For the past two years Madison’s Race for the Cure has been plagued by bad weather. Last year, it started raining after the runners had started. In 2015, it was cold and windy, when rain was almost coming down sideways.
“We’re praying that this is the year we don’t have rain,” said Michelle Heitzinger, area director of Susan G. Komen Wisconsin, about Saturday’s event, which benefits the nonprofit breast cancer organization and is being held on a new weekend and in a new location.
The problem last year was that Madison experienced a solid week of rain leading up to the race, which led to fewer people registering, Heitzinger said.
“We’re a last-minute town,” she said. “Most people register within the last couple of weeks” and especially the day of the run. “A lot of it is weather-driven.”
The forecast for Saturday calls for a 60 percent chance of showers.
Almost 4,000 people ran or walked last year. This year, the numbers are trending lower, but organizers are hoping for between 3,400 and 3,500. Participants can choose between a 5k run, 5k walk and half-mile walk.
The race attracts more walkers than runners. It’s more of “a big meander for the cure,” Heitzinger quipped. “It really should be renamed.”
So far, about 175 runners have registered to be chip-timed for speed. Most of those who sign up walk as a work group or a family group, or they run it, but not for time.
The event includes a half-mile walk because there are women and families who want to walk, but the women are in various stages of cancer treatment. Some are just starting chemotherapy or coming off of chemo and need a shorter distance.
“Survivors” are one group, but there’s also a new category of “forever fighters” for women who are in advanced stages of breast cancer, Stage IV or metastatic cancer. These women don’t consider themselves “survivors” and don’t want to be categorized that way, because cancer will take their life, Heitzinger said. “We are very clear in our vernacular now.”
Race for the Cure manager Heather Sonley said so far they’ve registered 300 survivors and 25 forever fighters. These participants finish in their own chute and get a medal and a carnation.
Close to 70 percent of those registered are women, Sonley said.
Race for the Cure has always been the first weekend after Brat Fest, and Brat Fest is always on Memorial Day weekend. That means the race has been held as early as May 28 and as late as June 5.
Organizers wanted to hold it on May 20 this year to tie it to the race’s 20th anniversary. They’ve also moved it from the Alliant Energy Center to the Agora Center in Fitchburg to lower the cost.
“That’s money that can be spent helping women access breast health care and breast cancer services,” Heitzinger said.
The biggest expense Komen is covering right now for women is rent, she said. “We’re covering rent for uninsured and medically-low resourced women to not only get her treatment, but keep a roof over her head while she’s going through it.”
Komen is big, but it is also local, Heitzinger said about the local Komen affiliates. “Seventy-five percent of what is raised here stays here, and has to help women at the curbside level.”
The organization also uses its funding to pay other bills for the low-income women it serves. That includes bus passes and cab fares for women to get to and from their medical appointments. They pay utility bills, child care and groceries.
The women provide a list of creditors and Komen writes the checks to take that added pressure off of them, Heitzinger said.
Jack Salzwedel, chairman, CEO and president of American Family Insurance is this year’s honorary race chair, and took on the role because his mother was diagnosed with breast cancer about 15 years ago.
He watched as she endured surgery and what he called “a significant treatment regimen.” It showed him how terrible this disease can be, not just on the person diagnosed, but also on family and friends.
“It changed my life, and my outlook on this disease,” Salzwedel said. “Seeing it in real life — the way my mom battled through it— affected my thought process about what breast cancer is.”
His experience made him think more about what needs to happen to combat breast cancer, and he’s interested in making sure patients get “state-of-the-art and cutting-edge” treatment.
Race for the Cure “is still the crown jewel” of Komen Wisconsin’s fundraising, but it has seen a decline, Heitzinger said. Last year’s event raised about $300,000, she said.
New this year will be “Ribbons of Hope,” at 8 a.m. at the starting line, Sonley said. Participants will take ribbons: Pink for survivors and forever fighters; white for anyone touched by breast cancer, and who has lent support; and silver for those who have died from breast cancer and are “walking alongside in spirit.”
Organizers will ask participants to fasten their ribbons to the Agora Pavilion, and later volunteers will tie the ribbons together to create a 20th anniversary Komen Race for the Cure “Garland of Hope.”
Sonley, who is training for IRONMAN Wisconsin 140.6 in September, pointed to all races in the area on Saturday: Aly’s Honky Tonk Hustle 5k in McFarland, Bristol Lutheran Habitat for Humanity 5k in Sun Prairie, Fox Trot 5k in Middleton, Word on the Street 5k in Verona, Furry Friends 5k in Jefferson, Fiesta 5k in Watertown, Mighty Keagen Foundation 5k in Reedsburg and Nurses Run-Walk-Roll 5k in Beaver Dam.
Stoughton’s Syttende Mai 20-mile run from Madison to Stoughton is also Saturday, along with a 10-mile run and a 17-mile walk.
“There’s incredible competition and everybody is doing good stuff,” Heitzinger said. “There are so many good causes in our community and we are so blessed to be part of it.”