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I admit it: I started running in 1993 because I met a guy who was really into exercise. Personally I was more into smoking American Spirit cigarettes, but I thought I would give running a whirl just to see this chap in jogging shorts. After a couple of laps on the track, my lungs were fighting like two boys in the schoolyard and my chest was pounding like the gym wall during dodge ball. And I was certain people were staring at me.
But afterward, as I stood under the hot shower, I realized something. I felt great. I wasn't about to give up martinis for marathons or vodka lemonade for Gatorade. Hell, I wasn't even willing to quit inhaling the coffin nails, but I decided to add running to my life and see what happened.
And nine years and thousands of miles later, I now believe that if I can run, anyone can.
There are a variety of fantastic places to run in Milwaukee -- both indoors and out. Some will cost you a few ducats, others are free. But before we delve into the sweaty world of running paths and tracks, I have a couple of suggestions.
Get a MP3 player, Discman or Walkman. Distraction is very important, especially in the beginning. Listen to NPR, if that's your thing, or make playlists of your favorite songs. I highly recommend buying a device that you wear around your waist or arm that holds your music player. Certain fanny packs might work too, but they tend to flop around, whereas the tune belt fits really snugly, but comfortably.
Buy proper shoes. Good running shoes cost between $50-$120, but are well worth the investment. Replace your running shoes every year, even if you run mostly indoors and they still look new, because soles wear out quickly. Try Rodiez's Running Store (10903 W. Lincoln Ave.) in West Allis. Those folks know their footwear.
Mix it up. Run inside as well as outside. Run at sunrise and sunset. (If you run at night, wear reflective clothing.) Run in the rain. Run in the snow (Try "Yaks Tracks," tread-like devises you stretch over your running shoes that allow you to run on ice and snow). Run down Mitchell Street, Brady Street, through Brown Deer Park. Run with a friend. Join a running group. Start a running group. Get a dog to run with. Buy a new running jacket. Make a playlist of motivating songs, even if they're embarrassing. John Denver? Boy George? Brittany Spears? No one has to know. Just do whatever it takes to keep you motivated.
If you plan to run inside, consider joining a gym. Aside from tracks, health clubs have treadmills. Treadmills are a great way to concentrate on your form and breathing. Or, if you've already mastered the art of running, treadmills are still great because they allow you to truly zone out, without having to fear getting hit by a Harley. Memberships range from $25-$65 a month, depending on your age and type of membership. Here is a list of local health clubs with running tracks:
The Downtown YMCA, located above the Grand Avenue Mall, features an excellent 1/6-mile track. There are 10 other YMCA fitness centers in Greater Milwaukee, and most have smaller tracks. Scholarships are available. Call (414) 291-9622 for more information.
UWM Klotsche Center. The track is only 1/16 of a mile, but the membership is dirt cheap. Call (414) 229-5287 to find out more.
Bally's Total Fitness. There are seven locations: Brookfield, Cudahy, Downtown, Northridge, Southridge, Mayfair and West Allis. A little on the Spandex side, but lots of fun classes. Call (800) 695-8111 to get the skinny.
The Wisconsin Athletic Club has five locations: West Allis, Greenfield, Milwaukee, Wauwatosa and Waukesha. The Downtown location, inside the 411 Building, has a 1/9-mile track. Call (414) 212-2000 for more information.
The Pettit Center (500 S. 84th St., next to the State Fair Park) doesn't require a membership. It's just three bucks to run on the city's largest indoor running track (about 3-1/4 laps to a mile).
The best outdoor running routes start from the War Memorial Center, on the corner of N. Prospect Ave. and E. Mason St. The most populated and scenic path is the paved Lakefront Trail that runs north from the Art Center along Lake Michigan. There's a great three-mile loop through Veteran's Park, which is just east of the south end of the paved Lakefront path. The park also has a 20 station exercise course. There are quite a few other runners on these paths, so be sure to at least nod as they pass you. Runners have a secret bond. (I'll teach you the secret handshake later.)
If you cross Lincoln Memorial Drive, just north of the Art Center, you can pick up the Oak Leaf Trail, also known as the 76 Bike Trail. You can truly run to your heart's content as this trail actually spans 76 miles, through some of Milwaukee's most spectacular parks.
Just south of the Summerfest grounds, you'll find a paved path that leads behind the festival grounds to Summerfest Island. It's a great place to run during any of the fests; you'll get a duck's view of the mayhem.
The trails along the Milwaukee River are also foot friendly, but they are not flat, so you have to be in the mood for the "obstacle course" aspects of trail running such as scrambling over large rocks, hopping fallen logs, and squishing through mud if it's recently rained. You can run on either the east side or the west side of the river. Pick up the eastern trails at Edgewood.
There are probably a variety of other secret places to access the path, so do some exploring. Just west of the North Ave. Bridge (on the south side of the bridge) you'll find a trail that leads to the west-of-the-river routes.
There's plenty of good running to be had in the 'burbs, too. Arguably, the most popular section of Oak Leaf Trail is the Root River Parkway. The RRP runs south from the duck pond of Greenfield Park (2028 S. 124th St.) through Whitnall Park (5879 S. 92nd St.), a nature preserve and a small lake. The loop is 12.6 miles one-way, so it's ideal for marathon trainers.
The Schlitz Audubon Center (1111 E. Brown Deer Rd.) offers six miles of breathtaking, wood chipped trails. Price of admission is $4. Open everyday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Call (414) 352-2880.
Plus, Milwaukee has 14,000 acres of park and parkways, so explore the green space in your neighborhood and create your own running route.
Consider running in a fun run, because, well, they're fun, and they benefit great causes. Plus you get a cool t-shirt.
The Samson Stomp, named for the popular, deceased gorilla, takes place every January. The 10-k run loops through the Milwaukee Zoo.
The Briggs and Stratton Run, formerly Al's Run, is one of the best-attended 8Ks in the country. It happens every September, and is a benefit for Children's Hospital.
The Bastille Run. Storm downtown Milwaukee on the first night of Bastille Days, usually the second week in July. Run starts at 9 p.m., so be prepared to hoof it in the dark. It's usually hot and crowded, but justifies the crepes and wine afterward.
The Dinosaur Dash, a 5K sponsored by the Milwaukee Public Museum, is held in April.
The Grape Stomp, a benefit run for the Milwaukee Art Museum, steps off in September. This run is well worth the entrance fee and the t-shirts are usually stunning.
The Lakefront Marathon is every October. Relay teams of two and five are welcome. Very organized and offers a sweet spread of food and drink at the end of the course.
The Beer Run, my personal favorite takes place every June at the Locust Street Festival. This run is under two miles and winds through the streets of Riverwest. Every quarter mile, there's a beer stop, requiring runners to slam a small cup of Lakefront Brewery beer before continuing the race. You have to see it to believe it. An awards ceremony with trophies follows the run.
For more information about upcoming fun runs or running clubs, call the Wisconsin Badgerland Striders at (414) 476-7223. For trail maps, call the Department of Natural Resources at (414) 263-8500.
So no matter who you are, or what your bad habits may be, don't rule out running. It might not be not as much fun as sucking down mochas and Millers, or watching reruns of "Seinfeld," but at least you won't end up looking like Neumann. And seriously, I've found that by sacrificing one hour of my day, I like myself a whole lot more the remaining 23.
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