Sometimes you can do everything absolutely right in your training, and things just go south on race day. That’s my story from the 2019 Eau Claire Marathon.
If you already follow me on socials (specifically Instagram) you may have already seen my telling of events from this race. Now that I’m a couple of days removed from the race, and my legs are throbbing (slightly) less, I’m going to give you a more in-depth play-by-play of what went down going into race day.
The Build Up
I meet with my friend Alex to go over a nutrition/short race plan. He’s acting as my on-course support system, bringing me gels and support at the points we knew I would be feeling pretty low.
We agree I would carry my first round of Honey Stinger, he’ll meet me around the half for my second, and then again around mile 18 for my third. Jess will have a fourth waiting for me when I run past her around mile 23.
Typically, Jess would be my main course support person, but if you didn’t know, I became a father to a beautiful baby girl recently—Ruby James. That being said, I didn’t want my three-week postpartum wife running around stressed and trying to make it to these checkpoints with a baby in tow. I’m super thankful that Alex was willing to help out, he brings a super positive energy to everything he does. I knew he would help boost my spirits if I was feeling beat to crap out on the course.
This is also the day I start sleeping in my bed again instead of the couch. Ruby was a little bit of a stinker coming out, so mom had to have a C-section. Since we got home on April 15th (or was it 16th? The days are all running together) we’d been sleeping on our sectional couch–it was easier for Jess to remain mobile and she had some support helping her get up and around when she needed to.
Anyway, the plan works pretty well—I wake up feeling a little more refreshed. Shouts out to Jess for being on 100% nighttime baby duty for a few days.
I stew in my thoughts, planning my race and going over it in my head multiple times. I actually type out a little race plan in my phone to help organize my thoughts:
“First two miles w/ pacer. After Phoenix park, open it up a bit to 6:40/mi (6:35 at the absolute fastest) and settle into a groove. If it feels too fast right out of the gate, slow it up a bit to 6:50/mi or roll with the pacer. Hitting the half at 1:27 is ideal. If it ends up being 1:30 (it won’t, you got this) do not fret. You know what you need to do. Meet Alex at 18 for a little morale boost. DO NOT STOP. Take the gel, breathe, and prepare yourself for the last 10k. Once you hit 20, focus on maintaining efficiency. Light and loose, keep your breathing under control, remain fluid. Once you hit Barstow (22ish) foot on the gas a bit, but not too crazy. At 24, it’s go time. Everything is left on that course. 2:55.”
I read through this before bed that night, and anytime I get stressed out on Saturday when trying to relax. Honestly, I’ll probably keep writing these out (and then coming up with an abridged mental version) before races, because having a plan of sorts helped calm my nerves a bit.
I go to packet pickup and the first annual EC Marathon Shakeout Run. I end up co-leading (kinda) with JC Lippold, the 4:30 pacer for race day. It’s a good time, I hang out in the back and run with some new people and chit-chat about race day. It’s nice getting out with some new folks, making new friends, and talking about their goals as well as mine.
I don’t get to spend as much time at the expo as I would like to; I run in to grab my packet and have to dip out shortly after the run to meet up with my parents—another welcome distraction. After the parents left, I camp out on the couch with Ruby and try to relax and keep my nerves under control.
After getting all of my race day mumbo-jumbo together, I’m confident. I had an incredible 18 weeks of training, granted the last four-ish were a little lighter than I would have liked, but I’m feeling fit. I’m feeling strong. I’m ready to get out there and run a solid race.
My alarm goes off at 5:30. I get out of bed, and start the pot of coffee I prepared the night before. I grab a couple of rice cakes with peanut butter and a banana—something that wouldn’t sit too heavy in my stomach, but will fill me up and give me a little hit of protein.
I pour a half a cup of coffee, fill my water bottle and sit down to go over the race plan again—nice and easy, keep it efficient, get ready to grind at the end.
Jess takes me to the shuttle at about 6:30, and I’m in Carson Park by 6:40. I meet up with my fellow Blue Ox Herd member Chris, and we find a place to sit down and get ready for the starting line.
I feel pretty relaxed—I joke around with Chris and swap my shoes, pin on my bib (1492, the year Columbus sailed the ocean blue), and take a light jog over to the bathroom to loosen up a bit. At about 7:10 we check our bags and start making our way to the starting line, still feeling confident as hell.
Waiting on the line, I chat with a coworker, a few more members of the Herd and my friend and pacer from the year prior, Matt. It’s great seeing some smiling, friendly faces who seem just as confident in me as I did.
