-sleeve technical shirt, ideal for running at the Pettit Center. Runners will have post-race refreshments in the Hall of Fame room, including the world-famous Running in the USA cookies.

Are spectators welcome?

Absolutely! Spectators are more than welcome to sit in the bleachers and watch their family or friends run their race. We encourage the kids to give high fives from the bleachers and signs are welcome.  Where else can you watch someone run a marathon in person and see them pass by 95 times without moving an inch? Just bring a light jacket or sweatshirt as it gets cold in the Pettit Center.

Tell us more about these famous sugar cookies …

Mary Flaws from Running in the USA is baking her world-famous cookies for all runners. They will be available after every race. In fact, Mary and Running in the USA are now sponsors of the Running in the USA 142.3 Challenge. Runners who complete both the half marathon on Saturday and follow up with the full marathon on Sunday will receive a dozen of these cookies.

Any other comments?

We will be keeping the great running tradition at the Pettit Center alive and well. We hope those who have run at the Pettit before return in addition to introduce a new batch of runners. For those who have more questions, please see our website at www.pettitindoormarathon.com or email us at pettitindoormarathon@gmail.com. Feel free to ask me questions, in person, at the Pettit Center. I am usually there running on Saturday mornings in the winter, and on some evenings with my daughters.

Thanks for chatting with us, Bill – we’re looking forward to an awesome weekend of racing!

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!

Tips for Racing at the Pettit

Will this weekend be your first time racing at the Pettit National Ice Center indoor track? Or perhaps it’s been awhile and you need a little refresher course.

sm20140126_010646_img_1584Photo by Bill Flaws – Running in the USA

We recently asked a few local runners for their best tips for racing at the Pettit. Whether you’re doing the marathon, half marathon, 5k or relay event, their tips will help you perform your best on race day:

“I would say divide your goal time by the number of laps to figure out what you need to average per lap. Then use the same fixed object (that is easy to see) to check your own lap times each time around; the video screen can be very difficult to read at speed!” – Richard Dodd

“Try not to think of the whole race at once; breaking it into smaller segments makes the laps go by quicker. If I’m doing a shorter race, I just imagine myself doing a speed workout with my friends.” – Angie Smith

“Having something warm to drink will help with Pettit lung and bring some cough drops.” – Sara Brozek

“In the relay, our team broke it into two-lap segments for each runner last year – you can run quicker and have less “down” time.” – Steve Pavlik

“I set my Garmin to show the average lap time and then hit the lap button every time I go around. I’ll have a number that I never want to see the average dip below.” – Tracey Gessner

“Constantly look up and ahead. So many times at the Pettit it is easy to look only five feet in front of you or at the shoes of another runner right in front of you. Doing periodic look-ups and checks way ahead (especially looking to the corners) will help in not getting lulled into a slower pace when you begin to tire. Plus you can BREATH better when you are NOT looking down!” – Matt Thull

“Best scenario is to concentrate/or perfect your form/stride because you don’t have to combat outside factors of weather/hills.” – Sheila Wordell

“Make sure to take advantage of the ability to take fluids or gels every lap (not that you should take something every lap). You should go in with a plan and let your volunteer at the table know that plan prior to the race.” – Chris Ponteri

“Have a plan with hydration. Because it’s there every lap, it is oddly easy to forget. I like to get fluids every 10 to 12 laps and keeping track gives my little brain something to do.” – Mary Flaws

“What I like to do is bring a TV tray table and set it up along the wall in an open area. There I will put whatever I might possibly need for the race – GU, water, salt, bananas, Body Glide/Vaseline, etc. It is then available to me every lap without me having to ask for it and I don’t have to bend down to search and get it out of my bag.” – Bill Schneider

MKE runners: What’s your best tip for racing at the Pettit?

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

Run a Fast Time at Saturday’s Heatbreaker!

For most runners, the summer months are a time for training with maybe a shorter race or two sprinkled in for fun. But doing a longer race at the end of July? It takes a special sort of runner to brave the usual hot and humid conditions!

Unless of course, you’re doing the Heatbreaker Half Marathon or Marathon. This Saturday’s races take place at the Pettit National Ice Center, which means cool 45-50 degree temps. Perfect conditions for a fast race!

HB 2014 logo

Below, Chris Ponteri – race director – tells us a bit more about what to expect at this year’s race:

The Heatbreaker is now in its 3rd year – can you talk a bit about what’s made this race successful?
It’s a rare chance to run a half marathon or marathon in the middle of summer in pleasant conditions. It’s obviously a warmer time of the year, especially for distance races. July is one of the slowest months of the year for endurance events, especially marathons.

What should participants expect at this year’s event?
The only change this year is that we added the marathon; in the past it was only a half marathon. We are still experimenting with the Heatbreaker formula so we figured why not add a marathon and see how it does.

This is a pretty unique event in that the entire race is run on an indoor track. Any helpful tips for participants?
As we say every year, when running indoors stay in the outside lane and using the inside lane to pass. Also exercise patience when approaching slower runners.

Can you tell us a bit about the Inferno Challenge?
The Inferno Challenge is for those daring individuals who want to run both the Half Marathon and Marathon. Right now there are 8 people who have indicated that they are crazy enough to do this.

Who are this year’s top contenders for overall male and female?
The top male runners in the Half Marathon are defending champion Bryan Huberty of Miami Beach, Florida, and James Koceja of Burlington. In the Marathon, Kyle Fraser of Milwaukee is the favorite. On the women’s side, Mary Flaws of Waukesha is always a contender, and she will be doing both races.

Do you anticipate any new course records this year?
Last year Bryan Huberty came within 30 seconds of Zach Bruns’ course record of 1:11:32, and this year he should challenge it again.

Thanks so much for all the great info, Chris!

There’s still time to get in on the action on Saturday. Race day registration is available for both the half marathon (7am) and marathon (10am). For more information, visit www.indoormarathon.com.

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!

Who’s In for the BLS Indoor 20k?

Who saw this week’s announcement that registration is now open for the Badgerland Striders new Indoor 20k at the Pettit National Ice Center??

We’re mega stoked about this race! First off, it’s a 20k (about 45 laps), which is an unusual distance in this area so a great opportunity to race something different. Second, what’s not to love about a course that’s pancake flat with guaranteed 50 degree temps and no rain, snow or ice? Third, this is a perfect opportunity to run on the new indoor track and a great way to train for January’s Indoor Marathon races.

Here are the 20k race details, according to the BLS website:

Date: Sunday, Dec. 8

Time: Heat 1: 8:30 a.m. (2 hour time limit); Heat 2: 11:00 a.m. (3 hour time limit)

Location: Pettit National Ice Center, 500 S 84th Street, Milwaukee, WI

Cost: $15 + an unwrapped toy (Note: There is a 100 runner capacity)

Additional details: All registered participants receive a tech t-shirt and snacks and beverages after the race. The course is supported with water stops and restrooms. Awards will be given to the top three males and females in each heat as well as the top male and female in each age group.

So, who’s already already signed up or planning to sign up? We have the feeling this one is going to fill fast …

Keep Running MKE – you’re doing great!