EAU CLAIRE, WIS. (WLAX/EUX) – The Eau Claire marathon has become a fixture in the Chippewa Valley.
First News at Nine’s Bob Gallaher takes a look inside” at how a father-daughter duo has transformed the race weekend into one of the top events of the year.
It’s called a runner’s high. The overwhelming sense of exhilaration and optimism. Adrenaline racing through the body, embarking on the journey of running 26.2 miles. Thousands of runners take part in the Eau Claire Marathon, thousands more line the streets to show their support and cheer loved ones on. So how does an event of this magnitude, that takes over the city for an entire weekend come together?
“This is kind of the mother load of everything we need, the cones, the cones that are out on the course, we have the bells, we have all of the tents. This is everything for our kids zone, we have a kids obstacle run,” says EC Marathon Race Director, Emi Uelmen.
For Uelmen, the Eau Claire Marathon has become a full-time job. In 2014, her father Pat Toutant revived the race after its original organizers decided to retire it.
Uelmen adds, “It has become a year event. If we’re not planning for this year, we are out marketing, we’re out talking to other run groups, I’m talking to sponsors. It takes over 850 volunteers and it wouldn’t happen if we didn’t have the volunteers. It takes a good amount of sponsors so we are very thankful for our sponsors. It takes partnership with the police, partnership with the city, so there’s a lot more to it than I think people realize.”
Marathon Executive Director & Course Manager Pat Toutant agrees, “And we couldn’t do it without volunteers. We’ve got all the stuff, but all the stuff can’t get out without people. And this year has been unusual for everybody but we are going to make it and I think we’re excited to show off the new course. I think downtown is going to be spectacular. But when we get volunteers and they come down here or they ride along with me on the course on Tuesday night and we start marking, every little spot, every porta potty, every water station, every mile-marker, and then they come in here and see this stuff and they’d be like, ‘who would ever thought.’
“It’s not just the mile marker signs, its’ the ‘Finish on Empty, You Got this,’ the inspirational signs. So we have a ton of those made and need to figure out where we’ll strategically place there.”
“Never in my wildest dreams did I think it would turn into what it has. I’m very lucky to have people at Grandma’s, Twin Cities, Flying Pig that helped me and answer a lot of questions that I have. Stuff that I need and borrow things, and with COVID we would have weekly, monthly calls because we are all going through the same thing and didn’t know that to do. So I pride myself on this weekend now, it’s amazing where it’s come. I’d run with people and they’d ask, what did you go to school for? And I’m like, not this,” says Uelmen.
Another planning obstacle? The Eau Claire Marathon course needed to be re-designed with ongoing construction of the High Bridge.
“First was to figure out a new course, which is what we did, the second, getting the certifier back here and getting him into town and paying him and re-certifying it. We just finally got the recertification papers last week, so that’s a big deal, you need and want to make sure of that. That is a goal for a lot of people. A goal is to finish your first marathon, a goal is to finish your first half-marathon. A goal is to finish in a certain amount of time. Finishing and qualifying for Boston is a big deal for a lot of people. We have a fast course, there are some fills on the front end but very quick on the back end so we want that to lure more people to Eau Claire for the marathon,” explains Uelmen.
Heather Market-Sullivan is part of the marathon race committee. She discovered her love and appreciation for running were magnified by observing all the preparation coming together.
“And I found out that that’s just as much fun and just as rewarding to work behind the scenes as it is to complete the race. And since then I’ve been hooked. And as someone who has been a runner in a bunch of 5k’s, I’ve run the Chicago Marathon, the Twin Cities, Boston, I had no idea what it took to put on this event in our community with meeting with the police department, and the medical professionals to make sure the course is safe and marked off to ordering the merch to answering phone calls. It blows my mind that it takes more than a full year to put this on,” says Market-Sullivan.
Marathons are feel good events. Both runners and fans coming together to spur each other on towards personal goals and accolades. Every runner racing with a story, inspired by factors including self-esteem, self-confidence, and overall life satisfaction.
“It’s exciting, the energy to be around on Sunday morning is spectacular. Yeah, every year we get some really, really amazing stories, so it’s cool, it changes lives.”
“I love WEAU 13 News… I’m part of the mug club, by the way,” says Eau Claire’s Daniel Delestry, who finished second in the marathon and then proposed to his girlfriend Hannah.
There will be a quick turnaround for Emi, Pat, Heather and the rest of the Eau Claire Marathon organizers. They get to do all of this again in eight months as the marathon returns to its normal May running.