Catherine Lee discusses Boston Marathon and how Eau Claire connects

Three-time Boston Marathon competitor and UW-Eau Claire faculty member shares Boston Marathon experiences and discusses the local running scene.

Elliot Adams (He/Him)

More stories from Elliot Adams (He/Him)

INTRO: This is Elliot Adams, doing a podcast interview with Catherine Lee, an international student and scholar services coordinator at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and a three-time Boston Marathon competitor. 

ADAMS: So, I guess my first question is, when did you run in the Boston marathon?

LEE: I ran in the 2015 Boston marathon, I ran in the 2018 Boston marathon and I’m running in the 2022 Boston marathon on Monday.

ADAMS: How long have you been into running?

LEE: Seriously into running? Since probably 2009 when I moved to Eau Claire. So yeah, 2009, 2010, I think I ran the Eau Claire half (marathon). It was one of the first Eau Claire halfs before it went over to the new organizers. I ran that in 2009 and then I ended up running because I’d never run that distance before. And then I ran my first marathon at the Twin Cities that fall after. So I think that was 2009. I’m pretty sure. So yeah. Then since then it’s been, I’ve been training and running marathons and then. With some breaks having kids in, in between there. 

ADAMS: So when you first started running, was it a goal, was it like a dream to do a marathon?

LEE: No, I honestly like it and actually give my mother-in-law credit for this because she mentioned, like I ran for fun. I’ve been running for fun off and on for, I don’t know, as long as I remember. My dad would do runs and drag us along but always just for fun, not, I mean little local races and stuff. But she’d mentioned, and I saw that there were, there were races in town and, and she’s like, ’Oh, you should do the Eau Claire half.’ And I was like, ‘What’s a half marathon?’ 

LEE: Like, that was just like 13 miles, just like way beyond — I think the most I’d ran was like eight miles when I did cross country my senior year of high school. And that was like a big thing, the eight miles. And then I’m like, that’s a short run. So I was like, ‘Alright, fine. I’ll do it’. Right. And then. Great. The challenge, the training plan, all that stuff. And then I was like, well, I’m this fit now? Like, I don’t want to lose it. So it was just like, let’s take the leap to something bigger. And then I was like, that would be my only marathon. And then no, I got either like people either they get hooked or they’re like truly never, ever again. I got hooked, so yeah. 

ADAMS: So what is it you like about doing marathons?

LEE: I like the challenge. Honestly, it’s the whole package. It’s not just race day. I have a chaotic life. Particularly, I mean, I have two young kids and it’s one thing, having a training plan and having this prescribed thing that I need to do is very (helpful). It makes my brain really happy. So like, I know the buildup and then having these small goals within those goals, I know that if I do my speed workout and hit this time, then I’m on track to get a particular time that I’m looking for. I love the comradery of other people running or running the same race with me and training together. I love the day itself. Yeah. Afterwards, definitely the most like, just that feeling of accomplishment, like while you’re doing it, yeah it’s not fun. There are very few marathons that have been like, ‘Yeah, that was awesome.’ Like most there was only one that was like — it was actually, it was one of the Eau Claire’s that I qualified for. Like, it was awesome. Like I had negative splits, so I ran the second half faster than the first half and I just felt awesome and like even if I have other ones that I’ve run faster it’s — I mean, I just feel worse at the end. It’s like, I hit that goal. I hit the time, I’m a very goal oriented person. So that’s part of what I like about it.

ADAMS: So can you talk about, what’s the training schedule like for a marathon?

