Eau Claire Marathon

“Everything you ever wanted to know about yourself you can learn in 26.2 miles,” as quoted by Lori Culnane.  I learned a few lessons today.  I’ll share those with you as we go along, but let’s start by saying today’s marathon did not go as I had hoped.

The Eau Claire Marathon is held in Eau Claire, WI, which is exactly 120 miles from my house.  When I registered, I didn’t give the location, race course or logistics much thought.  The timing fit my schedule, and it seemed like a nice low-key event.  I don’t care for big city marathons, the crowds, and lines give me the heeby-geebies, so this seemed like a nice road marathon to attempt a Boston qualifying time at.

As the week lead up to race day, I realized that logistically, it being 2 hours away, and a 7:30am start time wasn’t ideal.  Do I get up early, drive to the start or pay for a hotel nearby?  After a few nights of discussing our options, Matt & I decided that I’d just drive over race morning, and meet up with my friends, Steph & Joy.  The last few weeks I’ve been getting up at 4am anyway, so that shouldn’t be an issue. 

Race morning comes, and the alarm goes off, I hit snooze – maybe this should have been my first warning.  I NEVER hit snooze on a race morning.  I’m usually cranked to get up and get moving.  So when I do get up I’m about 15 min behind “schedule.”  Not a huge deal because I had worked in some additional time, just in case.  I brewed some coffee, got dressed, said good bye to Matt, grabbed my race breakfast and hit the road.
Pre-race selfie!

4:30am on a Sunday morning, there is NO traffic.  Awesome! Smooth sailing!  I got across town and into WI in record time.  One pit stop on the way, and I was there, finding a nice parking spot right on schedule.

Steph had warned me that the park start/finish area sat on top of a hill.  I grabbed a few things out of the car, and headed up.  It was about a 10 min walk… mostly up hill, to the start/finish area.  I easily found Steph & Joy & we picked up our race packets.  A quick stop at the porto-potty, which there were a ton of, luckily, and we headed to the start to line up.

Steph & I lined up together & soon we were on our way.  Music in my ears, plan set, mantras ready, I started the first mile.  There were some crowds & I was slightly behind the 3:45 pace group.  I checked my watch, and I was dead on 8:20.  That pace group went out too fast… Mile 2, still behind the 3:45 group, 8:10.  I backed it down a little.  The first 10k, was right on 8:20 pace average.  I was thrilled.  I was breathing a little hard, but if I turned up my music, I couldn’t hear myself panting, so therefore, I was fine, right??  The 3:45 group was behind me, and all was good.

Or was it… my pace started to falter with some hills, ok, no big deal, I’m fine, I told myself.  I started working on my mantras.  “Stay relaxed,” “keep your cadence high,” “pop!pop!pop!” as I marched up the hills.  But by mile 9, and this enormous hill that ended near the airport, I was spent.  I was over a 9min/per mile pace… “I didn’t come this far not to work,” I told myself, I tried to pick it up, another mile, 9:30.  Finally, I came to the conclusion I’d just do what I could.  Keep it under 4 hours? That seemed like a reasonable goal.

I hit the ½ marathon at 1:54.  Ok, that works, I told myself, just maintain this pace & you’ll break 4 hours.  It was getting hot.  I really was struggling.  I had no energy.  We turned into the wind, which on one hand was nice, as it kept you cooler, but on the other hand, it felt like it was literally sucking the life right out of me.  I contemplated sitting down in the shade, but kept pushing on.  I was carrying a hand held bottle, which I’m really grateful for, as I could drink between aid stations.  I refilled my bottle a total of 4 additional times.  I made sure I popped some salt tabs, and had a gel every hour or so (It ended up being miles 8, 14, 18, 22 for gels.)

I watched the 3:45 pace group move on by.  They were on track now.  Then shortly the 4:00 pace grouped moved past me.  I tried not to let that get to me.  I had pulled ahead of Steph, who was battling a cold, around mile 2 or 3.  She passed me too, definitely fighting the heat, about mile 16 or 17.  I tried to keep her in my sights, but that was a lost cause.  I kept moving, running, or walking when I was light headed and nauseous.  I was drinking well, but the heat was beating down on all the runners.  You could see it take it’s toll on many people today.  I just wanted to finish, standing up and breathing, at this point. 

At this point too, I changed my mindset.  It was no longer about meeting my goal of a Boston qualifying time, it was simply about finishing, and being grateful for this opportunity to run.  To be able to run, injury free, in a safe place, with gas in my car to drive me home, and food waiting for me at the finish.  I love running, and that’s what I was doing! This helped me get through a few more miles.

Mile 22 meltdown...
My lowest point was mile 22, it still felt like I had so far to go.  I texted Matt, and was on the verge of tears.  I talked myself out of crying, just wasted energy anyway, and I knew that the low point would pass.  Experience teaches you that if you wait it out, it will get better.  And it did.  Around mile 23, we came into the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire campus, and all the students were out.  There was so much energy, and it really helped pull me out of my slump.  Then it was only a 5k to go anyway.

I ran to the base of the hill at the park, and was starting to overheat after running the last couple miles without walking (not fast, mind you, but faster than walking!)  I walked/jogged up the final hill & into the finish area.  I was SO grateful to be done!   I found Steph, Joy & some additional friends that had ran the ½ marathon distance.  The heat blew us all up. I was in good company!
Finish line with Steph.

My official finish time was 4:16.  Not a personal best or a personal worst either, just another run on a hot day on a fairly hilly, and windy course.

Race Swag
Today’s marathon reminded me to respect the early season heat, wear sunscreen & use more body glide than you think you need.  :)

I don’t know if I’ll run another road marathon this year.  I may just stick to the trails for summer; my next events on the calendar include a 50k on July 4, a 50 miler the last weekend of July, and then the Superior 100 in September.  I have plenty to work towards, so we’ll see if it makes sense to do one once I’m recovered.

Thanks for taking the time to read my race ramblings.
Remember to:
*Be grateful.
*Respect the heat.
*Wear sunscreen.
*Use more body glide than you think you need.
*Thank your race volunteers.