Music for the sole

Music for the sole

John McMahon of Champaign knows the power that music can have on a runner in the later miles of a marathon. McMahon ran the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in 2012, and hearing music along the route helped him get to the finish line.

“I am a musician so songs tend to inspire me anyhow, especially in that setting. It’s physically taxing. Anything to take your mind off the physical discomfort and think about something else is welcome,” he said.

So when McMahon was injured the following year and unable to run the marathon, he looked for an opportunity to play music instead. He has played along the marathon course every year since then.

“Playing for it is considerably easier than running it,” he said.

Blog PhotoLook for McMahon in front of Miga along Church Street in downtown Champaign, around mile 14 of the marathon. He’ll be playing with his new band, The Doubt, which also includes band members Alyssa Gambill, Steve McQueen and Seth Hutchinson.

They’ll be playing some original songs as well as music by The Beatles, Rolling Stones, David Bowie and Talking Heads and other up-tempo rock.

“We definitely stay away from anything that would have the effect of slowing (the runners) down,” McMahon said.

The Doubt will be joined along the course by a half dozen other bands and seven DJs — both amateur and professional. The course entertainment will also include the Centennial High School drumline and flag corps and several cheer groups.

“I think it’s great fun. It’s obvious the runners appreciate having the music,” McMahon said. “They are running by pumping their fists.”

Most of the entertainment along the course this year will be provided by returning bands and DJs.

“That tells you something about their experience. They want to come back every year. They enjoy it,” said Pat Mills, who has been a member of the race committee and has been in charge of course entertainment since the first Illinois Marathon.

Three individuals or groups have provided music at every marathon — Robbie McLemore, providing DJ music at Green and Second streets; John Oschwald and his band, playing in front of Second Hand Rose Antiques on Main Street in Urbana; and the D.R. Dixie Band, playing at Clark-Lindsey Village at Windsor Road and Race Street.

Mills places the bands along the route at spots where a power outlet is available. ­Several businesses sponsor entertainment because they like being involved, Mills said. For example, Boomerang’s Bar and Grill on Washington Street in Urbana has an Elvis impersonator singing in front of the bar, and Hubers Tavern on Church Street in Champaign always has a musical act out front.

“It’s fun. It adds to the atmosphere and it brings out spectators,” Mills said of the music along the course.

He mostly stays away from placing music in residential neighborhoods so as not to disturb people. But, he said, there is a lot of music along the course in addition to what he organizes. Many residents will bring out a stereo or boom box and play music in front of their homes.

And Mills — a music lover and Grateful Dead fan — has his own music station late in the race, at mile 25 of the marathon and mile 5 of the 10K along Prospect Avenue. He sets up a tent, places a skeleton dressed in a tie-dyed T-shirt and a race medal in a lawn chair, and treats the runners to lots of Grateful Dead.

In addition to the Saturday races, there is also music along the course for the Friday night 5K. McMahon will be playing the 5K for the first time this year with Rockaway Beach, a Ramones tribute band.

Mills also finds singers for the national anthem before each race.

This year, Katie Flynn, a local jazz and cabaret singer, will sing before the marathon and half-marathon start on Saturday. A University of Il­linois graduate student studying opera will sing before the Presence Health 5K race on Friday. And Angelynn Huang, a University Laboratory High School student, will sing before the Busey Youth Run.

Jodi Heckel, a writer for the University of Illinois News Bureau, is a runner, swimmer and triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at

Marathon entertainment
The Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon race weekend is April 20-22. When the entertainment for the races is finalized, a list of will be posted on the race website,, under “Entertainment” under the “Event Schedule” tab.

Photo: Rockaway Beach, a Ramones tribute band, will be playing during theIllinois Marathon 5K on April 21. Photo by Holly Hart/The News-Gazette

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