Day441 Eau Claire Marathon

That was the Eighth marathon-state and 42 more states to go. If I count the Rocky Raccoon I ran in February in Texas, it would be the nineth. Rocky Raccoon was an ultra marathon, and it is not the same as a normal marathon.

When I run a normal marathon I feel I am fast again, relatively fast when compares to my other races. I am able to push more until I hit a breaking point. I feel good doing that.

Eau Claire was everything I like about running a marathon. Maybe my first marathon was like that. Beautiful, and I feel successful. I was doing my thing and in my own separate world. There was the hype and race atmosphere. Many people tried to do their first marathons etc.

I started off slow. Maybe I blame the weather. It was a bit nippy. Leaves in Wiscousin already were turning yellow, but the day was going to be great. Our pacer encouraged us to finish the run early to avoid the heat (80 F). We started off around 45 F though. I tried to stay in my car with my hoodie until the time of the start. I already decided to run in shorts and tee. I was willing to stand the shivering of the first hour or so. Hey this might be my last race before winter.

The fact I did not have my breakfast was kind of suck. I did not pack my meal the night before, thinking I could get something from a McDonalds or 7-eleven. I was feeling lazy. Making sandwiches is a lot of work to me. Google said Dunkins and McDonalds would be open by 5 am. I was in a small town though and on a Sunday – the general hour doesn’t apply. Nothing was open. I kind of woke up late too around 5:30 am. Plus a half hour drive to the race, I had very little time left. The race started at 7:00.

Last time I ran an “official” fast marathon was almost two years ago in Carlsbad, California. The Moonlight Marathon in West Virginia I did a month ago doesn’t count because that was like training and also that was “hilly”. Also Gettysburg marathon I ran last October doesn’t count – that was not a new state for me. I finished Eau Claire almost an hour ahead of my Moonlight Marathon. This is what I mean by fast. I needed to feel I was near my max performance.

Parking was going to a problem I thought since they would block the roads. I arrived before they put down the barricades. So I was lucky. They actually only put up the starting arch like 15 minutes before the start. It felt unreal that they were behind schedule. We were going to run in the middle of the road. Things looked like last minute flash in the pan operation to me.

The race place felt empty. Later I found out less people ran it this year than in previous years. Maybe about 40% less people, likely due to the pandemic. Not that it bothered me whether there were 40 people or 3000 people, a race is a race. There were 200 of us but it seemed even less – like 75 or 50 people.

We started off on time, just after a beautiful sunrise behind us. I warmed up in no time. We had wave starts – and I was in the last wave because I put 5 hours as my finish time. I think the race average finishing was 4:20 in the past. This year was 4:10. Yes, there were a lot faster runners than me. I met a few during package pick up such as a runner called Steve and another Braxton.

I had no idea exactly of the course. I did my homework but still. It was a road marathon and I knew it would be a lot of turns. The course markings were more than sufficient and they had volunteers at every turn, so following the course was not a problem. It was more a thing for me not knowing what ahead, that I had to be more conservative with my pace.

I followed a pacer ahead. Very early on, I stuck with the 4:30 group. In my mind, many times in the past the 4:30 group would pass me in the middle of the race because I normally run a 4:45 or 5:00 hour marathon. I had a bit of age discrimination that day because pacers for 4:45 / 5:00 and beyond were all led by older guys. They look like they were in their 60s. I know I am not that young (and my hair is graying like them) but I wanted to be with the younger crowd. I didn’t want a grandpa to pace me. I felt embarrassed.

Initially the 4:30 pace group only had me and a lady. After a few miles, we picked up a few more runners. I had to pee at the time. I felt I could hold it but better if there was a place to let it out. We had aid stations every couple miles and I hoped at one of them should/would have a porta potty. I think at mile 4 they had one but it was still locked (zip-tied). So shoot. Then I saw someone ran into a local park and I followed. I thought the dude knew a place for bathroom. Then he ran around the corner of a building (probably was a public bathroom – but the door was locked) and I found him squatting with pants down around his ankles once I came around the building. He quickly got up but he already had a big pile of poops on the ground. I was disgusted both at myself for the discovery and at the dude. Any runner would have done their business before the race! And why not go into the treeline at least! Leave-no-trace man. Now it means someone would have to clean up after him. Why did we wait till after the start to look for bathrooms? I was fuming.

