The only constant is change

Two of my favorite 5K races are changing their courses this year, so I’m now debating whether or not I should stick with those races or “change course” myself?

I have an ongoing inner debate about whether a race is really “the same race” if the course changes, or if it’s really a new race altogether? I don’t know how many people such an issue matters to. I mean, I really tend to find it important only for the purposes of if I happen to set a PR at a course one year. Let’s say I ran it faster — or slower, for that matter — the next year. Is that PR still also my best time at that race? Or is it just my personal best for that specific route, with the next year’s result also going down as just a personal best for that specific (altered) route?

The conclusion I tend to reach when I think about it is that minor tweaks to a course don’t really make it a different race. However, completely new routes — even if they’re in the same general vicinity as the old route — do make it a different race.

But then I also wonder how much of a race being a race is the experience itself. While that can be impacted by the route, I feel like the majority of the race experience is grounded in the planning, organization, and execution of the event itself. So, if we’re talking about a race put on by the same people, with the same consistent atmosphere from year to year, but they happen to switch the course? Then I come back to my initial question: is a race really “the same race” if the course changes, or is it really a new race altogether?

This is why I struggle with that question. In most cases, I can’t say course changes would actually affect whether I’d participate or not, but for my favorite two, this year it might.

Summerfest Rock ‘n Sole Run:

This event, held at/near the Summerfest Grounds in Milwaukee, features three races: a 5K, a quarter marathon, and a half marathon. This year, the routes for all three races are changing. I can’t speak about the quarter or half marathons, as I’ve only ever run the 5K. And I’ve ran it twice.

Each time I ran it, my finishing time was a PR at the time: 21:54 in 2012 and 20:12 in 2013. Last year’s finish still stands as my 5K PR.

Rock ‘n Sole is a pretty huge event in general. Last year 1,645 people ran the 5K, 2,089 ran the quarter marathon, and 3,594 ran the half marathon. That’s 7,328 total runners. According to an article about this year’s course changes, approximately 8,700 runners were registered last year. So that means there were nearly 1,400 no-shows across all races. Okay, probably not all of those were no-shows, and there’s likely some other reason for the discrepancy, but some of them probably were no-shows. So there could’ve been even more people there. And then, don’t forget about the hundreds of volunteers and event employees on hand to run the event.

The sheer number of people affects the atmosphere and the race experience. They have corral starts for the half marathon, I don’t know about the quarter marathon, and they definitely don’t for the 5K. That means if you’re fast and you don’t want to have to weave your way around a bunch of people, you need to get there early and line up near the front, first-come first-served style.

Honestly, I like starting near the front, but not necessarily at the front. I like to pass people. Especially near the start of a race (when I have the most energy), it pushes me to run faster so I can pass them. And at the Rock ‘n Sole 5K, one of the things I liked was that you start running uphill on the Hoan Bridge. And at the start when I’m exerting heavy energy to pass the massive crowd, it really worked to neutralize the mental effect of the uphill. Then, for the 5K, shortly after the bridge flattens out, you turn around and run downhill. I tended to zoom down the downhill, setting me up for good finishes (lest I totally fall apart later in the race).

I don’t run with a Garmin or anything so I don’t know this for sure, but I’d be willing to bet the first mile of each of the last two Rock ‘n Sole 5Ks have to be among my top 5 fastest one-mile stretches of any race I’ve run in.

The thing I liked about the rest of the course was that it was set completely within the Summerfest Grounds. Once you got off the bridge, you ran into the Summerfest area, and stayed in the remainder of the race. Last year’s course included a minor tweak at the finish line that was different from the previous year, but aside from that it was the same.

This year’s route is entirely different. No Hoan Bridge at all for the 5K. Also, you run through neighborhoods outside of the Summerfest Grounds. At this point, how fast I finish should probably be more based off of my fitness level than how I perform on a specific race route, but I appreciated the old route and understood how it benefited me.

I’d still like to run the race despite the course change because I do like the event atmosphere — and the free Summerfest ticket included with registration — but I’m waiting until the last minute to register to make sure my neck and hip issues are all clear for the race.

Run With Wolfes:

This is (was?) a small 5K at Oakwood Park in Menomonee Falls every mid-September.

Like the Rock ‘n Sole Run, I’ve ran this one twice as well: 21:21 in 2012 (a PR at the time), and then 20:41 in 2013.

Yesterday I received an email announcement from the event, informing runners from previous years that this year the race is expanding to include an 8K in addition to the 5K, and that it will no longer be held at Oakwood Park. Instead, it will be held at Menomonee Park. Not only that, but it was also be held at the end of September. So that means now it’s pretty much an entirely new race!

The race benefits the same cause, though, which is cool because it was started by a family as a way to raise money for brain cancer research as the result of one of their family members dying of brain cancer. I don’t tend to care about charities and causes, but I like the family-based origination of it. It’s prevalent throughout all stages of the event’s planning and execution. And that impacts the atmosphere. It’s a family event, but they run it in a way that it’s not one of those annoying kid-focused events that are called “family” events because of the kid focus. No: a lot of families show up and run this together.

As for the course, there seemed to be a minor tweak to the placement of the finish line in 2013 compared to 2012, but the rest of the course was the same: you start in the park, venture out into an adjacent subdivision, then run back into the other side of the park. The entire route was paved. There were some rough uphills near the end of the route, but the rest of the course was pretty nice.

Another thing I like about the race is that I live in town. That’s the primary reason I ever ran it in the first place. It’s nice to run in local races you don’t have to drive far to get to. Aside from a yearly 5K trail race in town, which I don’t care about because it’s a trail race, Run With Wolfes is the only race in town each year. The only other race in town was The Fall Classic Run near Menomonee Falls HS. I ran it (poorly) in 2012, and it was canceled last year. There’s no word on whether it will be coming back or not.

This year’s move to a different location for Run With Wolfes not only means unfamiliar surroundings and an entirely new route, but also that it’s now a “cross-terrain course.” It’s no longer an exclusively paved course. I like running in parks, so I have no problem moving with the race on that account; however, I’m a little concerned about this “cross-terrain course.” They’re not billing it as a trail run, but while the race (I assume both the 8K as well as the 5K) takes place on some paved paths, it also includes running on grass and wood-chipped paths.

I’m really hoping that maybe only the 8K will feature the hybrid terrain course, and that the 5K route — since the event is still courting walkers to join in — will somehow be fully paved. Y’know: for strollers and whatnot. I’m not really interested in trail running, and I’m less than excited about the possibility of trail running-like elements slowing me down and throwing off my times.

Ultimately, whether I run the new Run With Wolfes or won’t be decided until I see a course map.



  1. i’m running the rock ‘n sole half. i ran it last year and the whole first 6 miles of the course is different this year. i have to say that for me this doesn’t make too much of a difference i guess but if i were doing the 5K the hoan bridge NOT being part of the race is a deal breaker. it is the whole reason i did the race in the first place. it made the experience for me so i’m glad that it’s still part of the half. i’m not really sure how the first 6 miles being different will effect my race until i run it but i’m trying not to worry about it much. maybe you should just switch to the 10K and call it a day. 🙂

  2. […] I’ve decided I will be running in the Rock N Sole 5K, even despite the course changes they’ve implemented for this year. […]

  3. […] was my third year running the Summerfest Rock ‘N Sole 5K. Coming into it, I wasn’t excited about the course changes, and I also wasn’t particularly sure what sort of performance to expect due to some neck […]

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