I almost don’t want to write this review because I want this race to stay small and sort of like the best kept secret around, but then again with such a small turnout I also want to make sure that the race keeps happening because it was AWESOME!
A month or so ago I saw a listing for a half-marathon/5K in New Glarus, Wisconsin – The Knights Run. I looked at the course map to make sure it was a trails race and not a road race because New Glarus has some hills that even my car doesn’t like to go up. Trails it was, so I e-mailed a college friend/running buddy who lives in Janesville to see if she would do the race with me and provide housing for me for the weekend . Aided by a few factors: $30 entry fee, 9am start, and mostly flat course she agreed to sign up. My husband and I have been vacationing near New Glarus for over 10 years and we love so many things about the area: the beer, the Swiss-style restaurants, the beautiful trail system and the super-nice people and I was really excited to find a race up there.
Registration: I printed out the entry form and mailed it in with my check for $30 made out to the New Glaurs PTO. Adorable.
The drive up: I went up to Janesville on Friday night after work and thanks to a ‘secret’ route that kept me off of IL-90 I made it up there at 7pm. My friend and I hustled off to a supper club for an amazing fish fry and I went for the full Wisconsin experience by having an Old Fashioned before dinner and a Pink Squirrel for dessert. I was pretty pooped so we headed back to her house and I cozied up in her amazing guest room. Tip: keep the house cool but put flannel sheets on the guest bed.
Saturday: Probably not the best idea before a half, my friend took me to the barn where she boards her horse and we took a 45 minute lesson followed by a 15 minute cool-down in the pasture. I knew this would kill my leg muscles, but it was so much fun to get a chance to ride again. We had lunch at a great deli and hit a few resale shops (Goodwill & Threads) where I scored a real Armani sweater for $9.25. Again: I love Wisconsin. We also stopped by a local running store so I could buy a pair of gloves because the temperature was dropping pretty precipitously and managed to recruit the store owner to do the race as well. We stopped back at the house to clean up and change and headed off to a party her friends were having called Porktoberfest (I’m totally appropriating that party theme/name for an Illinois version next year) where all manner of porky deliciousness was served.
What I wore to the race: It was obviously going to be colder than I thought and I consider myself lucky that I’m a chronic overpacker and had enough gear to layer up. I didn’t have the foresight to pack tights or gloves, but I did have a pair of North Face capris and a pair of Zensah compression calf sleevesto go over them which kind of counts as tights anyway. I wore a short sleeved Icebreaker shirt with a Nike ¼-zip over it. I used my new Saucony gloves and a bright orange Saucony baseball cap. I wore Balega socks and my Mizuno Wave Sayonaras.
Morning of: since the race didn’t start until 9am we didn’t have to leave Janesville until 7:30. Naturally with much dawdling that turned into 7:45. I was having some pretty major digestive distress – thank you Porktoberfest now officially known as the worst pre-race meal of all time. My GPS, Judith, (what? you didn’t name your GPS?) said we’d arrive at 8:55 which seemed wrong but I still drove like a bat out of hell since I didn’t want to be late. We wound up arriving at 8:35 so we were totally safe. The race started on a small street that runs between a park and the high school and there was plenty of parking in both the school and park lots.
Packet Pick-up: It was kind of a cluster-f. I’m not complaining – it was a small race so it was a very minor inconvenience that they seemed to have set up everything about 30 seconds before we got there and were sort of disorganized about how to distribute the packets. I saw my packet and just plucked it out. Besides the bib there was a unisex cotton t-shirt that wasn’t horrible looking, a beef stick, and a bunch of coupons for local businesses. They had hot chocolate available and they opened up the school so we could use the bathrooms (I was still in the throes of GI unhappiness – I took a couple of Immodium and luckily it solved the problem). The high school mascot – The Knight – was milling around doing a meet & greet and posing for pictures.
