CHAMPAIGN — For Leconte Nix, Al Craig and Kaleb Carter, Saturday was about teamwork.
The three men are assistant football coaches at Champaign Central. They felt a need to put their feet where their mouth is.
“If we want the (football) kids to be in shape, we have to be in shape,” Nix said.
The trio was entered in the 10-kilometer race at the sixth Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. It started out well.
“At Mile 3, a monkey jumped on my back,” Nix said.
The 26-year-old Craig was the first finisher among the Central coaches. He came in at 1:17:47.
“Pride wouldn’t let me slow down,” he said. “It was tough, but a lot of fun. I can’t wait to do it again.”
Carter said the experience was uplifting.
“So many people helped,” he said. “A 68-year-old man ran next to me and pushed me. It put my faith back in humanity.”
Carter, 27, was clocked in 1:20:53. Nix, 35, finished in 1:25:45.
“We were getting tweets (from football players) saying ‘good luck’ while we were running,” Nix said. “I almost stopped and tweeted back.”
Football practice for Central — and other IHSA member schools — starts Aug. 11.
Pushing to the top
After finishing in the top 12 in three marathons in the previous 20 days, Champaign’s James Senbeta scaled back his distance Saturday.
He competed in the men’s wheelchair half-marathon division.
“I tried to get a nice steady pace and hope I wasn’t worn out from the others,” said Senbeta, a senior at Illinois majoring in agricultural engineering.
He broke the meet record by 18 seconds, finishing in 47 minutes, 54 seconds.
Not bad for someone whose debut in wheelchair racing occurred in January 2012.
“He has improved dramatically and is pushing well,” said UI coach Adam Bleakney. “He has had a great spring.”
Senbeta is the reason that the 10th-year UI coach finished second.
“That’s the way it should be,” Bleakney said.
Earlier this month, Senbeta was 10th in the Paris Marathon, 11th at London and ninth at Boston.
Savoy’s Amanda McGrory is becoming a regular in the interview area.
She won the women’s wheelchair half-marathon division for the third time. The victory was her fourth overall locally. In 2009, wheelchair competitors participated in a 10-kilometer race.
“This was nice,” McGrory said. “I’ve had a rough season so far. My marathon performances were not what I was hoping for.”
Competing for the third weekend in a row, she started with a did not finish at London and was eighth at Boston. The finish was respectable, but McGrory said, “It was my lowest in six Boston races.”
In some respects, those finishes took pressure off her as she returned to the area where she now makes her home.
“Mentally, defeats are a little exhausting,” McGrory said. “I went out (Saturday) with no expectations.”
The 2010 UI graduate finished the course in 54:17, an average of 4.08 minutes per mile. She set the women’s record last spring (50:47).
McGrory beat runner-up Susannah Scaroni, an Illinois senior who is majoring in dietetics. The pack of 14 UI runners trains together.
“This was like every day,” Scaroni said. “You try your best against each other.”
Of Chief concern
The backs of their shirts reflected their cause: “Running for the Chief.”
Two of the four men on the Big River Running Company relay are UI graduates, Collinsville’s Colby Garman and Glen Carbon’s Peter Kim.
“I’m a big Chief supporter,” Garman said. “I was very disappointed how it turned out.”
Kim hasn’t given up hope of seeing Chief Illiniwek reinstated.
“I’m a Chief advocate,” Kim said. “I hope to see him back some day.”
Garman ran the leadoff leg of the marathon relay, handing off to Kyle Cameron, from Schaumburg. Kim handled the third leg, and the anchor was Jon Yoch, who proudly claims to be a graduate of “the UI of the South, Southern Illinois.”
Garman and Yoch competed in the Boston Marathon on Monday.
To get back into competition so soon, Yoch said, “took a lot of massage work.”
Three of the four runners on the relay were members of the foursome that placed second last year. Winning the championship this year came down to one thing, according to Yoch.