Right before the start of the race, I’m met by Blue Ox Running owner (and race victor), Adam Condit. Again, another friendly face, ready to tear it up. The stars are all aligning, and it’s almost go time.
5, 4, 3, 2, 1…. HORN.
I go out nice and easy, still a little ahead of the 3:00 pacer. I let things string out a bit through the first 100 meters and then drop back and latch on to his (I believe his name was Gerad… he wasn’t very chatty) shoulder.
We go around the Carson Park peninsula and come through the first mile right at 6:50, roll down the east side of the Carson Park hill and down Lake Street. Everything feels so easy, I have to pull myself back every time I get a few steps ahead of Gerad.
We hit the Phoenix Park bridge right on pace. I gradually pick it up and start to separate from the 3:00 pack.
Moving up to the High Bridge and everything is feeling fluid.
I notice my legs starting to feel a little heavy.
“Not a big deal, get through the 10k. Seeing the relay groups will give you a little boost.”
The big group of people makes a difference, I get a nice little energy boost and everything felt a little better. The fatigue was manageable, my legs feel fresh and I’m ready to go.
We turn onto Old Wells Road and I notice a little more fatigue. Still manageable. This is an out-and-back portion of the course, which is kind of nice. Seeing Chris and Matt coming through as I’m heading out was a nice little morale boost. We’re still in this, and right on pace.
Airport Hill. Probably the worst part of the course. Really, on a normal day it isn’t that bad, but today it destroys me. I realize how much sooner I’m going to have to start my grind to go sub-3:00.
At the top of the hill, I gather my breath and do a quick system check. My legs feel sore, but not dead. The sun is beating down on us and there’s zero cloud cover. It feels a lot warmer than the 60-ish degrees that the forecast promised. I slow my pace to match with Gerad again, and keep on trucking.
I roll through the half marathon with Gerad at around 1:29:09, and that pace feels very, VERY manageable.
Everything is getting much harder. I lose pace with Gerad, legs are feeling exponentially more fatigued as I go.
My right quad starts cramping up. I stop for a bit and try and massage it out. It works for a while. I keep going, albeit at a much slower pace.
“Just keep going, it’ll loosen up and things will get better.”
I meet Alex. He can tell I’m hurting, and this is right around the point that he had dropped from this same race a year prior. He gives me some words of encouragement and I keep going.
Soon after, my left quad tightens up. I stop and try to massage it out with no luck. I run as much as I can, even slower than before, and try to get it to loosen up. Nothing.
I think about dropping out. A lot. But I remember how hard I worked for 18 weeks to get to this race, and my lungs are still feeling fine. Maybe it’s just a low point. Maybe it will work itself out.
“I can still get a PR. Just go at 8:00 pace.”
I keep trudging. I can’t make it much more than a quarter mile before slowing it up to a walk again.
My stomach turns sour. It feels heavy—kind of like I’m going to throw up. This slows progress even more.
I keep going. Still hoping that the tightness in my quads will release with more water and stretching.
Matt and the 3:15 crew caught up with me. I run with him for maybe a quarter mile, he offers me a salt tab which I accept. Maybe it’s just an electrolyte problem. I drop off when my quad inevitably tightens up again.
Still walk-run, walk-run. I make it down Galloway to Barstow. I start a light shuffle. Maybe the energy of the Barstow Block Party will help? I can still get a PR, it won’t be huge, but it will be there.
Again, a quarter mile. Legs tighten up. Back to walking.
I see my brother with my dog, Brutus. I run over and give him some pets.
“I’m having a terrible time. My legs keep tightening up. This is not fun,” I say as I pet his furry snoot.
“Are you dropping?” Chance asks.
“No, we’re three miles away. I’ll finish it out.”
Jess is on the other side of the street, I jog over to her, she hands me a water bottle. I tell her my quads are tightening up and they won’t release. She can tell I’m mad. I tell her I’m just going to muscle it out and finish.
I see our friends Kyle and Lauren a little farther away, they yell words of encouragement. “Just keep moving.”
And so I do.
The Blugold Mile. “Well this is embarrassing,” is the only thought in my head.
I hobble through and walk when I need to. Not even running a quarter mile at this point.
Getting close to Water Street. I grab a freezie pop from a kid on the course. It tastes really good. I hobble-run as much as I can. Back to walking.