Anyway, I could go into the woods and do my business but I held it in after finding the guy shamelessly making a mess in public. So I ran back out to the race course and tried to catch up with my pace group again. I believe, it was not until mile 6 or 8 before I found a potty from a construction site where I finally could pee – that was like an hour later.

The rest of the race was uneventful. I left my pace group by then and ran by myself till halfway. I settled into a kind of new group of people but we were all kind of far apart. I could still see the guy who pooped still running ahead. I told myself – I am not visiting any aid station after the dude. I was sure he didn’t wipe. I kind of felt sorry at the same time. If I had any wipes I would give it to him. My goal was to pass him but he ran freaking fast, maybe so that he wouldn’t have to talk to me, but I was trying to chase him at the same time. Yup awkward.

Later I did pass him – he and a bunch of people were finally ran out of steam. Or maybe I was really speeding up. I felt strong and I think I was actually steady with my pace. Then for a few miles I was with a lady – later on, she said she is Annie. I did not start a conversation and neither did she. I just tried to keep my pace steady. I could see she was fast and in my mind, I had no intention to over take her. There were times she was way ahead of me and times when she dropped behind. However, after a while, she was constantly at my side or I was by hers.

The race course took us out onto a gravel road. I was hoping being a more experienced running on trail I might be able to lose some people. I think at this time, We ran into the 4:20 pace group. It was like running into a wall. I was surprised that Annie had no intention to pass the group. At the time, the trail was a bit crowded and so I did not pass either. I felt it was awfully slow.

The pace leader Paul, introduced himself. He might have gone off to the bathroom too because he ran out of nowhere and started chatting first to Annie and then to me. He asked our names and where we from. He took back the pace stick from a fellow runner (Cooper). It was a social group. We had lot of people and there might be as many as 12-15 of us behind Paul.

The race had couple hills. I think maybe 200- 300 ft or so. They said this was a new course. It made no different to me. Not a super big hill, but Paul had us do 30-30, a 30 seconds of walk and then 30 seconds of run. We would repeat until we crested it. He was right, we felt great coming out of the hill. He said, we would make up time on the down hill portion. We did.

Miles flew by. 14, 15, 16. I started to feel the pace getting to me and I believed I would need to slow down. A few times, after slowing down at aid stations I could not keep up with Paul and the group any more. Also our group of 15 now shrunk to like a group of 5. Every mile we would lose someone. Cooper would call out, we lost so and so. Paul also had Cooper to call out our last mile time. We should run at a 10:05 pace, but usually we are a bit ahead, e.g. 9:55. Annie, Cooper, Paul, me, and another lady were only ones left. I told Paul mile 20 is likely the last mile I will be with them. For Annie, mile 18 would be the longest distance she ever ran. We passed mile 18, 19, 20. Miles were getting tougher. Soon even Cooper disappeared. Cooper had ran in 18 states. Paul had like 50 or so and lost count. Me, I had 7 states but lost count of my marathons either (around 33, now I checked).

Annie and the other lady I think Kim, took off. I felt a burst of energy too and ran off with them leaving Paul behind. From experience, I know I couldn’t sustain the pace, but it felt good at the time. I don’t remember where but eventually, I was not able to keep up with Annie, probably at around mile 22. Paul caught back up, maybe at mile 24. I told him I couldn’t do it any more. He said, to run with him hip to hip. Ya sure. I really couldn’t. I dropped to a walk. That was really suck that I hit the wall. I will myself as much as I could but I couldn’t get going. Later someone said, you could actually hear the finish noise because we were literally just a block away. However, I was not as familar with the course as I should and I had no idea where I was. We still had two miles to run (an extra loop from the finish). It took us to the school – University of Wiscousin – Eau Claire campus. The students were all out cheering. They called it the Gold Blue or Blue Gold mile. I don’t think they helped but I got back to a jog. At least I was moving. Like with any marathons or races, the last mile was the hardest. I gradually picked up the pace again and arrived at the finish.

