The Illini Half – 3 Makes 1

Evident by the fact this post has been published, I can officially say I once again survived Illinois’ Toughest 15K race which was held this morning in an absolute downpour.  I’ll save the details on today’s adventure for a future post because I need to get to the race queue before I get too far behind.  As a follow up to yesterday’s post on the Illini Marathon 5K race, tonight’s post brings us the main event.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

The morning after the 5K is the official Marathon, Half Marathon and 10K events.  Once again opted for the Half Marathon this year as there is already a big-ass race planned for July – no need to go crazy on this one.  True to course for this weekend, there were more early forecasts for cold, rain, wind … yep, the usual for late April in the Midwest. In a stroke of luck the rain moved through during the night and the rest pushed off until later that day leaving a cool but very accommodating climate for a long race.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Hit the jump to read details on the day.

This was also the first year we opted to simply stay overnight in the parking lot near the starting line. This allowed me to get a few extra Z’s in since I didn’t have to deal with getting the RV unhooked at the campground we usually stay at and then the 15 to 20 minute drive to Memorial Stadium.  That plan worked out perfectly – woke up, put on the race day’s attire, opened the RV door and walked across the parking lot to the starting line.  Talk about reducing stress on race day!

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

I waited as long as possible to shed the extra layers of clothes prior to start.  It was still in the 50’s which makes waiting in the shoots a bit of a shiverfest.  You definitely want to be cold at the start of the race – once you get the legs pumping and the  arms swinging you heat up fast, but standing around in the cold sucks.  After a very nice rendition of the National Anthem, the starting line was staged with the wheelchair competitors launching first followed by staggered releases of the corals.  I was in the second group so the wait wasn’t that bad.  Once again my personal photographer was at the starting line for the traditional  “I got this” shot.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

With the cool weather, felt really good for the first half of the race.  The legs felt strong having already been tested on the half marathon trail at Allerton (link here).  The Illini course is as flat as you can get which really doesn’t fit my style well.  The long flat, never changing terrain tends to get very monotonous over the miles.  The legs also prefer to climb and descend to average out the strain on the muscles – flat courses pound the same muscles mile after mile after mile.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Luckily with all the extra trail running, there was plenty of gas in the legs.  Cruising through the first half put me in the park portion.  Not sure what it is about this particular point, but this is when I usually feel the weight of the race.  Part of the problem is the ability to see a significant distance ahead as the path wraps around a large prairie revealing how far you still need to go before exiting the park and embarking on the last leg of the race back to Memorial Stadium – also reveals how many better runners there are ahead of you sigh.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

11 miles in and I was still feeling really good.  Expectations were to come in between the 9 and 9:15 pace, but according to Runkeeper all my splits were coming in well ahead of that.  Definitely attribute that to the cooler weather and two guys that I had paced off of most of the race.  Nice to be able to simply tuck in behind someone and let them drive the pace while you enjoy the scenery.  At mile 12 I picked up a shadow – the guy to the left of me in the pictures.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Having run this race for several years now the kick point is pretty well established.  Immediately after the left turn at the intramural sports and fitness building the stride steadily increases and the breathing gets a lot more direct. My shadow had the same plan as we both started pulling away from the other runners around us.  Interesting – time to man up.  He was still with me as we went down into the tunnel leading to the field, still with me as we made it onto the field matching the planned steady acceleration.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

More interesting.  With finish line in site now it was time for the final test – full throttle – leave nothing in the tank.  Now the focus was on finish mats with all other distractions filtered out.  The shadow broke somewhere in the 2 tenths of a mile or so to the finish – from Linda’s finishing shot above you can tell he fell back a good distance.  No complaints about that run at all.  Good start, good middle and good finish.  All that was left was to pick up my medal.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Ummm, make that medal’S’.  The reason I subject myself to this flat course every year is their amazing medals.  Every year they seem to get better and better.  Last year they included a suncatcher feature (link here).  Hard to imagine they could top that … but they DID. At first they just looked like your standard medals although with a very detailed pattern.  It wasn’t until I got them together with the 5K medal that I noticed the hidden surprise – hold for a bit.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Clocked in at a 1:49:15 which put me at 8:20 pace.  Definitely beat pre-race expectations.  Also beat last year’s numbers which came in at an 8:24 pace or a 1:49:56. Not bad for an old guy ha!
Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Back to the medals.  So with the I-Challenge you receive two medals for finishing the half marathon.  A medal for the Half (on the left) and the medal for completing the 21K challenge – 5K + the Half.  That medal is the larger one on the right.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Now for the hidden surprise,  After placing the two medals on following the Half I noticed they tended to attract to each other.  Wasn’t any apparent reason they were doing that and decided it might have been some residual magnetism being boxed with all the other medals at the finish line.  When I got back to the RV and placed them alongside the previous night’s medal they all seemed to have a magnetic pull to each other.  Hmmmmmmm.  On closer inspection noticed there were small magnets in the sides of the medals.  Seems like a strange detail to be unintended.  Inspected the medals and noticed each of the medals had a Route 66 emblem on it with a road at the bottom.  You don’t think they ….

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Okay, this set just made it to the top of my best finisher swag list.  The three medals lock together to form one medal with a connected design across them.  Race Coordinators we are not worthy. Oh, as I made my way to the post race food, a likely student asked me if I was an Alumni. On confirmation he handed me one of the towels from the stack he was carrying – that is what the medals are sitting on in the shot above – the surprises just keep coming.

Illini Marathon I-Challenge Half - Half Marathon April 2019

Clearly I am going to have to suck it up and run the flat course again next year – they managed to win-over this medal whore for another year.

Thanks again to my lovely wife for braving the cold and taking the race day shots. Note, sure enough, it did start to pour as we were heading out of town – thanks to the rain gods for holding off a few hours.

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