Top athletes of Illinois Race Weekend discuss the races

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Rain or shine, thousands of runners were determined to finish the 2022 Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend strong Saturday. Volunteers and athletes alike said things went smoothly.

“We’re returning to real racing again; we kind-of slowly rolled into it. And this feels… I mean, look around – the energy is real,” Joseph Cowlin said. He finished third in the half marathon.

David O’Gara was the first to finish the half marathon Saturday morning – the longest race of the weekend.

“It was a cool moment. This is the first road race that I’ve won, so I just tried to soak it up coming down the home stretch. It was really cool,” O’Gara said. “I really wanted to come back so I was really excited that the race was on this year, the storms held off. So, really fun to be here.”

Like many other runners, he said even though the pandemic halted the event for two years, it didn’t stop him from running.

“I know it wasn’t possible for everyone, so I was grateful for that. For my own sanity and mental health,” he said.

The top female runner – Julie Wiemerslage – said she worked hard during the build up, and it paid off.

“You know, life right? Just busy with work, and all kinds of travel… So, it feels really good to still be able to come out here and run really well today,” she said.

She has some advice for other girls who hope to run in her footsteps.

“Don’t let anything get in your way. When I started out, I was not the fastest girl on the team in high school or college but I just kept showing up,” she said.

The winners of the wheelchair half marathon were also excited to compete again.

“Brand new year, new racecourse, so it’s great to be out there and celebrate the running community,” Jenna Fesemyer said.

“It’s always nice to be able to do a half marathon here in town. We train on these roads every day, so getting to actually race on them was pretty exciting,” Brian Siemann said.

One family crossed the 10K finish line together.

“He’s super fast, he smoked me at the finish line, and I finished,” Peter Byler said alongside his sons, Ephram and Asher.

Not everyone competed for the prize money. Some just competed for bragging rights.

“Feels really good, especially when I beat him,” Asher Byler said.

“I can’t believe they’re getting so big. At some point your kids just get bigger and faster than you and that’s okay,” Peter Byler said.

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