LEE: Good question. It depends. So I’ve dabbled in training schedules. My go-to has always been Hal Higdon. He’s like, I don’t know, he’s probably 80-something by now, but he’s got his tried and true marathon training plans free online and they’re pretty much, they all are 16 to 18-weeks-long. So you have to, I mean, you gotta plan it out and then it builds up. So it’s always like, you know what you’re going to get and you can select a training plan based on where you’re at. So if you’re just doing your first marathon, then you do the novice — you do the very basic one where it’s just like, there’s no speed work. It’s just building up mileage and you’re going to have where I’m at now. I do an advanced one where I’ve got like a couple of, just some days of just easy distance runs, just getting mileage up. But then I’ve always got a speed workout, whether it’s a hill workout or a track workout or speed intervals and there’s always like a day where it’s pace, like try to get your run at your goal pace for the marathon. Then there’s always a long run and that long run, as the length of that long run builds up, the number of hill intervals increases. Oh yeah. Goes up incrementally. It’s not like you start out and you’re like, ‘I’m going to run 20 miles every week for our 20 miles every week for four weeks here, then maybe only run one or two 20 milers, in the whole training plan.’ And it’s only once a week. You don’t want to do more than that or you’ll hurt yourself. So yeah, that’s basically — and most alternative plans, they follow that. And then it’s just sort of a progression of distance as you move up. And then there’s like a week where you’ll cut back and do lower mileage to give time for your body to recover and then you build back up again.

ADAMS: So with all the marathons you’ve done, can you talk about — when did you get to the point where you decided you wanted to try to qualify for the Boston marathon? 

LEE: That’s a good question. And I know specifically, because I was — I’d run the Eau Claire Marathon. Three times I think, and I was just sort of stagnant with my times and I’m just like, ’I can do better than a 4:20, like, come on.’ At the time I was still in my thirties, barely in my thirties way back then. And I was like, ’What am I doing wrong? Like, why aren’t I getting any better and am this miserable?’ And I was doing the training plans but I wasn’t doing this. I was still doing the basic stuff. And then I remember I got in touch with a friend of mine. He was training for one of the marathons and was like, ’You should go on Saturday mornings, the track club, the running club in town. They do long run Saturday mornings and run with them.’ And I was like, alright. I showed up one day and they go a whole lot faster than I do. I’m like, okay. 

LEE: So I guess if I need to run faster and if I need to race faster, I need to run my other runs faster. So starting to run with them forced me to go faster. And then I cut my time, way back to an under a four hour (marathon). And then I remember one of the club members — he came up to me after — he’s like, ’You know, you’re only like 15 minutes away from a Boston qualifying time.’ I was like, ‘What?’ he’s like, ‘You can do it.’ He’s like, put the qualifying time on your refrigerator and look at it and do it. And I did and was like, ’Alright, I’m going to do this. I can do this.’ And so it was, I mean, that first one, it wasn’t the Eau Claire Marathon that I qualified at, but it was Whistlestop. Anyway, but yeah, that’s how it was, just very much like having that time goal and having someone else believe in me that said — yeah, you can do this. I never thought of myself as a Boston qualifier. I still kind of like, I’m not — I’m like, well, yeah kind of, I mean, but it’s whatever, imposter syndrome, I guess — like I do belong there, I guess.

ADAMS: What was it like running your first Boston marathon? What were your feelings around that? Like, especially afterwards, and then I guess, what are your attitudes now?

LEE: Okay, got it. This is good. You’re going to get more information than you probably want, but that’s okay, it’s editable. So my first Boston, that was kind of the — the kicker is that I qualified in 2013 and then I got pregnant, which was, I mean, so that was the, at the point, the Whistlestop Marathon in October. And so I qualified for the 2015 Boston. So this kind of like, almost a year and a half in there, but I was determined that even though my baby was due in January before Boston. I signed up because the registration period is in September for April. So I was very pregnant in September. I’m like, I’m going to do this three months after giving birth and I ran my first Boston marathon. So my feelings when I was approaching were like, ’This was the worst idea ever.’ I mean, yes and no. Like I did it again. I’m goal-oriented and I was like, I’m going to do this. I mean, I was just grateful that I even made it. They’re grateful that I am. I have pictures holding my baby afterwards. Like, ’Yes, your mom did this,’ like sort of a role model. And it was, and my family was all there. So I’m from out east, I’m from Maine. And so my mom and my sisters and my dad, my aunt, like, they were just — it was also a big family event. And they all went to the Red Sox game. Cause that always goes on. The first day is the opening day usually. And then I just remember I was in so much pain because there’s no — I mean, I couldn’t train a good training schedule, I was in so much pain and then coming around there right outside of Fenway, which is right near the end. And I just saw them all there and it was just, it was awesome. And just finishing and then, then all of a sudden, right, afterwards having to be a mom again — like, oh my gosh, there’s no break. I’ve got to take care of my baby. Then not being able to walk for like two days, like I totally trashed my legs. I had to be scooted down by my friends where we were staying, down his staircase, I couldn’t physically bend my legs. I struggled trying to get on the plane. It was awful. It was awful, but I did it. I will never do that again. I mean, I’m never having another kid again anyway, so yeah, that was my first Boston. And then I vowed after that, I want to have a different experience than that. Like that was very unique and the weather was crappy that day too. It was cold and rainy. But I really wanted to try again. So I did, I qualified again, and this was at Eau Claire in 2017. 

