Smile Politely

Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend is about more than running

After more than 1,090 days since the last Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend, the return of race weekend was a cause for celebration for many. Race weekend is more than street closures and runners breaking personal records, it’s also about the throngs of volunteers and enthusiastic supporters that line the streets directing the routes, handing out water and electrolytes, cheering loudly to give a critical morale boost and creating a festive atmosphere. Race weekend is also about local businesses who support the event by participating in the Expo, giving discounts to race attendees, or offering refreshing beer at the Mile 14th Mile Celebrate Victory Bash.

As amazing as the 2022 race weekend was, there was something critical missing from the triumphant return — the signature event, the marathon. This was not an easy decision for race director Jan Seely, who attributed the cancellation primarily to a shortage of available public safety officers and ongoing impacts from the pandemic. It was also not a popular decision with many of the 1,430 people who had signed up to run in the marathon.

In response to the announcement of the cancellation of the marathon on the Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend Facebook page, many of the commenters expressed frustration and confusion as to why the marathon couldn’t be held by simply having competitors run the half marathon route twice. Despite being offered refunds or the option to convert their registration to the half marathon, the disappointment was understandable, as the flatness of this course makes it a popular choice for those trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

As a result of the cancellation, fewer out-of-town folks elected to make the trip to Champaign-Urbana, meaning diminished profits for area hotels and restaurants. The extent of the economic impact of reducing the race is unreported. However, according to a recent article from the News-Gazette, the estimated annual economic impact of race weekend is $7M. 

For those hoping this marathon cancellation was just a blip on the radar, it seems likely that there won’t be a marathon next year, either. In the 2022 Official Race Guide, there is an announcement for the 2023 marathon weekend: the races listed are the half marathon, marathon relay, 10K, 5K, youth run, mile, and six I-Challenge options. Registration will open in June.

A graphic map of the route for the Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend half marathon. Photo from the Christie Clinic Illinois Race weekend website.

Photo from the Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend website.

Obviously, this is a major disappointment and will likely continue to limit participation in the event. This year, some of the marathon runners may have chosen to keep their registration and just run the half marathon. It’s less likely that serious runners would plan to travel from far away for a half marathon moving forward. This will have a significant economic impact on our community. 

We understand that the on-going staffing shortages in both Champaign and Urbana police departments make it impossible to get the public safety staffing required to run such a large event. We reached out to Jan Seely, Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend Director, for her comments about the plan for next year’s event. She said:

We will begin meeting with city officials about 2023 as soon as we wrap up the gargantuan post race tasks we have in front of us. We would love to get our original half marathon route back for 2023, with an eye to also discussing whether we could do a double loop of that route so we can offer the full marathon in 2023 as well, with some very strict cut-off times, so we don’t close down Urbana for hours and hours. We showed this year that a smaller race footprint is securable, and that we can overcome shortages in available local law enforcement staff by sourcing from other agencies.

We also asked her what it would take to bring back the marathon distance race and she said:

Our community would need to continue its recovery from the pandemic and the impact it had on law enforcement and first responder staffing. For us to have a longer event than just the half marathon, we’d need the support and blessing of City leaders. They would need to feel confident that we could execute the event and not put the Cities at  peril during the time needed for the event because of the resources required to secure the event.

In the face of the gun violence epidemic and housing crises, we realize that holding a marathon seems like a trivial matter, but this event is a cultural and economic high point in our community. For many local runners it kicks off the spring and summer racing season, and for casual runners and volunteers it brings a celebratory atmosphere to our town. We hope that one day we bring it back to its former glory. 

The Editorial Board is Jessica Hammie, Julie McClure, Patrick Singer, and Mara Thacker.

Top image from the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon Facebook page. 

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