“The team that won last year wasn’t here,” he said.
Cameron was the addition. “They pulled me out of retirement a month ago,” he said. “I felt pressure. I didn’t want to let anybody down.”
‘Gearing up’ for success
Winnetka’s Peter Mone had hopes of placing among the leaders when he signed up for the half- marathon, but there was one variable outside of his control.
“I wasn’t sure who else would be in the race,” he said, “so running a PR (personal record) was a good goal.”
Mone’s PR time of 1:09:50 was good enough to place the 30-year-old third overall.
He placed four seconds ahead of Urbana’s Ron Lavaire, who ran his fastest 13.1-mile race by almost two minutes.
“My wife had twins (daughters Brooklynn and Ellie) two months ago,” Lavaire said. “I never had an extra gear. Now I have two extra gears. The competition here was amazing.”
A Spanish teacher at Urbana Middle School, Lavaire secured his third top-five finish in three years.
The half-marathon winner was George Towett, from Hebron, Ky.
“I wanted to do a course record, and I got it,” said Towett, who earned $600 for the win and an additional $200 for the record.
Towett’s time was 1:05:57.
Both the half-marathon and the full marathon have payouts to the top three runners in the men’s and women’s divisions.
The runner-up was also from Hebron, Ky. Wisley Wautiy’s time was 1:07:00.
Teen time at the races
Teenager Arielle Summitt made a name for herself this weekend.
The eighth-grader at Urbana University High followed up her record-setting 5-kilometer win Friday with a record-setting 10-kilometer win Saturday. Her time was 39:52.69 and the 13-year-old beat the runner-up — Fairmount’s Jackie Rzepecki — by more than 39 seconds.
“I wasn’t expecting to win first in one of them, let alone both of them,” Summitt said. “I was more nervous (Saturday) (for the 10K) because I was expecting lactic acid in my legs, and I kind of died at the end.”
Like in the 5K race, two of the top five runners were area teenagers. Placing among the leaders for the second straight day was Mahomet 15-year-old Jessica Franklin, a home-schooled student who played basketball during the winter for Arthur Okaw Christian. Franklin’s time was a personal-best 43:21.79.
This year marked the third in a row for Franklin running the 5K one day and the 10K the next.
“This year was really tough, especially having a cold,” she said.
That wasn’t reflected in her times. She ran the 10K more than three minutes faster than she did in 2013. Her 5K mark was an improvement by almost 13 seconds.
Summitt and Franklin have distinguished themselves in another manner. Summitt is the first athlete — male or female — to win two races in the same Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. When Franklin was 13, she was the first athlete — male or female — to have top-five finishes in two events the same weekend.
Three-time defending 10K champion Rachel Zubricky, from Champaign, was fourth in 42:06.72.
The youth movement
On a day when more than 600 individuals ran their first full marathon, other runners made their debuts as well.
One was 11-year-old Brennen Easter, a fifth-grade student at Dr. Howard School who ran his first 10K.
He placed fourth in the 12-and-under division in 52:27 and was 216th overall.
“I was a little nervous, but I knew I’d finish it,” Easter said. “There were one or two spots where I had to slow down and walk.
“Next year, I’m going to run the mini-I challenge.”
The mini-I challenge is for competitors who run the 5K on Friday and the 10K on Saturday.
Placing second in the boys’ 12-and-under division was Champaign 9-year-old Zachary Swanson-Linville, a fourth-grader at Countryside. His time was 49:56.
In his second 10K race, Swanson-Linville said, “I was slightly nervous.”
He cut nearly 80 seconds off his previous-best time.
Tuscola’s Jake Dyer placed first in the boys’ 12-and-under division in 46:30. He was 64th overall in 45:53.
An ironic ending
Champaign running partners Kathleen Smith and Joni Utnage happily finished their first marathons.
“How ironic that we trained in such cold temperatures only to have to run on one of the first real warm and sunny days,” Smith said. “Everything went well despite the heat.”
