Eau Claire Marathon returns this weekend

EAU CLAIRE — The Eau Claire Marathon has steadily grown again this year, and could feature its largest field of runners yet, says race director Emi Uelmen.

“We’re pretty much at 5,000 (participants). It’s the biggest Eau Claire Marathon to date,” Uelmen said.

The 16th annual Eau Claire Marathon features 800 people signed up for the full 26.2-mile marathon, 2,000 for the 13.1-mile half-marathon, 200 teams in the marathon relay, 450 in a 10-kilometer race, 800 in a 5-kilometer race, and 400 in kids’ runs. The events are divided over Saturday and Sunday. The marathon is a Boston Marathon qualifying race, which has been a draw for top runners.

Uelmen said they sold out the 5K race, which they haven’t always done before. The marathon has always had a goal of making sure every runner gets a finishing medal, so they have to set limits in each category in advance. Uelmen was thrilled so many people are jumping in at the 5K level this year.

“It gives them something to start with,” she said.

The decision to move the races downtown in 2021 has worked well, she added. In prior years, the start and finish were in Carson Park.

“The energy in Eau Claire, everyone is excited to get out. We love starting in downtown, running through downtown, and finishing in downtown.”

The course is unchanged this year, and people should plan around some of the morning road closures. Farwell Street will remain open during the marathon, but other downtown streets will be closed Sunday morning for runners to use. Barstow Street between Galloway and Newton streets is part of the race course and will be closed for much of the morning. The same goes for the Lake Street Bridge and Graham Avenue, which are the home stretch for runners who will cross the finish line next to the Pablo Center at the Confluence.

Other streets that coincide with the race course or cross it will be closed for several hours on Sunday. That includes a large section of State Street, the Lake Street Bridge and portions of First Avenue. And there are some road closures on quieter neighborhood streets, but those will be unavailable for less time as they’re earlier in the races when runners will be grouped closely together.

Uelmen enjoys the fact that the runners on the half-marathon and marathon courses loop the city and cross numerous bridges. The Blugold Mile — a section of the races that passes through the UW-Eau Claire campus about a mile before the finish line — will again have students and faculty there to energize and entertain runners.

Uelmen said there aren’t any construction areas on the course.

“The city is always fantastic to work with,” she said. “They either get (construction work) done before the race, or start it after we finish.”

Back this year is a University of Minnesota running class. Between 30 and 40 runners have trained all semester to do a marathon, culminating with Sunday’s race.

The race weekend has generally been the last weekend of April or first weekend of May. Uelmen said that with the race now downtown, it is being held this weekend as the farmer’s market kicks off the following weekend.

Uelmen noted that moderate temperatures and little snow has led to “a great winter for training.” Early projections show there is potential for rain, and she advised people to keep an eye on their social media for any updates.

“We’re just excited to see everyone at the finish line,” she said.

The Eau Claire Marathon was started in 2009 with race directors Karen and Kevin Dreschel. Uelmen and her father, Pat Toutant, took over the marathon in November 2013 and have been running it ever since. The 16 annual races include the virtual marathon held in 2020 because of the pandemic. The start and finish was in Carson Park from 2009 through 2019. However, racers disliked going uphill into the park to finish, and there was a lack of parking and other amenities, so the decision was made to relocate to downtown.

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