Like a runner tackling 26.2 miles for the first time, the new director of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon plans to start cautiously.
Dr. Jon Mueller, 54, a local chiropractor, rightly recognizes he has “big shoes to step into,” succeeding Kristine Hinrichs, whose dominant personality and dedication shaped the Lakefront for the past 12 years.
Hinrichs will step down after the 2012 marathon, on Oct. 7. Her decision to leave was prompted, in part, by the rejection in May of a proposal to change the marathon business plan, add a half marathon to the event and create a paid position for the race director.
The changes were suggested as a vehicle to expand the marathon from its current 3,000 runners and secure it from the competition of new events, including the Brewers Mini-Marathon.
Mueller steps to the start line fully aware of the rifts that have developed over the future of the Lakefront, and focused on finding his own answers, over time.
“I’m going into this with an open mind, and the passion that I have for helping runners,” Mueller said. “I’m excited and a little nervous.
“I want to make a smooth transition, focus on the runners and the volunteers. I would think the first year or two, we’ll work to keep things the way they’ve been.”
While the Badgerland Striders Board of Directors rejected the proposal to add a half marathon and create a paid race staff in May, Mueller said those ideas would be considered again.
“For the size of the marathon we have here, for an all-volunteer race, it’s hard to pick out anything wrong with it,” Mueller said. “The course is fast, the race is well-managed. As a runner, I can’t find anything that I would fault.
“Whether adding a half marathon would add to it or take away from it, I don’t have enough experience to say one way or another. I’d like to keep an open mind and go slow and see what’s the best thing to do.”
Mueller has run 50 marathons since his first, the 2003 Lakefront Marathon. He has little experience in directing a race, but impressed the Striders members through his work supervising the marathon build-up program, a series of weekly runs that help runners prepare for the 26.2.
The group turning out in Lake Park on Saturday mornings roughly doubled in the five years that Mueller organized the training runs.
“The nice thing about Jon is he gets along with everybody,” said Peter Abraham, the president of the Badgerland Striders. “Considering there are so many people involved in the marathon, he seemed a good gift, someone who can communicate with everybody.”