A chest cold, Smith said, made “breathing during the race an issue for me.”
She received plenty of encouragement.
“I give a lot of credit to all the spectators, volunteers and police officers along the way,” Smith said. “That last 4 miles, there weren’t as many runners to cheer on, but they were still out there encouraging, high-fiving and cheering runners to the finish. That last 4 miles would have been very difficult if it wasn’t for them.”
Smith finished in 6:12.50, “a lot slower than I anticipated,” she said.
Utnage came in at 5:12.41.
“Great time, no world record but we had a blast,” Utnage said. “Support out there was amazing. The sunshine was wonderful even if it did make me a little slower.”
Setting the pace
Michael Mallon, a 1989 University of Illinois graduate, did his job Saturday and lots of followers were happy.
He was a pace runner, who knew in advance his time would be about 3:10. He led his group to the finish at the 50-yard line at Memorial Stadium in 3:09:04.
“Running has given me so much and helping people achieve goals is a small thing for me to do,” said Mallon, who lives in Davenport, Iowa, and works for AT&T.
Had he been running to achieve his best time, Mallon figured he would have gone about 2:50. He hopes to keep competing at least six more years.
“I’ve run a marathon in under three hours in the first four decades I’ve run (starting in the 1980s), and I want to see if I can make it five,” Mallon, 48, said.
Honest, it’s Abe
Runners have their first names placed on their bibs. The Champaign resident who competes annually in an Abraham Lincoln outfit has “Abe” on his placard.
His name is Jeff Kohmstedt, and he works at the UI in the College of Education.
He has created an image he’s sticking with.
“I thought it would be a one-time deal,” the 41-year-old Kohmstedt said, “but it caught on and people expect it.”
He doesn’t consider himself a Lincoln historian.
“I’m just a dude who likes Abe,” added Kohmstedt, who ran the half-marathon in 1:43:09.
Superman was here
Last year, Superman and Batman — aka Jason Smith and his daughter Keely — competed in the half-marathon in their respective superhero attire. Keely Smith is now in high school and running track at St. Joseph-Ogden, but Superman — her dad — returned.
He didn’t have the heroics he wanted.
“I wasn’t ‘Superman’ (Saturday),” Jason Smith said. “I think her time last year was better than mine this year. That’s OK. I call her a professional runner.”
He finished in 1:49:01. He picked up running about six years ago.
“I used to hate it,” he said. “It took three years for me to enjoy it.”
He started, not with the idea of competing, but with the hope of getting in shape.
“The older I got, the harder it was to find friends to do tennis or basketball,” Jason Smith said. “Being overweight has been an issue in our family.”
He won’t stop any time soon.
“As long as I can run, I’ll keep doing it,” he said.
Keeping up with his daughter might be another matter.
So much for training
Carlos Guzman manages a Mexican restaurant in Sullivan, Ind., and coaches the local boys’ high school soccer team.
He attracted attention to himself by wearing a red and yellow body suit. “The super-hero Flash,” he said. “People loved it.”
His story gets better.
The 30-year-old ran the marathon, his first, he said, “without training. It was a personal challenge. I didn’t know if I could, but I wanted to try.”
He was happy with his time of 4:07:44.
“It wasn’t as tough as I thought,” he said. “I play soccer, and in soccer you do a lot of sprints. My legs were pretty good the whole way.”
Blistering the course
Oliver Bohac didn’t run the fastest marathon time on Saturday, but the Batavia resident was the quickest 11-year-old.
He was the only one that age competing after receiving special permission. He ran with his mother, Amy Bohac-Datz, 36.
“He pushed through a bunch of blisters,” Bohac-Datz said. “It got tough and it got hot. He had blisters and had to use the bathroom.”
The youngest-ever full-marathon runner at the Champaign-Urbana site, Oliver Bohac had hoped to complete his inaugural event in 4 hours. He finished in 4:55.02, which computes to a mile split of 11:15.
