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How many times have you headed out for a challenge with a goal in mind, and a plan to get you there… only to realize that there are factors that are going to do everything to keep you from reaching that goal?
This past weekend was the 10th Annual Eau Claire Marathon. I worked the race expo last year and decided that I HAD to run this event this year! The management team (family) is phenomenal and has the runners total experience at the forefront of everything they do. Since I had met the Race Team last year and even spent some time hanging with them at another race expo, I felt like I was going back to hang with family for the weekend. A few weeks ago, I posted about some of the many reasons to run Eau Claire and many of those proved true for me, even if I didn’t realize it going into the race!
This is truly a small town race with a HUGE heart. From the time I arrived in Eau Claire, I almost felt like royalty. The town virtually rolls out the red carpet for all the runners who come into town. There were banners on light poles for the marathon and welcome signs on many business marquees. When I checked into my hotel, I was even offered a late check out on race day without even having to ask!
Packet Pick up and Expo:
When I walked in the door at the expo, I was greeted with hugs from both Katie and Emily. Like I said, I felt like I was going home! This may be a smaller marathon (compared to those races that draw in 10,000+ runners) but the race doesn’t FEEL small. Packet pick-up was a breeze. Everyone is taken care of in a timely manner and I had no wait (yes I was there early, so I can’t say if the lines got longer later in the day). The expo this year featured over 40 vendors, from running apparel and accessories to nutritional cookies. Several organizations also have informational booths. I ran into several friends at the expo and we were all excited to run the next day.
This year, they capped out the events at a total of 5,000 runners between all events. They offer both a full and half marathon, as well as a 5k and a marathon relay. For the tiny humans, they also have a few kids events on Saturday afternoon in conjunction with the expo, so you can get the entire family involved! I would have loved to have seen the Diaper Dash but since I was busy working, I could only hear it going on upstairs on the track.
There is NO PARKING at the start/finish line in Carson Park. The race offers several shuttle options for all runners and spectators. I got lucky and realized that one of the parking/shuttle options was only 3 blocks from my hotel, so on Sunday morning, I got ready and walked to catch the bus. Huge win for me as this meant that I didn’t have to worry about carrying my car keys with me (I never leave them in my gear drop bag, just in case), plus it gave me the opportunity to get the legs moving a little before the race.
All 3 races on Sunday have separate start times. The Full Marathon gets underway at 7:30am, the half at 9:15 and then the 5k and 9:30. For me, a 9:15 start time is late. It actually kinda messed with my normal routine on race morning! I am accustomed to getting up, eating my breakfast and then getting dressed to head to the start line. I was actually up before my alarm and by the time I ate my breakfast and was ready to go, I realized I was going to get to the start line before the Marathon even started! But Since Dyenna was running the full, I decided to just head down early and see if I could catch her before the race.
A short walk later, I was on the bus, heading to the park. The nice thing about the shuttles is that they will drive you up the hill in the park and drop you off right at the finish line! As I mentioned, there is no parking available in the park, so if you are not on one of the shuttles, you will find yourself walking up the hill!
As soon as I got off the bus, I ran into Dye! She was on her way down to the start line so we said a quick hello and she was off. With the different start time, I figured that there was a possibility that she was either going to pass me on the course, and potentially finish before me.
The EC Marathon is a Boston Qualifying race and due to the relatively flat course (the few hills shouldn’t scare anyone) it is a local favorite for those qualifying runs. This year they also had young man pushing for an Olympic Try-out qualifying time! In order to qualify for the Olympics, he needed a marathon time of 2:19 to qualify at the B Standard level, which would mean shaving 6 minutes off his previous PR! (more on his race later!)
After the Full started, I wandered around the finish line area, scoping out the food trucks that were available for post race food consumption! Some of them were already open before the race, but a gourmet coffee or donuts (although they sounded amazing) were not going to be a good idea for me before the race. But I was really looking forward to those donuts!! Run the miles, then eat the donuts!
As I was wandering around, I ran into a few other Half Fanatics/Marathon Maniacs and stopped to chat with them for a bit. We share some stories of other races we have done and plans for the rest of the summer, grabbed a photo and parted ways. Little did I know these 2 strangers would become a integral part of my race once we got started!
Finally it was GO TIME! The half marathon starts out with a nice downhill run and the spectators were amazing right from the start! As I mentioned, the entire community get behind the marathon and it’s mission. This includes coming out on race day to support the runners. I honestly felt like there was spectators on the ENTIRE course! Yes, I am sure there were some spots that didn’t have any, but these were so few and far between that they just seemed to not be there!
I love the fact that this race showcases the many beautiful bridges in Eau Claire. Each bridge is just as unique as the next and they bring charm to the already beautiful scenery along the course! One of these days, I might need to make a trip back just so I can walk across some of these bridges and really enjoy them, instead of just running over them!
