CHAMPAIGN — Running close on the heels of the Boston Marathon, the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon certainly has felt the shock waves of the April 15 bombings on Boylston Street.
Extra security will be in place today when the fifth edition of Champaign-Urbana's maturing marathon takes off.
Accompanying those shock waves, however, is a spirit of defiance expressed by several guest speakers Friday at the Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) on the University of Illinois campus.
During a news conference before speaking at the marathon's Health and Fitness Expo, Gerard Pearlberg and Kathrine Switzer passionately stated that runners will never be deterred by terrorists who attack their sport.
"Running is about freedom, and it will never be stopped," said Switzer, who in 1967 became the first female to officially enter and finish the Boston Marathon. "We will solve the security problems, but we will never stop runners (from) running."
Pearlberg, a USA Track and Field-certified coach, attended the London Marathon six days after the Boston bombings and said he found "a groundswell" of support and resolve at the event.
"Running is a sport that cannot be stopped," the native of Brighton, England, said. "Changed, yes. (Race organizers and security staff) will have to keep us a little safer, be a little more vigilant.
"But as far as the running is concerned, there is no chance of stopping us. They're delusional. It's an incredibly powerful force."
A force, Pearlberg says, that has become more unified than ever since events in Boston.
"If these lunatics out there want to try and take somebody out, they can do that," he said. "But if they pull the trigger and they stop me from running, there's going to be a hundred more people behind me. And there's going to be a hundred more people behind them. ... (Terrorists) have no chance of winning."
Donors step up
Sarah Budden of Mahomet was among the steady stream of donors Friday at a Health and Fitness Expo booth devoted to raising funds for people directly affected by the Boston Marathon bombings.
The Illini Radio Group is selling stickers printed with a ribbon in the shape of a shoelace and the word "Boston" for a suggested donation of $1. The seven-station company also has bag tags available with the same imprint for $5.
Budden, who is entered in today's marathon, purchased 10 stickers to distribute to family members who'll cheer her on.
"It's just really touched me seeing on the news how people all came together and helped (after Boston)," Budden said, "because that really just is the running community and how we're all a big family."
Budden began to choke up as she spoke about how runners have rallied to support the victims in Boston.
"Sorry, I'm going to cry," she said. "But it means a lot to me that fellow runners all come together for each other."
Jerry Morefield, an on-air personality for Illini Radio Group, was among those manning the booth.
"After Boston, we sat down and asked, 'What can we do to help?' " he said.
The answer was this fundraiser, with all proceeds going to The One Fund Boston.
Morefield indicated that about $4,500 was raised Thursday, the first day of the drive.
Illini Radio Group will continue the drive today near the race starting line as well as at the 27th-Mile Celebrate Victory Bash outside Memorial Stadium on Kirby Avenue in Champaign.
The shoe(drive) fits
When Lanae Clarke arrived Thursday at the ARC to set up her group's table for the Health and Fitness Expo, 10 pairs of shoes greeted her. It was a good start to the shoe drive being conducted by the Junior League of Champaign-Urbana in partnership with Body N' Sole Sports of Savoy.
Clarke was eager to meet the person or people responsible.
"Luckily, she came back so I could thank her," Clarke said.
Since then, there have been plenty more for the Junior League of C-U board member to thank. By midday Friday, about 300 pairs of shoes had been donated.
The group will work with the United Way of Champaign County to distribute the shoes to needy individuals. Clarke said the Junior League is particularly eager to help out schoolchildren.
The group will continue its drive today with a booth at the 27th-Mile Bash. It also will sell T-shirts with proceeds going toward the purchase of shoes.
Given the success of the group's first-time shoe drive, Clarke said it's sure to return next year — possibly in an expanded version.
"Ideally, what I would like to do is build it out for next year, where we're taking clothes — shoes and clothes — ... so this is a steppingstone."
Since the Illinois Marathon's debut, Pearlberg has been the source of that ever-energetic voice on the public address system at Memorial Stadium.
He describes his role as "part entertainer and part informational broadcaster."
Pearlberg — aka Coach GP — is no stranger to a live mic. At one time, while living in California, he worked on a radio show called "Good Morning, Monterey Bay" delivering sports and traffic reports.
Pearlberg, who also serves as the race starter, is tasked with keeping up a running monologue at the stadium long after the first wave of finishers arrives.
"You have to have energy to sustain ... and I've got plenty of it," he said. "And you have to manage your voice because you have to have better projection but conserve your voice as well — for seven hours, usually."
If there is one common theme in Pearlberg's approach, it's encouragement.
"I tend to do more of the cheerleading," he said. "To see somebody come across the line at four hours, five hours that's really maybe struggled through the training and they weren't sure they could quite complete the marathon, (and) you finally see them accomplish it, I never get tired of it."
For security reasons, race officials are not disclosing the number of security staff that will work the event this weekend.
Scott Friedlein, the Illinois Marathon's emergency services coordinator, said Friday the security presence would be larger than for past races in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings.
"We obviously have increased the staffing, both inside the stadium and around the start area," he said. "We're addressing other types of issues as well on the course. So we'll have additional bodies out there."
Friedlein indicated that the approximately 600 volunteers who are working on the course today have been instructed "to be diligent to anything that looks unusual and make the appropriate phone calls."
Friedlein, who has been involved with Illinois Marathon security since its inception, acknowledged the jolt the Boston bombings sent through security preparations in Champaign-Urbana.
"The last two weeks have extremely been intense because we had everything in place," he said. "We were pretty much ready to go, and when you have a Boston, it really requires you to step back and re-evaluate exactly what you've got going on and make the appropriate contacts; reassess who needs to have what level of participation (and) if you do need any additional resources. It has been an interesting couple of weeks."
By the numbers
Final figures won't be available until next week, but as of Friday morning there were a total of 20,467 entrants for the various Illinois Marathon races, according to race co-director Jan Seeley.
The biggest increase was in the 5K, which attracted nearly 1,000 more entrants than in 2012. Seeley said the increase likely reflects an influx of people who are new to running and to racing events.
Conversely, half-marathon entries are down by 876.
The number of entrants in the I-Challenge — in which runners compete in Friday's 5K and in one of today's longer races — increased by more than 200 to 2,537.