“This wasn’t for time,” his mother said. “It was just to finish. He put in hours and hours of training and overcame some things today.”
Good thing his mother was keeping pace.
“About Mile 20, I didn’t want to do it any more,” said Oliver, a 4-foot-10 fifth-grader. “It was so much harder than I imagined.”
Saturday’s distance is the equivalent of 106 laps around a high school track. The family has more grandiose plans next month. Mom and son have entered a 30-mile ultra-marathon in Indiana.
They planned some post-race family time. Dad (Eric Datz) had responsibility for the family’s other children, 2-year-old Charlie and 7-month-old Walter, during the race. He caught up with them and cheered them on at five locations and met up with them at the finish line for pictures.
From there, they were heading somewhere more scenic.
“The babies were not happy,” Oliver Bohac said. “We’re driving to a park for the kids.”
Refusing the offer
Various hydration stations provided runners with a cup of water as they ran past.
Sullivan’s Amanda Glazebrook refrained from an offer she — and others — received as they passed near 8-mile marker. An unofficial group of college students were camped out and, Glazebrook said, “offered beer and bacon. I did not take any, but I’m sure there will be some who will.”
Another runner who took notice was Aaron Bennett, the television sports anchor at WCIA.
“Boy, it smelled good, but I did not partake,” Bennett said.
A veteran of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, Glazebrook said the reception from the townsfolk keeps her coming back.
“There were a lot of ‘you can do its,’ and ‘I’m proud of you’ and ‘you’re almost there,’ ” she said. “Just words of encouragement. If they saw you name on the bib, they’d yell it.”
As a teenager, Glazebrook never envisioned running 13.1 miles at one time.
“In college (at Illinois State University) when we had to do runs, everybody hated it,” Glazebrook said. “Now I have a lot of ex-teammates doing fulls and halves. It’s funny how things change. These are things you can do to keep the competition going.”
Her time was 1:53.13, just off the time she ran a year ago (1:53.02).
Promoting the cause
Marsha Sanders is part of a national group — Black Girls Run — and doesn’t miss a chance to serve as a spokesman when she competes. The former Flossmoor resident recently moved to Memphis.
“I started running in May, 2013,” she said. “A friend introduced me to it. I was a cheerleader (in high school). I never ran before.”
She likes the mantra that helps to promote a healthier lifestyle.
“Get off the couch and start exercising,” Sanders said. “I started running and I started liking it. Now I love it. Now I’m addicted.”
Sanders, 52, finished the 10K race in 1:34.55.
“It’s great to make it safe, uninjured and not out of breath,” she said. “Each race I get better.”
Her first time in Champaign-Urbana may not be her last.
“This is one of the best races,” Sanders said. “The course is perfect and the people wonderful. Next year, I want to do the half (marathon).”
Beating the daily grind
By day, UI graduate Brett Lustgarten is a financial trader in Chicago.
When it’s time to get away, he said, “I like running because it clears my mind.”
That feeling is shared by Mahomet’s Alisha Ochs.
“It makes you feel good and helps clear your mind,” Ochs said. “I’ve run since junior high.”
Lustgarten finished his second full marathon on Saturday, dropping nearly four minutes off his previous time. He finished in 2:30.50.33.
“I thought I’d be in the top three, but the race was a lot faster than last year,” he said.
Lustgarten placed fourth in the men’s race.
Ochs ran the 10K race in 1:11.07.
If they could see him now
St. Joseph’s Jim Cotter wasn’t a runner in high school.
“I was self-conscious about the way I was built,” said Cotter, who works at the University of Illinois.
He took up running nearly five years ago and this weekend did the mini-I challenge. He ran the 5K on Friday and doubled up in the 10K on Saturday.
Day 1 went better than the second day.
“Last night (Friday), I wasn’t feeling too bad,” said Cotter, 47. “This morning, my joints were pretty stiff. I said if I have to walk a little ways, I’ll walk a little ways.”