I went into this race with a goal of finishing 2 minutes faster than my race in Nashville last weekend. This is still about 15 minutes slower than where I would like to be, but baby steps will get me there, one race at a time. By the times I reached the end of mile 1, I knew that my goal for the race was not going to happen. After 2 races last weekend and all the travel associated with them, plus working the race expo yesterday, these legs were tired. I started dreading the rest of the race, second guessing myself that I could finish. I had to get myself out of this funk. I ran into Aubree a short while later, we chatted for a few minutes and then she was off again.
I still couldn’t shake the frustration I was feeling. Then I stopped myself in my thoughts. Why was I doing this? It wasn’t about the finish time. It wasn’t about just running. I had forgotten why I started this crazy adventure. I wanted to see all the places my feet could take me. I wanted to meet new people and share in their stories.
Just then, right before mile 4, Aubree and I ran into each other again and fell into step. Fate introduced us earlier in the morning and the brought us back together on the course. We both agreed that this race was all about getting out there and seeing the area, enjoying the race and having fun. We spent the next 9 miles laughing, finding fun photo opportunities, including getting some pics for a running photo challenge I’m part of!
With Aubree by my side, the miles flew by! We were having too much fun running through sprinklers and keeping our eyes open for the race photographers. That is another one of the awesome perks of the EC Marathon – FREE race pics! We made a point to find each and every one of the photographers on the course to get some epic race pics!
Just past mile 7, I saw someone run past me as Aubree and I were chatting and she suddenly turned around quick. It was Dye!! She caught up to us! She had just crossed mile 20 of the marathon and was looking strong.
Dye decided to join Aubree and I for a few miles and joined the fun of hitting the sprinklers and taking more fun race photos! Since she had already sent her husband a quick message to let him know she was at mile 20 and when to expect her at the finish line, she sent him a message back to say that she found me on the course and was going to hang with us for a while and have some fun. This was only the second time Dye and I had a chance to actually run together since she lives on the opposite side of the state as me… and is also a faster runner than me. We spent a few miles enjoying the morning before she darted off for the last 4 miles to the finish.
I think it was shortly after mile 22 when Dye headed of for her final miles, we saw Aaron up ahead of us, so we sprinted ahead to catch up to him and say hi. When we rounded the next corner, we saw the coolest sight! Someone had all of their Christmas inflatables out in the yard!! It was a no brainer – photo op time. And this time Aaron was nearby to jump into the pics with us!
One of the features of the race that anyone has run EC will say is a huge perk… the BluGold Mile! The stretch of the course that goes through the UW Eau Claire Campus is lined with students from the many groups and organizations on campus. They all come together to give runners that boost they need to push through the final miles of the course! It is honestly tough to sometimes keep to a steady pace running through there! With all of the motivation and encouragement, as well as music and fun, your feet just want to move!
After the BluGold Mile it’s on towards the finish! Just before we turned to head into the park and up the hill to the finish line, we passed by a Dairy Queen on the corner. ICE CREAM!!! We both agreed that ice cream sounded awesome right about then, but neither of us had money on us for ice cream! Next year… yup. we were already talking about running again next year. And then, we will have money with us to stop and grab ice cream before we head to the finish line! Goalz – crossing the finish line with ice cream cone in hand!
As Aubree and I finished those last few miles, we both agreed that this was one of the most fun races either of us have run in a while. As I mentioned before, I had a goal time in mind for this race, but when I realized my body wasn’t ready for it today, I had to reframe my thinking… It was not about time. It was not about pushing myself every day. It was more than that. It was about having FUN. It was about seeing the country and all of the places my feet could take me. It was about meeting new people. This race brought me back to that. I struggled at the beginning but in the end, the EC Half Marathon brought me back to my WHY.
When we crossed that finish line, we found Aaron waiting for us! We started the day as strangers, we left as friends!
Now it was time for food!! We actually skipped the food tent. There were no banana’s and bagels in our future. We wanted real food! I headed to get my donuts, while Aubree headed for the pizza. Along the way, we found Dye and were able to enjoy some post race indulgences together! The Donuts from Holy Donuts were worth every mile I ran to get them! Most runners run for something, today I ran for donuts! Fresh, hot donuts in amazing flavor combinations, made fresh while you wait! What can be better than that!? Ok, maybe pizza…
The EC Half Marathon will definitely hold a special place for me, as it reminded me of why I run. It’s not about running faster, it’s not about runner further. It’s about having fun, seeing new places and making new friends.
Will I be back for this race? You better believe it! Aubree and I have plans to cross the finish line next time with ice cream in hand! Who knows… we may even find a few more races to run together!
Thank you EC Marathon crew for a fabulous race! Yes, we WILL be back next year and we might even bring more friends!
The important numbers:
Half Marathon #34
Quest for Venus 3 of 13
Time to let the legs and body recover a bit and then get back to it!
Next stop – Fargo North Dakota!