Illinois Marathon could mean up to $1 million for community
Nutritional gel. Bananas. Maybe a new sweat-wicking shirt.
What's on your last-minute shopping list?
For long-distance runners, apparently sports gels, which provide calories and nutrition to runners during races, are hot commodities. Body n' Sole Sports has sold a month's worth of gel in a week.
"Yes, business is up," said Jed Bunyan, co-owner of the Savoy store. Up by 16 percent this February and 26 percent in March over the same months last year.
As thousands of runners prepare for the first Illinois Marathon in Champaign-Urbana this Saturday, businesses can expect a boost from not only the runners themselves seeking last-minute items like nutrition gels, but all those friends and family who will be cheering them on during race day, Bunyan said.
Marathon organizer Mark Knutson estimates the economic impact of the Illinois Marathon could range from $500,000 to $1 million. A marathon held in Fargo, N.D., last year had about 12,000 to 13,000 runners, and the economic impact of that event is estimated at $1 million, taking into account the number of hotel rooms rented and $50 a day for non-hotel-related expenses like food and gas, Knutson said.
The Illinois Marathon has 1,925 people registered for the full marathon, 4,100 for the half marathon and the 5-kilometer race has just over 2,000 people. The four-person marathon relay has 200 teams registered. If one-third of the racers are from out of town, that's nearly 3,000 people.
But those runners are not all coming by themselves. They'll bring family and friends, and that could mean 10,000 additional people visiting the area this weekend, Bunyan said.
Runners from 48 different states and five different countries will be represented. And about 80 percent of the runners are from Illinois, Knutson said. Some may be here for the day. Some may stay with friends or relatives in town. Many are staying in hotels, at least for one night.
Through its booking service, the Champaign County Convention and Visitors Bureau has booked about 700 to 750 rooms for runners, said Erica Berry, membership and community outreach coordinator with the bureau.
But the number of hotel rooms rented due to the marathon could be higher than that if you include rooms that runners and families reserved themselves. Knutson estimates that number at about 1,000 to 1,500 rooms.
Ninety-five percent of the rooms booked are for tonight. Because of the Easter holiday, many runners from out of town are not staying Saturday night, Berry said.
Marathon organizers are organizing a "pasta feed" today, but Knutson still expects area restaurants, as well as convenience stores and gas stations, will see an increase in business as runners and their families pick up last-minute items like milk or bananas.
"For people living in the community who aren't runners, (the marathon) may be a hassle," Bunyan said regarding street closures and traffic. "But the economic impact to the community, particularly in these difficult economic times, will be so positive," he said.
This town never had an identity as a community that holds races, he said.
And if this one is successful, it could build the Champaign-Urbana "brand."
"You're talking about an event that's got up to 10,000 people running through the streets, some from all over the country, and some may have not come to Champaign otherwise," Knutson said. After they pass through the finish line and pack their bags, many of them will leave thinking, "what a nice city, what a nice place to live," he said.
And that can put Champaign-Urbana on the map, Knutson said.