You can take the word of a website you’ve never heard of that Madison is the place to be if you’re a runner. Or you can trust Michael Quesnell, whose 70-plus miles per week of running around town resulted in his running the Boston Marathon on Monday faster than any other Madisonian.
Quesnell, 23, ran Boston for the first time, finishing in 2 hours, 38 minutes and 15 seconds—good for 146th place overall. Quesnell, a part-time employee at the local specialty running store Movin’ Shoes and a teacher at Sun Prairie High School, says he had hoped to run closer to a 2:30, but a sore Achilles forced him to ratchet back his mileage in the weeks leading up to the race.
“My revised goal was to run around 2:40, so I was happy to have split the difference,” he says, especially on a day when temperatures on the course reached 70 degrees.
“At every water stop I dumped two cups of water on my head,” Quesnell says.
He was the fastest of more than 50 Madison runners—as well as another 35 from elsewhere in Dane County—who completed the 2017 Boston Marathon. The only Wisconsinite to run faster than Quesnell was Patrick Klein, 28, of Prairie du Chien, who clocked a 2:37:12.
The top Wisconsin woman and 58th overall female finisher was Katie Schiemann, 31, a Middleton resident and financial adviser with CUNA Mutual Group. It was her third time running Boston but her first time in the elite women’s wave. She says the 2:43 marathon time that qualified her for the 2016 U.S. Marathon Trials earned her that Boston starting position among a rarefied group of fast female marathoners.
The Boston heat took its toll on the DeForest native, too, but Schiemann was able to finish in 2:57. And despite starting a half hour before her husband Chris Schiemann, he completed the race just two minutes faster than her.
“I never saw him” on the course, Katie Schiemann says. And because the international field of elite women included many lightning-fast women—Californian Jordan Hasay, for instance, debuted at the distance and took third place in 2:23—Schiemann says, “I ended up running much of the race alone.”
The upside? “That led to a lot of individual cheering for me” by spectators lining the point-to-point course, she says.
Cheers for Madison, No. 1 city for runners
The fact that so many Madison-area runners are fast enough to qualify to run Boston is impressive. It’s evidence enough that this is a serious running town.
The number of Boston Marathoners we produce, however, is not what put Madison at the top of a list of “best cities for runners” published by SmartAsset.com in early April.
SmartAsset did note that Madisonians are race ready, with 88 races a year—or 3.53 races per 10,000 residents, the highest ratio of the top 25 U.S. cities on the list.
Madison took the top spot by also having a high ratio of residents to gyms (59) and parkland (25 acres per 1,000 residents, which is more than twice what residents of No. 2 Minneapolis enjoy). SmartAsset also ranked Madison in the top 10 for its low pedestrian fatality rate and percentage of the population who walk to work.
Quesnell, who logs 90 to 100 miles a week when he’s healthy and readying himself to race, says Madison’s a haven for runners for many other reasons, too.
“You can’t go a mile in any direction without finding a trail, path or some other great running route,” he says. “If you head into the Arboretum or out on the Southwest Commuter Path, you see so many other runners, especially in the summer.”
Among his favorite runs, Quesnell lists the loop around Lake Monona and, as a destination for an out-and-back run, the governor’s mansion on the east side of Lake Mendota.
“I have always felt that number of miles of trails both paved and off road has been a real boon to the running in our community,” says Tom Kaufman, cross country coach at West High School and a legendary local distance runner for decades. “The other thing that I think can't be overlooked is the number of running groups in town. There is something for almost anyone who wants to connect with other runners of similar interests and abilities, both competitive and noncompetitive.”
Quesnell, who frequently trains with his fellow runners on the Movin’ Shoes Race Team, came up with a list in 2015 of “Top 10 Running Routes” in the Madison area (14, actually, counting two ties and two honorable mentions). The list is posted on movinshoesmadison.com.
Schiemann says she and her husband regularly get up by 4:15 a.m. to run together. As Middleton residents, they frequently pass through the woods and prairie of the Pheasant Branch Conservancy—another route that made Quesnell’s list.
Quesnell says he still stands behind that list, especially after recently moving back from Denver, Colorado, where he headed following graduation from the University of Wisconsin–Madison last May. The sales job he took with the cloud storage giant Oracle in Denver wasn’t the right fit, he says. Teaching high school students in Dane County is his calling, he believes.
The Denver area, at a mile above sea level on the doorstep of the Rocky Mountains, is attractive to elite distance runners. Yet Denver ranked 15th on the SmartAsset list of running cities.
“There’s the lore and the fact that it’s supposed to be the Mecca of running out there. But I felt Madison has a better running environment than Denver,” Quesnell says.
SmartAsset scored Madison high for pedestrian safety (based on a low rate of pedestrians killed by motorists) and for being a very walkable city.
From the perspective of a runner, who has navigated the streets of Denver and Madison, Quesnell agrees. “It seems motorist here are more empathetic, aware and more willing to stop and wait for you,” he says.
Half of the top 10 best cities for runners are in the Midwest. In addition to Madison and Minneapolis taking first and second, Omaha, Nebraska, came in fourth, Cincinnati, Ohio, ranked fifth, and St. Paul, Minnesota, was slotted sixth. The full list can be found here.
If this list is ever revisited, Madison can either hold it's top spot or fall from its perch. But the ceiling has yet to be reached by Quesnell or Schiemann.
Quesnell says he's looking at running the Chicago or New York City marathons this fall "and hitting that 2:30 mark." He's also toying with the idea of returning to Door County for the Fall 50—a 50-mile run on the peninsula's bucolic and rolling country roads—which he ran in 2013.
Without hesitation, Schiemann says she'll aim to qualify to run the U.S. Marathon Trials in 2020 as she did in 2016. At the trials last year she finished 130th out of a ferociously competitive field of 149 women.
"At my echelon, to see if I can do it again is the goal," she says. That may require running another marathon faster than she ever has, and she knows it. But that's the beauty of the challenge.
"Obviously, once you set a PR (personal record) you always want to do even better," she says.
Joel Patenaude is associate editor of Madison Magazine.