Start: spoiler alert: it didn’t start on time. At about 9:05 they started the kids race. About 20 kids ran out about .25 miles, around a cone, and then back. They were adorable – one girl crossed the finsh line and got all weepy because they she didn’t win. Oh girl – there aren’t enough tears. No fear, since this is modern day America all they kiddos got ribbons. About 9:15 they gathered the half-marathonners (all 16 of us – I shit you not) and let us know some course specifics and set us loose. I believe they started the 5K about 10 minutes later after we had cleared the general area.
The course: it was an out-and-back that broke into three segments. Pt. 1 started behind the school and headed to a paved trail that runs alongside WI-69 – a little over 1-mile. Then we crossed WI-69 with the aid of a crossing guard and got on the Sugar River Trail. The SRT is a rails-to-trails project so it’s mostly flat and has a crushed gravel surface that has seen some better days – most of the gravel is gone so it’s more like packed dirt – but it’s still pretty nice on the joints. We stayed on the SRT for about 4 miles and then turned onto a small country road. We were on the road for about .25-mile and then turned on to the Badger State Trail another r-to-t project with a similar surface. This portion was a very slight uphill grade. Right before the turn around was an old .25-mile railroad tunnel that I know from bike rides is completely dark and has a pretty rough surface. Cuteness alert: there was a volunteer standing right before the tunnel with a bucket of flashlights and they had thoughtfully placed LED puck lights every few feet inside the tunnel. The turnaround was about 10-yards after the tunnel so once you were back through you just handed the flashlight back to the volunteer with the bucket.
Water stops/bathrooms: There were 4 water stations on the way out, so the same 4 on the way back. Each stop was manned by a pair of high school cross-country runners and they had water and a choice of Gatorade – red or blue. Since this was truly a tiny race the Gatorade was from bottles – not the nasty stuff made from powder or concentrate. As you approached they would ask you if you wanted anything and what flavor of Gatorade you wanted – nice touch. They used plastic cups – not my favorite because you can’t pinch the cup to drink from without breaking it – but that was a minor inconvenience. Now what could have been a major inconvenience was the complete lack of porta-potties. Not a single one. However, there are ample places to dart off the trail into the bushes if you don’t have a problem with that and there was a cornfield on the road that connected the two trails. Thankfully the Immodium worked its magic and I didn’t have to try to find a secluded spot to relieve myself.
Awards: this was not a chip timed race (duh) and because it was so small there weren’t really age groups. I think they gave awards to the first man & first woman, but that was it. I came in 12th out of 16 total runners and I think 4th out of 7 women with a time of about 2:05-ish.
Post race: massages (no wait!), cheese sticks, beef jerkey, more beef sticks, cheese dip & crackers, orange slices, bananas, and mini sandwiches. The only thing missing was New Glarus beer but we remedied that by immediately heading to a local restaurant for lunch.
I would totally do this race again and I think you should do it next year too – I want them to keep having this race because it’s so much fun and has such a great small-town feel. Here’s what I recommend: drive up on Saturday to explore the town and the brewery – it’s really beautiful. Book a room at the quaint Chalet Landhaus http://www.chaletlandhaus.com and have dinner at their excellent restaurant. Don’t forget a swimsuit because they have a really nice indoor pool/whirlpool/sauna/steamroom (great for after the race!). Do the race and marvel at what a $30 race gets you in Wisconsin then eat at the Glarner Stube for lunch http://glarnerstube.com - order the house-made fried cheese curds. You will certainly have ingested more calories than you burned but it will be so completely worth it. Hit Roy’s Market on the way out of town (great selection of NG beer and slightly cheaper than the brewery) and be on your merry way.
I spoke to the ‘race director’ after the race – she was just a mom from the PTO – and suggested that they do just a little marketing next year. I told her to send out a few posters to running stores and sporting goods stores in surrounding towns and to market the race as the New Glarus Knights Tunnel Run because the tunnel was a really unique feature and runners love quirky features and gimmicks (at least I do).