League of their own: Root, Brewer collect titles at Freedom 5K

League of their own: Root, Brewer collect titles at Freedom 5K

CHAMPAIGN — Most people spend their Fourth of July mornings relaxing before a busy day with family and friends.

Others, however, trade in their air conditioning for 3.1 sweaty miles under the sweltering, summer sun.

This year, 472 runners braced for the heat, but for Champaign native Ryan Root, the 25th Champaign County Freedom Celebration 5K was simply a warm-up.

"I'm actually about to go do a workout right now," Root said grinning, moments after crossing the finish line in front of State Farm Center with a winning time of 15 minutes, 48 seconds.

Root's time wasn't the fastest he's ever posted at the event, but it was enough to score a first-place finish for the eighth consecutive year on Wednesday morning.

The North Central College and Centennial graduate said the race would have been more challenging if his longtime competitor Matt Norvell, who currently runs for Root's college alma mater and is a Monticello native, showed up to the race.

"I go into the race every year thinking I'm going to win," he said. "But in the last couple of years, I've had to worry about Matt. I was worried I might lose if he showed up since he's had a phenomenal track season so far."

Historical significance seems to be a common trend among first-place finishers. Female winner Rachael Brewer, who clocked in with a time of 17:47, first ran the Freedom Celebration 5K in 2012 to see if she was able to run at an elite level.

Back then, the Tuscola graduate was attending Illinois State University and wanted to score a spot on the women's track and cross-country team. But, coach Jeff Bovee said she needed proof of what she could do.

"I wanted to walk on but I wasn't fast enough," she said. "I ran this race to see if I could get a spot on the team. After I won, I reached out to the coach and he let me walk on."

After winning the 2012 race, Brewer continued to run for Illinois State before graduating in 2015. She ran, and won, the Freedom Celebration 5K in 2017 and will continue to show up to the race that jump-started her running career.

But the fun didn't just stop after Wednesday's run. Both Root and Brewer have a long road ahead full of training.

Instead of continuing the rest of her workout post-race like Root, Brewer opted to cool down later with a 20-minute jog as prep for future races.

After winning the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in 2017, and being the top-Illinois finisher this year, Brewer said she's hungry for more wins and even faster times.

Root has been putting in countless hours on the track in Tulsa, Okla., to try and secure a spot at the 2020 Olympic Trials. After missing the qualifying time by 52 seconds at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon last fall, Root has been preparing to try to set a personal best at the Chicago Marathon on Oct. 7.

"In the next couple of weeks, I'll be announced in the professional field at the marathon in Chicago," he said. "I hope to run the Olympic qualifier there. All I need to do is just PR by less than a minute."