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Run Aims to Bring Milwaukee's Diverse Communities Together Both On & Off the Course

Milwaukee Running Festival

This weekend marks the inaugural Milwaukee Running Festival. Deemed “a running event for every runner” – the festival features a one mile, 5K, half marathon and full marathon courses that wind throughout the entire city. Thousands of runners from near and far have signed up.

For festival founder and director Chris Ponteri, this weekend is for people of all ages and abilities. The goal is to bring Milwaukee’s diverse communities together both on and off the course.

"I'm looking at this as a way to bring everybody together," he says. "Sure, it's a running event, but you can use a running event to do that. And when you've got a 26.2 mile course plus you've got all these other events, you can do some special things with neighborhoods and communities."

Milwaukee is the largest city in the United States without a major urban marathon or running event, so this event was truly a passion project for Ponteri that was years in the making. For Ponteri, integrating a diverse array of Milwaukee neighborhoods along the courses was crucial for not only a successful event but something the whole city could support.

"The marquee event is that marathon. Boy, that course is like a tour of Milwaukee. If you had some friends in town and you wanted to drive them on a tour of the city this is probably the route you would take," says Ponteri.

In addition to getting communities involved in volunteering for the races, the Milwaukee Running Festival and the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Milwaukee teamed up to create Kids Run Milwaukee. Over the course of six weeks, volunteer coaches from the Milwaukee Running Festival have been working with children from various locations of Boys & Girls Clubs around the city. Their training was designed to give kids an introduction to running and will lead up to competing in the mile race on October 31st.

For Boys & Girls Club athletics and recreation director LaNelle Ramey, this partnership gives children not only the opportunity to be part of a great event, but helps promote healthy living practices in the communities they're from.

"Even though it's a one mile run, we can grow it from there and get kids excited about running as a sport, as a habit, as a hobby, to reinforce the values of being healthy," says Ramey. 

The Milwaukee Running Festival takes place throughout the city this weekend, along with a Health & Fitness Expo at the Harley Davidson Museum.

Audrey Nowakowski hosts and produces Lake Effect. She joined WUWM in 2014.