By Tom Held Special to Published May 04, 2012 at 4:27 PM

Fearing they've lost pace in a national running boom, organizers of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon are proposing to add a half marathon to the event and create a paid position for the race director.

Both ideas are expected to hit a wall of resistance within the Badgerland Striders, the venerable running group that has promoted running and organized local races since 1959. The non-profit Striders group owns the Lakefront Marathon.

Part of the proposal being presented to the Board of Directors next week includes spinning the marathon away from direct BLS oversight, and creating a separate non-profit organization with paid staff to run the event. A share of money generated from the marathon would be directed back to the Striders.

Growth is one of the goals. Survival is another.

Given the limitations on the course itself, the field for the marathon likely won't expand much beyond the current 3,100-runner limit. By adding a half marathon option, the Lakefront races would likely triple the number of participants racing in Milwaukee each October.

The total could approach 10,000 runners, and add to the estimated $3.3 million the marathon generates for local businesses.

In Wisconsin and across the country, half marathons draw two to 10 times the number of participants as their companion marathons. The half marathon is the fastest-growing distance in the sport.

The Cellcom Green Bay Marathon, for example, has roughly 5,000 participants in its 13.1-mile race vs. 2,000 going the 26.2.

In Madison, the half marathon draws roughly 3,500 vs. 1,100 in the full marathon.

Among the 27 officially timed marathons scheduled in Wisconsin in 2012, only three, including the Lakefront, don't offer a shorter distance.

Those proposing the changes to the Badgerland Striders board are motivated to attract more runners and make the Lakefront "a premier regional event," said Bill Jahnke, a member of the BLS road race committee and supporter of the proposal.

"We want to make it a destination, if you would, help make Milwaukee a destination city," he said.

In his view, that requires a professional, paid staff. That's an unprecedented approach in the Striders history. Striders' races, including the Lakefront, have always been organized by volunteers.

In her 12 years as director of the Lakefront Marathon, Kristine Hinrichs has donated her time, even her mileage.

Hinrichs is one of the forces behind the proposed changes, including the creation of a separate, non-profit entity to organize the LFM.

In an interview she stopped short of issuing an ultimatum, but noted that she is retiring from her job as chief administrator of the Milwaukee Municipal Court at the end of the year, and is contemplating other changes.

"I'm willing to invest my time and effort to an expanded race," she said. "This is part of my decision-making process."

The first decisions rest with Badgerland Striders Board of Directors, which meets May 8.

Peter Abraham took over as president of the group in January.
He noted that the board has not received a formal proposal, but suggested there would be opposition.

"Even though there's a fair amount of new blood in the organization, there's going to be a lot of resistance to a change of that type," Abraham said.

"The Striders have always been an all-volunteer organization. While that may not change, spinning it off, in a way selling it off, that's nothing we've looked into."

Adding a half marathon also has been viewed with skepticism over the years.

"It's always been thought it was too much. We weren't capable of putting that together; too much work, too confusing too difficult to add," Abraham said. "It hasn't gotten consideration from the BLS board."

The Striders, as he noted, already put on three half marathons.

The companion to the Lakefront, as Hinrichs described it, would be run within the city, starting and finishing in Veteran's Park, the finish line of the full marathon.

Hinrichs said new races, including the Milwaukee Brewers Mini-Marathon in September and the Rock 'n Sole half marathon in late June, have added competition and made the Lakefront vulnerable in its current configuration.
"Our management group believes the race needs to grow, needs to grow to survive," she said. "We're all committed to a 2012 race and making whatever transition after that, good or bad."

Tom Held Special to

Memories of running cross-country for the Slinger Owls motivated Tom Held to get his body moving again when he turned 30. Almost two decades later, he's still on the move. The 49-year-old bikes, runs and skis, and covers news for similarly active people as a freelance writer and blogger.

He spent 26 years as a daily news reporter, and applies that experience to dig out stories about athletes, races, endurance sports, fitness and self-propelled transportation. His work has appeared in Silent Sports Magazine, Wisconsin Trails and Cross-Country Skier.

Held lives in the Bay View neighborhood, where he counts being Dad to twin daughters part of his daily workout.