A 5K's not a marathon -- until you run it with a sousaphone

A 5K's not a marathon -- until you run it with a sousaphone

Alex Kirkeeng has been training for the Illinois Marathon 5K for months, but he's been training for more than just 3.1 miles.

"I figure if I can run 5 miles, hopefully I can run 3.1 with a sousaphone," he said.

Kirkeeng is one of 11 current or former members of the Marching Illini sousaphone section who will run in Friday's race with either a 20-pound fiberglass or 35-pound brass instrument. The section is raising money for Notes 4 Cancer, a charity that assists children battling cancer, with financial aid and emotional support through music and musical events.

Kirkeeng, a December graduate in integrative biology, helped organize the section's participation in the event. He organized the group and got permission from Barry Houser, director of the Marching Illini, and the Illinois Marathon administrators.

The idea started as a joke a few years ago, Kirkeeng said, but the group decided it would actually be a good way to raise money for charity.

The group considered entering a few other 5Ks, but Kirkeeng's plan didn't actually come to fruition until he had some extra time this spring. So far, the group has raised $1,090 of its $1,250 goal.

He said members have been training for months — some by running with weights, another by carrying a backpack filled with books. Kirkeeng said he just upped the distance instead of adding weight.

The runner-musicians haven't yet gone too far with sousaphones.

"Friday will be the first time," he said. The farthest they've gone until now "is just a short distance — like it's raining at the end of rehearsal."

Kirkeeng said, while some of the runners are getting really serious about the race, his biggest goal is that everyone finishes in one piece.

"We don't want anybody to get hurt," he said. "It's not a bad thing to walk a chunk of a 5K."

Especially if you have a sousaphone on your back.