Yet here were the stalwart runners crowded into corrals waiting to embark on a race that would be full of surprises. For one thing, it did not rain much in the next two hours, so at least half the participants got home before the skies opened up.
But the real surprise to so many participants were the hills. And lots of them.
In the Fox Valley in Illinois there are two reasons for hills. The Fox River is one. Glacial deposits are another. Without those two natural phenomena there would be no hills because glaciers 10,000 years ago pretty much flattened the entire eastern half of northern Illinois.
But if you hug the river there are climbs up the valley hills as well as rolling hills on glacial kames west of the river.
These provided plenty of interest for runners in the Sly Fox Half Marathon. The race started out on an equal sea level to the river. Then it climbed. And climbed again. But that was not enough. It still climbed some more, all the way to one of the highest points in central Kane County.
I watched the start of the race and then pedaled my mountain bike out to a spot on the course where I could cheer on the runners and look for my gal pal Sue to come past. It was gloomy out, so I decided to sing. Loudly. “You’ve got to love these hills…” I sang to each new group of runners coming past.
“No, I don’t,” one guy laughed.
“Who put these here?” a woman runner said.
“Thanks for cheering,” a few said upon hearing me clap and holler encouragement.
That was at the three mile point. But this was all my old running territory from high school. So I knew all the short cuts and showed up at the five mile point too.
“All downhill for half a mile here,” I chortled.
“Thanks for telling us,” a group of women smiled. I kept up the banter and people smiled and waved. “Nice to see you again,” someone called out.
My gal Sue came running past, looking and feeling good. “Nice downhill from here,” I told her. “Thanks,” she laughed.
Then I pedaled on up to the seven mile point and waited for all my newfound friends to arrive again. The leader came whipping past with a 400 meter gap to second place. “Looking good!” I cheered. “Love the tempo.” He ran 1:17. Not bad on a hilly course. (Eric Viverito, 1:17:09)
That’s the life of a distance runner. You have to be your own best fan at times. Cheer yourself on despite your own stupidity. I recall a similar style course in La Crosse, Wisconsin that I raced. There was a half-mile long hill we had to climb. At the top I recall having absolutely no feeling or strength left in my buttocks. Fortunately there was a long downhill on the other side. But it’s a strange thing to be maxxed out completely during a race. I finished in 1:12 that day. That night we drank like crazy people with the college guys from La Crosse. One showed up at parties as Naked Man. He wore nothing but an apron, and somehow found a way to lose even that during the evening. The next morning we all got up and ran 10 miles hung over and laughing at the exhaustion we felt from the day before, but no one complained.
Which is why it’s so fun to get out and cheer on other runners. And at the eight mile point I parked my bike again and yelled crazily for the runners I now recognized, and they recognized me. “Dude, you’re everywhere!” one called out.
“For you! Run faster now! Only five miles left!”
It was the same at the 10 mile point too. By now people were expecting me to show up. It was fun seeing their smiling faces as they approached. “Way to work that hill!” I called out, because they were climbing a 300 meter stretch that was once part of my high school cross country course from four decades ago.
Sue came by looking relaxed and smooth. I rode with her for a bit and she was on pace for a good time.
So I rode ahead and caught up with two gals that could have been twins. Well, one of them might be having twins. At three months she already had a healthy baby bump. “I’m pregnant too,” her friend piped up.
“Then I’m cheering for all four of you,” I laughed.
At the finish it got colder and started to rain. I didn’t catch up with all my new friends but saw some of them in the beer garden. “Thanks for cheering us on!” several yelled over the crowd noise.
It’s all part of being a runner or a cyclist. Who’s your biggest fan? I am. Way to go all of you.