Disclaimer: I received a free entry to The Illinois Marathon 5K as part of being a BibRave Pro. Learn more about becoming a BibRave Pro (ambassador), and check out BibRave.com to review find and write race reviews!
I’m breaking down my trip to the Illinois race weekend into two posts. This first post will include the 5K portion of the I-Challenge and the Expo. The second will focus on the half marathon and overall race weekend experience.
Location: Champaign-Urbana, Illinois! A nice little 5-hour road trip from Des Moines.
Registration and Cost: As my disclosure states above, I received a free entry to the I-Challenge series (5K and half marathon). If you register for the race early, you can run the 5K for as cheap as $25. There are several incremental increases as the race approaches; expo registration (pending availability) went as high as $50. The Half I-Challenge for the half marathon and 5K starts at $85 and goes up to $140.
There are four different distances as part of the Illinois Marathon weekend: the full marathon, half marathon, a 10k and 5k. There is also a youth run, a marathon relay, and the challenge races that all include the 5k on Friday night and one of the distances on Saturday.
Expo and Packet Pick-up: The Health & Fitness Expo opened on Thursday (4-8pm) and continued Friday from (10am-7pm); I drove in on Friday and made it to the expo around 3pm (after checking into my hotel). The expo takes place at the University of Illinois Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) and, after parking, was easy for this out-of-towner to find her way. Arrows directed you to the bib pick-up area first — I didn’t experience any lines in the afternoon.
After picking up my bibs (separate bibs for the half and 5K), registrations are then directed to the large gym area for the vendor area and swag pick-up. There were a large number of vendors, a series of speakers — including marathoner Dick Beardsley — and several photo opportunities. I really enjoyed the experience and layout, and spent a good amount of time looking around (and, of course, shopping). Biaggi’s restaurant was also hosting a Pasta Feed at the Expo — and they had gluten-free pasta (YAY!).
Parking was a little annoying from a time management perspective, but there was plenty of it and it’s free. Signage was very helpful around campus to direct where to park — and look for all the volunteers with orange foam fingers. You just might have to do some walking, and the Expo gets busier as people get out of work.
Swag: Each race had its own drawstring race bag and t-shirt. The 5K shirt is short sleeved and the typical boxy fit that comes with unisex sizing. If you’re local to the area, there were a BUNCH of race and product flyers — many with discounts.
Weather: The weather was much chillier than I expected at 48 degrees (and super windy). And I’m REALLY glad that I packed that extra pair of pants and a long-sleeve layer.
Course: All of the races for the weekend started near the State Farm Center and ended at Memorial Stadium. I don’t know much about the area, but it was fun to run through campus and Champaign at nighttime. There was a great energy along the course, with a lot of students cheering from the sidewalks and porches around campus. I did my fair share of “woo’ing” with spectators.
Start Line: The 5K started at 7:30 pm — and at a half hour before start time, it was SO CROWDED. All of the runners couldn’t even fit into their corrals, and there was quite a long wait in between waves in order to fit all the people in as each corral moved forward. It kind of made me nervous for the half marathon start. Maybe that bottleneck could be alleviated with entry open to both sides of the corrals?
Aid Stations: There was a water stop on the course about 2 miles in, though I didn’t need to stop.
Finish Line: The big appeal of the Illinois Marathon is the 50-yard finish inside Memorial Stadium. Imagine my surprise to learn we would be doing the same for the 5K! It was a really cool experience, though you couldn’t linger long on the field. Inside the concession area was free food for finishers: Jimmy John’s sandwiches (sadly no lettuce-wrapped), bananas, and Nature Valley granola bars.
After Party: The 4th Mile party outside Memorial Stadium was the celebratory kick-off to the 5K and race weekend. All participants got a free drink (lines were fairly long by the time we finished our races) from Riggs Beer Company. There was also live music, food trucks, and FREE CAKE to celebrate the 150th birthday. All of this, sadly, not meant for the gluten-free runner. I was positively shivering from the cold (I had to purchase an oversized men’s sweatshirt from one of the vendor booths to get warm) and unfortunately, couldn’t stick around the party too long.
Speaking of birthdays, the 5K medal is a balloons bouquet celebrating the sesquicentennial. And for me, it also celebrated a new PR! HOLY CRAP. I ran the race by feel and… it felt easy. I’m just so ecstatic to have that feeling and see those splits — while also having so much fun.
The Great: I wasn’t planning for a 5K PR, so that was a GREAT surprise!
The Good: Despite being cold, I was having fun.
The Bad: Not the races fault, but my hotel room was right outside the elevators. Whomp, whomp.
The Ugly: Entry to the corrals was pretty backed up, and people were getting irritated and pushy. I hate pushy people.
Splits: 9:31, 8:41, 8:38
27:44 — a new 5K race PR!