Illinois Marathon and I-Challenge

“Disclaimer: I received free entry to the Illinois Marathon I-Challenge race as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out to review find and write race reviews!”

The Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon was held on April 27, 2018 in Champaign/Urbana. Before we jump right into the marathon let’s talk about all the race weekend activities that make this a MUST DO race!

In my quest to run a race in every state, I decided to make the Illinois Marathon my first race in the state of Illinois. What better than having the opportunity to visit a Big Ten university campus at the same time. I would be participating in the I-Challenge so will be reviewing both the Marathon and 5k race as part of my sponsorship as a BibRavePro.

Pricing for the races are very reasonably priced, and similar to most other races. The sooner you register the more dollars you will save. Prices started at $85 and increased to $115 and were well worth it with the amount of swag and activities that were included. One area I would like to draw attention to was the communication received. The communication was by far the best I’ve experienced from any race! The engagement from both the social media aspect and the weekly email newsletter was off the charts! I’m not taking about weekly useless knowledge, but the information to keep you super pumped up until race day!

Race weekend started on the Thursday April 26th before the race kicking off with the expo that was help in the ARC (Activities and Recreation Center). Parking was free, plentiful and extremely close to all important locations for the race events. The expo finished up on Friday evening, the day that I arrived. Packet pick up was very simple. You were emailed a unique QR code, that you provided to one of the numerous volunteers who then handed your Bib and drawstring bag. No ID needed and you could pick up for friends as long as you had their QR code. After that you were directed to the expo by foam finger wearing energized volunteer to pick up your race swag (long sleeve tech shirt for the marathon and a short sleeve for the 5k). (Energized will be a theme/phrase for the volunteers). The expo was decent sized providing several local area races, various vendors, multiple photo opportunities and a place to purchase race gear/necessities. The expo was very easy to navigate. After checking out the expo I headed over to BibRave meet up where I had the opportunity to meet some new BibRave Pro’s (Tim, Jessica, Connie, Ben, and Amy) and see familiar faces (Andy, Ang, and Josh). We chatted about our goals for the race and other various topics. It is also good to have the chance to meet people that we interact with on a daily basis on social media. On Friday evening there was a pasta feed also held in the ARC offering salad, meat or vegetable lasagna, breadsticks and various cookie desserts. They also offered a Gluten Free option. A nice way to consume that last carb loading meal and chat with other runners. I did just that, then prepped for my 5k race. All in all a decent expo!

Race logistic such as lodging was extremely easy as the race website provided a helpful spreadsheet of hotel partners. Details provided were the phone number, address, distance from start line. This made choosing a hotel much easier. My hotel was about 5 miles away and just a short drive from the all the race activities. Parking was abundant and clearly marked making for no issues come race day.

The 5k race took place on Friday at 7:30 pm with the start line only being about 3/4 of a mile from the expo. By the time I arrived the corrals were starting to fill up. The energy was high amongst the folks running the 5k. The national anthem was sung by a member of the glee club which was pretty awesome. After that race director Jan kicked off the race. The pace was fast at the start, as is the case with most 5k’s. My goal was to have an easy shakeout run in prep of tomorrow’s marathon. However with that being said my first mile clocked in at 6:44, a little faster than i intended. The course takes you through the campus area and down Green St, which houses several bar’s and restaurants. The spectators were out in full force, as it was a Friday night, providing a great atmosphere to run in. I dialed my pace back a bit from that first mile and logged a 6:53 second mile. For the final mile you headed back towards Memorial Stadium for a 50yd line finish. A great experience for both runners and spectators. As you entered the stadium you could see a live feed of yourself finishing which was pretty cool. Off to my right I noticed Ang & Josh cheering me on so I decided to kick it up a notch and sprinted towards the finish. I crossed the finish line in 21:43. Overall a good run and no PR’s, but exactly what I planned for this run. I met up with Ang & Josh and watched some more runners finish then headed up for post race food, consisting of banana’s, chips, and water. Just outside the stadium there was a post race party with a live band. I stopped for a few minutes and took the opportunity to FaceTime my wife and daughter, then headed back to the hotel to get some rest for the big race tomorrow.

