The Universal Sole December Trail Challenge


The Universal Sole December Trail Challenge took place on Saturday morning, the final race of Universal Sole’s 2017 line-up. The Universal Sole December Trail Challenge brought athletes of all ages, and a few canine companions, out of the city to Schiller Woods, near O’Hare Airport.  Nearly 200 athletes were treated to a 4.6-mile romp through freshly fallen snow in the forest preserve on a brisk, 30-degree day.

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.  Participants received a custom travel chili (or soup) bowl and those that completed all three races in the Universal Sole Trail Challenge, (October, November and December), earned a custom Universal Sole Trail Challenge jacket.

This was my second trail experience, my first being on the same course at last February’s Universal Sole Valentine’s Trail Challenge.  Taking what I learned from the last trail race, I didn’t have a time goal; my only goal was to stay upright and avoid injury.  I discovered quickly that, while freshly fallen snow is much easier to run on than the extremely muddy trail conditions of the February Valentine’s Trail Challenge, it’s still slippery.

On the first steep descent, which the majority of athletes were carefully walking down—myself included—I still managed to lose my footing and slide down half of it on my butt.  Undeterred, I picked myself up, brushed off the snow and forged my way through the snow to the next obstacle.  There were a couple of fallen trees laying across the path at various points in the course.  The bold, and presumably more experienced, trail runners would leap over the downed trees and continue running without missing a step.

After my little spill on the first descent, I was among those that gingerly stepped over the obstacles and resumed running on the other side.  I think this is part of the appeal of trail running—the conditions are constantly changing, whether it be mud, snow or a dirt or the introduction of new, unexpected obstacles like fallen trees, even competing on the same course can be a completely different experience.

Athletes of all ages, experience levels and speeds—and even a few canine companions—sought shelter from the 20-mile-per-hour winds in a pavilion adjacent to the finish line and enjoyed Will’s Famous Chili, as well as a beer, while waiting for the final athletes to cross the finish line.  The event concluded with a quick awards ceremony and raffle, featuring a variety of prizes from Universal Sole and other race sponsors.

Overall Male Winners:

  1. Roger Pinon, 25:56
  2. John Craig, 26:01
  3. Emil Bojanov, 27:05

Overall Female Winners:

  1. Tess Ehrhardt, 29:09
  2. Rachel Pearson, 30:31
  3. Trisha Marks, 35:46

As athletes have come to expect, the Universal Sole December Trail Challenge, again, combined the laid-back vibe of its fun runs with skillful execution of race logistics to bring athletes a top-notch trail race experience.  Universal Sole’s 2018 race season kicks off at Schiller Woods with the Valentine’s Trail Challenge on February 10, featuring a custom Universal Sole Trail Challenge hoodie for participants.  Registration is currently open at

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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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