By Tom Held Special to Published Jun 15, 2013 at 9:06 AM

Propelled by a $90,000 contribution from the Badgerland Striders, the marathon of replacing the running track in the Pettit National Ice Center has reached the finish line.

Workers from Spec Athletics began installing the new Kombi rubber surface earlier this week and will complete the job around June 23.

Runners long complained about the rock-hard surface on the 20-year old track that circles the ice oval, and the new surface will be three times thicker, 12mm vs. 4 mm, and provide softer landings for each footstep. The new 443-meter track also will be wider, providing three lanes instead of two, and the project includes a cross-training area stretching for nearly 50 meters along the front stretch.

A wiring system is being installed under the surface, and Pettit officials are researching various options to provide timing chips for track users to record their speed and number of laps. That would create an opportunity for corporate team challenges and individual contests.

Roughly 15,000 runners and walkers use the indoor track each year, according to Pettit officials, who expect the improvements will draw more people pursuing health and fitness during the winter months.

"You don’t have to skate to use the Pettit Center," said Randy Dean, executive director of the Olympic training venue off S. 84th St., in Milwaukee. "We’re a community facility, open for hockey, figure skating, public skating and running."

Replacing the worn rubber surface has been a priority for Pettit officials, but the project languished without financial support. The annual Icebreaker Indoor Marathon generated roughly $25,000 for the work, well short of the $135,000 total cost.

The Badgerland Striders, a 50-year-old non-profit running club, voted to tap its cash reserve to cover $90,000, leaving about $20,000 to be raised through donations or Pettit Center funds. Strider members Dave Finch and Scott Stauske also traveled at their own expense to analyze track materials used in Utah and Maryland, and selected the Kombi for its durability, soft surface and ease of maintenance.

"Obviously, this gives us a first-class track and a facility that will be usable year-round," said Pete Abraham, president of the Badgerland Striders. "We wanted to provide the surface for our runners and the community."

Mike Nelson, the cross country coach at Marquette University, is one of the many people excited by the improvements being made in the Pettit. Close to 80 track and cross country runners on the Marquette teams train inside the Pettit two or three times a week, during the winter months, he said.

"It gives us an opportunity to get in fantastic training when the weather isn’t good, Nelson said. "We’ve done time trials in there and kids have set personal bests. No wind. You can really fly on that thing. It’s a great resource for us.

"I’ve been a few different places in the coaching world, and there’s no place better than this," he said.

Fees for using the running track will remain at $4 per visit, and $2 for Badgerland Strider members.


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.