In a dizzying weekend of endurance races inside the Pettit National Ice Center, athletes set records on skates and foot, ran personal bests and found success along with solace.
On the ice, Patrick Meek, from Chicago, set U.S. records in both the 25K and 50K marathon skate races, part of the US Speedskating Marathon National and North American Championships and held for the first time on the same weekend as the fifth annual Icebreaker Indoor Marathon.
The 27-year on skates was a blur to both the runners on the outer track and his competitors on the oval. He lapped most of his skating competition and covered the 25K in 39 minutes, one second; and the 50K, 125 laps around the oval, in 1:24:35.
“Any time you set a national record, you have to be happy,” said Meek, a member of the US Speedskating team.
His marathon outings were training for upcoming World Cup races in his specialties, the 5,000 and 10,000 meters. In contrast to his usual training environment, quiet and isolated, Meek enjoyed turning laps amid the spectacle of the Icebreaker races inside the Pettit.
Close to 200 runners raced in half marathon events on Saturday, 50 teams participated in a relay, and another 100 ran in the full marathon on Sunday. Music, cheering spectators and the constant buzz of people moving in circles boosted the energy for everyone competing.
While Meek limited himself to skating, Albertus Rohling took on the BladeRunner Challenge – going from the 25K skate race to the Icebreaker Half Marathon on Saturday, then adding the full marathon on Sunday to cap the weekend.
“The guy’s insane,” Meek said. “He was pushing the pace yesterday, with 50 laps to go. I think he’s a little past his prime, but I really hope I’m out there and doing stuff like that when I’m his age.”
True, at 37, Rohling may be a step or skate stroke slower than the teen who competed for the Dutch national team in speed-skating, but he’s still one of the best endurance athletes in the Milwaukee area. He finished third in the U.S. Speedskating 25K Marathon Championship (39:01), seventh in the Icebreaker Half Marathon (1:22:56) and sixth in the Icebreaker Marathon (2:56:51).
“I can tell you, it was tough,” said Rohling, of West Allis.
Like Meek, Zach Bitter approached his race as a training run, and the result was the same: a record.
A day before his 27th birthday, the special education teacher from Marinette ran the Icebreaker Marathon in 2:31:39, and knocked almost six minutes off the previous course record set by Bryan Schneider in 2009.
Bitter, one of the top ultra runners in the country, called the 26.2 miles at a 5:47 pace a good speed workout as he trains for the Mad City 100K and the national championship at that distance in April.
“I’m hoping to get the course record there,” Bitter said. “I need to get myself to a place where I can run a 6:30 pace for 62 miles.”
In the women’s marathon, Amanda Daws, of Milwaukee, celebrated a victory and her first sub 3-hour marathon. She finished in 2:58:40.
The full results from the Icebreaker races can be found here.
The unique environment for a marathon inside the Pettit is ideal for families to actually watch a son or daughter, or mom or dad. It was more than a little sweet to see JoAnne Bernhardt’s children, 8, 6 and 3, watch mom win the Gold Medal Challenge, the competition that combines the half marathon and marathon.
Bernhardt, 29, has run much of her life, but said she concentrated more intensely on training during her husband’s recent deployments to Afghanistan and South Korea, as part of the U.S. Army.
“Running is my therapy while he’s deployed,” said Bernhardt, of Greenfield. “I needed to focus my mind on that, instead of he’s in a war and getting shot at.”
Bernhardt ran the half marathon on Saturday in 1:32:33 and set a personal best 3:45:50 in the marathon on Sunday, to unseat Mary Flaws, the three-time winner of the Gold Medal Challenge.