Springfield native Joey Miller is thinking about running one of the race options in the Springfield Marathon, but he hasn’t decided yet. The reason? He’s still recovering from a 100-mile race, called an ultramarathon, in Northern Idaho that he finished in 26 hours. “I was in fifth place in mile 60,” he says, “but the wheels kind of feel off overnight. I think the altitude got to me between five and nine thousand feet in the mountains, and I slowed down a little. But I was still running at the end, so that’s good.”
There are a few reasons, according to Joey, why one might be motivated enough (or crazy enough) to run a long race. But one that stands out is how easy it is to make friends out of your competitors. For example, during his northern Idaho ultramarathon, he ran with other racers for miles at a time. “I ran with a whole bunch of people because it’s 100 miles, so you’re running with people for a long time. And now we follow each other on social media—and we were just complete strangers. But we had this shared experience that was pretty ridiculous.”
Runners from around the country will have the opportunity for a similar experience (albeit over fewer miles) this upcoming weekend as part of the Springfield Marathon, now in its fifth year. The event, which includes a 5K, 10K, half marathon, three quarters marathon as well as the full marathon, takes place on Oct. 13–14 at the University of Illinois—Springfield campus, and all runners—and walkers!—are welcome. Justin Stewart, another local runner, loves this range of races in one event. “It’s a good event that caters to everybody’s different ability levels and what they want to challenge themselves at,” he says.
Justin has been running since 4th grade when he first completed the presidential physical fitness test. “At that time, you couldn’t run cross country on the junior high team until 6th grade, and [the PE teacher] invited me out as a fourth grader, which was kind of unheard of.” Now, in addition to participating in ultramarathons, he is a competitive stair climber who travels the nation climbing some of the world’s tallest buildings.
That love was also born in Springfield: Back in 2011, a group of old high school cross country teammates were putting together a team for an annual stair climb that takes place in the Wyndham downtown. While new to the sport, Justin ended up winning it. “There were other competitive stair climbers there saying there were other races nationwide, and it was kind of a snowball effect from there,” he says.
Both Justin and Joey are past Springfield Marathon competitors, Joey having won overall in the 2017 race, and both agree that the Springfield Marathon being their hometown race makes it especially personal. “The thing that’s bringing me back is there’s a lot of local people running as well,” says Justin. “It’s good to see people you see all the time on race day, kind of in a different light.”
“It’s the coolest thing to just wake up at 7 and then drive 15 minutes down the road and do a race,” Joey says. “Unfortunately I just don’t get to interact with the Springfield running community very often [because] my hours at work are so terrible. So, I try to do some races around here with the running community, you know?”
And sometimes Joey takes that community with him, even when he travels for races. When he ran the inaugural Springfield Marathon in 2013, he met someone who, like him, had run the Chicago Marathon not seven days earlier. They ran together in the Springfield Marathon for about 20 miles, mostly spending the time discussing the foolishness of running two marathons within a week. This year, Joey ran with his friend again for nearly 50 miles during the 100-mile race in Northern Idaho.
“At Springfield Clinic, one of our goals is to help our community partners, such as Midtown Rotary, put on fun events that promote health and wellness,” orthopedic sports medicine specialist Diane Hillard-Sembell, MD, says. “And on both a personal and a sports medicine level, my colleagues and I are committed to keeping the communities we serve healthy. The marathon is a great example of an event that accomplishes that.” As part of that commitment, Springfield Clinic, will also be providing sports medicine specialists for any care needed during or after the race. Springfield Clinic also encourages anyone to participate in the race—even if you don’t run—by volunteering to help with the event.
Are you interested in running but unable to race in a few days? Dive into the Springfield running scene and then set a goal to run next year! Justin says the best way to get started running is to find a group of people to run with. “The biggest thing early on is getting with a group of people that have a like-minded goal. It keeps you accountable, focused, hungry—and when you’re surrounded by people with the same goal, you’re going to keep going,” he says.
“I think the most important thing is just signing up,” says Joey. For him, putting the nonrefundable fee down on a race makes sure he shows up and tries his best. “If you get to that starting line, it’s infectious. The other people will inspire you and give you confidence, and all the ‘what ifs’ will be washed away and you’ll just be in the moment. That’s what I think those races are really good at, is dialing in the present.”
Joey and Justin prove that running races is more than an individual competition to see how far you can push yourself: Running is about the people you meet along the route.
Find more information about running in the marathon or volunteering at the event on the Springfield Marathon web page.
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