Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail Challenge


The Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail Challenge took place on Saturday morning, the first of Universal Sole’s 2017 race line-up.

This is a new addition to Universal Sole’s series of trail races and certainly lived up to its name.  Returning to the scene of the last Universal Sole Trail Challenge race of 2016, Schiller Woods, near O’Hare Airport, over 200 athletes were treated to a 4.6-mile romp through the forest preserve on a beautiful 40-degree day.

It seems February is going to be a month of firsts for me.  Last week, I participated in my first indoor triathlon at the FFC Indoor Triathlon at the FFC Gold Coast.  This week I tackled my first trail race at the Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail Challenge.  Up to this point, the closest I’ve come to even running on trails is running on the dirt portion of the lakefront path or venturing onto the grass if the main path was inaccessible due to snow, ice or standing water.  I really had very little idea of what I was getting myself into when I signed up for the Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail Challenge.  Throughout the week updates on the course were posted on Facebook and in e-mails cautioning runners of mud-LOTS of mud-and some ice on the course and advising athletes to bring a change of clothes and shoes for after the race.

The race site was very easy to find and, on a Saturday morning, just a 20-minute drive from the city.  On-site registration and packet pick-up was available upon arrival, as well as the opportunity to demo Saucony’s latest trail shoes.  While I declined to demo the trail shoes—nothing new on race day—it appeared many of the race participants took heed to the warning about mud and chose to demo the trail shoes rather than getting their own dirty.

In all of my ignorance with regard to trail running, when I heard “mud,” I imagined somewhat packed mud that might fling up and get athletes a little dirty.  THAT would’ve been too easy – this was the Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail CHALLENGE, after all. Instead, a good portion of the first and last mile involved the kind of mud that put every stabilizing muscle in your body to good use and challenged athletes to remain upright.  Any thought of time goals went out the window and my new “A” goal for the race was to avoid a spectacular face-plant in the mud.  The 4.6-mile course kept me on my toes and constantly engaged trying to find the best footing possible as we wound our way over a few small hills, through an icy tunnel and to the finish line where bananas, hot chocolate, chili and beer awaited the return of the trail runners.

Athletes of all ages, experience levels and speeds—and even a few canine companions—hung around eating chili and drinking beer at the finish until the final athletes crossed the line and the awards ceremony and Universal Sole’s famous raffle began.  Age group winners (through third place) earned gift certificates to be used for merchandise at Universal Sole in Lakeview and various sponsor prizes were raffled off following the race.

Overall Male Winners:

  1. Roger Pinon, 26:54
  2. James Weissensel, 27:44
  3. Elias Theodosis, 29:44

Overall Female Winners:

  1. Jessica Hoefert, 32:26
  2. Kaila Konecki, 36:29
  3. Laura Lackner, 37:51

Universal Sole combined the laid-back vibe of its fun runs with skillful execution of race logistics to bring athletes a top-notch trail race experience.  Look for additional trail races in the 2017 Universal Sole Trail Challenge series to be announced in the coming months.

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Kristan Huenink has been exploring the city in her running shoes for the better part of a decade and coaching runners from beginners to marathoners nearly as long. She enjoys road racing at all distances, having completed countless short-distance races and nearly 20 marathons. When injury demanded she seek alternative physical activity, Kristan took her PT’s advice and decided to give tri a try. She has fully embraced the multi-sport lifestyle, completing multiple sprint, 70.3 and Ironman-distance races, as well as qualifying for USAT Age-Group Nationals and earning Ironman All-World Athlete Bronze status. Kristan is a USAT-Certified Coach with Grit Endurance in the West Loop, where she coaches Computrainer sessions, group run and triathlon training programs of all distances and levels, and one-on-one personal coaching. When she’s not training or coaching, Kristan can be found devouring the latest endurance sport literature and studying training data from her Garmin in pursuit of her next PR.


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