His target time for the 10K was 1:45. He finished in 1:52.59.
The fact that he finished was what was important.
“I’m thankful I can do this,” Cotter said. “A lot of people my age and younger are not so fortunate.”
Surgery no obstacle
Elmhurst’s Laura Dolak signed up in January to run the 10K at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon.
In February, she underwent bunion surgery.
On Saturday, the 31-year-old finished the 10K race, using crutches for about half of the distance.
“It was real tough doing it on crutches,” she said. “About halfway through, I started to put my foot down because I couldn’t hold the leg up any more.”
Dolak, who earned her bachelor’s (2005) and master’s (2008) degrees from the UI, has competed in a marathon event all six years of its existence. She and her husband Jonathan didn’t want to end the streak.
“I’m running for Habitat for Humanity,” she said, “which I was involved with when I was in school here.”
Eureka native Olivia Klaus — a math teacher at Fisher High School — was one of the hundreds of first-time marathoners.
She completed a 1-2 sweep of first-timers in the women’s division, placing second overall to Chicago’s Bess Ritter in the 26.2-mile race.
“This gives me a lot of confidence,” said Klaus, who graduated from Eastern Illinois in 2013. “I thought I’d be around 3:15 or 3:20.”
Instead, she came in at 3:03.53, averaging a 7-minute mile throughout the competition.
“It’s hard and a different kind of pain,” Klaus said. “Given time to recover, I think I might do another, but it takes a lot of training.”
‘Chicks With Sticks’
The moniker is not one everyone in her group readily accepts, but Urbana’s Lynn Wiley doesn’t mind. She competed in the half-marathon using Nordic Walking Sticks.
“I’ve used them seven years now,” she said. “You’re slower, but that’s really good when you’re older.”
She ran a portion of the race, but added, “the last 4 miles, I walked. I average about a 15-minute mile. It’s a lot of fun.”
Her time was 3:34.54.
Wiley has done eight half marathons and has competed locally all six years the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon has been in existence.
“We have a walking group (originally spearheaded by Lynn Wachtel) and a lot more people have joined on,” Wiley said. “We do it all year.”
Urbana’s Joanna Rees ran her first marathon on Saturday.
“One of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my life,” said the 37-year-old UI graduate student. “I’ve run six half marathons and I knew I could do it. You have to have an internal belief in yourself.”
Now that she has done one, she’s going to try and conquer an even greater challenge. The Vancouver, Canada, native plans to try the Goofy Challenge next January at Disney World.
“You run a half-marathon on Saturday and a full marathon on Sunday,” Rees said.
In 2012, she made a breakout in her running career.
“I was a treadmill runner,” she said. “Two years ago, I started racing.”
She hoped to finish her debut in less than 4 hours. Rees completed the course in 3:58.12.
Still the master
Julie Wankowski of Glen Ellyn repeated her title as the women’s marathon master’s champion. It’s a division open to competitors 40-and-over.
“This is my go-to spring meet,” Wankowski said. “I’ve run 30 marathons and in eight states, but I love this one because it’s close to home. I’m blessed to be able to do this.”
Her time was 3:10.54 and she placed seventh overall.
The only master’s runner in the top 10 individually, Wankowski finds it harder each year to remain competitive.
“My body isn’t as limber,” she said, “and doesn’t recover as fast. You can’t fake it when you get to be my age. I’ll be 44 in a couple of weeks.”
She believes better days are ahead.
“I think I still have a PR in me,” said Wankowski who said she runs “every day.”
Seconds away from a goal
When you run 26.2 miles, 16 seconds doesn’t seem like a lot of time.
For Jen Samson, it made all of the difference. The 35-year-old Belleville resident — who is a master sergeant E-7 at Scott Air Force Base — wanted to get a qualifying time to compete in next year’s Boston Marathon.
