A week of sleepless nights came to a close at 3 a.m. Sunday when event director Emi Uelmen and her family headed out to Carson Park to set up the final preparations for the 11th annual Eau Claire Marathon.
It was a long, exhausting day for the event coordinators and racers, but according to marathon co-director Pat Toutant, the day was a success.
“I thought the day was just absolutely perfect,” Toutant said. “But, it’s a relief to have it done.”
The Eau Claire Marathon played host to 5,000 runners from 35 states and four countries, competing in one of the four distances, Uelmen said. About 900 volunteers showed up, and countless members of the community lined the streets at the 25 cheer stations scattered across the city to support runners.
“The city is great,” Uelmen said. “People want to do this; it’s a fun Sunday morning.”
The event takes a year’s worth of planning, according to Uelmen, who said she and her family are already starting to get ready for next year.
It’s an exhaustive and nerve-racking process, but she said she does it because of the emotional payoff at the end.
“I love the 5,000 people that finish,” she said. “I love hearing the why we run; I love seeing people hug each other at the finish line.”
Thousands of exhausted faces turned to smiles as racers crossed the finish line. Toutant stood just before the final bend with a microphone cheering on racers as they darted toward the end. He doled out high fives and words of encouragement to racers of all ages and speeds.
“You’ve got this! You’re almost home!” he yelled as competitors ran by.
Marathon winner Adam Condit, a local resident and owner of the Blue Ox Running store downtown, was impressed with how incredibly well the event came together.
“They’ve taken something that could be just for runners and people that consider themselves long distance runners and they’ve taken it to be a citywide event,” Condit said. “You don’t have to run a half-marathon; you don’t even have to run eight miles … you can be part of this weekend, and it becomes more of a community event because now you have our neighbors and friends and family that might never consider themselves runners to come out and watch. That’s when it becomes really fun.”
Fans held signs of support for their friends, partners and parents. Some teams held hands, carried flags or helped push competitors toward the finish line.
The overbearing sun early in the day didn’t make it easy on participants. The heat was Ulemen’s only complaint about the day, although it turned into rain that cooled down racers in the later packs.
The race marked the seventh marathon for the Eau Claire Marathon Charity Chasers, Jeffery and Jordan Bergeman. Jeffery, 12, is disabled and unable to walk, so his father, Jordan, pushed him the 26.2 miles.
The duo started out about 15 minutes after the start of the marathon with the intent to raise money for each racer they passed. While Jordan did not know how much money he was able to raise, he said the event was an incredible success.
“It’s just fantastic,” he said. “The great part about it is that people who know us will cheer for Jeffery and me. ... He’s able to be the main focal point when we’re out there, and the roars are incredible as we go by. The support is second to none when we’re out there on the course.”
The Bergemans ran as part of the My Team Triumph team along with Jacob Urdahl and Jeremy Traynor and about 13 other adults and children with disabilities competing. Traynor, a local science teacher, helped his student Urdahl, who has Down syndrome, finish the race.
“We take it for granted that we can run, but a lot of people can’t,” Traynor said.
Traynor is an experienced runner, but he said at this point in his life he’s not concerned about his time and just wants to give other people the opportunity to feel the rush of crossing the finish line.
“We’re not worried about going fast or slow; we want to make sure that the kids and the adults feel special,” he said.
Members of the Eau Claire Fire Department ran the relay race in full firefighting attire to raise money for their charity after the death of fellow firefighter Denise Waterman in 2014. The equipment, weighing about 28 pounds, left them exhausted by the end. Still, Kevin Blaine said the support from the community was fantastic and helped his team bear through the race.
The race is going to look slightly different next year. Racers will no longer have to run up the Carson Park hill as they head toward the finish line. Instead, Uelmen, said her family is planning to incorporate the Barstow Street area into the route.
“We want runners to do it every single year, and this will give them something new to look at,” she said.