After over a year of waiting, I finally ran the Illinois Half Marathon! I was signed up to run last year, but then I got pneumonia. So lame.
The race was down in Champaign-Urbana and the start/finish was on the University of Illinois campus, which for me, was the big selling point of this race. I welcome any excuse to visit my Alma Mater.
View of the Illini Union from the steps of Foellinger. It’s even prettier in the sunlight.
I thought MAYBE I could PR at this race. After last week’s 10 mile race, I was feeling really confident that I could finish under two hours. I haven’t been this excited/nervous for a race in a really long time. Usually I’m running with the goal to “finish without dying,” so it was weird to toe the start line thinking I might actually 1) not die and 2) PR.
The race was on Saturday morning, so we (Molly and I) drove down on Friday afternoon to pick up our bibs and carb load. The expo was actually pretty big and really well organized. Molly and I were both pleasantly surprised. The expo was at the campus rec center, where I used to work in college. It’s been remodeled and looks awesome! It was fun to be back there to see all the changes since I used to be the boss of that place in 2004. And if you follow me on Instagram, then you already know that there was a sweet photo booth at the expo…
I never take pics at expos, but I couldn’t pass this one up.
And the race shirt is pretty legit, even though it’s too short for my torso (someone really needs to start making race shirts for us talls). Here is the graphic on the back of the shirt. Illinois is the Land of Lincoln, after all.
We carbed up at Monical’s Pizza (a central Illinois tradition) with a beer, garlic bread and pizza and went to bed early, like good little runners. I couldn’t fall asleep and then started FREAKING OUT that I’d left my heated mattress pad turned on back at my apartment in Chicago. It was a ridiculous thing to be worried about because I couldn’t really remember if I even actually used it/turned it on the night before AND it has an automatic shut off feature. To make things worse, I could hear music coming from some where (and some how Molly did not hear the music and fell asleep in like 2 seconds. Whatever.). I called the front desk because I wasn’t sure if it was a wedding reception or another hotel room. It was neither. Per the front desk, it was a “dance party” in the banquet hall hosted by some U of I student group. What a bunch of losers. Music was off a little after 11, but I was so worked up about the matress pad, the race and music that I didn’t fall asleep until after midnight. And then I woke up at 4:15 (we had a 5:10 alarm set) and never fell back asleep. Miserable.
Hotel had a nice breakfast starting at 5, so we ate around 6:15 with all the other runners before heading to the race. Start was a 7am and the weather was perfect. Our hotel was 3 blocks from the start, so we had a short walk to the gear check, which was also well organized. Sidenote: this is only the fifth year this race has been held, so it’s still “new,” which is why I think I was so impressed with the whole thing. Oh and the Illini marching band played the National Anthem AND the Illinois fight song before the race. Best ever!
View from the start. Assembly hall the right and a little sliver of Memorial Stadium to the left.
We were in corral E (E for “elite,” obviously) and crossed the start line approximately 12 minutes after the gun. We started at the front of the corral, which was key because there was a one minute break between each corral. No crowding during the first mile. Or any mile for that matter.
The first six miles I felt great. The first mile or so ran down Green Street, through the heart of campus town, which was awesome. I had tossed my windbreaker at mile 2 and was just rocked a tank and capris for the rest of the race. And when I say “tossed my windbreaker,” I really mean “I saw my friend’s dad and shoved my jacket in his face and told him I’d get it from him later.” Tossing the jacket was a great idea. It was just a thin little guy, but I was too sweaty (I’m so cute when I run) to keep it on so it was awkwardly tied around my waist and I didn’t want to throw it on the road because it’s one of my fave Chicago marathon jackets. Thanks, Kenny, for taking my jacket!
After mile six I just fell apart. I felt like my legs were 100 pounds and every step was a mental and physical battle. I should have been feeling happy, since we were running on the outskirts of town. Refreshing to have a change of scenery.
For the record: that old broad there on the left smoked me. What a boss.
Mile 8-10 ran around Meadowbrook Park, which I really would have enjoyed, should I have not wanted to walk… or die.
The sweet prairies of central Illinois.
I stopped and walked (for the first time) at the water stop at mile 10ish and took my last Clif Shot. I also took a minute or two to stretch out my hips, which were feeling unusually tight. After that, I felt a lot better. Not sure if it was the Clif shot, the stretching or the fact that I was only a 5K away from my finisher’s medal.
The last 2 miles we returned to campus, which I enjoyed. Plus, I ran into my friends and the world’s best sign (and Anna, the super 3 yr old spectator)!
Isn’t she the cutest?! Matthew doesn’t look half bad either.
After I saw those three (Mary is blocked by that sweet sign), I rounded the corner to turn into Memorial Stadium. The race ended on the field, which is pretty cool… even if our football team is terrible.
Action shot while blazing to the finish
The post race area was really great. Spectators in the stands and runners and volunteers on the field. The gear check was up in the stadium (like inside the stadium/not on the field), which was also really well organized. Only runners were allowed inside, which I think helped keep things organized. There was a lot of food available to runners… the usual: bagels, pretzels and bananas… but also pasta and pizza which I thought was weird and really unappetizing, but A LOT of people were chowing down on the pasta and pizza. Barf.
And here is the medal – not bad if you ask me.
Who doesn’t want a medal with Memorial Stadium engraved on it?
And my official time: 2:06:30.
Official time. It was painful.
I was hoping to break two hours (my PR is 1:58:30), but sadly it didn’t happen. It’s still my second fastest half time ever… and 3 minutes faster from the NYC Half last month, so I can’t complain. Plus I am running the Brooklyn Half in three weeks, so hopefully I can shave some more minutes off my finish time.
I don’t usually download my race splits, but I had to today to confirm that I actually crashed and burned after mile six. They pretty much illustrates how I died starting at mile seven. And as you can see, I took my sweet time stretching at mile 10. I didn’t walk at another other points in the race (not sure what happened at mile 7?!). I don’t know if I didn’t eat enough for dinner or breakfast? Or if my crap night of sleep caught up with me? Who knows. But I felt like I was running on empty.
I mean… what the hell happened?
With my finish time aside, I was really pleased with the whole race. There was also a full marathon and a 10K happening that morning (and a 5K on Friday night), so the town was crawling with runners. I heard that almost 20,000 runners ran this weekend – so again, so impressed with the organization of this this relatively new race. The area news was reporting that every hotel room in the greater Champaign-Urbana area was booked. Oh and 46 states and 9 countries were represented. Pretty legit for a race in east central Illinois. I already booked my hotel reservation for next year’s race (they offered this option when I checked out)! There are only 4 hotels within walking distance of the race, so having a room that close is key. Hotels in C-U sold out really early… I was on the wait list for my hotel and I booked it in September! I’ll be back for you next year, Champaign!
And I also made Molly walk and drive around campus with me. I hadn’t been on the Quad in YEARS. It was a gloomy day, but campus still looked beautiful. I may or may not have gotten a little misty-eyed when I stepped onto the quad. I have a lot of love of the University of Illinois.
Undergrad library in the ground and the ACES campus to the south
The Eternal Flame
And finally, my sorority house, Alpha Gamma Delta.
All in all it was a great weekend. I ran the streets of my favorite place and saw some old friends. I can’t wait to come back next year for a repeat experience. And if you live in Illinois, you should really consider running this race. It is cheap, close and fun! Good ole central Illinois hospitality.
Next up: Brooklyn Half. May 18th. Bring it.
PS: My mattress pad was not on when I got home today.