The Urbana Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon served as the 28th marathon I have done in my lifetime, and the 14th state for 50 States for Sole.
It was much more than just that for me, because I had my family with me for this one. Since it was Spring Break for the kids, we headed to Illinois a few days before the marathon to spend some time in Chicago.
Tattoo Liz stayed at our house with Rico Suave so that we could have some time away as a family, and not have to worry about our angel- dog who was in great hands at home.
We arrived in Chicago on April 22 – the Thursday before the marathon, and also, Frank’s birthday!
The kids had never been to Chicago, and it turned out to be one of the best family trips ever! The kids were virtually unplugged the entire time, and we all really enjoyed just being together, exploring the city and taking in memories that will last a lifetime.
Morgan in particular was amazed by all that she learned during our visit. She saw two little kids being walked on a leash on the streets of Chicago, and a 10 year old with a pacifier in his mouth at the Nike Store. Her heart went out to every homeless person we encountered, but she was particularly moved by a woman who we saw a few times because she sat on the sidewalk near our hotel. She had dirty clothes and a sweet face that made it hard to look away from her. The thing that really hit home with Morgan is that on our way back to the hotel late one afternoon, another woman was sitting down with her, having a soulful looking conversation. The other woman was in a nice business suit and high heeled shoes, yet her posture portrayed compassion, and the way they were talking made them look like old friends. Morgan was noticeably moved and so curious about both of the women, as well as, their conversation. I was too.
According to Morgan, however, the most educational part of the trip was when we visited Navy Pier – but probably not for reasons that anyone would think. What she learned there is guaranteed to be left out of any city tour guide’s script.
It was a crisp day, but really sunny and clear. We all walked down to the end of the Pier, and as we strolled along, we passed two guys sitting next to each other on a bench. As we approached the guys, Morgan said; “It smells like a skunk!” I told her that it wasn’t a skunk. By this time, the two dudes knew that I knew what they were doing. They were smiling and one of them tried to cross his arms to hide what he had in his hand. I said to Morgan; ”that’s what pot smells like.” She was completely blown away! She had no idea and was truly amazed that it could smell so bad. She talked about skunks the rest of the trip, quite proudly, and thoroughly reveling in her newfound knowledge.
Everyone’s favorite experience was unanimously the Willis Tower – taking pics on the Sky Deck that looked like we were standing in mid air above the city, as well as, Shedd Aquarium with the amazing Beluga Whales, Sea Lions, and Jellies.
We enjoyed a classic dinner together on our last night in Chicago at the one and only Billy Goat Tavern. This place is a blast from the past, and simply awesome! It’s the source of the famous “Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger, Cheeseburger” Saturday Night Live skit with John Belushi, Dan Ackroyd and Bill Murray, where no matter what you want to order, you can only get a cheeseburger. They have “chips – no fries”…and “coke – no pepsi.” We loved it! I think it was the first meal in quite a while that we ate without cell phones within view.
On Friday morning it was time change gears a little and begin concentrating on the reason we had come to Illinois in the first place. Champaign was about two hours away from Chicago, so we didn’t have to rush to get there for the Expo. We checked into our hotel and picked up my race packet before grabbing an early dinner at Cracker Barrel. The kids sat in the big rocking chairs and played checkers together, as well as that little wooden peg-jumping game that tells you you’re dumb as a box of rocks if you have too many wooden pegs left over at the end.
It felt so amazing to just sit there with no place that we had to be, eating dinner at the Cracker Barrel, of all places, with the kids removed from their cell phone that are normally a permanent appendage. They were laughing and teasing each other over a rousing couple rounds of checkers.
As we drove back to hotel we saw a little bit of the race course, and more of Champaign. I had slight pre-race jitters, which were calmed a bit with a stop at the famous Jarlings Custard Cup for some ice cream. Having my family on this marathon excursion was so incredibly awesome!
We went back to our hotel so that I could go to bed early and the kids could swim and hit the arcade with handfuls of quarters.
