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UWEC students tackle marathon class

The following story appeared in the April 26 edition of the Leader-Telegram and has been reprinted with permission. The story is written by UW-Eau Claire student and Leader-Telegram writer Breane Lyga. Photo credit: Steve Kinderman/Leader-Telegram staff. 

Editor's note: Also find details online about Eau Claire Marathon activities planned for May 2-3 on the UW-Eau Claire campus.

By Breane Lyga, Leader-Telegram staff

Ginny Young was in fifth grade when she started running.

It was during recess when she challenged the fastest boy in her class to a race down the sidewalk — and she beat him.

A high school short-distance running career and a few trips to state championships later, Young found herself switching to long-distance running when she registered for a kinesiology class at UW-Eau Claire.

"This is kind of like a new start for me in a way," said Young, a sophomore from Chaseburg. "I was so passionate about running beforehand, and I didn't want to give it up, so now this is another chance for me."

The final exam for that class is running in the Eau Claire Marathon next weekend.

Senior lecturer Tracy Yengo was inspired to teach a long-distance running course for the first time after she saw students from the University of Minnesota run in the Eau Claire Marathon for a class.

At first, the kinesiology department allowed 30 students to register for the class. Yengo and physics professor Matt Evans, who co-teaches the class, pushed for allowing 100 students register. The class filled up immediately, she said.

"If you have a small number, chances are you're going to train alone," Yengo said. 

By the end of race day, 85 students are expected to complete the course after training for the marathon since January.

"We have students who are a part of something beyond themselves on a Saturday morning at 8 a.m.," Yengo said. "To get up and have that commitment and discipline has just been really encouraging and inspiring."

Miles of learning 

The class is a structured training regimen. Students meet once a week on Saturday mornings to run 10 miles together and listen to 15-minute lectures on topics like what to eat when preparing for a marathon.

One lecture Young appreciated was learning how to dress for different weather conditions. "It's basically a 100-degree difference from when we were running in January," she said. "It was (about) negative 50 degrees out, snowing and freezing cold. We had tons of layers on and now people are out in their shorts and tank tops."

Outside of class, students typically run 3 to 4 days per week while maintaining a healthy diet.

UW-Eau Claire freshman Erin Brault of Richfield, Minn., is a cross-country skier and said skiing this winter helped her train for the marathon in addition to running. She even competed in a 52-kilometer cross-country ski marathon in February.

"It uses your full body, so it's really good for cross-training," she said. 

The group that meets every Saturday morning to train for the Eau Claire Marathon isn't just made up of professors and students. The Eau Claire-area Indianhead Track Club partnered with the university to get community members running with students in the class. 

UW-Eau Claire computer science professor emeritus Paul Wagner works with the track club, and said bringing a variety of people, young, old, experienced, first-time marathon runners, together to cross the finish line brings the community as a whole closer together.

"Our intention was to expose our students to everyday people who have made this a lifestyle," Yengo said.

On the first few Saturdays, students and community members had their names on their backs to break the ice and start a conversation while training. Yengo said students and community members shared stories sacred to the pavement they ran on. 

"It helped college students and community members talk to each other by name," Brault said. "It can be good inspiration for both parties." 

Todd Peterson lives north of Fall Creek and joins the students to train each week. He said he enjoys running with people rather than alone and has learned a lot about endurance and nutrition from the class lectures as well.

For both students and community members, Yengo said the goal of the long-distance running class is to change the lifestyles of the runners. 

"The finale isn't May 3; it's just the beginning," Yengo said. "They have this memory of what they committed to on a negative 40-degree day in February. Signing up for this class and crossing the finish line creates a new lifestyle, an appreciation for being healthy, setting goals and inspiring others that we can do anything we set our minds to."

The full marathon and marathon relay begins at Carson Park Sunday at 7:30 a.m. The half-marathon will begin at 9:15 a.m. A 5-kilometer run/walk begins at 9:30 a.m. All of the races begin and end at Carson Park. The Eau Claire Marathon will host a kid's run at 6 p.m. Saturday at Carson Park. 

Students, instructors and community members wish to keep the class and community involved for races in the future. 

"Life is short, it's good to run long," Wagner said.

Lyga can be reached at 715-833-9203, 800-236-7077 or