Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail Challenge 

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One word: “Brutal.”

The Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail Challenge this past Saturday was my first trail race in Chicago, and it was memorable yet brutal. Due to the winter snow storm on Friday, the race start was changed to 10 a.m.

The packet pickup was on Friday at Moosejaw downtown, which has an amazing selection of running and outdoor gear. I was in and out, which is always a plus.

Saturday morning was freezing, with both snow and cold winds. Temperatures were at 20 degrees with wind chills in the single digits from the NNW at 12mph gusting to 15mph. I knew this is going to be a fun run.

The drive to Schiller Woods from the city was pretty easy; to my surprise there was no traffic. Then it dawn on me that probably most people stayed in, smart people that is. There was plenty of parking and the start was organized.

It was very cold, did I mentioned that? However, people at the race seems to be in good spirits and excited about the run. It was a small crowd but you could tell people were there to have fun. I was feeling pumped but just as I was getting to the registration table, the announcer said “there is a lot of snow in the trail, be careful, it could be knee deep.” I immediately started rethinking my race strategy, and my excitement faded a bit; I did not bring any yaktrax and my trail running shoes were brand new.

As I waited for my friend Erin to arrived, I found a familiar face, Kylen, who was volunteering. She was my teammate last year, and is talented athlete. She started laughing and said, “this will be fun, there is a lot of snow, so don’t be in the front.” That made me laugh, thanks Kylen.

I mentally prepared to face the weather conditions, difficult terrain, and adjust my effort. All 3 of those variables were challenging; the snow made the path difficult to navigate, the cold made it difficult for me to breath, which led to a much higher effort run that I had plan. In the end I survived and it was truly a fantastic experience.

The course was shortened to 3.5 miles, due to the snowfall, and was mostly flat and an easy out and back loop. Overall, it was very well marked and there were several volunteers out cheering and guiding the runners. With one mile to go, I was feeling pretty deflated when a nice gentleman shared some words of encouragement and motivation. It definitely lifted my spirits, so I continued to run with him and finished strong.

Universal Sole did an amazing job at the finish line; here was plenty of water, NUUN,  fruit, craft beer, and Will’s famous chili.My friend Erin placed second in her age group, so we changed into warmer clothes and hung out until awards. There was a raffle full of fun prizes.

Thank you to Universal Sole volunteers and organizers for spending their morning in the freezing cold to support athletes. This was a fantastic event, and despite the crazy conditions, it was a great venue with excellent camaraderie. I highly recommended and will definitely be back!

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Erika is originally from Mexico City, and has lived in Chicago for the past 12 years. Erika has ran 30 marathons, including Boston and a few ultras and trail races. After several chronic injuries, she got into triathlons to cross train and stay active, and she fell in love with endurance distance triathlons. She has completed six Ironman and is looking to qualify for KONA.

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