An ultra runner races in the Ice Age Trail 50, a 50-mile trail race through the Kettle Moraine.

An ultra runner races in the Ice Age Trail 50, a 50-mile trail race through the Kettle Moraine. Photo By Frank Sikora

Spring brings plenty of options for running races

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If you think running a marathon sounds daunting, try running two. In succession.

That's what runners in the Ice Age Trail 50 will nearly do on May 10 when they trudge for 50 miles over the rolling hills of the Kettle Moraine. It's called an ultramarathon, and just thinking about it makes me tired.

Two members of the Wisconsin running club Badgerland Striders started the race in 1982, and today it has a reputation as one of the top trail ultramarathons in the country.

"Even young guys who I talk to who are in their mid- to late 20s, inevitably they say, 'This has always been on my list, I've heard so much about this race,'" said Jeff Mallach, the race director. "It has that allure. You're not just running against yourself and the runners around you, you're really running against 33 years of other performances."

As a member of the Montrail Ultra Cup Championship Series, the Ice Age offers its top three finishers a spot at the Western States 100, the "granddaddy of ultrarunning," Mallach said.

Ultrarunning has seen a large growth in popularity recently, Mallach said, which is evidenced by the fact that this year's Ice Age race filled within three hours of registration opening in December.

And the race itself has grown, too, adding a half marathon distance for more "casual" runners.

"To participate in an ultramarathon you have to be fairly serious, at least in terms of your training," said Mallach, who ran marathons before turning to ultras and has completed eight Ice Age races. "The half marathon was introduced four years ago largely as an introduction to trail running for folks who wanted to run the trails but didn't want to commit to the ultra distance."

Half marathons — 13.1-mile races — have grown in popularity across the country over the past decade. According to Running USA, a nonprofit running organization, since 2000 the number of half marathon finishers in the United States has increased more than 300% to more than 1.9 million. Last year, 61% of those finishers were female. In fact, the top finisher on the Ice Age half-marathon course last year was a woman — setting a course record and beating everyone, including men, by over six minutes.

But you don't have to be a serious runner to tackle a running race. There were 26,370 running events across the country in 2013, according to Running USA, with thousands of options in Wisconsin.

From 5K walks and 100-mile trail runs to color runs and obstacle-course races, every weekend in Wisconsin brings a plethora of race options for everyone from casual walkers to serious runners. And spring's cooler weather offers preferable running weather to the heat of summer.

Spectators are of course always welcome. Mallach said the best spot to see Ice Age runners is at the start/finish line — the 50-mile race kicks off at 6 a.m., and the majority of runners reach the finish line 10 to 12 hours later (last year's winner finished in six hours).

Whether you're looking for a fun run or a serious trail race, check out these spring races in Wisconsin worth a day trip — or more.

Rollie Fingers 5K
May 17, Milwaukee
Registration: $45 through May 8, $50 May 9-13 (if available)

Miller Park's more serious race — the Brewers Mini Marathon + 10K — takes place in September, but this fun run offers casual runners and walkers a chance to trek through the baseball stadium rocking a handlebar mustache that Brewers pitcher Rollie Fingers made cool well before hipster was even a word. All participants receive a mustache, a headband, a Rollie Run T-shirt, and ballpark classics: Cracker Jack and Miller Lite. The party rolls on after the race with more beer and live music. See rolliefingers5K.com.

Bratfest 5K/10K Bun Run
May 24, Madison
Registration: $30-40 (depending on the distance) through May 20, $35-45 day-of

What better motivation to finish a race than the promise of a hot, juicy brat waiting for you at the end? The world's largest brat festival — Bratfest — awaits runners and walkers with a free brat or hot dog at the end of this race, whose course travels along the shore of Lake Monona and Wingra Creek. In addition to the 5K and 10K runs, there are also options for a 2M walk and a 1K kids MUDstard Run over an obstacle course. See bratfestrun.com.

Blue Mound Trail Run
June 7, Blue Mounds
Registration: $34 through May 9, $40 May 10-June 4; $10 discount for high school students and younger

The beautiful rolling terrain of Blue Mound State Park provides the backdrop for this 9K or 19K race over hiking and single-track mountain biking trails. Both routes traverse the top of Blue Mound, the highest point in southern Wisconsin. See wisconsintrailruns.com.

Kettle Moraine 100
June 7, Kettle Moraine
Registration: prices vary based on distance, rates go up after May 18

If you're still not over the thought of running 50 trail miles in one go, here's an even harder one to digest: 100 miles. Mallach said a lot of ultrarunners use the Ice Age 50 as training for this ultra. Like the Ice Age, the Kettle follows the Ice Age Trail for most of its route (65 miles). Distance options include a 100K, 50K, 38-mile night "fun run" and relay options. See kettle100.com.

Bellin Run
June 14, Green Bay
Registration: $25 through June 1, $30 June 2-12, $35 in-person on June 13

Join 20,000 other walkers and runners on the streets of Green Bay for this annual 10K, one of the largest in the country. Although the run takes place in Wisconsin's third largest city, Midwestern hospitality is not lost. When the race took place during a heat advisory a couple of years ago, homeowners along the course set out sprinklers for runners to cool off in. See bellinrun.com.

Cheese Curd 10K
June 21, Ellsworth
Registration: $15 by June 1, $20 thereafter

The 41/2-hour drive from Milwaukee to Ellsworth is probably too far for a day trip, but the town's Cheese Curd Festival makes this 5K and 10K race worthy of a weekend getaway. Former Wisconsin Gov. Anthony Earl proclaimed the small town the Cheese Curd Capital of Wisconsin in 1984 thanks to the Ellsworth Creamery, which produces 160,000 pounds of squeaky fresh curds daily. The festival, June 20-22, includes a parade, a curd-eating contest, food and more. See ellsworthchamber.com/cheese-curd-festival.

Lighthouse Run
June 21, Racine
Registration: $20-$35 (based on distance) or $75 per family; $25 or $40 day-of

It's always great to run for a good cause, and Racine's Lighthouse Run helps raise money for the Y's Strong Kids Campaign. The course includes sections along Lake Michigan, through the Racine Zoo and past the Wind Point Lighthouse. Choose from a 10-mile run, 4-mile run and 2-mile run/walk. See lighthouserun.com.

Day Out features day trips within a two-hour drive of the Milwaukee area.

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