Planning for next Illinois Marathon begins

Jan Seeley wants to forget about the 2002 football season, when the University’s own Memorial Stadium became the temporary host of the Chicago Bears.

“We were made to feel like such hicks, it was ridiculous,” Seeley said.

Seeley may just have found the right event to wipe the memory from everyone else’s mind. With the 2nd Annual Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon scheduled to take place on Saturday, May 1, the organizers of the race are scrambling to ensure that the upcoming event is a hit. Planning a marathon is no easy task, said Seeley, the co-director of the Illinois Marathon.

With 17,200 participants expected this year, the 30 individuals on the race committee are now well into their busiest weeks of planning. From recruiting the ROTC and Navy to help out on the day of the event to ensuring that there is a gluten-free option at the post-race meal and that there are enough parking spaces, there is never a dull moment for the organizers.

“Holding the marathon is very similar to any businesses,” said Mark Knutson, whose company, Go Far Events, oversees the marathon. “The people that are running the race are essentially the customers, and we owe it to them to give them a great experience.”

The idea of holding a marathon in Champaign-Urbana came to Knutson three years ago, after seeing the success that his company had with staging the Fargo Marathon in North Dakota.

“Geographically, Champaign is great,” Knutson said. “It’s in the middle of the country no matter where you are coming from.”

Knutson added that Champaign was a central location in the Midwest, attracting runners from cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago and St. Louis.

With Knutson based in Fargo, he knew he would need to get in touch with the right people. The first person he contacted was Seeley, whom he knew from advertising the Fargo Marathon in her running magazine, Marathon & Beyond. Seeley would bring on board Mike Lindemann, the other race director and also the owner of the local running store, Body N’ Sole.

But before they could do any further planning, the committee had to do some convincing.

“The race runs through Urbana, Champaign and the campus, so if you don’t have those three entities on board, you don’t have a race,” Seeley said.

With approval from the mayors of both cities and the Division of Intercollegiate Athletes at the University, the race was good to go.

The 1st Annual Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon would prove to be a huge success. The number of participants — over 9,000 — exceeded the organizer’s expectations. Based on a report done by the Champaign Sports Commission, the total estimated economic gain from last year’s marathon was nearly $4.4 million.

“We were very lucky everything went off so well last year,” Seeley said.

Nevertheless, Seeley admits there is a lot more room for improvement.

“This year, there is more work because we know more. We can plan every little piece better,” she said.

Amongst one of the biggest changes made this year will be the course route. Due to traffic issues at Meadowbrook Park in Urbana last year, where parts of the race were held, runners will now be heading into the park at mile marker 8 instead of 4.

For entertainment, the Champaign County Convention and Visitors’ Bureau will also be holding a series of concerts and events on race weekend.

With the high number of registrants this year, the next step in Seeley and the racing committee’s agenda is to recruit the 2,000 volunteers that will be needed to stage the event.

For Seeley, it’s all part of the million little details for planning the race.

“We don’t want to be the biggest race, we want to be the best race,” she said.