Jeff Kohmstedt of Champaign has run the Illinois Half Marathon twice — as well as the Freedom 5K on the Fourth of July and the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in Springfield — dressed as Abraham Lincoln.
He’d planned to retire the Abe costume but, he said, “People were asking me about it. ‘Hey, are you gonna do Abe this year?’ I kind of got talked into it.
“It’s fun. I like it. And everybody knows your name,” Kohmstedt said, adding the crowd usually yells “Go Abe” (or, in Springfield, “Mr. Lincoln”) for him.
This year, though, he wanted to do something different.
“I wanted to bring other people into being crazy and running as presidents,” he said.
And the idea for the Mount Runmore relay team was born.
Kohmstedt recruited Jake Ivey, a runner he knew from the Second Wind Running Club. Ivey has since moved to West Virginia, but he is coming back for the race to portray Teddy Roosevelt.
Kohmstedt sent a message to the running club members, looking for two more presidents. Tim Flood and Nick Ramey, both of Champaign, agreed to participate. They’ll portray Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, respectively.
Flood ran the Illinois Half Marathon the first two years of the event, and he ran the full marathon last year.
“This year, I was just looking for something different. I heard about this and thought it would be awesome,” he said, adding he’s run in costume at the Allerton Park Trail Run, held near Halloween, and he’s seen other runners in costume at the Illinois Marathon races.
“The spectators love it,” Flood said. “Even with our training runs, we get a lot of attention from cars.”
“Everybody honks and claps,” Ramey added. He ran the half marathon last year and he wanted to participate again this year but didn’t want to run the half again.
Ramey hasn’t run in costume before. He has a white wig and tri-corner hat, to the delight of his young children, but he’s still trying to determine what clothing will be comfortable enough to run in.
Kohmstedt and Flood have lightweight costumes they bought online. Kohmstedt has a stovepipe hat to which he’s added a chin strap to keep it on during the race. He began growing his Lincoln beard in February, much to the chagrin of his wife.
Ivey is growing a mustache and he’ll wear presidential garb, as opposed to Rough Rider-era clothing, to portray Roosevelt. His fiancee, who previously worked in the University of Illinois theater department, is making his costume. (“It will put us to shame,” Kohmstedt said.)
The Mount Runmore presidents will run in the reverse order of their appearance on Mount Rushmore (from right to left, starting with Lincoln and ending with Washington). Each runner will carry the American flag as he runs his leg of the relay.
After Kohmstedt finishes the first leg, he’ll pass the flag to Ivey. Then he’ll run along with Ivey, carrying an Illinois flag, until the half marathoners split from the marathoners. Kohmstedt will run the remainder of the half marathon, then he and his teammates will meet up somewhere before the finish and run into Memorial Stadium together.
“I like the flag aspect — passing it off like a baton or Olympic torch,” Flood said. “It adds a new element to training, getting used to carrying it.”
He’s trained with the flag a few times, and carried a 2-pound weight in his hands when he’s run on a treadmill.
Kohmstedt will run as Lincoln again this coming weekend at the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon, but he’s looking forward to the camaraderie of running with the other presidents at the Illinois Marathon relay.
And he’s already wondering about next year’s race. “What else can I come up with?”
Photos: Illinois Marathon relay participants on team Mount Runmore are Nick Ramey, Tim Flood and Jeff Kohmstedt. Photos by Robert K. O'Daniell/The News-Gazette.