Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon

Photo from Illinois Marathon Facebook page

This was the 10th anniversary of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in Urbana-Champaign, IL. The weekend celebration included a 5K Family Run on Friday evening and the marathon, half marathon and 10K, and wheelchair half marathon options on Saturday. Friday evening brought some clouds and rain, but the 5k went on without a hitch.

Saturday races are always nice, and especially this one since Urbana-Champaign is two and half hours south from Chicago. I drove down mid afternoon on Friday, made it to the expo with plenty of time to pick up my packet, browse and enjoy a beautiful spring evening. There was a lot going on at the expo with several vendors and the pasta dinner.

I had never visited the University of Illinois, so I also took the time to walk around campus. They have the most amazing facilities, including a beautiful outdoor pool. I am not a swimmer, and I often complain about swimming, but I really wanted to go for a swim; it was a perfect evening and the students were enjoying the pool and the beautiful 70-degree weather.

Saturday morning was cold and crispy with temperatures in the low 40’s: perfect weather conditions for running. There were strong winds but once the sun came out, it was a beautiful spring morning. This was probably one of the most organized races I have done, with easy access from my hotel and hassle-free parking. The start corrals were marked and smoothly organized, and to my surprise there was free coffee and bagels before the race. Best idea ever.

This race brings together the entire city; because Urbana-Champaign is primarily a college town, the ambiance before the race reminded me of tailgating before a football game. People were out cheering and setting up camp for the day. The volunteers were so helpful and wonderful with a contagious positive attitude all morning long.

Before I took on the race, I heard the marathon route gets lonely, but that was not my experience at all. The marathon and half marathon start together and run for 12.5 miles, at which point it splits, the half takes a left to the finish line and the marathoners continue to the right.  The crowds and cheers were plentiful all along the way and since I ran with a pacer, I was not really alone. In fact, I want to give a huge shout out to my pacer, Walter; this guy was right on pace and was so knowledgeable about the course. He had a lot of good tips and recommendations about pacing, nutrition and course.

I lost my group at mile 20, but stayed just close enough for a few more miles. This is a mostly flat and fast course with one gradual hill at mile 24. If you are looking for a PR or a Boston Qualifying race, this one is a good one. The aids stations offered water, Gatorade, oranges and GU’s. Many homes in the community had their own stations for runners offering water, juice, and beer as well. One of the highlights for me was a unicorn on a bicycle which showed up randomly throughout the course. The trivia signs along the course were quite entertaining as well.

I had some big goals for this race, and even though I did not get a PR (50 seconds from it) I did get a solid Boston Qualifying time and  fourth place in my age group AG.  I loved every minute of the race; nothing beats the stadium finish. Plus, at the finish line we got a medal and a fleece blanket. How cool is that?

The 27th-mile celebration victory bash was a huge tailgate full of beer, food and live music. Thank you to the Urbana-Champaign community, it was a pleasure being there and be a part of this race! The race winner was a tie between Tesfaalem Mehari and Wilson Chemweno with a time of 2:21:03, and the female winner was Misiker Demessie at 2:38:15.

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Erika has been an endurance athlete for over 20 years. She fell in love with running in her 20’s in graduate school, working full time and being a single mother. Running became time for reflection. She has run over 30 marathons and countless triathlons; qualified for 70.3 World championships. To qualify for Kona is her next goal! She loves being a mom to a wonderful young lady and a fur puppy (cocker spaniel). Travel and exploring new places to train around the world is a passion. She is a licensed clinical counselor who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression and trauma. She spent 15 years in academia and has recently taken a role as a clinical director to focus on her clinical work. Erika believes in the therapeutic benefits of endurance training for people who struggle with mental health illness and stress. She is patiently waiting until we can all travel and race safely again, until then she recommends staying active, healthy. and consistent.

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