illinois marathon.jpg

This past Saturday, Smile Politely was well represented at the Country Music Marathon in Nashville. Okay, maybe well represented isn’t exactly fair to say, but at least there were two of us there: your humble author and SP Editor-in-Chief Chris “I run through ridiculous levels of pain” Maier were among the estimated 35,000 participants clogging the streets of Nashville.

While I was running, I started to think about how great it was to see a city I knew almost nothing about — other than glimpses from Robert Altman’s epic film Nashville — by running 13.1 miles through it (we were actually running the half marathon). It’s kind of surreal to see a place’s landmarks for the first time while groaning and gasping and struggling through a race.

Yet Nashville’s marathon is one of the most popular in the country — and this has to do with more than just buildings, landmarks and parks. The whole community comes out for the race: stages are set up to show off Nashville’s musical talent, cheerleading squads from local schools come out to support the runners and volunteers of all ages and walks of life come to hand out water and sports drinks, and to show that Nashville’s residents are, true to reputation, filled with Southern hospitality.

The next day, recovering at home, my legs still aching from the hills, I started thinking: What would happen if Champaign-Urbana had a marathon to show off the talent, hospitality and beauty of our community? A quick internet search revealed the following website: www.illinoismarathon.com.

It turns out that, had I been paying attention, I would have known that Mark Knutson, of CasMar Events in Fargo, North Dakota, had been planning the inaugural Illinois Marathon since last June.

Champaign-Urbana’s 2009 Illinois Marathon, scheduled for April 25, 2009, with registration beginning on June 1, is a reality. Knutson is expecting between 5,000 and 10,000 participants the first year and by year five, he imagines the race could host as many as 20,000 runners. “This means a lot of visitors coming to the area and an opportunity for our community, like Nashville and countless other cities across the United States and the globe, to show off our talent and hospitality,” Knutson says. He sees the Illinois Marathon as a “community-wide celebration.”

While the exact course has not been determined, the plan is to, in Knutson’s words, “expose as many areas of the cities as possible during the race.” The length of the course would allow runners to pass through “the University, parks, downtown areas, residential areas and finish on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium.”

Knutson sees Champaign-Urbana as the “ideal community for a marathon. It can be a big headache planning races in big cities like Indianapolis or Chicago, but the Illinois Marathon will be a world-class event in a community setting, with reasonable prices, fun and every amenity of a big city.”

Knutson is actively seeking local talent to entertain the runners along the course. If we can get our many local musicians to wake up early on a Saturday morning (or come straight from their Friday night gigs), then we have a chance to show out-of-towners that there’s more here than just agriculture and Big Ten sports.

post race.JPG

Chris Maier and Adam Scott after the Country Music 1/2 Marathon on Saturday.

Funny enough, the Illinois Marathon’s strong point will be the flatness of the course. This will allow runners to have fast times and increase their chances for qualifying for the prestigious Boston Marathon.

For those less interested in impressive times, there will be a post-race tailgating party, which Knutson doubts will feature beer, but should have brats. (Personally, I’m not sure how bratwurst will taste with energy drinks and carb-packed energy gels, but knowing you’ve just finished a terrific race will no doubt make the combination that much better.)

The success of the Illinois Marathon largely rests on the shoulders of the community. The more people come out, from school kids to musicians to regular old folks just wanting to support runners as they push themselves to incredible physical limits, the more likely it is that the Illinois Marathon will become an institution, bringing thousands of visitors to town for years to come.

Those interested in volunteering or performing as entertainment should e-mail Mark Knutson at volunteers@Illinoismarathon.com.