The Wisconsin Marathon is in Kenosha, Wisconsin – a town of 100,000 residents located about 45 minutes south of downtown Milwaukee and 1.5 hours north of Chicago. It’s a relatively quaint town with not a lot going on, but makes for a nice weekend visit especially if you’re a fan of ice cream.
The marathon itself was fine but, like much of the Midwest, bland (and I can only say this as someone from the Midwest). I lucked out on the weather, with sunny skies and temps in the 50s to 70s, but if it had been raining it would have been pretty miserable. All told, it was a perfectly pleasant weekend in a perfectly pleasant town, but I’d never put this race on a “must do” list.
I flew in on Friday morning, the day before the race, picked up my chintzy rental car, and drove down to Kenosha. The lady at the rental counter told me to visit a place called Mars Cheese Castle on the way. She didn’t have to tell me twice – I’d definitely visit anyplace that had both “cheese” and “castle” in the name.
While the building was somewhat castle-like and featured a suit of armor in the entrance to greet you, the interior was simply a fancy gourmet grocery store with a bakery, deli, huge beer section, and a separate bar that served food and drinks. I wanted to get my race packet and have lunch somewhere downtown, so I didn’t take full advantage of the Cheese Castle, although I heard that they do have really good food. I bought the first of many pounds of candy there and was on my way.
The drive from the castle to the packet pickup at the Best Western Harborside was about 15 minutes of non-highway driving, bringing you past farms and the Kenosha Velodrome before dumping you into downtown Kenosha. Packet pickup was quick and easy, and I was pre-warned there was no expo so I made sure to bring all my own gels and whatnots for the race. I did buy a cheese pin ($3) to add to my cheesy hat, but lost the pin somewhere between the finish line and my car, which was probably the saddest thing to happen to me all weekend. (I replaced the pin for twice the price at the airport.)
I was pleasantly surprised to get two free bondi bands in my race packet! The race shirt is also pretty nice – a short-sleeved tech v-neck with zero sponsor logos on it so it’s nice and low-key. While black is not my favorite tech t-shirt color, at least it’s not see-thru white!
I drove a few blocks from the hotel into the “main” downtown, had a really tasty lunch at Frank’s Diner followed by ice cream at Scoops, then bought even more candy and popcorn at Sandy’s Popper, but then I felt not so good (still battling something I picked up in Ecuador) so I went straight to my hotel (Best Western Executive). (I’ll admit now that I went to the doctor the day before my flight since whatever was ailing me from Ecuador wasn’t going away, so there was some question as to whether I’d be forced to quit the marathon in case I felt sick, but after my brief illness Friday afternoon I felt pretty good the rest of the weekend and am mostly recovered now.)
I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening getting my cheese outfit ready and relaxing before my early morning wakeup at 4:45 am. The race started at 7:00 am but they advised people to get there at about 6, and I was a little concerned about parking, so I left the hotel at about 5:40 am. I arrived in plenty of time to park (there seemed to be ample parking but I did get there early), sit in my car eating bagels, bananas, and Bonk Breaker bars, and slowly walk to the start.
Race results say there were about 3,000 participants in both the half and the full, but it felt like more. There were plenty of porta potties at the start but not a lot along the course itself, so I saw some long lines at the few I passed (I ended up jumping into a “real” park bathroom around mile 10 because there weren’t a lot of half marathoners using them at that point).
While sitting in my car that morning I looked over the course map and counted that it crossed itself 24 times over the 26 miles, and in the first few miles it felt like we had sharp right and left turns every few blocks. My favorite section ended up being miles 5 through 7 (and back again about miles 9 through 11) which was along the lake and afforded a good view of the water and the beach (unlike some other sections along the lake that were blocked by a rock wall or very expensive houses). I didn’t really need my music until about mile 12 when the halfers turned around and the field thinned considerably. The only good thing about the course looping back on itself so much was that I got to see the leader twice (the second time he was heading to the finish, still about 3 miles away, with a big goofy smile on his face – the most average guy marathon winner I’ve ever seen).
But the second half was tough for me. Even though the entire course was super-duper flat, there was little to no shade and it was getting to be a warm, sunny day. My least favorite part were the sections along a dirt road a few blocks in from the lake, so there was no breeze and not enough water stations, in my opinion. By the time I reached the water station at mile 18.5 I felt like an overheated dust monster. I learned my lesson and took multiple cups of water after that, since the volunteers only filled them about 1/4 of the way full. Also, besides the handful of other (back-of-the-pack) runners and the aid stations every two miles, the roads were deserted.
I promised myself that when I hit mile 23 I had permission to walk the last three miles, and boy did I take myself up on that offer! Sometimes in a marathon I feel aerobically tired, or a full-body fatigue, but this time I could tell that my muscles and tendons just didn’t have any spring left in them. I was undertrained and I knew it. But it was also my birthday, and the sun was shining and I could see the boats on Lake Michigan, and I didn’t want to torture myself for the last 3 miles, so I walked. I had no fear of the SAG wagon because of the generous 6.5 hour cutoff, although even if I were afraid I don’t know if my legs had it in them to run anymore. I didn’t even pretend to jog until the final .1 mile (not even .2!) through the finishing chute. They gave me a heat sheet, the medal, and I staggered off to a nearby tent for the food.
