First-time marathoner takes home top prize at IL Marathon

Champaign-Urbana -- Six different races and more than 20,000 people hit the streets running in Champaign and Urbana Saturday for the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. The marathon alone had more than 2,000 participants, with many of them trying to tackle the 26.2 mile course for the first time, and for one first-timer, her finish was right on target.

Bess Ritter is no stranger to "ready, set, go!"

"I feel like I've always had a lot of success with distance and long-distance," said Ritter, a 26-year-old runner from Chicago. "So I thought the marathon was going to be a good distance."

But it would also be a distance Ritter had never run before. Until Saturday, when she hit the pavement for her first 26.2 mile trek at the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon. For a first-timer, she did better than she expected.

"I was quite surprised to win," said Ritter. "There was a very strong field today."

With a time of just over three hours, Ritter was the first woman to cross the finish line and will walk away with a check for $2700. Her victory, however, did not come without some struggles.

"I think a lot of us out there, you know since we've been training in negative temperatures all winter, we weren't quite ready for the heat today," said Ritter.

Race organizers agreed.

"Our biggest concern is the heat," said Jan Seeley, co-director of the marathon. "It is, compared to anything we've had, extremely, extremely hot. We've had several go to the hospital already."

Those runners were stabilized and treated for dehydration, and while they improve and rest up until the next race, Ritter will work on some improvements of her own.

"I'd like to run a lot faster," said Ritter, who says she struggled during the last couple miles. "And I think the time that I was at around 21 miles, I feel like I can hold hopefully in Chicago this fall."

But only time will tell how fast she can get.

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