When North Central College hosts the first Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon and Half Marathon on Nov. 10, it won’t be the first time the College and the city have hosted a marathon.
North Central men’s cross country head coach Al Carius and volunteer assistant coach Tom Whitaker have many memories of the nine North Central Marathons staged from 1967 to 1975.
Back then, runners from the Naperville area and across the Midwest met outside the College’s Merner Field House. Carius organized the marathons along with class of 1969 alumnus Robert Gray and Bob Schrader, president of a group of local runners known as the Winged Foot Club. The entry fee for runners was $2.
“We did it very, very informally,” Carius says. “We measured out a course on the nearby roads and did it on a Saturday morning with some athletes from North Central and Wheaton (College). We took our old trophies and used those as awards. My wife and I drove around the course and picked people up who needed help.”
The marathons were held in early December and typically followed a route through Naperville to 75th Street on an out-and-back course that was repeated twice. The marathon grew in popularity, eventually drawing more than 200 participants. A DuPage County sheriff’s officer was dispatched to control traffic on 75th Street at Washington Street, and barricades had to be placed along the course to protect runners from vehicles.
“News of (the marathon) really spread through word of mouth,” Carius says. “We certainly didn’t send out any flyers and we didn’t have the Internet back then. Chicago Track Club helped spread the word and more and more people started showing up.”
A 1970 edition of the North Central Chronicle refers to the North Central Marathon as “the largest road race in the Midwest.” Its popularity, according to volunteer assistant cross-country coach Whitaker, was largely due to its community support through the Winged Foot Club.
“The North Central Winged Foot Club was a lot of alums and locals who were continuing to run and compete,” Whitaker says. “Bob Schrader, who was a junior high teacher here in Naperville, started running in his early 30s to lose weight. He was the treasurer (of the Winged Foot Club) and chief organizer of many road races. He was instrumental in organizing the (North Central) Marathon.”
While race organizers were pleased with the popularity of the marathon at the time, the large number of participants eventually led to its cancellation.
“It became too complicated and was overwhelming to administrate,” Whitaker says.
The population of Naperville grew rapidly during the marathon years, from fewer than 13,000 in 1960 to more than 22,000 by 1970 and more than 42,000 by 1980. The safety of participants running along increasingly congested roads contributed to the end of the North Central Marathon.
“We needed more medical support and it started to get bigger than what we felt comfortable with,” Carius says. “I started to worry too much and we just didn’t have the funding or support to continue. You can’t just have a sheriff block off 75th Street anymore.”
The Edward Hospital Naperville Marathon will begin and end at North Central College on Sunday, Nov. 10. The start/finish line will be located south of the Residence Hall/Recreation Center, 440 S. Brainard St. The race is scheduled to begin at 7 a.m. There is a full 26.2 mile course that winds through the Naperville area, as well as a 13.1 half-marathon course. More information about the race is available at naperville26.com.
“It really is very exciting that a marathon is coming back to Naperville and that it’s starting and finishing exactly where our marathons did all those years ago,” Carius said.
Written by Troy Kelleher, a sophomore journalism major and men's cross country team member from Hilliard, Ohio.