CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – Months of planning and training are about to pay off as runners gear up for the Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend. Races are already underway, and the fun picks up again Saturday morning.

“I’m very excited. It’s been several years since we’ve been back obviously with nothing going on. It’s just kind-of nice; it feels like we’re returning home again,” runner Melissa Rinchiuso said.

Groups like Rinchiuso’s Decatur Running Club say they’ve been eager to return to the races. Friday, roughly 4,000 people crossed the finish line after running the 5k.

“People have no idea the underbelly of a big event like this but we’re feeling ready. We’re hoping the weather continues to be on our side,” Christie Clinic Illinois Race Weekend Director Jan Seeley said.

The Race Weekend is back for the first time since the pandemic began, but it’s going to look a little different.

“We have six events instead of seven. We don’t have the marathon which is the heaviest lift of all because of its distance and the geographic footprint,” she said.

Even though it’s on a smaller scale than in previous years, Seeley said it’s still a lot to organize.

“Getting the hydration stations set, delivering supplies, having the mile markers in the same place, medical…”

She said it’s been a grind to set everything up, but the team has been great.

“It feels like a brand new race, frankly. The course is brand new, we have a lot of new staff, new volunteers… so that’s added to the complexity of getting it done but – [they’re] super talented, couldn’t be more proud of my committee, my staff and everybody here in the city,” Seeley said.

Many runners have been waiting two years for this.

“We’re just happy to be back and everyone’s so nice and it just makes for a great weekend,” Rinchiuso said.

Race organizers say they lost about a thousand runners after they announced they wouldn’t be holding the full marathon. But, that hasn’t stopped about 11,000 who will still be participating this weekend.

One of those runners is 13-year-old Will Gravlin. He finished the Green Street Mile in 6 minutes and 25 seconds, and he’s got more goals ahead.

“I want to get 22 minutes in the 5k and this’ll be my first 10k,” Gravlin said. He ended up beating his personal record in the 5k.

Every runner showed up Friday for a different reason.

“A lot of friend support, I would almost sometimes say peer pressure,” Deacon Letner said.

Now that the race weekend is back, many runners are already planning for next year.

“If I do well and I like it, you never know. I might be back,” Letner said.

Organizers said they also lost around 700 runners who either have COVID-19 or did not abide by the testing and vaccination policies.