For her age division, she needed a time of 3:40.00, or under. Her official time was 3:40.16.
“I didn’t have a good race strategy,” Samson said. “I started out way too fast and felt it around Mile 21.
A 17-year Air Force veteran who hopes to make it to 30 years, Samson will have limited opportunities to reach Boston. “Next June (2015), I’ll be assigned to Korea,” she said.
She plans to seek the qualifying time she needs in a marathon at Duluth, Minn.
“This was my fourth marathon and a PR for me,” she said. “I’ll keep trying.”
Baby in arms
Justin Merkys crossed the finish line of the marathon carrying a 32-pound weight. He was carrying his 20-month-old son, Jack.
It wasn’t as much of a burden as it might have seemed for the Hawthorn Woods resident.
“My wife (Victoria) and I trade off (running marathons) and we traditionally hand off Jack for the last one-tenth (of a mile),” Justin Merkys said.
The Champaign-Urbana race has special meaning for Merkys, a 1999 UI graduate in mechanical engineering.
“My wife crossed the finish line (in the half marathon) in 2012 when she was five months pregnant with him,” Justin Merkys said.
Giving a shout-out
Tiffany Sonnenberg and her dad, Art Sheridan, crossed the finish line displaying a huge flag with the letter, “M.”
“My whole family is Illinois fans,” Swansea resident Sonnenberg said, “but I was the only one who went to Missouri.”
They didn’t display the flag until entering Memorial Stadium, though Sonnenberg said, “I yelled ‘Mizzou’ a few times and no one booed.”
It was the second marathon together for father and daughter.
“I love it,” Sheridan said. “I love the time I get to spend with her running. The whole world gets pushed away.”
There’s a reason they’ve run two marathons together.
“He promised he’d run a marathon with me after every time I have a baby,” said Sonnenberg, 31, a special education teacher in Belleville.
Her youngest is now 9 months old.
Sonnenberg’s time was 4:56.31. The 54-year-old Sheridan was a step ahead at 4:56.30. His daughter said he could have gone faster.
“We train together,” she said, “but I slow him down.”
Nicholas Demetriou’s girlfriend, Dali Arias, bought him an entry into the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon last September as a birthday present. On Saturday, the UI junior studying mechanical engineering ran his first marathon.
He had hoped to finish in 3:24. He came in at 3:23.32.
“I was told to start off slow and build up as I go,” said Demetriou, who ran most of the race with the 3:25 pacer in sight.
“Eighteen miles was the longest run I’d ever had before,” he said.
He found plenty of supporters from his fellow competitors.
“Everyone was trying to keep everyone else positive,” Demetriou said.
He’s looking forward to an encore.
“I’ll do it again to try and beat my time,” he said.
Arias finished her race in 4:07.28.
Chrissy Midkiff doesn’t know how else to attribute her time in her inaugural 26.2-mile foot race.
“My goal was 4:30 to 4:40,” the Festus, Mo., resident said.
Midkiff, 32, crossed the finish line in 4:16.37.
“Beginner’s luck,” she said. “Seasoned marathoners said I looked pretty good for a first-timer. This was my most fantastic experience.”
The mother of a 4-year-old — a youngster who did her first Fun Run last month — isn’t sure she can match her feat.
“I don’t think I’ll repeat that time,” she said. “I did more than 15 minutes better than I thought. Twenty miles was the furthest I’d run, but I didn’t struggle until Mile 25.”
Both sides of the medical tents on the south side of Memorial Stadium had an abundance of visitors. Dr. Jim Ellis — identified on his name placard as ‘Dr. J’ — said most of those he saw were for dehydration.
“We ran out of IV fluids,” Ellis said. “It was so hot and not much breeze.”
In the first 51/2 hours of the race, three individuals were transported to local hospitals. They were among the 145 who were seen by medics at the stadium. By contrast, at race’s end in 2013, 137 people had been seen and that included the seven medical stations positioned along the race route.