LEE: I ran the Eau Claire marathon and I qualified then and it was very different. I was much stronger than, and that Boston, the 2018 Boston. Also horrible weather, like the worst weather I think they’ve ever had with it, snowed the night before and 40-mile an hour headwinds. It was awful. The roads were flooded. People got hypothermia. That was a little, I mean, it was just like the elite (runners) couldn’t (compete) it was, I mean, I just ran with it. I was so grateful to be there. Like you always run grateful because you run for the people who can’t run. You run for family members who aren’t alive anymore. So you’re always grateful but it sucks. It just really sucked. So this year, the only thing I want is decent (weather) and by decent, I mean not-driving rain and not-headwinds. You know, mother nature has control of that. I will say I’ll run in anything. And I mean, it’s the nice part about living here is you train all through the winter, so it’s like, ’Hey, at least it’s not negative 20 (degrees),’ because — I don’t know, I don’t even own a treadmill. I do all my runs outside. Anyway, like I said, I talk too much. 

ADAMS: This is perfect. I love interviews like this. Can you talk about — I guess, so you’ve been running in the Eau Claire area since before the Eau Claire Marathon kind of started a new version. 

LEE: Yes, yes. Correct. 

ADAMS: Would you say that Eau Claire has a really strong running community? Because I kind of get that. 

LEE: Awesome, yes um, yeah. 

ADAMS: So I guess my question is with the, I guess new Eau Claire Marathon and the running community, how much has that helped with continuing your passion for running?

LEE: For sure like, and I don’t even say particularly through COVID. Like that’s what’s kept me and a lot of other people sane, running was something we could do outside and wasn’t a risk in a way. I felt like COVID was, (and) is bad, but I had a big chunk of my life that I could still do, a big part of my identity that I was still doing. Even though there weren’t races necessarily, there was still — people were still running. Yeah. And that was — and the community like, it’s like, you just, it’s so easy to, well, easy. Yeah. It’s really easy to convince other people to do something. So for this year’s Eau Claire Marathon, I’m not doing the full (marathon) because I’m going to do a full (marathon) in four days. I’m doing the relay but just one of my running friends — she’s actually, she’s running Boston this year, too. Molly Barnes. I don’t know if — I don’t think she qualified at the Eau Claire Marathon though. She qualified at Twin Cities anyway, but she was like, ‘Hey, do you wanna do the relay?’ And I hadn’t even really thought about it. I’m like, okay, sure. Like, it’s sort of like we feed on each other. Like, well, I’m doing it and let’s do it together. And there’s definitely that comradery of like, it’s way more fun when you have a friend doing it too. Or ‘Yeah, sure. I’ll go with you,’ or whatever. So yeah, it’s great. There’s just so much support and energy around running. It’s just such — I mean, the trails, it’s just there’s paved trails. I do a lot of trail running too, so there’s our dirt paths as well. So it’s just, it’s fantastic

ADAMS: Can you talk about the Eau Claire Marathon too, and how beneficial that marathon and the course and the people who run it, how beneficial it is towards qualifying the Boston marathon?

