Melissa Merli can relate to all those runners coming to town later this week.
Covering Eberfest, our arts and entertainment writer said, "is like running a marathon. Only sitting in a tight seat."
Merli has been our point person for Ebertfest since the event's inception. She's back at it for Year 16, beating a path from The News-Gazette to the Virginia Theatre for shows and interviews.
"Before the week I get into a frantic, mind-racing, excitable state," Merli said. "Afterward, I'm pleasantly exhausted."
While our coverage of Ebertfest kicked off months ago, Merli shifted into a higher gear this week. The 61-year-old Westville High and University of Illinois grad will write daily, tweet (@mmerli) frequently and skip tailgating altogether.
"Some of my friends find a parking space close to the theatre where they can go out during breaks," Merli said. "I see them out there but can't join them. That's hard."
At The News-Gazette since 1990, Merli struck a friendly, working relationship with Roger Ebert, who died weeks before last year's festival.
"Old-school reporting skills: I think that's why Ebert liked me," Merli said. "His presence is missed but also felt at the same time."
To complement Merli's coverage, we've enlisted a UI journalism class to toss a social media net over Ebertfest.
Eric Meyer's 28-student "Multimedia Editing and Design" class will be on site using Twitter, Instagram, Vine, etc., to tell the news of the day. We'll include a link to their work with Merli's online stories.
This from Meyer: "Rather than simply covering speeches and panels, their goal is to pick up interesting sidelights from the crowd and involve the audience, both attending and monitoring from afar, in two-way communication."
Three major Ebertfest players — Chaz Ebert, Nate Kohn and Patton Oswalt — are scheduled to join "Penny For Your Thoughts" host Jim Turpin in studio from 9-10 a.m. today on WDWS 1400-AM. We'll have the podcast available on our website afterward.