Door County Year In Review: Inaugural Half Marathon A Huge Success

When the inaugural Door County Half Marathon and Nicolet Bay 5K drew just under 600 participants in May 2008, Race Coordinator Brian Fitzgerald was under the impression the peninsula’s newest running events were a success. What confirmed it, however, was a phone call he received a few weeks ago from Jenny Hatfield – a writer for Runner’s World magazine and co-owner of Chicago Endurance Sports (CES), an organization known across the country for its half-marathon, marathon, and training programs – who wanted to know if she could reserve 30 – 40 rooms for members of CES to run the 2009 event.

“That was what made it obvious to me,” says Fitzgerald, who began planning the Door County Half Marathon with a group of runners and local business owners in the spring of 2007. “I had always known the Door County community was interested – but knowing that the running community at large has heard positive comments about such a new race, and that a running group of that caliber wants to come up and run it – that’s what made me realize that this event is only going to increase in size.”

Initially, the event was conceived as a way to tap into potential business during the peninsula’s spring shoulder season.

“We figured we had the accommodations, and in early May, the scenery is beautiful here.” With the focus on scenery, it seemed only right that at least some of the half marathon route go through Peninsula State Park, considered by many to be Door County’s scenic jewel. As planning progressed it was decided to have the entire race in the confines of the park.

“It’s a double positive in a lot of ways,” Fitzgerald says. “We are able to feature the beauty of the park, and we are also able to put on the race without closing down any public roads. It’s a great situation.”

While the organization of any race poses major challenges, Fitzgerald said this event had some unique, although not insurmountable, roadblocks. He spoke with other half marathon directors within the state and beyond, and determined the Door County Half Marathon will always be a destination race.

“A certain group of people will want to run this race – serious runners as well as runners who also want to spend a leisurely few days enjoying the peninsula,” Fitzgerald said. “Also, with a first-time race, I found out that many runners won’t sign up until the week of, because of weather or training issues. Sometimes they will even wait until the next year until they find out the details of the race from someone else who participated – some runners don’t like to run in a first-time event. So, given all of those situations, I think our participation level was amazing.”

Runner feedback from the inaugural event was positive, buoyed in large part by the strong support of the Door County community. Many participants were first time runners who either lived in Door County or had strong ties to the peninsula. Fitzgerald also credits the business sponsors of the race for their help, both financially and through word-of-mouth advertising.

“With the help of our sponsors, we were able to advertise this race much better than I anticipated,” he says. “A huge turning point for us was when the Ephraim Business Council came on as a major sponsor. A community of businesses committed to this race – that was thrilling to see.”

Registration is now open for the 2009 Door County Half Marathon and Nicolet Bay 5K, and while Fitzgerald would like to see participation numbers double and perhaps triple in the years to come, he also wants to make sure that the race retains its community-oriented feeling.

“The first goal will always be to make the runners feel welcome. We want them to feel like we’re rolling the red carpet out for them,” he says. “We know we’re competing with other racing events that weekend, so we realize we need to spend more time in making the race a success.”

Part of that success comes from increased sponsorship for next spring’s race, as Capital Brewery has signed on for product sponsorship (“We’ve found through extensive research that most runners like having a beer after a hard race!” Fitzgerald says with a laugh), and Fish Creek has also committed as a major sponsor.

Door County has a myriad of distinct qualities that it’s known for – our cherry and apple crops, fish boils, having a restaurant with goats on the roof, and much, much more. The Door County Half Marathon, along with other extreme and ultra-sporting events that have existed for years on our peninsula such as the Door County Fall 50 and the Door County Triathlon, show there is room for another kind of tourist in our community – the hardcore athlete.

“It’s exciting that Door County is tapping into this market of people,” says Fitzgerald. “We’re beginning to create an interest that didn’t exist here a few years ago.”

For more information on the Door County Half Marathon, or to sign up for the 2009 race on Saturday, May 2, 2009, please visit