LEE: Sure. I mean — I’m going to be, I don’t know that the course is super beneficial for qualifying. It’s not what you call an easy Boston qualifier course. I mean, that’s just how it is. I mean, the course is really cool because it goes through — you’re going on the bridges going through town. You’re going out by the airport. You got a little bit of dirt in there and the wells. So it’s a varied course, but it’s not — I don’t mean any disrespect or merits at all. I mean, I love what they’ve done with the whole thing. It’s just amazing. It’s such an energetic, wonderful day, but the course itself isn’t one like — yeah, that’s the one I’m going to do. Just to qualify for Boston, like if I’m really pushing, if I’m really concerned about my time, I’m going to do one that’s a little bit flatter. I just happened to think like in September, well — and now that I have kids — it’s like, this is the one that’s closer. So I’m going to do this one. That’s part of it too. I had it in my mind to do it. So I did and it’s kind of the local one. But yeah, the amount of energy they’ve gotten, like their Facebook and publicity is great with like, well, they’ve just — linking that with the Boston and Eau Claire Marathon — but it is a hilly course, so I haven’t run my PR here in Eau Claire. What was great though after a couple of days after they posted the list of the people who qualified for Boston at Eau Claire, so I think there’s a lot more push for that to get that. I’m not saying they should change the course at all. I mean, it’s cool how it is. It’s just also, there should be an understanding then it’s what, how does someone tell me it’s a fair course? Like, it’s a fair, I mean, there’s hills and there’s downhills. So I don’t know if it equals out. 

ADAMS: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about?

LEE: I really like the energy. I like what Eau Claire did through COVID too, it kept it relevant, kept them new. I mean, they had some different events to keep people active and energized and kind of like, ‘Okay, we’re going to come back. We’re going to come back.’ Like the bridge. I loved it, I did bridge to bridge last May and that was a really cool event. Just creative too, like, ‘Okay, we’re going to have a run at night.’ I think that’s really neat. And what they’ve done to, I don’t want to say a pillar, but it’s just such an institution within the community. It’s not — I mean, it’s the Eau Claire Marathon and I think in the marathon and the running community, I’ve been outside of Eau Claire and it’s become prestigious. 

LEE: It’s when people want to run because of the crowd support and it’s beautiful. It’s a very scenic course but it’s challenging and it’s fun that it’s at home. I can sleep in my own bed, I guess it’s one of those, like if I always have to do something, whether it’s the half or the full because it’s sort of like, well, the whole city comes out for it and that’s really cool where it feels like the whole city. I mean, I’m sure they don’t, but it’s just it feels like that. And there’s nothing like when you’re running that distance and you actually see people, you know, cheering you on and it’s like, ‘Oh yeah.’ I mean, there’s going to be 500,000 spectators at Boston and no one’s going to — I mean, maybe my daughter’s going and my friends will be there but no one else is gonna know who I am. She wouldn’t even be able to see me. There’s just so many people. So that’s what I like about it too. It’s still, particularly the marathon, the half is bigger, but the marathon, it’s not a huge field. I mean, I run Boston for Boston, not because I love giant marathons. It’s the iconic running event in the United States and maybe even the world. I like sort of mid-sized — like, you still have people to catch, but it’s not like a sea of people and, you can interact with (them), I don’t know — the crowd support is, people can find you on the course, I guess. It’s more personal, I think, and it’s really nice. I think that’s such a great job and so supportive of other events too. Yeah, it’s great. They’re great. I love their shirts. Best shirt, ever, they’re soft.

ADAMS: All right. Well, thank you so much. OUTRO: The Eau Claire Marathon puts on both a spring and fall marathon weekend that includes a whole weekend of racing events from a 5K, 10K, half marathon and the full marathon. For more information, you can find them at or on their Facebook page. For Inside Eau Claire, this has been Elliot Adams with Catherine Lee.

Adams can be reached at [email protected]