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A running relay just Chi(town) of Mad (City)

Team covers distance between Madison and Chicago on foot

June 22, 2010

Countless people make the trip from Madison to Chicago, but it's safe to say that not too many of them do it exclusively by foot.

That is what six local athletes did on June 11-12 as they took part in the annual MC 200 relay race, in which team members alternate running shifts to cover the distance between the two cities.

The race poses a unique test, even for seasoned runners, and that challenge is exactly what caught the attention of Anna Nieznanski of Franklin and Mary Wiczynski of Hales Corners, two of the members of the local team.

"It is a cool experience," Nieznanski said, who is also the assistant softball coach at Whitnall High School. "It is a neat thing to say that you've done. It is something different. Running from Madison to Chicago is something not a lot of people have done."

Wiczynski, who was responsible for putting the six-person group together, added, "I've known Anna for a number of years, and we are both competitive people. We like to try new and crazy things, and I guess we just put this on our lists. It's interesting, new and a challenge."

'Are you crazy?'

They both found that the concept is difficult for many others to understand.

"I have never seen so many people look at me like 'you're crazy,' " Nieznanski said. "They say, 'Why are you doing this?' "

Wiczynski said, "People do give you funny looks, like 'are you joking?'"

The MC 200 race allows for relay teams of up to 12 members but as low as two.

"As a joke, I first called Anna and said we could do it together," Wiczynski recalled. "We then realized it was 200 miles, so each of us would do 100 miles. We decided we better get some more people together."

They wound up with six runners, which fell into the race's "ultra" category for teams of two to six people. Teams of more than six people were called "regular." There were several divisions for both ultra and regular squads.

Nieznanski's fiance, Ryan Seefeldt, drove a van carrying the runners, their equipment and supplies.

The setup was that one of the six would do the running at one particular time, with the van going on ahead to a transfer area, which occurred every three to nine miles. At that point, the runner would go into the van, with another person coming out to run the next shift. The six alternated, following the same order, through the day and night.

Each person on the local team would run for about 30 to 75 minutes, then would rest for 3½ to five hours between shifts. At the end of the race, Nieznanski said, each runner totaled anywhere from 28 to 40 miles.

They ran through all kinds of weather, experiencing hot and stifling conditions on Friday night to rainfall that was so strong it forced a 90-minute delay in the race on Saturday morning.

Nieznanski said the group found ways to cope with the heat. "I think the heat index was over 100 degrees, but we had coolers and we used washcloths wrapped around ice cubes to cool ourselves," she said. "We also just kept pushing fluids."

Chicago, via Milwaukee

The race began in Madison at 8 a.m. on Friday, and the group traveled though the Glacial Drumlin Trail to the New Berlin Trail, winding up at the Greenfield Park Golf Course at dusk.

They then used city streets to go from the golf course to the Milwaukee Mile at State Fair Park, West Allis Hale High School and Martin Luther High School in Greendale, where they arrived about 11 p.m.

The local runners had an advantage, since they all lived in the area. "That was a cool thing," Wiczynski said. "We could say, 'Hey, we're home!' "

Beyond the familiarity, the local surroundings also enabled those who were not running at the time to go to Nieznanski's home for a quick shower, some food and about 20 minutes each of rest.

The group made it to Oak Creek-South Milwaukee about 2 a.m. Saturday and Racine-Kenosha by 4 a.m. By dawn, they were in Zion-Waukegan, Illinois.

Following both rural roads and city streets, they made their way to northern Chicago by 8 a.m. With the race pushed back by the rain delay, they reached the finish line at Chicago's Lincoln Park by mid-afternoon.

Finishing up, and then sleep

Seefeldt then drove the van home as all the runners finally were able to get some significant sleep. "He was a real trooper," said Nieznanski of her fiance, who drove the entire race course.

The group finished in 30 hours, 45 minutes, 24 seconds, which placed it second in its division of mixed (men and women) ultra teams. Wiczynski said the local team was 60th overall of about 200 groups.

Nieznanski said the group benefitted from the experience.

"We did things we didn't know we would be able to do," she said. "It was fun; a lot of work, but worth it. The challenge was to keep your muscles fresh, keep them from tightening up between shifts. You have to run, recover, then run again. That is different than running a marathon."

Wiczynski said the running itself was the easiest part. "The tough part was staying up for 30 hours," she said. We kept eating (protein) bars and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don't think I will have another Cliff bar for a long time."

Despite all the difficulties, both runners said given the opportunity, they would run the race again someday. "I would, actually," Wiczynski said, "with a close-knit group of friends."

PAVEMENT POUNDERS

Local participants who ran in the MC 200 relay race from Madison to Chicago earlier this month:

Matthew Hibbard, Franklin

Mary Wiczynski, Hales Corners

Anna Nieznanski, Franklin

Sam Sporleder, Franklin

Bill Gebhard, Oak Creek

T.J. Kells, Brookfield

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