Marathon readies for move downtown

Leader Telegram: Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Eau Claire Marathon’s newly approved downtown-centered course also will bring earlier race start times and more convenient parking when it returns on May 3, according to event organizers.

Moving away from its traditional home in Carson Park, the annual race will have its start and finish lines near Phoenix Park, a switch approved Tuesday afternoon in a 10-0 vote of the City Council with Councilwoman Jill Christopherson absent.

“Some of the logistical aspects of this make it a stronger race,” said Councilman Jeremy Gragert, who ran the half marathon race in 2015.

He appreciated the elimination of the old course’s uphill finish into Carson Park, instead using flatter roads around downtown.

The event’s three courses — the 26.2-mile full marathon, 13.1-mile half marathon and 5-kilometer race — will all start on the Madison Street bridge next year and finish on Graham Avenue next to the Pablo Center at the Confluence.

Gragert brought forth a constituent’s concern that the changing route could hinder people from attending Sunday church services near the race routes, namely downtown and in the Randall Park neighborhood.

Marathon executive director Pat Toutant said earlier start times next year will avoid interfering with church services in those areas, with runners passing by before or after those congregations’ services.

The full marathon will start at 7 a.m. next year — 30 minutes earlier than this year’s race. The half marathon will start at 8:15 a.m. — a full hour before this year’s start. And the five-kilometer race will begin at 9:15 a.m. — 15 minutes earlier than prior years.

With two downtown ramps, city lots and parking spaces volunteered by Mayo Clinic Health System and UW-Eau Claire, the event believes it will not need to provide buses to remote parking as it did when it was based in Carson Park.

“We hope to eliminate shuttling,” Toutant said.

Leah Ness, deputy city engineer, said the Chippewa Valley Technical College parking lot used in prior years by the marathon has about 1,000 spaces. Parking availability would about double that at the downtown site, Ness said, between public parking and the private lots that race organizers are securing through agreements so racers and spectators can use them.

Though shuttles aren’t expected to be needed for parking next year, Toutant said buses will still be used to get marathon relay competitors to the starting lines for their legs of the race.

Before reaching the City Council, the marathon’s organizers held multiple meetings with a special events committee and addressed concerns raised about traffic congestion, parking availability and accessibility for emergency vehicles. On June 5, that committee signed off on the marathon’s move downtown.

“With their recommendation, they felt comfortable that it can be done downtown with a very safe result,” community services director Jeff Pippenger said.

More than a month before the race, event organizers will hang doorhangers to remind them of the marathon’s impact on traffic in their area, Toutant said.

“We know we cause inconvenience from a traffic standpoint, but we’ve become very diligent about announcing our race,” he said.

Councilwoman Emily Berge, who has run the full marathon before, commended the race organizers for getting consent from numerous downtown businesses for the course change before seeking the council’s approval.

“I can tell all the work they’ve done,” she said.