Race morning kicked off on Saturday April 27, 2019 at 7:03 am. The chance of bad weather was evident and the race directors and media provided updates as needed. I was staying about 5 miles away and had no issues parking within a half mile of the start and finish lines. I have to say this was the latest I’ve ever arrived for a race. I strolled over to grab a bagel and cup of coffee then headed towards the corrals at the start line. I made a quick stop to use the portable bathrooms, which there were several, and was surprised to see the lines moving fast. The corrals were divided up by expected finishing time. While there were volunteers at the entrance I didn’t see that they were strictly verifying corral placement. I quickly looked around to see if i could locate any of the BibRave Pro’s running, but unfortunately I could not. I entered my corral a few minutes before the National Anthem was played. A few good lucks were passed to other runners and the gun went off for the wheelchair division. My goal for this race was to stick with the 3:40 pace group, which was a goal A plan. My training for the marathon suffered during the month of March and I can honestly say I did not run more than 15 miles in a single run. Not a good plan, but i felt i had several quality runs so gave it a go. The start line sidewalks were packed with spectators cheering the runners on. The first four miles were through the downtown campus area. My pacing was the best it has ever been to start off a marathon. We then into the neighborhoods where the spectators began to thin out. I noticed signage that was placed by the race along the course with interesting facts about the school, health, fitness, etc which allowed me to focus on something other than running. Around mile 6 we headed off through Prairie Park. Through this stretch we were running on a bike path causing for a bit of congestion with the number of runners. I still felt good physically as we exited the park. There were more than enough hydration areas offering both Gatorade (Lemon Lime) and water. The volunteers were vocal about which was contained in each of the cups. I also noticed there were several, more than I usually noticed, GU gel stops providing various flavors. We continued through the various neighborhoods with several homeowners and spectators out cheering us on. There were a lot of turns and crossing of streets, however all intersections were monitored by volunteers, and police officers were placed appropriately. I also noticed there were shelters in place in case of bad weather. I saw a bunch of signs pointing to them.

The half and marathon runners were together through the first 12 miles, which at that time we split off. As i crossed the halfway mark, I checked my watch and found i was right on track from a pace perspective at 1:50:13. It was here that the number of runners thinned out and my pace group went from 20, to about 5. I chatted with the pacer for a bit about various races and BibRave to pass the time. This section of the course wasn’t very scenic, but that didn’t really bother me much as I focus so much on my running. It was around mile 17 that I noticed the wind starting picking up and the rain clouds started rolling in. I did not want to get caught out in the rain. I also felt my body start to fatigue with my left calf starting to tighten up. I stuck with the 3:40 pace group up until around mile 19 then drifted back a bit. Goal A just had been lost and it was the struggle bus for the next 6 miles.

I continued to push along struggling to keep the thoughts of just walk for a few minutes out of my mind. We all know that once you start to walk, your body craves the walking. My pace dropped considerably and I was running upper 9 to lower 10 min miles. I continued to make sure I was hydrating with electrolytes and energy gels to keep my body moving. My wife from miles away continued to provide me with motivation to keep going which was a life saver. I’m not going to lie those last miles consisted of selecting a landmark and running to it, repeating that process over and over. Finally we exited the neighborhood and back on to the campus where I caught a glimpse of Memorial Stadium and that finish line. The end was near!!! I rounded a corner towards the end where I saw Tim, Jessica and Andy from BibRave cheering me on. They definitely provided me with the energy for that final push to pick up the pace and meet my Goal B of finishing under 4 hours. I entered the stadium and once again quickly transitioned into a sprint, amongst the pain, and crossed the finish line at 3:57:45. I was disappointed but pleased with my finish based on my training and the the nag in my calf muscle. Connie, another BibRave Pro and on the Illinois Marathon Race Staff, came up and gave me a high five. Always good seeing familiar faces at the finish line. I grabbed my heat shield and race medals (Marathon and I-Challenge) and sat down in the end zone. Another Wolverine finding his way into the end zone in Memorial Stadium, I kid. 😁 Next was the climb up the steps, which is probably the worst thing about stadium finishes to where the post race food was handed out. Talk about a spread consisting of pizza, chips, bananas, pasta and rolls, amongst various other items. I did not stop at the post race party as the rain was beginning and the temperature started dropping. From there it was quickly back to the hotel for a shower and change. Prior to heading him I headed to Murphys Bar to have lunch with team BibRave then departed for my six hour drive.

All in all I was pleased with my performance at the Illinois Marathon. It wasn’t the PR I was looking for me, but I learned if I stick to the race plan I can achieve those goals. I just need to have a complete training cycle without injury or interruptions from work and life. The organization of the Illinois Marathon by far set this race apart from other marathons. Congrats to the team for putting on a great show!!!

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