While there were no official bets to be made or horses to see, racers still took the track at the Arlington International Racecourse last night.

More than 500 runners competed in SALUTE’s annual Homestretch for Heroes 5K Tuesday night, and got to experience the course like the horses do with the last quarter mile and finish line on the racetrack itself. This alone sets this race apart from other twilight 5K’s in the area, and was actually the reason I signed up for it.

The race starts right outside the park’s clubhouse, which I learned was new this year, and in past years it started on the opposite side of the venue. This starting point was really convenient, as packet pick-up, registration and bathrooms were all right inside the clubhouse. Having a designated parking lot by the clubhouse made for the entire pre-race experience to be a smooth one.

Before the race started, participants could take pictures in the starting horse stalls that were in the parking lot, and explore the clubhouse a little bit. As someone who has never been to Arlington, I thought this was cool to see. At the start line, a trumpeter played the “First Call” that kicks off the horse races, and aided to the full horse-race theme of the event.

The first stretch of the race

After heading out of Lot B, we started our 1.5 loops around the perimeter of the track through the parking lots; at first, this sounded a little dreadful, but the course went surprisingly fast. There was an unexpected stretch of shade that was a relief on a hot August night, and although there were other straightaways that seemed to drag out a bit, there was a water station right before the second lap started.

About half a mile into the second lap, there were signs to swing left onto the track. I’m not sure what I was expecting for the track surface, but definitely not the bouncy, squishy poly-track “mud” that it was. Although it was re-packed for runners, my team and I agreed it was a little difficult to run on, and staying in the tire lines seemed to be everyone’s strategy. However, this was the entire point of the race, and I thought it was really cool.

After crossing the finish line, all runners got a complimentary beer and other snacks, including a freeze-pop (my personal favorite). There were tents for teams to hang out at, and a lot of others mingled on the bleachers as the sun started to set.

Overall, it was the perfect night for a fun run – the humidity held off, the course was flat and fast, and it was for a good cause. Honestly, I picked this race because it’s close to my house, but it’s always fun to experience a new race; maybe I’ll do it again next year, but before the end of the summer, I’ll let the horses do the racing.

P.S. Chicago Athlete placed fourth as a team!

Chicago Athlete ambassador’s “horsing around”
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Holly's running career began in high school; after being bummed about not making the volleyball team her sophomore year, she decided to join some of her middle school friends on the cross country team. She also did track in the fall, where the 1600 m race was her niche. Since then, she has run several shorter distance races and two half marathons. Her goal for 2017 is to try a triathlon, and eventually do the Chicago Marathon. She graduated from Illinois State University in May 2016 with a degree in journalism. Working at Chicago Athlete, Holly has been able to explore photography a lot more, which is one of her main hobbies. She enjoys taking photos at endurance races, and is also passionate about nature photography and portraiture.

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