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Milwaukee run groups will host free races after Lakefront Marathon's abrupt cancellation

When organizers of the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon, Half Marathon and 5K announced the event's cancellation just three weeks before race day, it sent shock waves through the running community.

Long-distance race preparation takes months of training and can cost hundreds of dollars for registration, equipment and travel. So when, on Sept. 9, Lakefront Marathon (LFM) organizers suddenly — and somewhat vaguely — announced it couldn't reach necessary agreements with city officials to host the 40-plus-year-old race on Oct. 2, the response from runners was sharp.

"I felt really defeated," said Milwaukee runner Andrea Saigh, who signed up for the half-marathon. "I’d been working really hard to prepare for it. All of a sudden, it was like, 'It’s canceled,' with no good reasoning. This is such a Milwaukee staple, and then it fell apart this easily. It was just kind of upsetting."

Enter the Milwaukee Running Group, a community of nearly 3,000 members that decided not to let those weeks of training go to waste. A free alternative called "Not The Lakefront Marathon" was born just hours after the original LFM was called off.

"Rather than sit around in grief, denial and anger, we thought, ‘Let’s go out there and do something about it,’” Milwaukee Running Group organizer and Not The Lakefront Marathon director Patrick Bieser told Radio Milwaukee.

The running community has rallied behind the new grassroots concept. Bieser said more than 100 volunteers have offered to help, with support from other running groups such as November Project and even the Badgerland Striders Running Club, which helps organize the LFM.

"There's great energy around making something happen," Bieser said. "Life is giving us lemons; let’s make lemonade."

With added support, Not The Lakefront Marathon will have most of the components of a sanctioned race: pacers, lead bikes, directional signage, aid stations with water and Gatorade, emergency services, a post-race party and more. Participants will even receive bib numbers and have their race hand-timed.

"Everyone has stepped up and said they’ll do it for free," Bieser said. "It allowed us to dial it up from a fun run to something a bit more organized."

Not The Lakefront Marathon, taking place on the original date of Oct. 2, will include the full 26.2-mile distance, a half-marathon, a 10K and a 5K, all starting at South Shore Park. Each course is out-and-back, heading south on the Oak Leaf Trail before turning around. Maps and more information are available on the RunSignUp website. While entry is free, runners are asked to register.

“It's exciting because I was starting to look for something else to do," said Saigh, who signed up for the new version of the half-marathon. "I wanted to put my training toward something. I felt like this is the answer to my prayers."

88Nine Social Media Manager | Radio Milwaukee