By Lisa Simonson Special to Published Oct 23, 2013 at 1:36 PM

Admittedly, it’s been several years since I’ve made a trip to Wisconsin Dells. Although it’s close and there are plenty of activities to do there, I honestly can’t remember the last time I spent any time in the Dells.

I made my first trip back to the Dells this past weekend for a fairly special occasion – my first full marathon. I wrote about my first half marathon experience last year and felt it was only appropriate to share my first marathon experience.

My decision to run a full marathon came somewhat out of irritation and spite. I’m turning 26 and wanted to do something special. I wasn’t looking for an average birthday celebration. I wanted to go out of town, maybe get crazy in Las Vegas, something new and exciting. However, it proved to be a bit difficult to coordinate my group of friends and get everyone on board for a vacation. Instead, I thought why not run 26 miles for my 26th birthday?

My superior negotiation skills allowed me to enlist the partnership of my running buddy. After all, she’d convinced me to run my first half and has run every race since with me, so she just had to run this marathon with me.

I scoured the internet to find a marathon that was close to my birthday and found the Honky Tonk Marathon located in picturesque Wisconsin Dells. I’m about the least country-loving person, but this was one of the only marathons I could find the weekend I wanted to run.

With the marathon starting on Sunday, we arrived in the Dells Saturday afternoon. We spent our first night at a motel in an effort to be cost effective. We stayed right on the main strip if you will at a little place called Fitzgerald’s Motel. The price was right for the size room we had. No frills, but at least there was heat which is more than I can say about my own apartment.

Upon check in, we learned that it was Autumn Harvest Fest. We took a walk down the street to check out the festivities and stumbled upon an event called Dells on Tap, which featured Wisconsin breweries. Unfortunately, we arrived late and were not able to sample any of the beer, but there were several breweries involved.

You could purchase a small mason jar-looking cup for a set fee and sample from the different breweries. We got stuck with Miller Lite and made our way over to watch the live band. Not sure of the name, but they played using washboards, and the crowd was really into it – perhaps they were local celebrities.

Staying at the festival probably would have resulted in the consumption of too many beers before a race, so we left after about an hour of wandering. Our restaurant of choice for the pre-race carb load was the High Rock Cafe. We started with almost a whole loaf of bread and a goat cheese spread, and I had a seasonal ravioli dish stuffed with butternut squash. The food was phenomenal, and I highly recommend stopping here if you find yourself in the Dells. It had the feeling of a date night-type restaurant, but there were a few families present as well.

The next morning when my alarm went off at 5 a.m., there was an immediate knot in my stomach. In three hours, I had to run 26.2 miles. What was I thinking?

We arrived at the starting point about an hour before the race was to begin. I slowly downed my breakfast and stretched, trying not to get too anxious about the task ahead. Sunday morning proved to be colder than I originally anticipated, and of course I forgot to pack proper clothes. Fortunately for my limbs, my running partner had extra layers for me to borrow.

The first half of the race started off smoothly. There were several hills, but everything seemed manageable. After the half marathon group broke off, the running group was noticeably smaller. I believe just over 100 runners completed the full marathon.

I experienced the running "wall" at about mile 17. The thought that I had nine miles to go was weighing heavily on my shoulders. Of course, at about this point it also started to rain. As other runners passed, they shouted words of encouragement or gave positive gestures to keep moving forward, but I was both physically and mentally drained.

The last six miles of the race were the six hardest miles I’ve ever ran in my life. I don’t even know if you can call it running; it was more run/walk/crawl forward. I added on the most time to the race during this portion.

At about mile 25, an older gentleman caught up to me at a water station. He offered up a celebratory shot of tequila – I politely declined, but it got me thinking maybe this was the secret. Was he drinking during the whole run or just at the end to ward off aches and pains? This man was a genius. When I hit the last hill, I felt like a sloth slowly making my way to the top, but afterward, I found the ultimate reward: I could see the finish line.

As I dragged myself across the finish line, I immediately burst into tears. It was a combination of completing the race, being in so much pain and wanting to die, and the greatest sense of accomplishment. I also was lucky enough to have a mini cheering section as my sister and friend surprised me by showing up at the very end.

For night two, we decided to stay at the Polynesian Hotel. After a shower and a doughnut, it was off to watch the Packer game and shovel more food into my face. The next few hours were spent bar hopping through the Dells. The evening finally concluded with a hot tub session before finally passing out into a post marathon food and beer slumber.

I’d like to thank everyone who has supported me on my journey to completing this marathon. I may never run the Honky Tonk Marathon again, but I can’t say that I’ve ruled out a future marathon. A much more distant future marathon. 

Lisa Simonson Special to

As a self-proclaimed aficionada of dive bars, Lisa Simonson knows a thing or two about drinking and our city’s bar scene. She now calls Milwaukee, one of America’s drunkest cities (coincidence?), home after growing up in world-famous Port Washington (“Step by Step,” anyone?) and spending time in both Minneapolis and London.

Now, back in her favorite city in the world, Simonson blogs about her adventures in Milwaukee, one bar at a time. Although her primary focus is sampling the best the city has to offer in beer, wine and whiskey, when not abusing her liver, Lisa can be found cruising on her bike, obsessing over Adobe products, jamming to her favorite bands or attempting to teach her cat to walk on a leash.