Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Illinois Marathon - 4/11/09

Very few inaugural races are pulled off without problems. The Illinois Marathon was no exception. Vicki Sue (FL) e-mailed an article to me a few weeks ago about the possible cancellation of this race. Apparently, the cities of Champaign and Urbana did not feel that the race organizers had secured enough volunteers to man the course at the various road intersections along the race route. For everyone's safety, if the race organizers did not get the needed volunteers, the race would be cancelled. Well . . . kudos to the Champaign and Urbana communities! They came out in full force. I was told at the race expo that after the article came out, the race organizers had over 200 additional people from the community sign up to volunteer. That's an incredible show of support! These races are good for the community, and the community is obviously very aware of that fact.

Vicki Sue drove from FL and spent Thursday night at my house. We then rode up together on Friday to Champaign, about a 6.5-hour drive. Vicki Sue and I met a few years ago at the Berryman 50 Mile, and we've done several races together ever since then. She is a speedy race walker, an accomplished Ironman, and a fun person to be around. I had offered to drive my car, but she insisted that we take her SUV, and then when I offered to drive her SUV, she insisted on doing all of the driving. Therefore, it was a relaxing weekend for me, even though I felt like a bum, lol! I'll have to make this up to her some how, lol.

It rained cats and dogs on our way up to IL, but Vicki Sue took it all in stride. By the time we arrived in Champaign, the rain had cleared. It was cold and windy for the remainder of the weekend, but at least it was dry. We checked into the hotel and then proceeded to the expo to pick up our race packets. Judy (MN), a friend of Vicki Sue's, was driving to Champaign also but had not yet arrived. So, Vicki Sue picked up her packet as well, and then we headed to the fire house for our "alternative pasta party."

Vicki Sue knew Kathy (IL) and Sean (IL) from the Disney Marathon. Sean is a fireman and an excellent cook, as we later found out. Being vegetarian, I am always a little leery of attending private dinners. I don't want anyone to go out of their way just for me, but Sean had taken care of my concern. He prepared the pasta sauce without meat and had grilled chicken to add to the pasta for those who wanted it. So everything worked out well. Judy made it in from MN, and two other fireman that were on duty at the fire house that night, Randy and Mark, joined us. With good food and good company, it turned out to be a great evening.

After dinner, Vicki Sue, Judy, and I headed back to the hotel. We would see Kathy at the race in the morning, and Sean would be volunteering at the finish line.

Everybody has a "race fear," and parking is Vicki Sue's "race fear." However, there was plenty of parking on the University of Illinois campus, close to the start and finish areas. We arrived in plenty of time to calm down and proceed to the porta potties. Unfortunately, the porta potty doors were facing the start corrals, so the start area was congested, to put it mildly. I'm sure enough runners have commented about this slight problem, so I already know that the race organizers will fix this for next year.

It was cool at the start, but the sun was out - a perfect day for a marathon. There were about 2,000 marathoners, along with several relay marathoners, half-marathoners, and 5K'ers, so I'm not sure how many total runners were there. They announced at the start that 42 states were represented. So, this first year event already had a huge following.

The course is flat, running through the University of Illinois campus, a park, and several neighborhoods. Not only were there volunteers everywhere along the course, but there were probably just as many spectators as there were runners and volunteers. Incredible community support!

Another small problem for the race was the 20-ounce plastic bottles of water that were handed out along the course. I had been told that the local Emergency Management Agency had donated the water because of the June expiration date on the bottles. It was a nice gesture, but no one is going to consume a 20-ounce bottle of water every other mile. Runners were sipping what they needed and tossing the remainder to the ground. It was a waste. But as Sean pointed out at the finish, if they hadn't used the bottles of water, they would have been thrown in the trash any way because of the expiration date. There were small cups for the Gatorade, and I'm not sure why extra cups were not purchased for the water. This is why I'm not a race director, lol!

I pretty much ran the first 18 miles or so alone. I saw Ray (WI) within the first mile or two, but we didn't stay together long enough to even get a good conversation going. Within the next two miles, Dave (CO) came flying by me. Dave has improved his marathon times significantly. I need to find out his secret! He told us at the finish that he missed his PR by 2 minutes, finishing in 4:16:30! A few miles later Lois (MI) also flew by me. I saw Phil (AL) on the out-n-back section, but he was a good 6 miles ahead of me at that time. Wow . . . all of my running buddies were doing well. Good for them! I wished that I could have kept up with them.

Around the 18 mile marker, I saw Henry (WI). He was coming out of a porta potty, so if not for that fact, I probably would not have seen him, lol. We chatted for a while, but at that point, I was still feeling good, so I went on ahead. Lo and behold, I see a lady ahead of me walking and running at a very consistent ratio. It had to be Cathy (NY), but could I catch her?

Cathy runs one minute and then walks one minute, and she continues this routine for the entire race. It sounds easy, but it wears me out, lol. In December at the Thunder Road Marathon in Charlotte, NC, it didn't seem like I would finish under the 6-hour cut-off. Cathy came along, and with her one minute run/one minute walk routine, we made it in together under the cut-off.

I finally caught up to her. "Cathy?" I asked. She turned and gave me a hug. "I'm so glad to see you; you have to help me finish. My stomach has been giving me trouble." Well, of course, I would run with her! I wanted company just as much as she did. Cathy is not very talkative and when I run with her, I try to respect that. We'll make comments here and there, but for the most part, we'll run in silence - one minute running, one minute walking, until we get to the finish.

We came upon Don (NY), whom I had just seen at Cowtown a few weeks ago. He had again taken a one hour early start but was having some back problems today. Don had a fabulous finish in 7:26:51 and is now up to 40 marathons with a heart transplant. Way to go, Don!

The finish was on the 50-yard line inside Memorial Stadium on the University of Illinois campus. Very nice! Because of the chip timing, even though Cathy and I crossed the finish line together, our finish times were a little different. However, we both finished under 6 hours once again. Cathy posted a 5:55:50, and I finish in 5:57:52. Sean was at the finish line to hang my medal around my neck. The finisher's medal is very cool!

Judy ran a new PR (4:26:34) for the marathon. Nice work, Judy! She even had enough energy at the finish line to dance and cheer in us slower runners, lol. Vicki Sue and Kathy (IL) race walked the entire marathon together, finishing in 6:28:36. Way to go, ladies!

Even though we were back-of-the-packers, there was plenty of post-race food - pizza, pasta, fruit, cookies, and 20-ounce bottles of water (of course, lol). Vicki Sue and I said our good-byes and started the long drive home. Well . . . Vicki Sue drove us home, but at least it wasn't raining, lol. What a wonderful (and relaxing) weekend!

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