It may seem hard to believe, but there were other races in town this weekend. For those of us not ready or willing to tackle the full 26.2 of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, we had our choice of distances at the Prairie State Half, 10k or 3.5 mile race in historic Long Grove. Having run this race last year, I was really looking forward to my final half of the season.
Packet pickup was available on the Friday before the race from 12 to 4 p.m. at one of the local restaurants or during the hour leading up to the 8:30 start time the next morning. Heavy Friday night rain left race day conditions in doubt. Unfortunately, the real surprise was a Friday evening email announcing that winner and finisher medals would not arrive in time for race morning! Although they will be mailed at a later date, this put a damper on some of the typical pre-race excitement.
The race started right on time and sent runners for all distances out into the rolling hills of the first 5k. I struggled here last year because the elevation changes took me by surprise. I was ready this time and felt much stronger over the out-and-back stretch of the course.
Just past the 5k mark, we parted ways with the 3.5 milers and headed downhill through a small cross country section that includes river rock, a wooden bridge and a grassy area. After this short challenging section of the course, it’s another mile or so before the half separates from the 10k to meander through a golf course community and along the Buffalo Creek Forest Preserve. Most of these 10 miles are fairly flat.
It is important to pay attention to nutrition and pace on this course as the hydration stations are spread out. By mile nine, Frank Gambino Jr. and I had been taking turns pacing each other for approximately 5k. I was still on a 10-minute mile pace and just ahead of the 2:15 pace group. Even though I had been taking salt tabs and gels throughout the race, around mile nine and a half, the calf cramps started to appear and by mile 10 and I was struggling.
The final three miles became increasingly difficult, due to a gravel trail that was slippery in spots and had vegetation encroaching from either side. During the last quarter mile, the cross country section we encountered earlier had become a swamp and many complained about almost getting “stuck in the mud”.
The finish line could not have been a more welcome sight; I may have managed to crack a smile for the only official photographers on the course. Volunteers handed finishers a Boxed Water and there was a sparse selection of post recovery squeeze oatmeal and chocolate chip cookies. Not a banana or bagel in sight! Many vendors were already packing up with over 100 runners left on course! Last year was capped off with a complementary beer at the local brewery. It was just as well that there was no post race celebration. Most finishers simply congratulated each other on completing a tough challenge and headed straight to our cars to get clean and dry. This race was a gentle reminder that sometimes testing one’s resolve and grit is reward enough.
Congratulations to overall male winner Corbin Bevry with a time of 1:24:21 and overall female winner Aimee Reed who crossed the line in 1:32:24.