Al’s Run winner refuses award in protest

Runners await the start of Al's Run

Nate Weiland had his eye on the finish line as he pounded out the final strides of the 32nd Annual Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk.

But he did not have his eye on the prize.

Weiland, who finished first at Saturday’s 8K run with a time of 24:35, chose not to break through the finish line tape. The 25-year-old assistant coach for the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee track and field team ran around the volunteers holding the tape. He then refused to accept the first place award in his own form of protest for the disqualification of two fellow runners from Milwaukee’s Lakefront Marathon a week earlier.

Cassie Peller, a Marquette doctoral student who finished that marathon first, was disqualified for accepting water from a friend on the sidelines during the race. Jennifer Goebel, the runner-up, was disqualified for listening to her iPod. Weiland met Peller this summer and knew Goebel from college track and field meets.

“I like supporting (Briggs & Al’s Run & Walk), but as a runner that’s the only chance I have to voice my opinion,” Weiland said. “I’m doing my best to help their cause.”

Weiland, who also won Al’s Run last year, blames the Badgerland Striders, the running club that oversees both the Lakefront Marathon and Al’s Run.

“They didn’t make the rules clear over there, and those two runners suffered the consequences,” he said.

Both Al’s Run and the Lakefront Marathon are sanctioned by USA Track & Field. USATF rules state that runners competing for an award or prize money may not use “portable listening devices.” Friends can give food or water on the course, but only adjacent to designated water stops. Both rules are available on the “Pre-Race” tab under “Pre-Race Frequently Asked Questions” on the Badgerland Striders’ Web site.

Weiland added that “over-officiating” does not “go along with the spirit” of the sport.

“Cassie is a first-place running finisher disqualified for drinking water,” he said.

Peller, who ran on Marquette’s track and field team from 2004 to 2008, said she took water from one of her old teammates on the sidelines. Peller said she didn’t read the rules until after the disqualification.

“I thank Nate for his support,” she said. “There’s something to what he did. It can open some eyes.”

Even after recovering from her 26.2-miler, Peller still showed up for Al’s Run. She and Biology Department Chair Robert Fitts, for whom she is a teaching assistant, ran it together. Although Peller said she was running the race for fun, she still finished 11th.

Peller said she didn’t find out about Weiland’s protest until the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel called her Saturday.

Although he did not accept his award, Weiland is still recognized as the race winner, according to John Cornell, director of Al’s Run.

“Nate is a heck of a runner,” he said.

Although Cornell said he understands “where (Weiland) is coming from,” he’s not sure he would have protested in the same way.

“I don’t know if I would have done that, but I’m not in that position. … That’s commendable, supporting a friend,” Cornell said.

Kris Hinrichs, race director of the Lakefront Marathon, stood by USATF rules. She said the disqualifications were not questions of water or iPod use, but of advantage.

“It was unfortunate that he chose to do that,” she said of Weiland’s protest. “The whole concept is what is available to one runner is available to all runners.”

Hinrichs said she spoke with other runners who would have felt it unfair to be beaten by someone who received extra aid.

“I wish we could all turn the clock back to Sunday morning and that the young women had made different choices,” she said. “The important thing is if you have a process, you need to trust the process to come to the right result.”

Regardless, Weiland stands by his choice.

“(Running marathons) consumes your life,” he said. “It’s a slap in the face to those to runners who worked so hard to get disqualified on such a technicality.”

Weiland said he is unsure if he will compete in Al’s Run next year. Cornell said Weiland’s award is waiting for him if he changes his mind.

“In the end I have to support local runners,” Weiland said. “I can’t look at something like that and just let it happen.”