I’ve had my eye on the Illinois Half Marathon for years, and finally decided to pull the trigger on running it this year. Though the half marathon (along with a full marathon and 10K) take place Saturday morning, race weekend kicks off Friday night with the Presence Health 5K. Those who run the 5K Friday night along with any of Saturday’s races are I-Challenge participants, and wear special bibs along with receiving an extra medal. Since I was traveling to Champaign anyway, I figured I may as well go big or go home, so I ran the 5K Saturday night.
I’ve run two races in a weekend before when I did the Rock ‘n’ Roll Remix Challenge in Chicago in 2015, but at that challenge, both races take place in the morning, giving you almost 24 hours between events. With the I-Challenge, the 5K starts at 7:30 p.m. Friday, meaning you have less than 12 hours between races. Considering that the Illinois Half was going to be my first half marathon of the year, I was a little nervous about doing a 5K so soon before the race. I usually take 5Ks far too seriously, and though I didn’t think I’d be at risk for soreness the following morning from doing a 5K the night before, I also didn’t want to blow through too much of my energy when I had a much bigger race coming up in 12 hours.
It was fairly chilly and extremely windy in Champaign Friday night, and I nearly exploded with outrage when I found out the 5K race doesn’t offer gear check. Maybe I’m too used to running in the city, where few people drive to an event and therefore don’t have a car to store their stuff during a race, but I could NOT believe that the 5K didn’t offer gear check. Fortunately, I had a ride to the race, so we could sit in the car until the last minute to avoid shivering too much, but finding out there was no gear check totally threw off the whole plan for the race, and I was really, really annoyed by it.
I had several friends running the 5K, and conveniently we all ended up in corral B. We all managed to meet up and hung out together waiting for the race to start, and after the national anthem and a rousing rendition of Happy Birthday (it’s the University of Illinois’ 150th anniversary this year, and the race took that fact and RAN WITH IT), we were off.
Like I said, I normally take 5Ks far too seriously and am on the verge of death when I cross the finish line. I really, really didn’t want to do that on Friday, but I also didn’t trust myself to run slowly on my own. Conveniently, two of my CARA group leaders were also doing the I-Challenge (though they were doing the full marathon, not the half), and we all ended up running the 5K together. The course is entirely through campus (I think? I had a hard time telling what was considered “on campus” at U of I. At my college, “on campus” meant “a building owned by the school.” Everything else, regardless of proximity to said buildings owned by the school, was “off campus.” So I don’t know if Green Street counts as being on campus or not.), and since my group leaders are both U of I alum, they told me all about the various shenanigans they got into in the locations we ran past.
At about mile 2.8, one of my group leaders stopped to walk with a little boy who seemed to be struggling, and then my other group leader stopped to walk with them as well, so I was on my own. I ran into Memorial Stadium and crossed the finish line on the football field in 29:28.
Considering I usually run 5Ks in the high 24/low 25 range, that was easily one of my slowest 5Ks to date. But honestly, it was, without even the tiniest bit of a question, the most fun I’ve EVER had in a 5K. Normally I kill myself over those races and hate every single second of it trying to run as fast as I possibly can. This time, I took it easy, hung out with friends I haven’t really chatted with since last marathon season, and had an absolutely wonderful time. While I certainly don’t plan to take that approach for all future 5Ks (I do like running fast times, after all), it was SUCH a welcome change and the perfect way to shake out my legs before the half on Saturday.
There was an abundance of food for runners inside Memorial Stadium after the race (bananas, Nature Valley bars, Jimmy John’s), and the post-race party outside the stadium had free craft beer for runners and CAKE (!!) from Meijer (be still my heart!) to celebrate U if I’s 150th birthday. I skipped the beer, per usual, but you better believe I had cake 🙂
After the party, it was off to Noodles and Company on Green Street for carb loading, and then back to the hotel to turn in for the night before the half. Recap of that coming tomorrow!