by Chad Burke, Guest Blog Writer
I had a goal of running in every Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon Race Weekend since its beginning in 2009. Work caused me to miss 2017, so now my goal is to run in every Illinois Marathon Race Weekend….except one. So far, so good.
Why do I keep coming to Champaign to run? I was born and raised in Champaign but have lived in Birmingham, Alabama for the last 21 years, so running the Illinois Marathon provides me with a perfect excuse to come home and see my family. It also serves as a great trip down memory lane. I run through Campustown twice, past my high school and middle school (mile 18), past my childhood home (mile 21), down the most beautiful street in Champaign—Armory Drive—(mile 22), and I get to finish on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium where I spent a lot of time with friends and family watching The Fighting Illini and the Chief back in the good ol’ days.
Every year is special to me, but 2016 and 2019 stand out as being the most special. In 2016, I brought a running buddy from Alabama to Champaign and he qualified for Boston for the first time, and I ran my current half marathon PR (1:45:11). 2019 was also special. This time, I brought eight running buddies from Alabama and ran my current full marathon PR (4:06:49).
Trips down memory lane, showing off my home town to friends, and setting PRs are all fun, but my favorite part of running the Illinois Marathon race weekend is the people of the Champaign-Urbana community. They come out in full force and leave no doubt that they are thrilled to have you. I love the way they tailgate in their driveways—beer, burgers, dogs and all, cheering for us, the random runners who, chances are, they will never see again. I love to see the kids watching for their mom or dad, and I REALLY love being with their mom or dad when they see them. The excitement and pride in their eyes is very inspiring.
The mid-western bands staged around the course really bring their “A” game, too. Cold, hot, wet, or dry, they are always rocking out. There are a lot of sponsored water/aid stations, but I’m always surprised by how many folks just set up a table at the end of their driveway and hand out goodies, too.
The race would never get off the ground if it wasn’t for the volunteers and race committee. From the info center at the expo to when they hang the medal around your neck and everywhere in between, the race staff and volunteers make it well known they are there to serve you and to make sure your stay and race is top-notch!!
If your race calendar has a vacancy in April, I’d encourage you to come run in my hometown in 2020. 5K, 10K, half, or full—I promise you’ll have a race weekend experience you won’t soon forget. CU in 2020!