March Madness Half Marathon


Runners gathered at Cary Grove High School on Sunday to take on The Hillstriders Running Club’s March Madness Half Marathon and its relentless hills on a beautiful sunny day. Cary is 50 miles from downtown Chicago and pretty easy to get to on a Sunday morning.

The Hillstriders puts on one of the most challenging half marathons in Northern Illinois with a very competitive field that keeps showing up for the challenge year after year. In fact, it is so popular, that it sells out every year when registration opens at 6:00 a.m. on New Year’s Eve, so runners eagerly wait on their computers that morning to get a spot.

Not only is it competitive, but it is a great training run for those running the Boston Marathon. This was my third time running it, and it does not get old. This year brought about 924 finishers with perfect weather conditions which is always questionable this time of year in Illinois.

The course includes six major hills and about 502 feet of elevation change according to my Garmin. Here is the break down:

  1. Mile 5, Shoe Tree Hill: Just a nice one to get warmed up.
  2. Mile 6, Sneaky Hill: so sneaky I missed the sign
  3. Mile ~7.5, Substantial Hill: (let’s just say it’s a good one) You get rewarded with a fast one mile downhill just in time to crush your quads.
  4. Mile 9.5, the 10 Mile Hill: This is glorious and when you get to the top you can stop for bloody Mary’s at the TIKI bar, but I just sped right past it.
  5. Mile 10.5, Big Hill: At this point of the race the wheels are usually falling down and you start to see people walking up the hills.
  6. Mile 11, Lung Buster Hill: just in time to push you over the edge.

There is nothing easy about this course but the views, the crowd support, the volunteers, and the amazing runners makes it worth it and a must-do race for every seasoned runner. It’s very well organized, with water/Gatorade every couple of miles and GU at mile 9/10, and lots of food at the finish line (warm pretzels, cookies, fruit, and more).

My goal was to enjoy a solid training run, start the first half conservatively and negative split the second half which I successfully did thanks to a good friend and talented pacer. The running community is pretty supportive and inspiring and this race brings together the best of the best; it’s always great to see so many old friends and make new ones.

I had a chance to meet some of the DWRunning group whose runners crushed the course this morning with some crazy fast time and several podiums.

Congratulations to all of them and to all my friends running Boston next month. You guys are so ready for those hills.


Women – Kristina Aubert 1:18:21

Men – Andrew Kaerh 1:12:10

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Erika has been an endurance athlete for over 20 years. She fell in love with running in her 20’s in graduate school, working full time and being a single mother. Running became time for reflection. She has run over 30 marathons and countless triathlons; qualified for 70.3 World championships. To qualify for Kona is her next goal! She loves being a mom to a wonderful young lady and a fur puppy (cocker spaniel). Travel and exploring new places to train around the world is a passion. She is a licensed clinical counselor who specializes in the treatment of anxiety, depression and trauma. She spent 15 years in academia and has recently taken a role as a clinical director to focus on her clinical work. Erika believes in the therapeutic benefits of endurance training for people who struggle with mental health illness and stress. She is patiently waiting until we can all travel and race safely again, until then she recommends staying active, healthy. and consistent.


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