In my previous post, I discussed my top three half marathons. Shipyard Half Marathon in Portland, ME was #4, Denver Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon was #3, and San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon was #2. Each of these half marathons was fun, exciting, and unique. They all offered beautiful race environments, great courses, perfect travel destinations, fun activities in the city, and, importantly, flashy finisher medals. But no race could compare to the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon in Springfield, IL.
Background to Trip & Race
Why is a half marathon in Springfield, IL. my number one? First of all, this race took place on April 2, 2016, and it had been less than a year since my mentor and friend, Dr. Robert McGlone, passed away on July 23, 2015. He was a brilliant historian, professor, and someone who had a significant impact on my journey to gaining my Ph.D. in History at the University of Hawaii. I could not, and in all honestly, would not have done or accomplished such a momentous undertaking without him. He guided me, inspired me, defended me, and as the Chair of my dissertation committee, motivated me to be my best academic self because he believed in me. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of him, and every day I stand in a classroom and teach about United States History, I think back to his wisdom and brilliance and hope to live up to the promise he saw in me.
I wish to share this personal story because it is directly related to running this race. Dr. McGlone was a Civil War historian and, like myself, has researched and dedicated our academic interests to that era. We would often spend hours in his office talking about 19th Century American history, sharing our thoughts, and considering many different concepts and historical theories. He often discussed Abraham Lincoln’s presidency and John Brown’s War, nominated for the Abraham Lincoln book prize. It meant a great deal for such a significant consideration and a prestigious award. To be connected, in any way, to the legacy of Lincoln through recognition of his historical research and brilliant writing humbled him. As I mourned his death and wished for one more opportunity to discuss history and life, I noticed a half marathon centered around Abraham Lincoln in Springfield, IL. Since Dr. McGlone was originally from Chicago, I knew that this was a race I could not miss.
That may have been an emotional way to get to why this race was so special to run, but I feel it vital to share the honesty of my choice. It may seem I put a lot of pressure on this race and that my trip to Chicago and Springfield, IL were, therefore, set to fail in living up to the emotional bar, which I had placed on it. Well, the fact the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon sits atop my list of half marathons, hopefully, illustrates that not only did it measure up, but far excited my wildest hopes for the success of this trip. So, let’s get to it!
Heading to Springfield, Illinois, but Chicago First
My wife and I decided to fly into Chicago and drive to Springfield. Yes, at least two airports are closer to Springfield, including one in Springfield and one in St. Louis (a lovely woman in our hotel in Springfield pointed this out), so there should have been no need to go to Chicago. But we had never been to the city and desired to explore it for a day and then drive to the 3-hour trip to Springfield. We arrived in Chicago at around 7 am on April 1, explored the city for several hours, had lunch at Frontera Grill, and walked around as much as possible. While we did not have a ton of time in the city, we had a fantastic time exploring and taking in some touristy sites and eateries. With a decent amount of daylight left, we departed for Springfield to get to the city, checked into our hotel, went to the race expo (also in the hotel we were staying at), and got something to eat.
We arrived in Springfield in good time, enjoying the drive from Chicago by listening to podcasts, like How Did This Get Made? and my wife commenting, often, that we were driving along very flat areas. This observation immediately made her terrified we would encounter a tornado. That did not happen, and we made it safe and sound to the adopted home of Abraham Lincoln. We checked in at the President Abraham Lincoln Doubletree by Hilton Hotel and, after putting on a fresh set of clothes, we ventured to the hotel’s conference room to attend the Expo.
The race Expo was nothing, and I mean nothing, like a Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series Expo, but that did not matter. It was small but sufficient. I could get my race gels, talk to one vendor about the local breweries, and meet several people excited to participate in the race to celebrate Lincoln, Springfield, and our mutual love of half marathons. After checking in, I received my race bib and free race shirt, which is one of my favorites because it is superimposed Lincoln’s head on the body of Kevin Costner in the movie poster for Field of Dreams, with the slogan “Go the Distance.” That is pretty freaking cool!
After the Expo, we decided to walk around the downtown area for a little while and find something to eat. We found a nice Italian restaurant for some pre-race pasta. It was in a great location. Located just outside the historic Old State House and a block away from the hotel, the restaurant was in a beautiful area and close to many historical sites related to Lincoln’s time in the city, whether the National Park or even his former law office. We did not want to do too much since the race was in the morning, and there would have been plenty of time to see historic sites after the race, including The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, which was amazing! After our fantastic dinner, we called it a night.
Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon
The following day, the race would begin outside of the hotel, so we could wake up, get some complimentary breakfast in the hotel dining room, get ready, and wait in the lobby for the race to get started. My wife would not be running but instead would cheer me on from the warm comfort of a local coffee shop she had scoped out online and would visit once the race went off. During these running vacations, the hotel you are lodging at is always preferable if located directly adjacent to the race starting line. It makes everything so easy and requires absolutely no planning! This ease will never fail to make life simple on race morning and gets extra points from me. It is preferable to finish a half marathon further from the hotel and start the race close to where I am staying.
The race started at 7:30 am, and I had to dress warmly since, at race time, it was around 40 degrees. But I knew as the race progressed, it would get warm, so I dressed in shorts and a t-shirt, with a thin running jacket and gloves. I called it right, and it turned out to be a very comfortable race with the bright sun and scenery captivating. Running started downtown, pretty close to The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, an inspired way to begin a half marathon for a wicked traveled historian with expertise in 19th century American history. As HalfMarathon.Net writes, “Runners go through historic downtown Springfield, past the Old State Capitol (home of Lincoln’s “House Divided” speech), and the Lincoln Law office. Runners continue to the only National Park Service site in Illinois, the Lincoln Home National Historic Site,” and past the home Lincoln owned.
I was sold on this race before I arrived, and seeing these sites as I ran made my heart pump with joy excitement, and I felt humbled to be in such a place with a distinguished history. The entire course was challenging and well-designed, yet there was never a dull moment. Even the most challenging parts of the half marathon, I was confronted with confidence, which I don’t usually possess when running. I had prepared well for this half marathon. I wanted to crush it, I felt like I was crushing it, and I destroyed it in the end. I grew more determined with each historical site seen, each unique part of the city observed, and even Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln impersonators cheering for each runner. This point was especially true when I ran through Oak Ridge Cemetery and passed close to Lincoln’s Tomb State Historic Site.
After running through the over 100-year-old Lincoln Park, we finished by running by some antique and older homes, completing the race at the finish line in downtown Springfield and proceeded to the Old State House for the post-race party. At the historic State House, I met up with my wife, who I saw on the course cheering me on during my final mile, and got my awesome finisher medal. There is no better way to finish a race devoted to Abraham Lincoln than by getting a giant Lincoln penny finisher medal, taking pictures with the Abraham and Mary Todd impersonators close to where he gave his “House Divided” speech, and running my best race ever!
Historical Travels in Abraham Lincoln’s City
After the half marathon, my wife and I walked around, exploring the new and old State House, Lincoln’s home at the National Park, and the presidential library and museum that bears his name, and taking in as many of the city’s sites as we could. We enjoyed the day taking in a location we never thought we would visit. I guess we never thought we would have a reason. That’s why I love traveling for half-marathons because it makes for a good kick in the ass to explore a new city, a new town, a new place we may never have thought of visiting. So, the day after the race, we departed from Springfield, but before heading back to Chicago, and the airport, we took in the last site we wanted to explore closer, the tomb of Abraham Lincoln.
Those are my top 4 half marathons. I have, and hopefully will continue to, run in unique places. I do not consider myself an “ultra” runner. I run maybe six miles a week when I am in the mood, but more when I sign up and the weeks get closer to a half marathon start date. Travel vacation running, or a “runcation” is the push. I enjoy the challenge, fitness, and pursuit of running such a long distance. Each race leaves a memory, whether running with my brother, sister-in-law, or alone with my wife watching on. Yet none more so than the Lincoln Presidential Half Marathon, which allowed me to honor my late mentor, recognize my career, and travel with my favorite travel companion, my historian wife. Together we geek out at the historical sites, eat local food, and add memories that we hope will last a lifetime.
Traveling for these races constructs precious memories. Each half marathon I have run, both good and bad, has left me with a memory of the experience. These four races were just able to do something some of the others could not do. Two races that could have been on this list are the Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon in Nashville and the New Bedford Half Marathon. Both were amazing, but New Bedford was my homecoming, a race near my hometown, and a race I keep close to my heart. Nashville is a race that will get a separate blog post shortly with a look at the race and an examination of the beautiful city of Nashville as a whole. So, until then, I left Nashville off this list and will explore it more later. Will you join me?