Savoy excited to join the party as part of revived marathon's new course

Apr. 20—SAVOY — When Mike Lindemann laid out the course for the first Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon in 2009, it only used the streets of Champaign and Urbana.

That course hosted runners for the next decade before the pandemic forced the 26.2-mile race to enter a five-year hiatus. Now, the road to the gold medal will also run through Savoy when the marathon returns April 27.

"They were gung-ho about it," Lindemann said. "I had a route in my mind, so I kind of went over that with them (and) that's kind of how it started."

Savoy officials leapt at the chance to get involved with the race and introduce runners and their families to the village of about 9,000.

Runners will enter Savoy via the course's longest straightaway, which begins after the 18th mile at the corner of Armory and Prospect avenues, next to the Champaign Country Club.

They won't turn a corner again for another 3.5 miles, until they reach the Savoy Recreation Center, the pivot point of a paperclip that funnels them back to Champaign via Wesley Avenue, Regency Drive East, Burwash Avenue and Lyndhurst Drive.

"We're just thrilled that it's coming to Savoy," village President John Brown said. "Hopefully the residents that it (passes by) don't get too inconvenienced, but I don't think they will. Especially since it's towards the end of the race; people will be spread out more."

Village trustees Larry Kanfer and Heather Mangian have been especially helpful in planning and executing Savoy's maiden run.

"It's an opportunity for the members of our neighborhoods just to come and cheer them on and be part of the fun," Mangian said.

Among the festive touches the village is planning for race day are some 60 signs that will be dotted throughout the course in Savoy. Organizers even gave some blank signs to local schools for students to decorate.

"We've got a balloon arch as you enter the first water station, a barbershop quartet, and we're going to have pom-poms that we're giving out to people, so they can cheer on the runners," Kanfer said. "We have a real diverse population, and we want to see everyone show up."

Savoy's involvement is among the biggest changes to the marathon in the half-decade since the full race last ran.

It's been more than 1,800 days since Wilson Chemweno and Margaret Njuguna won the most recent full race. The most recent Illinois Marathon race weekends topped out with the half-marathon in 2022 and 2023.

"We as an organization have set high goals to bring underrepresented people to the start line," race director Jan Seeley said. "That is more people with disabilities, we have blind runners and low-vision athletes, we have a group of deaf athletes. ... We're not as big as we used to be, but we're touching more members of our community and celebrating that diversity."

Some things, in Seeley's estimation, have stayed the same.

"We're the same welcoming community, by and large, eager to let this event shine the brightest of lights on our community," she said. "So that people know how great everyone is here and what a great community it is."

Planning for the 2024 event began before 2023's race weekend went off without a hitch. Johnny Crain and Jane Bareikis won last year's half-marathon when it was still the biggest show in town.

A dedicated group of volunteers has helped make it possible.

Some 65 police officers will be spread throughout the course to lead the community's safety effort. They'll come from as far as Rantoul and Danville, according to emergency-services coordinator Bryant Seraphin.

"We've tried to spread this out so that everybody's burden is a little bit lighter," Seraphin said. "The state police will still have a presence here as well, and we think by spreading this out, we'll be able to get our numbers where we want them to be without really taxing any one police agency too much."

It's a daunting task for any of the runners involved in the full marathon to complete the race in less than six hours after the start of the last wave, the cutoff time for runners to cross the finish line.

At the top of the leaderboard are some of the nation's most competitive runners. Elite-athletes coordinator Julie Mills has about twice the volume of runners to deal with this year with the full race back on the schedule.

"It's great to have both levels," Mills said. "We've got a runner coming from Seattle who probably could win the race. And we've got people coming from all over, so it's really neat."

Brown and the other two mayors involved — Champaign's Deb Feinen and Urbana's Diane Marlin — are equally excited for the race to return.

"It is my favorite weekend in our community," Feinen said. "I love everything about the marathon. I think it's a great opportunity to show off the community to a bunch of visitors. It is a fantastic event for people locally."

Marlin echoed her sentiments.

"The route has changed, but the enthusiasm hasn't," she said. "For me, it's one of my favorite weekends of the year. It's a great opportunity to showcase the community, to encourage people to donate to social-service organizations. It brings people together."

Few are more excited than Seeley to see the race return to full song.

"In some ways, our community could argue it hasn't gotten over COVID if we don't get the marathon back," Seeley said. "There's something about bringing the marathon back as as almost like an endpoint or punctuation mark to say, 'We are back to normal here in Champaign-Urbana.'"