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I took a road trip to Champaign-Urbana to participate in the Half I-Challenge race series — this review is of the 5K. There are four different distances as part of the Illinois Marathon weekend: the full marathon, half marathon, a 10k and 5k. There is also a youth run, a marathon relay, and the challenge races that all include the 5k on Friday night and one of the distances on Saturday. I love running at night, so I was excited that the 5K was the evening before the longer distances.
The Health & Fitness expo takes place at the University of Illinois Activities and Recreation Center (ARC) and, after parking, was easy for this out-of-towner to find her way. Parking was a little annoying, but there was plenty of it and it’s free. Signage was very helpful around campus to direct where to park — and look for all the volunteers with orange foam fingers. Arrows directed you to the bib pick-up area at the ARC; the expo was in a larger gym space (where you pick up your bag and t-shirts) and it was HUGE. I was impressed by flow of everything and the selection of vendors.
All of the races for the weekend start near the State Farm Center and end inside Memorial Stadium. There was a great energy along the course, with a lot of students cheering from the sidewalks and porches and bar patios around campus. The 5K started at 7:30 pm — and the corral area was crowded; all the runners couldn’t fit into the corrals, and there was quite a long wait in between waves in order to fit all the people in as each corral moved forward.
The big appeal of the Illinois Marathon is the 50-yard finish inside Memorial Stadium. Imagine my surprise to learn we would be doing the same for the 5K! It was a really cool experience, and inside the concession area was free food for finishers: Jimmy John’s sandwiches (sadly no lettuce-wrapped), bananas, and Nature Valley granola bars.
There was an added "4th Mile" after party outside the Stadium to kick-off to the 5K and race weekend. All participants got a free drink from Riggs Beer Company; there was also live music and FREE CAKE to celebrate the 150th birthday of the college. Speaking of birthdays, the 5K medal is a balloons bouquet celebrating the sesquicentennial — with a special charm denoting the 150th.
A flat, fast course (I PR'd!), and a fun kick-off to the marathon weekend.