Inaugural 14-mile race set for August 4 in Fort Atkinson
Runners from across the Midwest once again will have reason to journey to Fort Atkinson as Lighthouse Events of Hartford has organized a new race set to debut in August 2018.
Dubbed the Fort 14, the event will be a 14-mile race, reportedly the only one in the country, to be held on the first Saturday of August each year.
The Fort Atkinson City Council approved the request for the company to host such an event on Saturday, Aug. 4, 2018.
Ironically, Lighthouse Events owner Craig Braun had never heard of the Fort Atkinson Half Marathon until one of his crew members who had participated every year encouraged him to check it out last year when it was announced it was to be the last one.
“We came and ran the old route and it’s a really nice route,” he said.
Braun was convinced he should bring an event to Fort Atkinson.
“The thing that has been really cool for me is, I work with different cities all across the country,” he said. “More than any city we have ever worked with, everyone here (in Fort Atkinson) has been so on board with wanting to help. It has been phenomenal. I think we could have something really special here.”
The Fort 14 will be a 14-mile race, making it a little different than the traditional half marathon, which is 13.1 miles.
“There are so many half marathons, so we figured, let’s get something with a little bit of a twist to get people here,” Braun said.
Based on his own research, he believes Fort Atkinson will be the only 14-mile event in the country ... at least for now.
Braun bought the business from his father six years ago.
“It used to be a small events business and we just did a couple of 5ks in the State of Wisconsin. We have grown it to be a national company, so we put on races in Los Angeles, New York, Florida, Wisconsin and Illinois,” he said.
Due to him being based in Wisconsin, a lot of work still is done in the state.
“Basically, what we do is we’re event organizers,” Braun said. “We produce triathlons, half marathons, 5ks, 10ks, and the main focus is community involvement.”
He noted that Lighthouse Events has already joined the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce.
“My big point for the business is, yes, we are a race business, but we are a community of people that encourages one another,” Braun said. “Our community is huge; we have athletes all over the country and we really focus on raising each other up and meeting goals.”
He suggested that Lighthouse is more of a support group than a race “business.”
“That is what my dream was and is what I wanted to do,” Braun said.
As organizers, he said, it is important to get involved with local businesses. Through the events, there is a city pass program through which runners can take their race bib into local businesses that want to be involved.
“It’s just a way for us to promote businesses and try and get runners to come to Fort Atkinson and then spend some money,” Braun said. “I know that’s the point of having events in the city.”
The entrepreneuer said he is a true believer in charity and giving back.
Although he is not certain how that will look for the Fort 14, Braun said he intends to incorporate some kind of contribution to local projects, charity or something within the community.
“I would love to see the money go to local projects, whether it is putting a bench in at a park or something like that,” Braun said. “If we are going to be here, I want people to feel like it is still run by Fort Atkinson. No one needs to know who Lighthouse Events is or who I am.”
He noted that Griffin Ford Lincoln Mercury is a big sponsor of the event and Fort HealthCare has expressed interest in a sponsorship role, as well.
Prior to coming before the city council, Braun spoke with the former Fort Half Marathon committee members and Fort Atkinson Police Chief Adrian Bump.
Upon receiving approval from the city, Braun’s next step is to approach the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office and other county officials to address any concerns within that jurisdiction.
“If there are more people who would want to help, we will always take as much help as we can get,” he said.
Councilperson Davin Lescohier applauded Braun for his comments and efforts in taking on organizing such an event.
“The chamber started this seven years ago and it seemed the runners I talked to said it was a well-run event,” he said, adding that he hopes that will continue to be the comments heard.
The council unanimously approved the request for Lighthouse Events to host the new event.
Approval came nearly a year after the Fort Atkinson Area Chamber of Commerce and its subcommittee came to the finish line on organizing the Fort Atkinson Half Marathon after seven years. Chamber officials recognized at the time of the announcement that 2016 would be the final race, that the event had been great from a tourism and economic development standpoint.
Prior to Lighthouse Events, no other business within the chamber had stepped forward to show interest in taking the half marathon over as a chamber fundraiser.
The core committee included Todd Tesch, Tony Bolz, Julie Nachtigal, Kurt Chapman, Kim Westby, Kelli Rowley and Chris Reed, all active runners. During the seven years the event was held, the core committee members’ lives became busier on both personal and professional levels.
In 2010, the Fort Atkinson Half Marathon was one of the sole half marathons in June and of about 17 in the state. Today, there are at least eight half marathons in June, six of which are within a week of the Fort Atkinson Half Marathon’s former date, and another 50 or more throughout the rest of the year, many within or near the Jefferson County area.
Among the competition in the early years was the unveiling of the Summerfest Rock ’n Sole Half Marathon in Milwaukee, which takes runners across the Hoan Bridge, a unique experience.
Last year, committee members told the Daily Union that they always felt they had put on a great event. Their mission involved four core principles: bringing in tourists, funding scholarships, sponsoring a chamber fundraiser and promoting the health and wellness of the community and they felt they had always accomplished those goals.
Race proceeds supported scholarships presented to graduating Fort Atkinson High School seniors.
As it drew to a close, committee members noted that the half marathon is the kind of event that needs to be organized by runners, not event planners.
Although Lighthouse Events is an event-organizing business, Braun is a runner himself, as are many of his staffers.
“I’m glad your company is stepping up to continue putting this on,” council President Mason Becker said. “I know it was kind of a tough choice for the chamber. It was a good event, but kind of outside their core mission, so I’m excited it will be back next year.”
Also Tuesday, the council approved consideration of funding an initiative to develop a formal emergency management plan and appoints an emergency management director. Watch for a more detailed story on this in Thursday’s Daily Union.