Another distance event has been added to the Door County running calendar for 2008. Organizers are planning the first Door County Half Marathon for May 3 of next year, an event they hope will enhance the peninsula’s reputation as an active destination while boosting an otherwise slow spring weekend for the tourism-dependent community.
The race will wind through Peninsula State Park, starting near the boat launch just north of Nicolet Bay, passing over Skyline Rd and exposing runners to some of the most spectacular views on the peninsula while weaving through the blossoming woodlands of the state’s most popular park. Nicolet Bay Beach hosts the finish line and post-race festivities.
Brian Fitzgerald, an Ephraim resident and potter who owns Ephraim Clayworks, has been hired as Race Director. He says the race, which will feature the 13.1 mile half marathon as well as a 5K road race, should become an avenue to show off the best of the peninsula to a largely untapped community.
Many people attracted to outdoor sports like running, bicycling, and kayaking are attracted to sparsely populated, quiet destinations, Fitzgerald explained. Their impression of Door County may only be the crowded, mid-summer vision, and the early May timing is an opportunity to bring hundreds of visitors in to witness a different side of the county.
“It’s a slow weekend that’s not loaded with people,” he says. “The timing of the race gives us a chance to bring people here who’ve been putting off coming to Door County because they view it as too crowded. They’re going to come and find great restaurants, theatre, and shops. And many places will still have off-season rates.”
An athlete himself who has traveled with his family to compete in running, biking, and cross-country skiing events, Fitzgerald says the peninsula has many advantages over other race hosts.
“It’s a family-friendly distance event,” he said. “The campground will be open, you have the beach, and you’re only minutes away from Fish Creek and Ephraim. We have all the accommodations here and so much to do. Some events can be very hard on the family because amenities aren’t nearby and there aren’t as many of them.”
Fitzgerald says they anticipate having trolley service to transport people in and out of the park, allowing them to shop, eat, and take in the scenery during the race. The beach offers many activities, while Eagle Tower is nearby and the villages of Ephraim and Fish Creek are only minutes from Nicolet Bay Beach.
For runners the race has a lot to offer as well.
“The course isn’t flat and fast,” Fitzgerald says. “It has views and vistas. It’s a road race and those roads are in excellent condition. The course itself is beautiful with varying terrain.”
David Moore is the United States Track and Field Federation’s Course Certifier for Wisconsin and recently certified the Door County course. Moore is a runner himself who has competed in courses worldwide and says the Door County race should be attractive to the running community.
“It’s beautiful going through the park,” he says. “You see the bay, all the trees, the scenery is great.”
Moore says if organizers can attract 500 participants in year number one they should consider it a great success, and Fitzgerald agrees.
“We got a late start but we’re moving along pretty quickly now,” he says. “We hope to attract people training for June marathons.”
But he also expects that the location of the race will attract others simply because it’s Door County and Peninsula State Park.
“I think it’s going to be surprising how many noncompetitive people are going to do it as walkers,” he says. “The appeal for some will be just to do it and complete it.”
The Midwest is a surprisingly strong region for distance running given its reputation for obesity and less than healthy eating habits. According to USATrack and Field, the Chicago metropolitan area boasts the fifth highest total of regular runners in the country, with 942,000 in 2005. Meanwhile, the Milwaukee/Racine area has the fourth highest rate of runners per capita at 18.8 per 100 residents, Indianapolis is second per capita at 21.8 and Minneapolis/St. Paul is fifth per capita at 16.9.
Marathoners also come from a highly attractive demographic base. According to marathonguide.com, the average age of marathon finishers in 2005 was 38.8 years old, with men aged 40–44 making up the largest age group. Income statistics gathered by marathons around the country show average household incomes of marathon runners exceeding $80,000. Runners who travel to the race from outside the area spend money on food, lodging, beverages, shopping, and entertainment, a fact not lost on the organizers.
“I think people will realize the benefit to the whole community,” Fitzgerald says. “Wouldn’t it be great if down the road people have to reserve a room a year ahead of time for this weekend?”
The ultimate goal for the event is to bring in a large number of people and generate dollars for non-profits in the area. The organizers are seeking sponsorship at different levels to make more money available for charity and have not yet designated a cause.
Those interested in getting involved or inquiring about sponsorships can contact Brian Fitzgerald at 920.421.1518.