It is becoming old hat to write glowing reviews of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. With slight changes to the races this year and nearly ideal, but not perfect, running conditions, the 4th annual event was a resounding success.

The Good

The Bling – The medals this year are sweet. Orange and blue, and occasionally white with a circle around them, the 5k, marathon relay, half marathon, marathon, and I Challenge (both for half and full marathon) were well earned and worth the effort. Admittedly, 20,000+ medals are environmentally insensitive, but damn … they look good on you the day of the race. It appears that the race organizers adjusted the lengths of the ribbons based on the distance and difficulty of the race. The 5k is the shortest, the I Challenge Marathon the longest. OK, only a dork like me would notice that.

Race Volunteers – With the weather the way it was on Saturday, who would have blamed anyone for staying in bed and skipping out on volunteering in the cold, windy, and damp conditions. The volunteers were there early, excited to be helping out, and enthusiastic out on the course. I don’t know who that guy was at mile 5.5, but he wins the award for most excited each year! This race cannot happen without the help of the community, and you the community came out and made a cloudy day sunny! THANK YOU!

Area Police – Thank you for keeping the streets clear and bringing the hammer down when it needed to be brought.

5k Changes – There were a couple of small changes to the 5k this year that made it great. The start was moved from First Street to Oak Street. The narrower road gave the race a more intimate feel without the crowding. I’m not sure what it was like in the slower groups, but near the front of the pack, it had all the feel of a local race, and that was awesome. The audio, which last year was impossible to hear because of its placement with respect to the starting line, was clear as could be. Problem solved. The only hitch was in the start. The race was delayed a few minutes by a car on the course. The Friday night race is great for another reason — the crowds. There are more students out at 7 p.m. on Friday night than at 7 a.m. Saturday morning. Their cheering was C-U’s version of the Boston Marathon’s Girls of Wellesley College.

Economic Impact – Ten million was the economic impact figure from last year. My wife and I were talking after the race on whether that number includes post-race parties. For example, how many of us runners hosted gatherings afterwards, purchasing food and beverages, Custard Cup pies, etc. to feed very hungry runners Saturday night? That $10 million figure could be even higher this year!

The Bad

The Weather – Each year there is a collective bandwidth increase from the C-U area visiting weather websites the morning of the race. Saturday was no different. The threat of rain early in the day, the low temps in the 40s, and highs only in the 50s made for nervous runners unsure what to wear for the race. Do you wear shorts? Capri pants? Tights? Gloves, no gloves? What about a hat? I know this might seem a vain fashion problem to the non-runner, but anyone having to choose shorts over running tights before a 13.1 mile race knows it’s all about comfort. You can’t really take off tights mid-race. You’ve got to make the right decision from the start.

The wind was also a factor. Early in the half marathon, the wind was not as big a problem as last year. It seemed to pick up as the day went on, so that those finishing the full marathon around the four-hour mark experienced stiff winds from the south and east. As a result, as soon as you finished running, you were cold … immediately. At times, the race ran out of Mylar plastic blankets that runners wear post-race. Two years ago, it was in the mid-70s and humid. This year, mid-40s to 50s is a big difference.

The Ugly

Cranky Drivers – Even in its fourth year, people just don’t seem to get that there’s a marathon in town. Cranky drivers yelling at course volunteers. Courageous course volunteers standing in front of cars preventing them from driving into runners like that Chinese man who stared down a tank in 1989’s Tiananmen Square crackdown. Do we live such sheltered lives that we either don’t know the marathon is coming or, more likely, don’t care? One spectator told me that every year her neighbor pulls his car out of his driveway into runners on race day. It’s almost like he’s doing it on purpose, she said.

Drive if You’ve Been Told to Drive – Along the same lines, if the police tell you it’s clear to cross the path of a runner, give the car some gas and get through the intersection quickly. Don’t hesitate. One marathoner told me of one car who hesitated while he was running through the intersection on Mattis. Instead, the driver hesitated forcing the runner to have to pause. The last thing a runner wants to do is change his gait after 23 miles, or even stop in this case. He cramped up and was nearly hit by the car when the driver decided to try and make it. Had the driver gone when the police told him to, everything would have been fine.

Bloody Nipples – Like the cranky driver, the marathon brings out the guys with hemorrhaging nipples! Dudes! Stop off at an aid station somewhere. They’ve got to have two bandages they can spare if you forget yours before it’s too late. Keep your nipples happy!

This year saw another great event, showcasing Champaign and Urbana, the University, and the great community we have. There were thousands of spectators along the course cheering us on. Thank you! Let’s give you a big sweaty hug!


All photos of marathon by Travis McDade.