If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, does it make a sound?
This weekend, I journeyed down to Champaign to participate in the USATF Illinois Masters & Open Indoor Track Championship. I had only raced once on the indoor track since college and I had never been down to Champaign before, so I was excited to lace up the spikes once again and participate.
The meet was held in The Armory at the University of Illinois. It is a beautiful, old facility with a very nice track and a great set up. Everyone there was friendly and talkative. The judges and officials wanted to make sure that we all had a good time and had the opportunity to run our best. The competitors were supportive of each other. Participants were walking around with their medals and excited to set new PRs or break their goal times. I even got to see a couple of the high schoolers I used to coach that are now U of I students. It was a fun atmosphere.
In fact, I won the 3,000 Meter Run and came in second in the 800 Meter Run!
There were three participants in the 3,000 and four in the 800.
And therein lies the problem and the theme of the morning.
There were very few competitors in any of the events that day. Most of the running events were able to combine genders and age groups all into one heat. While it was great to see that just about everyone walked away with an age group medal, it was also because there was only one person in most age groups. Anyone I talked to throughout the morning had commented that they wished more people would show up to these events and/ or talked about how they were not even able to get friends to join them.
I learned about the meet from a friend of mine who found out about it by accident while searching for something else. USATF Illinois put on the event and Chicago Athlete did not receive any press releases, calendar listings, or other information about this meet nor was there much info to be found anywhere that it was coming up. Essentially, unless you looked at the USATF Illinois calendar or the USATF national calendar, you wouldn’t have even seen that this CHAMPIONSHIP MEET was going on. We received no emails from them with updates as far as registration or spreading the word (either as registered participants or USATF members) and there wasn’t even a posting about it on the USATF Illinois Facebook page.
A quick check of some past championship races USATF Illinois put on shows more of the same. Last fall’s Masters Cross Country Championship had three competitors total. The 2016 Indoor and Outdoor Championships shows results of just a handful of athletes. (Side note: There are a couple of youth events throughout the year that seem to be fairly well attended.) There are road racing championship events for various distances held throughout the state, but we do not receive any info on those, either, except for maybe a mention of it on an individual race’s website. Nothing about them directly from USATF Illinois. While I realize that this is mostly run by volunteers who, it can be assumed, have jobs and lives where they cannot devote every waking minute to this, it is my belief that the job of USATF is to promote the sport of Track and Field (and cross country, road racing, etc.), however, when the info for a championship event cannot even be seen without digging into the deepest corners of the internet, you have to wonder why no one even knows it exists.
There are plenty of great events that are like this in the area put on by clubs or other groups. The Ted Haydon Holiday Classic put on by the University of Chicago Track Club has been around for years and gets huge turnouts; the Evanston Running Club puts on an Illinois Club Cross Country Race in the fall that gets a dozen teams to come out; there are always some high quality collegiate events in the area that allow unattached or masters runners to participate. These groups all do a fine job, but there is something about the USATF brand that is supposed to be extra special – at least, we are told that through commercials while watching the Prefonatine Classic on NBC Universal.
This event helped me realize a few things, and I am going to bring up two quick points:
- If anyone from USATF Illinois is reading this, we – Chicago Athlete Magazine – want to help you to promote your events. High school Cross Country and Track are huge in Illinois, so there is no reason why it should not be just as popular once we get older. Send us press releases on your championships. Send us information on any track event in the state. Put your events into our calendar at mychicagoathlete.com. Tell us what is going on and why track in Illinois matters.
- If you are a former high school or collegiate track athlete or cross country runner, or if you have never participated in either in your entire life, think about signing up. Track & Field and Cross Country have wonderful participants that love the sport and love to compete and see others compete. They are supportive, friendly and always willing to give advice or help to anyone that needs it. You don’t have to be a world beater. You don’t even have to be someone that hopes to place in their age group at most races. You just have to be someone that wants to improve and wants to compete. You also have to be a USATF member, but that only takes a couple of clicks of the mouse.