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CHAMPAIGN — Evan Patel trains with the University of Illinois Track Club.

That meant the junior biology major had plenty of pals joining him in Friday night's 5K to kick off the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon weekend.

Naturally, when buddies get sucked into the spirit of competition, money can get involved.

"There was a bet I had with a friend about, if I could finish 30 seconds behind a kid or better," Patel said, "then he'd give me $20."

It didn't matter the official identity of "a kid," because Patel bested the entire field.

The former St. Charles East runner significantly improved his 2018 runner-up time, flying through the Memorial Stadium-based finish line in 15 minutes, 52 seconds to capture a personal-best result and his first-ever victory at this event.

"The last time I did a 5K was last year at this race," Patel said. "I ran 16:25. So I'm like 40-ish seconds faster than last year, which is awesome."

Friday marked Patel's third go-round with this 5K. He's been signing up since beginning studies at the U of I in 2016.

"It's a good school for biology, so I applied here and the rest is history," Patel said. "I've just been running this every year, and it's awesome."

Patel will need to give his mother a thank-you call after this outcome, considering Patel only got into distance ventures because of her.

"Been running since my freshman year of high school," Patel said. "My mom wanted me to join a sports team ... and here I am, seven years later."

As a St. Charles East senior, Patel wasn't one of the Saints' seven competitors at the 2015 Class 3A state cross-country championships.

However, he did take a leg of an eighth-place 3,200-meter relay that garnered St. Charles East its only points of the 2016 3A state track and field meet.

Patel and his teammates finished one spot behind a Danville foursome that included current Illini Phillip Hall.

Just like Eastern Illinois' O'Brien Stadium is a unique venue for state track, Patel feels the Illinois Marathon weekend offers its own special vibes to fuel athletes.

"Finishing on the field was awesome," Patel said. "It's just a really cool experience. You have all the spectators along Green Street. Great atmosphere, great energy."

And, great that Patel pocketed a cool $20 thanks to his performance.

Regardless of whether or not it's tainted cash.

"I don't know if (my friend) let me win or not," Patel said. "But it was fun. It was a good meet."

Prep Sports Coordinator

Colin Likas is prep sports coordinator at The News-Gazette. His email is, and you can follow him on Twitter (@clikasNG).