I was relieved to find that they still had brats and beer left for the late finishers, until I actually got the brat – a weird cut-up sausage stuffed into a thin, slightly stale, half pita pocket. WTF? Do they often serve brats in pita pockets? If they do, I’d like to suggest that they stop doing this, because it’s not good. I ate it anyway, because I had just run/walked 26 miles and I needed something to go with the beer. And that was it! No other finishing food except for maybe some half mini bagels I saw near the finish? And bottles of water. But the band playing at the end was really good and I would have stayed longer to listen but I think they were actually finishing up anyway because, let’s be honest, I was one of the last people across that finish line and the party was over.
The next day I went straight to the Jelly Belly warehouse for the free tour (with free package of beans!) and spent an ungodly sum on candy (mostly as gifts but some for myself, too). Then I spent the next several hours wandering the Pleasant Prairie Premium Outlets but was surprisingly disappointed. I used to love outlet mall shopping because it was a special event with special deals, but I realized that in the era of internet shopping, I find amazing deals on the exact same stuff all the time. I ended up getting some colorful running capris from Aeropostale, a softshell jacket, and a Salomon running vest I had been eyeing for months (which was legitimately an amazing deal – the cheapest price I had found on Amazon was $141 and I got it in-store for about $93). So, even though I didn’t intend to buy only running stuff and candy on this trip, I actually only bought running stuff and candy. For dinner that night I ended up at the Cracker Barrel because the German restaurant (House of Gerhard) was closed on Sundays. Meine Fresse!
Part of the reason the weekend was a bit bland was because I was so worn out from all the traveling I had done in the weeks leading up to the race. By the time I finished the marathon I was perfectly content to lay in my hotel bed eating cheese puffs instead of real food. I should have explored Milwaukee the morning before my flight left on Monday, but I couldn’t muster any gumption, so I ended up wandering the two floors of the Kenosha Public Museum instead, which wasn’t a bad choice. But then I was thwarted by everything being closed in town (apparently Monday is the new Sunday in Kenosha), so I ended up heading to the airport early and watching Veep on my tablet. Till next time, Wisconsin!
All categories on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the best. Note that this review is based on running as a “back of the packer” with a finish time approaching 6 hours (with a cutoff of 6:30). Your experience may vary.
- Getting There (Transportation & Walkability) – 6/10 – The flight into Milwaukee (MKE) was super simple and while just a tiny bit more expensive than a flight into Chicago ($251 vs about $230 to ORD), the car rental was much cheaper (only $22/day). Ultimately I’m very glad I flew MKE because it was a smaller airport and the drive down to Kenosha was really easy. However, you do need to rent a car for this race, as there’s no easy way to get from the airport to the race, even if you do manage to snag a reservation at the host hotel (and if you don’t, you’ll have to drive to the start as there are no shuttles).
- Staying There – 5/10 – The marathon offers a “VIP package” where you get to stay at the host hotel near the start (The Best Western Harborside) but that option was sold out when I registered in January, so I stayed at the Best Western Executive further inland (about a 20 minute drive away). There aren’t any great hotel options in the area – just a bunch of low-level chains – so it’s purely utilitarian on that front. If I had to stay there again I’d try the Holiday Inn Express.
- Cost & Registration – 7/10 – I registered in late January so I paid $86 for registration, which got me a short sleeved tech shirt (with no logos on the back!), two random bondi bands, a decent medal with a bottle opener at the bottom, and a cup of beer and a weird pita with bratwurst in it at the finish. The race never sold out so it was possible to register at the last minute (I think the final cutoff was the day before the race).
- Organization – 7/10 – It was a relatively small race (about 3000 total participants, 760 doing the full marathon) so the packet pickup was simple. There’s no expo, though, so make sure to pack your own gu.
- Course – 6/10 – Very flat course with large portions along Lake Michigan, but there is some rough road (e.g. potholes, cracks) and portions along a dirt/unpaved road. The worst part was that it looped and crossed itself a LOT (I counted 24 times it crossed itself), which I knew beforehand so I was mentally prepared but it still kinda sucked. The benefit for a back-of-packer like me was I got to see the leaders twice as they headed back while I was going out.
- Crowd – 2/10 – Very lacking in spectators, and don’t expect any spectators handing out candy or beer or anything like that. Volunteers, as always, were great.
- Other Factors – 7/10 – Kenosha was a very cute town and it was a pleasant trip, but easy to see and do everything in a day. Visit the Jelly Belly Warehouse, the Premium Prairie Outlets, the free Kenosha Public Museum, and the multiple food options in Kenosha (Frank’s Diner, Scoops Ice Cream, Sandy’s Popper, House of Gerhard, the Scandinavian Bakery, etc.) – just be warned that many places are closed on Sunday or Monday!
- Overall Rating – 6.5/10 – It was a totally fine marathon with beautiful weather, but if the weather had been bad it would have been rough.
16 down, 34 to go!
Have you ever run Wisconsin? How do you serve brats? What’s your favorite Jelly Belly flavor? Share in the comments!