CHAMPAIGN – It's not often you hear someone say in the same breath he's ecstatic and in excruciating pain. Ben VonBehren did Saturday, smiling, wincing and sucking in air through clenched teeth as he limped into Memorial Stadium at 3 p.m.
The 22-year-old Sadorus man completed his first marathon with his aunt holding him up. A veteran of about 20 marathons in the last 12 years, Anita Sanders, 48, had the doting aunt aura big-time as she helped her nephew cross the finish line.
They may not have been the very last to finish, but they were pretty close to the end with times of six hours, 50 minutes. They were the last to cross the finish line before the course for the first Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon officially closed.
"I ran half and I walked half," said VonBehren of the marathon. "I'm happy. I'm ecstatic I made it as far as I did. I am in excruciating pain."
VonBehren credited his aunt, of suburban Dallas, as being his inspiration.
A mother and grandmother, Sanders said she has run about 20 marathons in the last 12 years and has done four Iron Man triathlons – swimming, biking and running.
"I've done as many as three in a year but I've tapered off since I became a grandma," Sanders said of her marathon schedules. "The one who gives me all my strength is the Lord."
Sanders, an assistant project manager for a commercial real estate company in Dallas, and VonBehren, an Eastern Illinois University student, began cooking up the idea of participating in the Champaign marathon over the phone during a call at Christmas. Sanders' mother, sisters, and several nieces and nephews live in this area.
A Unity High School graduate, VonBehren said he started running cross-country when he was in the sixth grade and has always liked to run but never competed in a marathon.
He and Sanders used the computer to draw up a training schedule for VonBehren. He said he ran about six to 10 hours per week, usually in the morning before classes and again in the afternoon.
VonBehren said he had previously had knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus, and that knee was talking to him on Saturday. So did the other knee. During the race, he had both knees and an ankle taped. And to add injury to injury, he discovered two blisters on the outside of each ankle.
After stopping to use the portable toilets along the route, getting his knees to move again was a new experience in pain. He said he had to lean on his aunt for several steps to get going again.
Despite the pain, giving up was not an option.
"No. That was not in my mind. I came determined to finish if I had to crawl or walk on my hands. That's another one of my talents," said VonBehren, who was also an Eagle Scout.
He was planning on a snack of ibuprofen and lots of ice after the race.
"I am so proud of him. He's got such a drive, such a huge potential," said Sanders.
The veteran marathoner said she liked Saturday's race course.
"I would say toward the end, there was a lot of uphill. There was a lot of enthusiasm along the route, a lot of encouragement," Sanders said.
Champaign police Sgt. Scott Friedlein, who coordinates special event for the department, said he thought things went pretty well.
"Obviously, it's a new event and we've got a lot of good ideas for future improvements," he said.
Traffic delays were greater than anticipated in some areas, but Friedlein theorized that's because many motorists chose to go through, rather than detour around, the course at certain spots.
"From my perspective, I don't see why we wouldn't repeat it," he said of the event, acknowledging that other city administrators would make that decision.
Friedlein's boss, Assistant Police Chief Troy Daniels, 45, said he wasn't at all happy with his finish time of five hours and 33 minutes, but he thought the event was fun. He was one of at least six Champaign police officers to run the 26.2 mile course.
"It was great to see so many people come out and get behind it. All the volunteers were so helpful," he said, adding he "absolutely" wanted to quit before the end but got a boost from fellow officer and veteran marathoner Mark Strzesak.
Only one person taken to hospital
Medical officials overseeing Saturday's race reported only one person needing to be taken to a hospital but many who got checked out by emergency medical technicians.
Christie Clinic training specialist and medical liaison for the race, Jill Rackow, said the person taken to the hospital went after finishing the 26.2 mile marathon, close to noon.
"He crossed the finish line and was complaining of chest pains and shortness of breath, so we sent him straight into the emergency room," Rackow said.
She said there were 29 ambulance calls, meaning that something was wrong and EMTs checked out the runners.
"If the problem was treatable, we sent them to the nearest first-aid station to get treated and they either went back to running or dropped out," she said.