CHAMPAIGN — If gratitude could be measured, it would be off the charts in parts of Champaign-Urbana this weekend.
Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend Director Jan Seeley said gratitude is the overwhelming sentiment she is feeling because race weekend is returning.
It’s another sign for people that society is getting back to normal: racing in the streets.
Gratitude even though there will be no full marathon held, due to health and staff considerations.
Seeley noted Monday it’s been 1,097 days since the last Illinois Race Weekend was held in Champaign-Urbana.
“We’re doing some of our normal events but not on the same footprint,” Seeley said.
“The 5K is the only thing that we’re doing that’s on the same route as it normally is.”
The weekend opens at 4 p.m. Thursday with a health and fitness expo and extends to noon Saturday, with the start of a youth run.
The first race is set for Friday evening with a 5K run/walk.
Saturday events include a wheelchair half-marathon and 10K, marathon relay and half-marathon, followed by the youth race.
More than 1,500 runners had signed up to run in the full marathon, Seeley said, but organizers decided in mid-February it was necessary to cancel it because “the community is still coming out of the pandemic and the impact that has had on services, police officers, first responders.”
“There were concerns with both communities that we didn’t have the human power to be able to secure a route that truly tours and celebrates both cities,” Seeley said.
“Our normal marathon route, the first half starts and ends on campus and goes ... to east Urbana through Meadowbrook Park and Stone Creek and that area, and comes back and through to west Champaign.
“There literally were not enough police officers to be able to secure that without putting the community at risk.”
Officials hope the full marathon can return next year, but that is not a given.
“The Champaign Police Department is still down a number of police officers,” Seeley said.
“They need to come back up. Maybe it will be a two-year return.”
Seeley said there has been some talk about doing a double-loop of the half-marathon route to create a full marathon, which would not require as many personnel.
“I think people would take a double loop route over not having a marathon distance,” she said.
But there are drawbacks to a double loop as well.
In Urbana, streets would have to be shut down longer.
“It’s one thing when we had the race in both cities, we were through Urbana in a few hours; and then Urbana could open back up. And then we were in Champaign. We always shared the road with cars. Could we afford to close the roads for that long” if a double-marathon were held?
“We’ll see what people think.”
She said the route is “not as residential as the previous one. It does celebrate the U of I campus in a really nice way.”
One advantage of having a smaller footprint for the races is it will take fewer resources and volunteers.
Previously, there were 16 hydration stations on the full marathon route.
This year, due to the nature of the route, there will be five stations, and two of them will be passed twice by runners.
Despite fewer volunteers being needed, organizers are still looking for people to step up.
Those wanting to help can sign up at illinoismarathon.com.
A handful of people are still needed in Memorial Stadium to hand out water and medals, and “10 or 12” course volunteers are still needed to stand and cheer and secure the route.
Seeley said marathon officials have been fielding calls about the new COVID-19 outbreak, and those who have signed up and opt not to run this year can get a deferment until next year.
“We want them to be safe,” Seeley said.
Race weekend, she said, is much more than the races.
It also provides an economic and philanthropic benefit to the area.
The event has raised $1.5 million that has been donated to local charities and has provided millions of dollars in revenue to hotels, restaurants and other businesses.
“It’s about a whole community, and everyone comes together,” she said.
Despite no marathon this year, there are still more than 10,000 runners and walkers who will take part, representing 40 states, including Hawaii, Alaska and California, with 3,500 signed up for the 5K, 1,600 for the 10K and 3,600 for the half-marathon.
“We have a national reputation,” Seeley said.
“This is an event that has been around. It’s been recognized and acknowledged as an event that is done well, and it really takes care of its participants.”