Thrown for the loop

Thrown for the loop

Ruairi McEnroe ran 95 laps around an indoor track to complete his most recent marathon. So many left turns.

The Urbana man ran the Pettit Indoor Marathon on Feb. 11 at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee, which is a U.S. Olympic Training Site for speed skating.

He picked the race when he was looking for an inexpensive marathon to run this winter that was nearby. There aren’t a lot of choices for outdoor marathons during winter in the Midwest. And McEnroe had already run another loop marathon -- the Circular Logic Marathon in West Lafayette, Ind., which is run on a 1-mile course.

Blog PhotoA significant potential downside to a loop marathon is boredom. But McEnroe isn’t bothered by the monotony of running loops.

“I like monotonous tasks. I just found it easier to keep my rhythm,” he said.

The Pettit race is run on a 445-meter, three-lane track on the outside of the speed skating oval at the Pettit center. McEnroe mentally broke up the 95 laps of the marathon into smaller chunks to make the number of laps seem less daunting.

“I thought, ‘Let’s get 20 laps over with and see how it goes.’ Just like I do generally with races, I break things into chunks. It makes it a little bit more manageable to not think too far ahead,” he said.

Blog PhotoThe runners’ chip timing device recorded not only their time but also the number of laps they’d run, and that was displayed on a screen they could see each time they finished a lap.

An advantage of this type of event is that it is very spectator-friendly. McEnroe said there were many spectators and, more important to him, “there was a tremendous group of very highly motivated volunteers. They were just so loud and very rambunctious, very supportive.”

That is one of the things he enjoys most about the Circular Logic Marathon too: “It is a very friendly atmosphere.”

Another advantage is having food, drinks and gear close by. At the Pettit Indoor Marathon, runners could leave their gear by the side of the track, and there was a trackside table where they could leave gels or other nutrition and water bottles. Volunteers would refill the bottles for the runners.

Blog PhotoRunners can also leave extra clothes, food or other necessities anywhere along the 1-mile loop on the West Lafayette Trail system that is the course for the Circular Logic Marathon. McEnroe left gear in his car that he could easily retrieve during the race. The race website even tells runners to remember, “You’re Never Far From Your Car.” That can also be a disadvantage though. McEnroe has run the race three times, and on days when the weather was unpleasant, he had to fight the temptation to go to his car and stay there.

Another advantage for the navigation-challenged: You’ll never get lost on a loop course.

Loop courses are more common for timed ultrarunning events, such as Howl at the Moon, an 8-hour timed event in August and organized by the Kennekuk Road Runners club. It’s run on a 3.29-mile loop, mostly on trails, at Kennekuk Cove County Park. McEnroe has run the Hawthorn Half Day Ultra in Terre Haute, Ind., which has 12-hour and 6-hour events run on a 5K loop.

There were times during the Pettit Indoor Marathon when McEnroe got discouraged at the number of laps he had left to run.

“When I was at 20 laps and I heard the lead runner was only halfway there, at 55 laps, I thought, ‘You’re only halfway and I’m not even close.’

“You have to have a really, really strong mental game as well as physical,” he said.

That attitude of resilience complements McEnroe’s marathon mission for 2018. He sometimes struggles with anxiety, and he decided to run 10 marathons this year to raise money for a local organization, Rattle the Stars, which aims to raise awareness of youth depression and other mental illnesses and prevent suicide in teens and young adults. McEnroe is calling his campaign “Marathons for Mental Health.”

“I thought, what better way to spread the word through awareness and running,” McEnroe said.

The Pettit Indoor Marathon was the first of his 10 marathons. He didn’t find a March marathon that worked for him, so he’s running 26 miles on his own through Champaign-Urbana on March 10. He’ll run Circular Logic for the fourth time on April 7, and then the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon on April 28. He has several other races selected for the rest of the year.


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

On the Web

To follow Ruairi McEnroe’s Marathons for Mental Health journey, check out his Facebook page at and his Instagram page at To make a contribution toward his cause, go to Find out more about Rattle the Stars at


Photos: Top, Ruairi McEnroe during the Pettit Indoor Marathon on Feb. 11. Photo by Bill Flaws/Running in the USA; Middle, a look at the Pettit National Ice Center in Milwaukee -- used as a U.S. Speed Skating training ground -- where Ruairi McEnroe recently ran a 95-lap marathon. Photo by Ruairi McEnroe; Bottom, Ruairi McEnroe getting his water bottle from a volunteer during the Pettit Indoor Marathon. Photo by Bill Flaws/Running in the USA

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