Running in the winter in Chicago can be hard enough, especially when there isn’t a ton of events to work towards. The Fox Valley Winter Challenge Trail Series, however, offers locals a chance to test their skills at trail running, with three races offered in January, February and March. We spoke to the race director, Tom Spadafora, about the series.
Tom Spadafora: I started the event in 2012 as a 5K run at Hickory Knolls Natural Area in St. Charles, IL. A few of my trail running friends thought it would be exciting to share our love for trail running with others and created the event. It proved to be successful with good turnout and we received several positive comments from participants wanting to do more races. So in 2013, we established the current series format. We run a 5k in January, 8k in February and 10k in March usually the third Saturday of the month.
CA: What makes this series unique to the Chicagoland area?
TS: Each race is run on a different course. Runners will encounter single and double track paths with roots, rock, and switchbacks. Each course is not too technical like courses you would find in the western U.S. but still a challenge especially if there is snow and ice on race day. Also our race “schwag” is a little more higher quality. This year we are giving race series participants a unisex hoodie by Sport Science or a fleece foldable blanket with carry handle.
CA: How would you suggest runners train for these events?
TS: Practice some easy running on trails that have uneven surfaces. Trail running is different than road running in that you have to pay more attention to the terrain in order to keep your footing. The good thing about trail running is it’s great recovery mechanism from regular road running because it slows you down. Plus, your lower kinetic chain areas get stronger which helps reduce injuries.
CA:Tell us about how you got involved in running.
TS: I started running 1976 while in the sixth grade. Our school had an Olympic day and I ran the “marathon” which really was only 800 meters around the school property. My teammate and I were first and second in the run and I was hooked. My running career continued through high school and college participating in cross country and track. I continued to keep active in the sport through the years and became really dedicated in 2005 as I trained for the Chicago Marathon. To date I have completed 26 marathons and more races that I can remember from 5K to half marathons.
CA: What does your title of “Chief Trail Runner” entail?
TS: The race director oversees, coordinates and implements all facets of the race. I’m sort of a jack of all trades because I have to pay attention to budget management, race site logistics, sponsorship development, volunteer recruitment/coordination and marketing. My nickname in college was “chief” so I guess it transferred over to my running.
CA: What is the best piece of advice you have for winter running?
TS: Dress in layers that wick moisture away from the skin. Also, dress like it’s 10-15 degrees warmer than actual temperatures. Some runners over dress not factoring in how warm the body will get after 30 minutes of running. Also, be smart and don’t run in wind chill temperatures below 0 degrees; there is always an indoor treadmill of running track option available.
CA: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss?
TS: Running is year round sport where anyone can participate regardless of age or ability. You don’t need a great deal of equipment (although some runners sure do!) The key is to start slow with intensity and duration, allow for rest days so the body can repair and, most important in my mind, keep your running muscles strong by doing dynamic stretching and strengthening. More on this at https://www.runandachieve.com/running-programs.