Keep on Running
Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, Wis.
By runners, for runners … and anyone else, really.
The 443-meter walking/running track at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee is state-of-the-art after the 2013 installation of a Regupol Kombi surface by SPEC Athletic Inc., of Plainfield, Ill. Replacing a 20-year-old poured polyurethane two-lane track, the new circuit has triple the cushion, at 12 millimeters, and three lanes, with a side area of the same surface and thickness for stretching and sprinting.
The track is used by runners of all levels, walkers, athletes in training and local university track teams. Of the $120,000 needed for the project, nonprofit running club Badgerland Striders donated $90,000.
The club organizes and stages 16 races of its own, including the 35-year-old Lakefront Marathon on the city's Lake Michigan shore, as well as manages three events for other entities.
"We found ourselves with a lot of money," Club President Pete Abraham said. "We had to do something with it."
Some of the club members had used the Pettit track, including Abraham, and the club held its monthly meetings there, so they knew it needed an upgrade. Abraham approached the club's road race committee with the idea to fund the new track, and a couple members traveled to see a Regupol Kombi track in the course of their research.
Abraham said that once the installation was complete—including the club's logo painted in two places on the surface—so was the club's involvement. The club hosts events on it, but the track is Pettit's to maintain and operate. Its members pay half of the $4 daily fee to use the track, though Pettit offered to let them use it for free.
"We decided they're going to have some maintenance and some upkeep, we want them to at least make some money back," Abraham said.
The Milwaukee facility houses one of only two 400-meter speed skating tracks in the United States, and is used for Olympic team training. There are two rinks used for hockey and figure skating as well, and this icy environment came into play during the track's installation in the summer of 2013, said SPEC President Miller Settlemeyer.
The ice track oval was melted for yearly maintenance, but the hockey rink and figure skating rinks remained operational during the installation, he said. The facility remained cold and open to the public during the installation.
"There are two areas that were installed with no adhesive to allow the Pettit crews to plow out the ice during yearly maintenance," said Settlemeyer. "We also had to allow for the zambonis to cross the track surface without tearing the rubber."
He said installers curved the new surface around the oval to minimize seams, which meant using a lot of brick and taking more time to bend the material around the arc of the track. They also changed the arc of the track to miss the structural columns on the back stretch, a necessary move to accommodate the three lanes of the new layout.
"This is a quarter-mile track, so just the mere size of the track was a little bit of a challenge," said Settlemeyer. "With the new layout of the track, the distances of the various races had to be recalculated and new permanent markings applied so the runners know where to start and stop each running event. They had been using tape before. We wanted it to look nicer and not mar the surface."
Instead of paying disposal fees to remove the mercury-catalyzed original track, SPEC merely repaired broken areas, sanded it and installed the new surface on top, resulting in the unusually thick track. Settlemeyer said a riding scrubber is all the new track needs for cleaning.
John Aten, vice president of sales for Regupol America, said Kombi's 4-millimeter recycled underlayment and 4-millimeter 100 percent EPDM top layer is just right for how the track is used—recreational, training and an annual marathon and half marathon. The 3,000-square-foot cross-training area does not sit on top of the old track surface; it is 8 millimeters of underlayment under 4 millimeters of Aktiv rolled rubber.
"It is a seamless transition between the two floors," said Aten.
There is a microchip-based timing system for athletes and skaters in the area, with wire loops running underneath the track. This is independent of the track project, operated by the arena staff, but SPEC advised how the loops would be accounted for by cutting concrete and making trenches for the wire.
Randy Dean, executive director of the ice center, said the new track has attracted many new users, making the center a place for both elite athletes and the general public.
"The users of the track will range in intensity from the recreational walker to the collegiate track team and in age from youth hockey teams warming up to retirees who are avoiding walking in the malls," Dean said. "It helps the center to even more fully reflect its tagline 'Gold Medal Excellence, Community Well-Being' by reaching and benefiting those who may not skate, but have health or competitive goals for running or walking and embrace the center as a safe, high-quality place to reach those goals while appreciating or even being inspired by the legacy of excellence in speedskating and enjoying seeing skaters and hockey players pursuing their own goals."
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