As the race director of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon for 13 years, Kris Hinrichs has greeted thousands of runners at the finish line in Veteran's Park, handed them a medal, and helped them celebrate their achievement.
She'll celebrate one of her own on Saturday, when she runs her 100th marathon, on the Lakefront course from Grafton to Milwaukee. The girl who contracted polio and couldn't play sports as a child will reach a remarkable athletic pinnacle, surrounded by the friends she has made over two decades in Milwaukee's running community.
A Minnesota native, Hinrichs moved to the Milwaukee area in 1987, worked in public service as a village administrator in Thiensville and Hales Corners, and will retire in December, after 11 years as the Chief Court Administrator of the Milwaukee Municipal Court. She's also leaving her post as the Lakefront race director, after a conflict with the race sponsors, the Badgerland Striders.
The six-hour jaunt on Saturday will give Hinrichs, 59, time to reflect on her experiences, the people she's met and the impact she's had on the city's only marathon, one she nurtured from 1,000 runners to more than 3,000.
Hinrichs shared some of those thoughts in an interview ahead of her century run.
Ready for 100: "I think it's going to be great. I am just blessed to have people who are interested in it and who want to be a part of it. When I came here, I was married, but in 1992 I was divorced and I had no friends. I knew not a soul in this city. To think that not that many years later I'm going to have a bunch of people along that course who care about me is just amazing."
At the start: "I had been living here a long time by the time I got the marathon concept. I started going to Badgerland Striders Fun Runs, and a couple people I met there said you could do a marathon. I was inspired as a volunteer at the Lakefront Marathon. I volunteered at the finish line and saw them coming in. If all these guys in brown socks could run a marathon, I could run a marathon too. I didn't realize how fast those guys in the brown socks were. That got me thinking about it, that it's not an insurmountable goal. It's not easy, but as I've told many people many times, if it's in your heart, you can probably do it."
The 1994 Grandma's Marathon in Duluth was her first marathon, and Hinrichs kept up the pace for more than a decade before setting the 100 marathon goal.
The idea: We did the Catalina Islands Conservancy Marathon six years ago. It turned out that my training partner had broken her wrist and ankle the week before and couldn't run. I promised to take pictures for her and took 200 pictures. Your normally slower person got even slower. I got to spend a lot of time with me. I got to thinking about Paul Gionfriddo (who ran 100 marathons after age 65), and I decided could do 100 marathons before I was 60.
I don't even remember how many marathons I still had left to go. There are people in this world, that if you ask them to help you or to do something they want to know what it's going to involve, how much time it's going to take and who's going to be there to help them. I figure out how to do it."
Resignation: "I've accepted the fact that my interests and the interests of the management team are not the same as the interests of the Badgerland Striders. You love your company, your product and your team, but you and the owner are not on the same page. I've come to accept that. It's going to be sad not to be involved. If John Mueller (her successor) and his team aren't able to maintain the event at the same level we thought we did, that's going to be sad, but there's nothing we can do about it. Acceptance is the best word."
"The real part of it is that I believe that sooner or later we're going to open the newspaper and it will say that Rock 'n Roll adds a marathon in Milwaukee or the Brewers or Rock 'n Sole. To think we're going to be the only large metropolitan area without a big marathon and half marathon is naïve. It's going to happen. To continue to put that level of volunteer time into something that's vulnerable and you can't take the actions you think are needed to make it not vulnerable doesn't make any sense."
The rewards: "I think running has taught me... I've been a goal-oriented person, but the experience of running, especially longer distances proves that adage that every project is a failure in the middle. There's a time when things are going bad and you have to stick it out and finish. It's allowed me to do things I've never thought I could do, and I've made great friends."
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.