Twenty (or so ...) Questions with Jan Seeley

By Bruce Butler

As I wrote earlier, this month we were lucky to catch up to our two Twenty (or so) Questions interviewees – Mike Lindemann and Jan Seeley. Up next is Jan. This year the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon celebrates the 150th anniversary of the founding of the University of Illinois. Had it not been for that 1867 event, it is doubtful we would have gotten to know Jan since the reason she came to Champaign- Urbana is to go to grad school here in 1987. I would say Jan has made quite an impact on our community in her thirty years here. Jan was married to the late Joe Seeley, a fellow Second Winder, and they have two sons, Jake, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkley, and Paul, a senior at the University of Southern California. Read and enjoy!  

1. How did you get involved in running an event like the Illinois Marathon instead of running a race like the Illinois Marathon?

Race founder Mark Knutson of the Fargo Marathon was a running industry friend and advertiser in Marathon & Beyond. He called me up in June of 2007 and said, “Hey, Jan, I’m thinking of starting a new race weekend, and I think Champaign-Urbana would be a great place. Can you help me?” The rest is history. I went from being on the race committee in Year One to being the co-director with Mike starting in Year Two and then part of the local owners’ group in Year Three and now I am the full-time director.  

2. Do you have a mentor that has helped make you a better race director?

Many, actually. Beth Shluger, the executive director of the Hartford Marathon; Dave McGillivray, the Boston Marathon Director; Scott Keenan, founder of and race director for Grandma’s Marathon (Duluth, MN) for 40 years; and Doug Thursday, executive director of Big Sur are my biggest mentors.  

3. What’s the best advice you ever received?

“Your race is only as good as your previous year. You have to do it all over again the next year…and better than before.”—Scott Keenan, Grandma’s Marathon  

4. Do you get tired of people asking, joking or whining about the weather on race day?

Not really! We try to have fun with our bad weather luck. What’s tough, though, is when folks cuss me out in an email about the weather. This past year I got a few charging me with endangering our entrants’ health by forcing them to run in the rain (instead of cancelling the race). Sheesh.  

5. What are 3 things every Illinois Marathon runner, from 5k to 26.2, should know?

All races finish at the 50 yard line of Memorial Stadium. Every finisher receives a drawstring backpack, a shirt, and a finisher medal. Our website has answers to most any question you might have about the race.  

6. What is the most frequently asked question?

Where is…..[fill in the blank] ?  

7. What is your occupation and how do you fit being a Co-Director of the Illinois Marathon around it?

Since the beginning of 2016, my occupation has been the full-time director of the CCIM. That said, for the first 8 years of the race, my work on the race overlapped with my job as the publisher of Marathon & Beyond magazine. Somehow, I managed to work almost two full-time jobs. Life is much saner for me now that I only have one full time job.  

8. How has the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon changed the running scene in Champaign County?

The race has tremendously increased the number of runners in the community. There’s so much pride and “ownership” of the race by local runners and that’s really cool.  

9. I watch the relationship you have with your co-director and it seems the two of you get along extremely well. Has it been that way since day one?

When Mark Knutson asked Mike and me to be the co-directors starting with Year Two, we started running together almost every Wednesday morning (unless one of us was injured). Honestly, that’s been the best thing for us—time for us to become better friends, to talk about race stuff, and to stay on the same page with the never-ending flow of race details. Mike is kind of quiet and I am not. My nickname for us is Sparky and Eeyore!  

10. Besides agreeing to do this interview, what’s been the biggest mistake or learning moment as the Race Director?

Something that has, over time, really sunk into my bones as one of the directors is this: our event is not just a few different events with lots of runners; it’s 20,000 different races. I strive to do anything and everything possible to personalize the experience for every single entrant, whether that’s answering a phone call at 11 at night, responding to every email I get, handing out medals at the finish line, exchanging shirts after the event, and so on. I take my nickname as the “make people happy person” seriously!  

11. Since you are also a runner in addition to being the Co-Race Directors, here’s a few running questions. What’s the worst running injury you’ve had?

After 40+ years of running, I’m finally facing my toughest challenge, a slight degenerative tear in my right medial meniscus. I’m working around it. Running less and doing more cross-training, and strength training. I am running 3 days a week instead of 5-6. Given the choice of no running vs. only being able to run a few times a week, I’ll take the latter.  

12. What’s the best running book you’ve read?

Running & Being by Dr. George Sheehan  

13. What is your typical weekly mileage? With the injury, I’m only running about 20 miles a week but I am also walking several times, swimming once a week, and doing strength training 2 to 3 times per week.  

14. What’s your go-to shoe right now?

My ONLY shoe….Saucony Hurricanes. Jed Bunyan says I “have a Saucony foot.” Have never been able to run in anything but these shoes.  

15. What’s the biggest mistake you ever made in a race?

I really can’t think of anything. I dropped out of one race in my life, the Pikes Peak Ascent, on a very hot and humid day about 10 years ago. I turned myself around. Continuing that day would have been my biggest mistake, but I lived to run another day.  

16. Can you get yourself out the door without a group or running partner?  

Absolutely.  

17. Which PR are you most proud of? Probably my 3:27 marathon PR in 1989. Two weeks before the race, I was on the winning women’s River to River team. I kind of overdid it that weekend and I was still pretty beat up going into the marathon (Lake County Marathon, RIP). I went through 20 miles in 2:30 and then blew up….it took me 57 minutes for the last 10K, at a time when I routinely ran 10Ks in 40 flat. So, while I am happy about the 3:27, I really had a shot at a much faster time that day.  

18. Since running in the Illinois Marathon is not possible, what races do you look forward to participating in?

I have done the Pikes Peak Ascent several times recently. Love the Grandma’s Marathon or Half. I do either the full or half at St. Jude every year in Joe’s memory. That was the last marathon he ran the year before he got sick.  

19. And lastly, describe a perfect April 21-22, 2017?

40 degrees at the start, 55 to 60 at the finish. Partly cloudy. Little to no humidity. No one gets lost, hit by a car, or God forbid, dies on the course. Great spectator support along the course. Gummy Bears and Beer for all! The 4th Mile and 27th Mile are wild successes. We welcome every runner to the finish line, regardless of time. Food left over. All our volunteers show up and, to borrow a phrase from the Patriots’ Coach Belichick, “Do Their Job!” and all of our entrants think Champaign-Urbana is the friendliest community on the