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The anatomy of Marathon Culture
by Joanna Haugen

    We sweat. We sunburn. We stink.

 We get up before the sun. We head out after dark. We brave the rain, snow, hail, and wind.

 People tell us we’ll blow out our knees and ankles (a questionable accusation). They tell us we’re crazy (this one might be true).

 And, if we want to do all of this with other people and add another t-shirt to our collections, we pay cold, hard cash for it.

 Runners are a unique and special breed of folk … and we’re darn proud of it. It’s a sport that anyone can achieve with willpower and perseverance. A stroll becomes a walk, a walk becomes a jog, a jog becomes a run — and before you know it — you’ve reached the finish line.

 “There is a satisfaction with crossing the finish line,” says Tom Glenetzke, a local marathoner who has run 40 marathons in 12 states and is on his way to completing races in all 50 states. Karen Drechel, race director for the Eau Claire Marathon, says, “Running is an activity that requires a good pair of shoes and lots of determination. It is not easy, but it’s something everyone can do.”

 The number of runners has grown over the years as courses stay open longer and the pressure to finish by a certain time has given way to the simple accomplishment of finishing. The RCU Charity Classic, being held in Eau Claire on June 27, has grown to more than 800 runners over the past 14 years, and more than 200 people participated in the first Eau Claire Marathon, held in early May.

RCU Charity Classic

    Races generally range in length from one mile to the 26.2-mile marathon for adults, making it easy for everyone to choose the appropriate race and pace. We welcome walkers to our races and they are referred to as run/walk events, says Emily Blaskey, one of the race directors of the RCU Charity Classic.

    Runners cite a number of reasons for hitting the road – health, relaxation, convenience — but few say they run to win and most admit that race day is more than just the act of running. Glenetzke has run his favorite marathon, the Paavo Nurmi Marathon in Hurley, Wisconsin, 18 times. “You go to Paavo and it hasn’t changed,” he says. “It’s like a reunion. Every race you’re out there for four or five hours getting to know each other. I’ve met lots of lifelong friends on the course.”

    Most races are tied to a non-profit organization, and while most participants don’t sign up specifically for charitable reasons, they are cognizant that their fees go toward a good cause. Drechel chose the YMCA as the Eau Claire Marathon’s charity.

    “It takes a lot of community support to do an event like this,” she says. “I want the proceeds to go back to a non-profit organization that helps our community.”

    As for the RCU Charity Classic, “we allow our employees to nominate the charity,” says Carla Leuck, one of the race directors for the event. “This year we received nominations for 15 different organizations. Over the years, RCU has given more than $66,000 to local non-profit organizations.”

    Race day is the “end game” for months of training, and it’s filled with anticipation, adrenaline, and tradition. “Marathons are many times weekend-long events with pre-race pasta feeds, vendor exhibits, the race, and post-race parties,” explains Tom Janssen, who ran several marathons in the 1980s and 1990s.

    The machine of organizers and volunteers behind the scenes are also excited. “I think the organizers and the volunteers get the ‘runner’s high’ just working the race,” says Leuck, who is a runner herself but doesn’t participate as a racer in the RCU Charity Classic. “There is something about the pride you get from organizing an event like this that, if given the choice, I would always choose to organize (it).”

    As a runner, I can guarantee that as long as someone continues to hold races, we’ll continue to run. We will continue to brave the elements, get up early, stay up late, sweat, smell, hurt, and pay … just so we can go one more mile.