CHAMPAIGN — Jan Seeley readily admits what her reaction will consist of the next time she sees runners line up at the start of the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, with State Farm Center and Memorial Stadium in the background.
“I think I’m going to be bawling the whole weekend,” Seeley said Wednesday.
The variety of emotions Seeley and Mike Lindemann, the marathon co-directors, have felt for the last six-plus months because of the coronavirus pandemic continues to swirl.
That’s because there’s no guarantee the marathon race weekend that typically brings thousands of people to Champaign-Urbana every spring since 2009 — but didn’t in 2020 because of the pandemic — will even take place next year.
Seeley announced Wednesday that organizers are pausing registrations for the 2021 race, scheduled for April 29-May 1. The 2020 race, set for April 23-25, was postponed in mid-March at the onset of the pandemic, with plans to possibly run it this fall before race organizers decided to cancel the 2020 version in mid-May.
“We’re just staying in the present moment with the pandemic,” Seeley told The News-Gazette. “We’re not in a silo here. If there’s not going to be a vaccine soon for COVID-19, we don’t see how we can have the race.”
Seeley said if the situation around COVID-19 improves in the next few months, they will open registrations back up with hopes of having the race at some point in 2021, either in the spring or fall. Seeley said 5,600 people have already registered for the 2021 race weekend since they opened registration in June, but only about 250 are new participants.
“We can’t sell hope,” Seeley said. “Do we want to be doing this? No. Is it the responsible, prudent thing to do? Absolutely.”
The possibility of having the marathon weekend in the fall of 2021 is one Seeley and other race officials are considering if next spring is a no-go.
Seeley said they’ll need to have discussions with the University of Illinois Division of Intercollegiate Athletics and Illinois athletic director Josh Whitman about that possibility since the race ends at the 50-yard line inside Memorial Stadium and Illinois football could have a traditional fall schedule in 2021.
“If we get to January and there’s still no vaccine, that pretty much kills April,” Seeley said. “If we get through the football season and have a conversation with Josh and his staff and pick a date in the fall, then we pick up some time.”
Again, though, the presence of a vaccine is dependent upon when the next Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon will take place, Seeley said.
“If we are able to get a vaccine and able to roll it out and the medical community here supports it, can we get a date working with the DIA?” Seeley said. “We’re emotionally prepared for there to be no Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in 2021 because of the status quo right now.”
Seeley said if there is no race weekend in 2021, all participants who have already registered for the 2021 race will receive an entry into the 2022 race. The 2022 race weekend is scheduled for April 28-30.
Virtual running events geared around the marathon are in the works, too, Seeley said, with a national virtual Turkey Trot planned to help support United Way of Champaign County. Another virtual run will take runners across the state on two possible different routes, giving them information on towns they would stop in, Seeley said.
Back to reality, though. Seeley said the race weekend is a multimillion-dollar event and hundreds of thousands of dollars were already spent on the 2020 race before the pandemic forced a change of plans.
“We buy our shirts, our medals and our bags,” Seeley said. “We typically have to do that in the fall, and we had close to $150,000 tied up in race shirts. Once we knew we were going to have to cancel, we didn’t have an insurance policy that had a pandemic clause. We are taking the steps we need to still be in the game, and because we didn’t have to bring the race to the finish line this year, we’re sitting on that money and we have to keep sitting on it, because that money can’t be gone when the race returns.”
Seeley is confident the marathon race weekend will return to C-U. And when it does, it’ll signify a moment unlike any other before in the event’s history.
“I think it’s going to be epic,” Seeley said. “People will be so grateful. Mike and I feel so honored to be doing what we do anyway, but I hope our legions of runners feel like we’ve taken care of them at this time. I’ve literally taken thousands of emails and phone calls from our participants this year who either want to yell at us or help us out. I hope they’ll remember the humanity that we showed, and I think everybody is going to be so excited to get back. I guarantee you there’s going to be tears, but they’re going to be tears of happiness.”