Smile Politely

Season Starter: Earth, Wind, & Fire 5k

The fourth running of the Earth, Wind, & Fire 5k and 2.5k Walk will open the local racing season on the UI campus on March 12th at 9:00 a.m. at the Natural Resources Building (615 E. Peabody, Champaign). Undoubtedly, there are other early races in the season, but EW&F is an opportunity to get an early sense of how your training is going.

I contacted a member of the race committee, Donald Luman, to get the scoop on the history of the race, where the idea for the kick-butt age group awards came from, and why this race is such a great season starter.

The race benefits the 2011 Naturally Illinois Expo. What is the Expo all about?

Don: The Expo first began in 2005 as part of the year-long centennial celebration for our Illinois State Geological Survey. In 2008, the State Geological Survey, Natural History Survey, State Water Survey, State Archeological Survey, and Sustainable Technology Center were combined to create the University of Illinois Institute of Natural Resource Sustainability. Since then, the Expo provides an opportunity for the public to see and experience the varied science conducted by these five Institute divisions.

The race gives out casts of real fossils as age group awards. Where did the idea come from?

Don: The majority of running events present medals for the overall and age group awards. We decided instead to create awards that uniquely represent an aspect of the Illinois State Geological Survey, and fossils seem to always capture the public’s imagination. Dr. Dennis Kolata, an ISGS Paleontologist, selects museum-quality examples from the ISGS fossil collections, creates professional molds and hand casts, and finishes each fossil replica. They have been a real hit with the race participants, and many return each year to try for a new fossil.

Where did the idea for the race come from?

Don: A few of us at the ISGS who regularly participate in area running events thought the addition of a run/walk event would provide an interesting feature to complement the 50+ science exhibits at the annual two-day Expo. The four ISGS staff who organize the Earth, Wind, and Fire Run/Walk includes Jane Domier, Bill Dey, Melony Barrett, and myself.

How many runners on average participate?

Don: The Earth, Wind, and Fire Run/Walk averages 180 to nearly 200 runners/walkers each year, and the participants range from 10 to 75 years old. 2011 is the fourth year for our event, and we hope to break the 200+ mark. Held on March 12th this year, it continues to be the area’s earliest 5K race, and it is a great way to get outdoors and start the running season.

What can runners expect this year? Are there any differences from previous years?

Don: Good fun, good food, door prizes, and of course the opportunity to take home one of the nearly 50 fossil awards. The participants will also be serenaded during the race by the U of I Sarah McFarland Carillon, which is situated inside the course. The Expo exhibits, which are more and varied this year, will open up earlier on Saturday for the enjoyment of the race participants. There is still plenty of time to register for the Run/Walk, so visit the Earth, Wind, and Fire web site at for all of the details.

More Articles