Annie finished like at 4:16. Paul arrived on time at 4:19:55. His wife owns the pacing company and he said he could not finish a second late or his wife would kill him. We were ahead of pace by 30-50 seconds during the run. Paul must have slowed down to make the perfectly paced finish. I arrived at 4:21:27. And Cooper came in around around 4:30. I did not wait for any others. Steve whom I met during package pickup waited for me. He finished around 3:30 (hr/min). He said Braxton was around 3:00. Braxton wanted to qualify for Boston. We all revered Steve who ran in the Boston in the past.

It was a fast finish for me too. It was not my fastest. My fastest was around 4:12. And my second fastest was 4:16. This should be my third fastest time. I did not intend to make a PR (personal best/record). You kind of know at the start of the race whether it would be your fastest. I felt I goofed a bit by not warming up before the start, or to use the bathroom, or to get up earlier. So I did not expect making any record. I knew I was running generally better than other marathons. I did want to run a fast one since my last one of 8:25 was awfully slow and kind of want to prove myself I can still do it. To be able to keep up with the 4:20 pace group for most of the race was an achievement. Also, Annie kind of pull me to an even faster pace near the end and this either helped or messed me up – I rather take a positive look that it helped me reached my third fastest time. Everyone runs their own race is the motto. It was a win in my book.

Is Eau Claire worth going for others? I think it was well managed. They had a half marathon and 5K event too. The course is generally beautiful. It is in a small rural town but not so small like Damascus, VA. I think a decent size. There are many bridges. I think the place is calming and beautiful to run. It is not like big city marathon such as the Marine Corps with many thousands of people, but Eau Claire definitely put up a good race like any big races.

It is one of those destination races for me. Once and done. If I live nearby I might run it again, but it is halfway across the country and the nearest airport is about 2 hours away. The drive from the airport was boring to me. I am the guy that hate driving. It was mostly woods on either side of the highway. Camping is one of the recommended activities and the second recommendation was to see the country fair/rodeo show. I love those stuffs but not when I am there for running.

I did not visit museums or any historical buildings. Another recommended thing was to see their trails and parks. I ran out of time so I did not go on their trails. I would have if I had a bit more time or I had planned better.

My remaining time was to eat. None of the places I would recommend on here. Not that they were bad bad, but I chose some places in a bad neighborhood. It also helped me see a city in a different light. Restaurants in the Mall of America were pretty bland – your usual standard chain restaurants. I visited Mall of America, supposingly America biggest shopping mall. There were some eating guides available, but again I didn’t have the time or energy to seek those places out – I kind of hate any crowded downtowns and the lack of parking and all so, I did not even go there.

I flew into Minneapolis/St Paul of course. Other than that, I did not find much to do in the city. To me, Minnesota felt like Texas of the north – that everything is big. The airport MSP is one of the nicer ones – I explored the whole airport since I spent about 4 hours there. It needs a bit more arts is what I can say. An airport is airport – after a while, you kind of hate it no matter how nice it is. I flew Delta – the service is nice. I got my can of coke and cookies. I was happy. I slept on the way back. It was a direct flight. Happy to make it home.

Epilogue – I am thinking of running Grandma’s Marathon in Deluth in the near future. It means I will be back in St.Paul/Minneapolis. I only learned of Deluth from the lady at the car rental counter, when I asked her what is there to do here in St. Paul. She said I should visit Deluth. De-lu what? The town near Canada. What!? I thought it was a restaurant or a park. Later, I was able to find the city on the map, oh, that is too far. Ya, I know, Deluth is not in St. Paul, it is like two hours away.

Oh also I don’t know how to pronouce Eau Claire…I think the people there say it as Oh-claire. I have been saying it as oo-claire. I don’t think anyone there speak French. Maybe it was a historical leftover from a french origin. I think it was headwater of the Mississippee. No it was another river. I should have read up more on the place I visited.

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