While snow-covered and icy roads are not very appealing for spring race training, Door County’s “premier half marathon” is only 13 weeks away! There’s no time like the present to begin training for this course that is equal parts scenic and steep. Unlike urban races, where an abundance of fans and minor traffic hazards keep runners on their toes, the Door County Half Marathon is run entirely in one of Wisconsin’s most beautiful state parks. The course through Peninsula park follows park roads through the woods and along the top of the Niagara escarpment, a rugged rock formation that overlooks Green Bay. The scenery is, in places, breathtaking, as are the steep climbs and descents that runners face.
In May of 2017 I was fortunate to run this race for the first time. Getting to the start does require a little planning. It is possible to drive in, though with many park roads closed, traffic is problematic, so it is easier to take one of the shuttles offered. I opted to bike in from Fish Creek with some friends. The bike ride warmed up my legs on the brisk sunny morning. Milling around before the race, I was able to secure my race t-shirt and greet lots of friends who were volunteers and fellow runners alike.
As the start time neared, runners drifted toward the starting line for the national anthem. I was running as part of a My Team Triumph team, so my teammates, our captain and I had the privilege of starting from the front of the pack. As we surged ahead at the gun, I briefly pondered if I was truly ready for the challenge of this race, but we were off to a strong pace. A few miles in everyone still felt great; we paused for water a few times but didn’t stop running. Though we didn’t see too many spectators in the forest, fellow runners were so supportive of our team, cheering our captain as they passed. At each crossroad we were greeted by a small crowd of fans; these interludes gave us still more adrenaline for the miles ahead. About halfway through the course the frequent hills began to take their toll, and we paused to eat a little energy gel provided by race volunteers.
The gel worked, and we were on pace again to finish strong. Just before the finish line we helped our captain out of his chair and together we crossed the finish line. Here the crowd was thick, made up of family and friends and other runners who hung around to show support. Though the race is a relatively small one, it has a sense of community that runners come back for every year.
After thanking my captain and teammates for a great race, I gratefully found a banana and some chocolate milk. Many runners stood in an impressive line for complimentary Door County Brewing Company beer. I didn’t want to wait that long, but other folks didn’t seem to mind. Families sat on the grass in the cool sunshine listening to a live band and reliving their races. I found my friends, and we slowly biked home.
After my half marathon, I was certainly in need of a long hot tub soak. The Blacksmith Inn’s in-room whirlpools make it a perfect place to recover from a race well-run. Many choose to make a weekend of one of the Door’s great races. Here are some of Door County’s spring and summer plods. Reserve your post-race relaxation early by checking the Inn’s availability.
This May marks 11 Door County Half Marathons.
Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in about 21 minutes (about 10.5 miles)
Pre-registration required: Yes
Cost: $60-80, depends on date of registration
This early June race in Sturgeon Bay includes a 5K, a 10K and a kids’ run. It’s followed by Side Pork Fest.
Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in about 32 minutes (22.5 miles)
Pre-registration required: Optional, available day-of
Cost: $20, kids’ run is $5
This July tradition is capped at 1,500 runners, an impressive showing in Fish Creek. The race is aptly named for the “hairpin” curve runners tackle around the midpoint of the race.
Distance from the Blacksmith Inn: Driveable in about 15 minutes (8.5 miles)
Pre-registration required: Strongly recommended
Cost: $26-36, depends on date of registration