Nickel: Was this the final straw? The Milwaukee Marathon has been canceled. Again.
In a stunning turn of events, the 2023 Milwaukee Marathon was canceled 21 hours before the event thanks to a blizzard that dumped inches of heavy and wet snow all over the Milwaukee area Saturday morning, leaving the course conditions impossible to manage and update in a safe manner.
Races are sometimes canceled; tornadoes, lightning can all affect race day and it's not smart to put so many people at an unnecessary risk, not to mention that emergency responders, like police officers and paramedics who are busy enough without needing an event to worry about.
At 10 a.m. Saturday, Milwaukee Marathon sent out this email to registered participants:
"Due to current conditions along the course and surrounding streets, and concerns for safety during today's packet pickup and tomorrow morning, we have made the difficult choice to cancel this Sunday's event. Unfortunately, the circumstances will not allow us to hold an event that meets our standards for a safe and successful race for participants, volunteers, and all other stakeholders.
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"In the upcoming days, we will collaborate with officials to explore all possibilities for 2023 and plan to provide participants with all available options, such as deferral to another event, virtual participation, or a full refund.
"Thank you to the Milwaukee running community for your understanding. We will follow up with next steps and more information as soon as possible."
Is this race cursed, or what?
An estimated 1,000 people were registered for the 5K and the half marathon, combined. That was a miracle in and of itself.
5K runners for the Milwaukee Marathon Sunday: start time has been changed to 7 AM so we don’t have to run in the dark. Announced by Race Director.
Also, keep an eye on the Saturday weather.
Nearly 1000 runners will all start at 7 AM Sunday at Fiserv Forum’s Deer District. pic.twitter.com/rVwLm8kysR
— Lori Nickel (@LoriNickel) March 24, 2023
Milwaukee Marathon had given just 49 days' notice that the race was even going to happen. This was a hastily pulled-together event, which didn’t help its reputation and made the marathon distance impossible. But it was going to happen at the 5K and half marathon distance.
“We have to make sure that we can prove to the city that we can make it happen,” race director Chip Hazewski said Friday at a news conference outside Fiserv Forum.
He was trying to overcome a lot of bad luck, because this race has a complicated history.
New race director, race owner
Hazewski, based out of Denver, is the road race director for Ventures Endurance, which puts on marathons and other events around the country and is owned by Gannett, the parent company of the USA TODAY NETWORK. The Journal Sentinel is part of a separate division in the company.
Hazewski manages a handful of races around the country and was in Milwaukee for the weekend to oversee the two-race event of Milwaukee Marathon.
He’s at least the fourth race director Milwaukee Marathon has had, following Chris Ponteri, Joe Zimmerman and Brad Scudder.
"I've been in the industry for 15 years,” Hazewski said Friday. “I've worked all over the world putting on races. Yeah, every city has its challenges. Every city is different. Yes, it was a little bit daunting at first knowing that this race hasn't happened in a couple of years, but I've met some great partners in the city.”
USA TODAY NETWORK Ventures aims to create “impactful consumer engagements and experiences through world-class events, promotions, races, and technology.”
Ventures has hosted other events: Rugged Maniac, a mud run/fun run obstacle course race in Wilmot; as well as USA TODAY High School Sports Awards and the Hot Chocolate 15K/5K. PNC used to be Milwaukee Marathon’s main sponsor.
This is the troubled marathon
It’s confusing, but here’s a reminder: there are two Milwaukee marathons. There’s the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, which began in 1981 and endured its own troubles when the 2022 race was canceled but has otherwise earned a reputation for a reliable, well-run race.
And there’s this Milwaukee Marathon, which has had problems from the word go.
After a successful run in 2015, runners complained the Milwaukee Marathon competed with Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, since the two were just weeks apart in the fall season. That's why Milwaukee Marathon is in the spring.
Then in 2016, the Milwaukee Marathon wasn’t measured correctly by the course markers, and some of the leading runners in the front pack ran more than the standard 26.2 miles. The distance was corrected, during the race, but those lead runners, including the women’s winner Denise Manthy, really put in the extra work.
But 2017 was really bad; the course markers who were contracted to set out the distance didn’t get it correct, again, but this time everyone came in short at 25.4 miles. That might seem like small potatoes to a non-runner – what’s less than a mile when you go that far? – but it robbed many athletes of the true sense of achievement. And it made the event a laughingstock for about a year.
There was a ton of speculation that the 25.4-mile 2017 Milwaukee Marathon also ruined runner’s chances of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, but if it happened, it was rare. Anyone wanting to qualify for Boston would have likely chosen the Lakefront Marathon anyway, since its old route (until last year) was point-to-point and on a decline, so it is considered “the faster” marathon. The Milwaukee Marathon has always been technical, twisting and turning on its course to stay within city limits.
The race was shelved entirely in 2018, sold once again to new management, its third in four years. It came back in 2019 when the people who put on Rugged Maniac in Wilmot helped take over. The 2019 race was successful, the Milwaukee Bucks became partners and Fiserv Forum was the launching pad.
But then the pandemic knocked out nearly every race in 2020 and 2021 and most runners wondered if that was it for the Milwaukee Marathon, especially when there was no word of its resurrection in 2022.
This is why just setting up this event for Sunday was at least a step in the right direction.
What about the future?
Hazewski said Friday that wants to bring the Milwaukee Marathon back in 2024, with the full 26.2 mile distance, in the spring, along with the most popular distance, the half marathon.
The springtime is key. He said he’s been in discussions with the other race’s director, Scott Stauske from Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, and doesn’t plan to compete with that race, which is usually the first weekend in October. Its a good compromise; the Milwaukee Marathon in the spring; the Lakefront Milwaukee Marathon in the fall.
"I talked to Scott multiple times. We're all in this together. It's a small industry. So we want to make sure everyone succeeds,” said Hazewski.
But it has taken Herculean efforts to try to keep this thing alive. The starting line and course of the Milwaukee Marathon and its various distances have changed a great deal throughout its wild history from the Menomonee River Valley, to the Harley-Davidson Museum area, then the lakefront, then the Third Ward.
If it somehow survives, Milwaukee Marathon does seem like a good fit to begin and end in the Deer District.
"We always look at the Deer District as Milwaukee's gathering place,” Michael Belot, senior vice president of Bucks Ventures & Development, said Friday. “2019 was organized by a different group and went significantly well, there were absolutely no issues. We look at ourselves as community stewards and this is a community event and it doesn't get more local than a Milwaukee Marathon and something for the city and for the surrounding residents. So it's just something that we wanted to get back to."
Street closures are a fact of life for any marathon, triathlon or big sporting event. And it was a big problem for the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon last year, causing an abrupt cancellation. This week, race officials worked with the Milwaukee Police Department to make sure that the community businesses and residents were notified.
But again, no race. People will ask if Milwaukee needs two marathons; it is a valid question now, given our inclement weather and the deck stacked against this particular run. Both races are really different, given how the courses are set out. But this one in particular hasn't had anything go its way at all.
Message Lori Nickel on Twitter at @LoriNickel, Instagram at @bylorinickel or Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/ChinUpLoriNickel
More:Wisconsin weather live updates: 5 to 9 inches of snow forecast for Milwaukee area, 8 inches in Appleton and Green Bay
This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Troubled Milwaukee Marathon 2023 race canceled due to snow