Naperville runners hungry for city's first marathon
Naperville's running community was hungry.
It was early morning on Jan. 28 and spots in the inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon were about to go on sale.
Prices had been reduced from original figures that sparked an outcry of online complaints, and at $105 for the full and $75 for the half, dedicated marathoners and ambitious novices alike were perched in front of computer screens, ready to claim their place at the starting line.
Fourteen hours later, 2,900 starting spots had been filled and the rush to register for the Nov. 10 marathon was over. Fewer than 600 other competitors would find their way into the races, registering through charities and committing to raise funds for worthy causes.
If Naperville's running community was hungry to race then -- almost 11 months before the first hometown marathon would get under way -- it's starving, ravenous, nearly insatiable now.
A mere seven days before next Sunday's big race, runners from Naperville (and throughout the Chicago area and beyond) have knocked out their longest training routes; conquered their most strenuous speed workouts; strengthened their abs; and stretched, lifted and iced everything imaginable to prepare for the start of their distance-running challenge.
"The running community here is so excited. They're really pumped," race director Bob Hackett said. "Being the first-time event for the city, we're seeing just so much enthusiasm."
Like the race itself, the planning process for Naperville's first marathon has been a long one. Hackett said it began three years ago, when he and the other four directors first approached the city and were told the special events calendar was too jam-packed to accommodate a 26.2-mile race.
Like good runners do, Hackett and the other directors -- many of the same core people who plan and host the Fox Valley Marathon out of St. Charles -- persevered, knowing a marathon in DuPage County's most populous city would be a hit.
"The reason for bringing the marathon to Naperville is it's an underserved market," Hackett said. "There are so many runners in Naperville, but yet, no marathon."
The 14-hour sellout far exceeded race directors' expectations and gave a glimpse into the mood of the Naperville running community.
"We think there was a pent-up demand for this race," said Brian Davis, chief marketing officer for Edward Hospital, the marathon's title sponsor. "Events like this bring excitement and a great vibe to what's already a tremendous community."
Runners are excited about the course and its variety of flat land and hills, forest preserve trails and neighborhood streets, broad thoroughfares and meandering riverside paths. They're pumped about the later date to avoid midsummer training and to race in cooler temperatures.
And they're most excited about the starting and finishing location. It's in Naperville, of course, but not just anywhere in Naperville. The race begins and ends in the city's cherished downtown, on the campus of North Central College, where competitors will step over the timing line to start their run and return miles upon miles later, conquering a final hill before recording a finishing time at Porter Avenue and Loomis Street.
"We're excited to be involved given our tradition of running excellence," college spokesman Ted Slowik said.
Involving the downtown wasn't originally in the plan. Actually, it was just the opposite, said Naperville City Clerk Pam LeFeber, who will be running her first marathon come Nov. 10.
City staff members were concerned a downtown-centered race would inconvenience homeowners in the historic district and west of downtown who already make accommodations for Ribfest, the Last Fling Labor Day festival and seemingly countless walkathons and charity events along the Riverwalk. They didn't want to hurt downtown businesses by clogging parking with runners and their fans, so they thought a route in south Naperville and Bolingbrook was the way to go.
Downtown business leaders spoke up and let them know otherwise, said Kris Hartner, owner of Naperville Running Company. The race will draw potential customers to downtown shops, not just steal parking spaces, he said. And that will benefit the entire city.
"A Sunday morning in November is generally one of the slower retail Sundays of the year," he said. "To have an event like this early in the morning -- things will be winding down and clearing out by the early afternoon -- I think it's only a positive."
The marathon steps off at 7 a.m. and the route winds through 36 subdivisions -- where the city and race organizers are working to build neighborhood pride and get groups out cheering on the sidewalks to encourage road-weary runners. It also spends roughly 7 miles on crushed limestone trails in the Springbrook Prairie and Greene Valley forest preserves.
"The one thing about a marathon is it's not just about the runners; it's about the whole community," Hackett said.
Non-runners are getting involved by setting up cheering stations at churches or volunteering to direct traffic at one of the 148 intersections the route crosses. Mayor George Pradel plans to be at the side of race announcers, using his signature cheerleader voice to encourage athletes along the way.
"The marathon is going to be well-run," Pradel said.
Others have made similar comments -- minus the play on words -- saying race officials have shown great organization and attention to detail as they planned the course and coordinated logistics, volunteers and public safety.
"The event coordinators are top-notch," Edward Hospital's Davis said. "They really know what they're doing."
Runners hungry for race day to arrive will begin converging Friday and Saturday on the Edward Hospital Health and Fitness Center. There, at a pre-race expo, they'll pick up their bib numbers and timing gear in a bag of goodies also containing a visitors guide and dining guide from the Naperville Convention and Visitors Bureau, which will be serving as the "marathon concierge" throughout race weekend and promoting the 250 restaurants and hundreds of shops the city has to offer.
Volunteer coordinator Althea Wasilewski of Naperville only runs 5Ks, but she understands the motivation to pound pavement, the dedication to train thoroughly, the hunger to perform flawlessly come race day. In seven days, she knows Naperville's running community will be ready to let loose all its pent-up appetite and run its first marathon -- and surely not its last.
"It's such a running city," Wasilewski said. "This is just another gem."
Runners: Edward Hospital is hosting pre-race expo
If You GoWhat: Naperville Marathon Expo
When: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 9
Where: Edward Hospital Health & Fitness Center, 775 Brom Court, Naperville
Who: Open to Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon runners and the public; runners a valid ID to pick up their race packet
What: Inaugural Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon
When: 7 a.m. Sunday, Nov. 10
Where: Starts and ends near the North Central College Residence Hall and Recreation Center at Porter Avenue and Loomis Street
Who: Roughly 3,500 runners, including 1,400 running the full marathon; sponsored by Naper Events LLC
Cost: Free to watch