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Off the bat, I'll say this was my third marathon, a new PR of 3:06:56. That was a 20 minute improvement over my previous PR, and just short of the 3:05 I needed for Boston. So I recommend this race as one to chase a PR at, but with a couple reservations.
This was the 6th Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, run of the University of Illinois' campus (Yeah, Big Ten!), and the surrounding Urbana-Champaign area. The course starts at the State Farm Center, then follows a circular path through Urbana and Champaign, finishing on the 50-yard-line of Memorial Stadium. Course is mostly flat, with a net elevation change of 75 feet and only one slightly noticeable hill (at mile 24 right as you pass a country club in suburbia. Pretty solid for producing PR's, right? But be aware that many of the miles are on concrete, and there a couple course congestion issues which could hamper you slightly.
When I ran the forecast was pretty favorable. Start at 7 am in the low 50's, and promised to stay in mid 50's until 9 am. All sun, barely any wind.Though the temps rose to mid 60's by 9:20 or so, and I was one of the lucky few to make it past that unscathed. The full and half marathoners start together. I and two friends were all attempting to break the 3 hour barrier, and anyone running at a pace for 3:28 or faster starts in the first corral. If you're up in A corral or I'd guess even some of B, congestion shouldn't be an issue for you on this course. When I ran it, there were 2100 marathoners, and some 6000 halfmarathoners. There are a couple of points in the back half, however, where you run into the people walking the 10K. They will take up space on the road if you don't politely assert than they run on the right side of the road only. There is also a 1.5 mile loop between miles 8 and 10 where you run through a park. The path here is narrow and unless you're running above a decent pace (probably 8:30 splits), you will run into some congestion that will bog down your time, or you'll at least be trading a lot of paint.
Anyway, myself and two of my running were friends were all planning to break 3 hours at this marathon.The attempt was on an popping through the first 11 miles, clocking fairly even 6:50 splits the whole way.Then at Mile 12, one of our strongest runners had to drop out, as he knew he was about to puke. This put a little anger in me, and the next couple miles were a bit of a blur. Meanwhile, the constant sun was beating down on us and the temps were rising to the mid 60's. I had been tossing water over head at every Aid Station, a decision which I believed saved me from the late heat collapse that many of my friends experienced.
The next five miles were pretty constant as ran into the subdivisions of Champaign and the last 8 miles. I had the fortune of driving these miles the night before, so I knew exactly how it laid out. Mostly flat like the rest of the course, ran on concrete which is difficult to take this late in the game, and the course's only real hill at Mile 24, which isn't all that bad. I was feeling like everything was in the bag. Then my remaining training partner said his quads were on fire, and he wanted me to go on. So I was on my own to struggle against the most crucial section of the race. I was doing okay, but the heat was beginning to make it's impact. And for the first time, I had to constantly monitor my watch to make sure I was running the right splits. Then around Mile 22, my friend had his second wind and caught back up to me. I thought this would be the boost I needed to finish the effort, but a mile later I had to hang back. I just didn't have the same energy.
Despite losing my goal pace, I found the motivation finish strong and get just short of a BQ. And my friend came in just 53 seconds shy of the 3 hour mark. Overall, pretty successful day!
Random notes; aid stations were smaller as you progressed along the course, but I never had trouble getting what I needed. 16 total fluid stations, and I believe 4 GU stations. There were three misters along the back half of the course. Finishing in the stadium is nice, but then you have to climb stairs up to the concourse to get your gear and some food. They gave out bananas, bagels, Muscle Milk, pizza, and pasta. Pretty standard, but it got the job done. You can pay $5 bucks to use the rec center's great showers right afterward, total steal. It's a Big Ten college, so there are a decent amount of food spots and bars to head to afterward. If you're looking for a spring marathon in the lower Midwest, this one does the job at a decent price.