I meet up with another friend, Andrew, as I enter Water Street. He’s pacing 1:45 for the half marathon. I run with him for a little bit, and he lifts my spirits. He tells me the heat is getting to him a bit, and it seems to have gotten to a few of our mutual friends as well.
I slow to a walk, again.
There are some college kids with a table yelling free beer. I hobble over. “My race is out the window, so why not?” I swallow warm Natty Ice. It’s terrible.
My walk turns into a limp. Another marathoner named Alex is struggling as well, seems like a similar cramping issue. We decide to work together to get through the finish line.
Misery loves company.
We turn up Carson Park Drive, knowing we have a terrible hill to the finish. We hobble up together.
I see a coworker, Brad, with his family cheering us on. I shake my head and say “It’s bad.”
“I’m going to cheer anyway!”
So close. We get to the top of the hill and hear our names getting called as we turn into the finish chute. We try to pick it up a little bit.
I hear everyone cheering and I still just shake my head. I’m basically on the verge of tears at this point.
Done. I walk past the finish line and talk to another friendly face from The Herd, Dr. Matt Evans. He offers some words of encouragement. “Bad races happen, I still finished.” I try to think of it in a positive light.
I get my medal, still disappointed, and go through a line where some kind volunteers load me up with cookies (per my request.) They don’t last long.
I meet up with some friends and get some hugs. They can tell I’m upset, although I try not to be visibly angry. I hold in a lot of emotions until I get home.
A couple of days later, my legs are still throbbing and I’m still disappointed, but I feel a little better about it.
Aerobically, everything was there, but my legs just had other plans that day. It’s a bummer, but it happens.
I’m going to use it as fuel for my next marathon, whenever that may be. The Eau Claire Marathon is an incredible race, and I will absolutely be back next year in one way or another.
If I wasn’t in such a wild, crazy, transitional period of life, I would have signed up for Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth the moment I got home from this race. But with a fresh mind to mold at home, a wedding to plan and a thinning wallet, we’ll have to take a rain check.
I think that is part of why this performance is a little difficult to swallow; I know it will likely be a year before I get my shot at redemption. But I’m going to take this opportunity to do everything I can to maintain fitness and come into next year’s race stronger.
Prior to this race, I had grand plans of running my first ultra this fall at the Hixon 50k in La Crosse, WI, but I think the plan has changed.
My confidence has taken quite the hit after this one. It’s going to take a little bit of time to build that back up, but I’m committed to the process and know that breakthroughs come after months and months of consistency.
After my week of recovery, I’m going to work on getting into a morning training routine and focus on maintaining volume, staying healthy, getting adjusted to this whole dad life thing (really excited about that) and finishing out my #EverySingleStreetEC mission.
The only race I currently have on my calendar is the Afton 25k in July, and I have a local half marathon on my radar in August that I’m considering.
Outside of those races, I’m going to just run for the joy of running—ramp up the miles when I’m feeling good, dial it back when my body is feeling crummy, and try to hop into a few races here and there when I can.
I’d like to run a couple of half marathons this summer to try and regain some of that lost confidence, but I’m not going to force it. I think it will feel nice not having a set schedule or race in mind and just doing the whole thing by feel, especially in this transitional period of my life.
At the end of the day, after wading through the sea of emotions, I’d say that I’m grateful for this experience.
I’m grateful for the Eau Claire Marathon. It’s awesome having this event in my own backyard.
I’m grateful to have the supportive fiancée, family and friends that I do. Really, running a fast marathon was a pretty big ask three weeks after having a baby. Shouts out to Jess for always being in my corner and running point on baby things the past few weeks, and Alex for sacrificing your day to helping me out.
I’m grateful that I didn’t drop out. I would be a lot more mad at myself if I would have called it quits at mile 18 like I wanted to.
I’m grateful that I’m healthy and injury free. Thankfully there isn’t an underlying issue that’s going to sideline me for weeks. I get to run another day.
I’m grateful that I am able to run and compete at the level that I do. I really am. I like being competitive and I like getting the best out of myself.
And finally, I’m grateful for the bad days. They make the good days seem so much better.
So that’s all I have for you. I’m going to get back to training soon and I’m going to write a little more often than I have been. I know I’ve said that ten times now but I really mean it!
I have some ideas for ways I’d like to expand the “Jake Smith Runs brand”… specifically into different mediums. Maybe some videos every once in a while? We’ll see.
I’m feeling inspired after watching a lecture from one of my favorite content creators Griffin McElroy. Granted he does a lot of comedy/video game stuff and I’m on the complete opposite side of the spectrum.
Until next time.