Race morning went quite smoothly, starting with a 5:00 am alarm, a bagel and some coffee. I caught the 6:00 am shuttle from our very own Eastland Suites hotel to the race for the 7:00 am start time. While waiting for the shuttle in the lobby, and on the way to the race, I spoke to three women about the day ahead, and why I was there. Two of them were good friends, named Regina and Karen, who were running their first marathon together, and the third woman, named Mickie, was doing the 10K and had done the 5K the night before. This race offers an “I-Challenge” that is similar to the Disney races, in that, you can do multiple distances over the course of back-to-back days. I told them all about 50 States for Sole and they were visibly moved, and taken by the organization and my desire to run 50 marathons for it. We also talked about my book, “Finish Line Feeling” and I couldn’t believe how genuinely excited they were to hear about it, and order their own copies. I just met these women and it was as if we were old friends who felt kindred by similar passions and challenges, much like the homeless woman and the business woman seated on Michigan Avenue’s sidewalk. When we exited the shuffle to go our own ways, each of them hugged me good-bye. We wished each other well, and I knew that each of us would have extra motivation on the race course that was inspired by Girls With Sole.
At race start the skies were clear and the temps were already about 55 degrees. I was wearing a throw away shirt, which I threw away before the gun even went off! At the finish of the race it was a hot 76 degrees! There were about 4,000 Half Marathon runners and 2,000 Full Marathon runners. The race shirts were awesome Nike Dri-fit with neon yellow for the Half and white ones for the Full.
I really loved Champaign, Illinois, and running around the campus of the University of Illinois! When I’m in a college town, I always have a great sense of contentment and lightheartedness that is unique to that environment. Although seeing all the college students can make a person feel like an ancient artifact, I love the artistic vibe and the calm and quaintness that comes over me in a college town. It must be the combination of the small-town feel mixed together with intellectualism and the rowdiness of youth that I find so intriguing and inspiring.
The marathon course itself rocked, and so did running across the turf of University of Illinois’ Memorial Stadium football field to cross the Finish Line at the 50 yard line. The jumbo screen was on, and each finisher was shown on it, cheered on by stands full of fans.
Along the course there was such excellent volunteer and spectator support! From the minute you drive into town, walk into your hotel, and visit the packet pick up – the whole town is all about the runners, and so extremely welcoming. We also ran through some really cool parks that showcased lots of incredibly uniques sculptures.
Everyone who was involved with the race was so happy and nice! This isn’t always the case at other races, but it certainly was here. The local officials were friendly and even cheered the runners on as they stood for hours in the heat, directing traffic for us. The support and cheers from the community members and throughout neighborhoods we invaded along the race course was quite inspiring! Little kids were drums of pots and pans, blowing bubbles and there were more bands and musicians along the course than I have seen at a couple Rock and Roll marathon courses! Families were out, and parties were being thrown in front yards, where folks set up their own, creative aid stations that included everything from Jolly Ranchers to Free Bacon and Beer stands. I also spotted one of the most creative race signs at this race that sported a big photo of Christopher Walken and read: “There’s no time for Walken!”
This was my third marathon in the month of April, and the 14th marathon for 50 States for Sole, which made it quite meaningful and moving, but the highlight of it all was having my family there waiting for me in the stadium!
As I ran around the corner of the finisher’s chute, and entered the field, I immediately heard my family yelling for me!
Frank bellowed, “go Ferro!” and Morgan was yelling, “Yeah, Mom!!” Jake yelled out…”Finish!” Good advice from my son, that also made me laugh!
I kept stoping to wave at them and was so overwhelmed with happiness…I almost forgot to finish. I wanted to run up into the stands and hug them all! I was thrilled beyond belief and so incredibly proud of my family as well as the organization I created – and that I was running for.
When I went up in the stands after crossing the finish line, Frank said that he and Morgan were so inspired by me that they want to train to do a Half Marathon and come with me to another race for Girls With Sole to complete it together while I do the Full.