The first annual Illinois Marathon will be held this Saturday, April 11, and will start south of the Assembly Hall in the Research Park. It will meander through both Urbana and Champaign before finishing on Memorial Stadium’s 50-yard line. The race features several separate races: the 26.2-mile full marathon, the 13.1-mile half-marathon, a marathon relay, a 5K, and a 1K youth run. The marathon is certified as a Boston Marathon Qualifier. Over 9,500 runners are registered to run on Saturday.
My entire family and I will be running on Saturday. My wife Holly and I will be running the half-marathon, and our daughters Kaylee, 7, and Mary, 4, will run the 1K youth run. This event, which is advertised as flat, fast, and cool, will be the first marathon, half, or 5K for many local racers. The weather is supposed to be sunny with a high of 54 degrees on Saturday, making conditions perfect for a marathon.
Marathons like the Illinois Marathon have been growing in popularity and are considered important economic events in many cities. Many marathons have limits on participants, and the Illinois Marathon has filled all spots in all races except for the youth run. Racers are registered from all over the nation, including: North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Wyoming, Colorado, Oklahoma, Virginia, Indiana, Wisconsin, Idaho, Missouri, Iowa, New York, Ohio, Georgia, Kansas, Maryland, New Jersey, Kentucky, Alabama, Nebraska, California, Texas, Minnesota, Tennessee, Florida, Arizona, New Hampshire, and Michigan, among others, as well as from Ontario and Quebec in Canada.
Weekend marathon events will start with the Illinois Marathon Health & Fitness Expo on Friday, April 10. The expo will take place at the University of Illinois Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) and features national and local vendors, as well as national organizations and prominent running events. There will be a pasta feed and speakers such as running legend Dick Beardsley and Bart Yasso, the chief running officer at Runner’s World magazine. My wife and I were totally hooked on trying to run one of these after visiting an expo at last year’s Music City Marathon in Nashville, Tenn., and I suggest that if you have the opportunity to stop at the expo, it is worth the trip.
The course on Saturday will have entertainment including music at many parts of the marathon, and for folks wanting to view the race, viewing information can be found here and the course map can be found here.
The marathon has not been without controversy. The biggest problem was the initial lack of volunteers that are needed to put on such an event. According to reports in the News-Gazette, as of mid-March, the event was almost cancelled as the required number of volunteers had not signed up. Local authorities gave a two week notice that unless the volunteers could be found, they would rescind the special event permits. Fortunately for C-U, the volunteers responded, and the event will go on.
Traffic will also be a problem for the parts of Champaign and Urbana affected by the race. According to a press release by the City of Champaign, the marathon will close portions of the streets in town completely or will have traffic crossing the route at the direction of law enforcement or traffic control volunteers. Residents of both cities should expect delays and are advised to avoid the marathon area if they are not participating or observing the race.
One Champaign Park District event is bucking the trend to avoid traffic congestion. The annual Eggstravaganza Egg Hunt will be held at West Side Park, which the marathon will go past. Laura Auteberry, park district marketing & development director, said, “This definitely presents some challenges for all involved, but our staff has been working diligently with the marathon committee to ensure a smooth process for both events.” Eggstravaganza parking directions have been added to the Champaign Park District website.
Urbana’s Meadowbrook Park is hosting part of the half and full marathon. Some runners are concerned, as was brought up at the Second Wind Running Club’s Fun Run pizza party on Tuesday night. The marathon will be taking up the entire width of the road during the event, but when the race starts its run through the park, the route will narrow to a path roughly a couple of sidewalks wide, which could become crowded. For much of the first 11 miles of the course, the marathon and half marathon are run together, including those between the five and six mile mark in Meadowbrook Park.
After the event, runners will enjoy food, music, and live video of the finishers in the Memorial Stadium West Great Hall. Food for the finishers will include (but is not limited to) bananas, bagels, cookies, something warm, and plenty of water and sports drinks.
The concession stands will be open for the general public, and runners who dropped off warm-up gear will be able to pick it up as well.