Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Race Recap: Universal Sole Valentine's Trail Challenge

What the what? Yep, you read it right. I ran a trail race. In the winter. In Chicago. Now, while our trails aren't what you might think of when you think of trails, we city people are pretty fortunate that about 100 years ago, civic leaders set aside land to create forest preserves, open land that everyone could use. The Forest Preserve District of Cook County is one of the oldest and largest in the nation. Regular readers of my blog know that I do a lot of training in the forest preserves. It's an opportunity to spend time in nature while living in a very urbanized area.

I wanted to run a race this past weekend and I was thrilled to see that Universal Sole, a race promoter in Chicago, hosts a trail race series in Schiller Woods, one of the forest preserves on the border of the city. I signed up 2 days before the race and at 8 am, arrived on-site to pick up my packet. It was 30 degrees, the ground was covered with snow, and I was wearing my new trail shoes.

It was pretty much a perfect day for a February trail run in Chicago!

The start/finish chute

My stomach was a little unsettled that morning--nerves? why?-- and I made a couple of trips to the portapotties. About 15 minutes before the race was to start, I got in line for one last visit. There were only 2 portapotties and the line was moving slow. I was worried that the race would start without us, but the organizers waited until everyone was finished.


I realized then that this was going to be a very different kind of race than the ones I was used to on the road!


The runners gathered in the start/finish chute. It was all very civilized, there was no jostling for spots. In fact, we weren't packed into the chute at all. Some of the runners had their dogs with them. I was standing next to a woman wearing InknBurn and she complimented me on my INB top. We found out that we had both been ambassadors of the brand in the past. We spied a guy in front of us with some very interesting tattoos on the back of his knees. I pondered that while the national anthem was sung--by a guy with an amazing voice! It was a great sendoff.


The airhorn blew and we were off into the woods. The single track path was snow covered and we started out slowly. I was ok with that because I needed to get myself calm and relaxed. Thankfully, I was able to get in a groove and along with several other runners, began passing some of the slower runners. There were some tree roots buried under the snow, but the course marshalls had cleared the snow away. I didn't see anyone trip or fall the whole time we ran. The course also took us through a small creek that was partially frozen. Between that and the mud as we ran back up the incline on the other side, I gave my new Brooks Cascadia XTs a nice test run. My feet stayed dry.

That's me in the back of the line...no passing here unless you wanted your feet to get wet!
At a couple spots, the course was wider and there were 2 paths of packed snow for us to run on. I was able to pass a few more runners. I kept an eye on my pace because I didn't want to go too fast. I hoped to avoid walking at all during the race since it was only 4.5 miles. Unfortunately at mile 4, I had to stop to catch my breath and walk for about 30 seconds. I got behind another slower runner and that allowed me to reset.

The course looped around in a circle, with a couple of out and backs. Runners called out encouragement to each other, something I hadn't experienced very much of in a road race! A few people complimented me on my top. During the final mile, I passed a woman whom I had been pacing behind. She called out to me: 'nice job!' Thank you!

We approached the finish chute and I stopped to walk once I crossed the timing pad. There was a guy there, writing down our bib numbers. The organizers had 2 laptops set up where you could check your finish time. I was surprised (and admittedly disappointed) to see that I came in 7th in my age group. I reminded myself that I was new to this trail thing, that I went into the race with no expectations for time, and in spite of that, I pushed myself as hard as I could go.

Then it was over to the beer tent for my post-race beer. The sponsor was Odell Brewing Company, an independent craft brewery out of Fort Collins, CO. We had the choice of an IPA or an APA. I decided to go with the APA and it was good.


There was also chili for all the finishers. I grabbed a bowl and sat down at a picnic table where another runner was sitting. We were joined by an older gentleman and talked running. He was really interesting--we talked about the changes in road racing and why trail racing is so runner-friendly. He had some good stories about races 'back in the day' and I really enjoyed listening to him.

After everyone finished, there was a raffle. I had hoped to win one of the Odell Brewing prize packs, but no such luck! The age group awards were announced and then the day was over.


What a fun event! So much win! I was so impressed and I plan to run more of Universal Sole's trail races. After all my years of running events in Chicago, I can't believe I've never run one of USOLE's events. The race was well organized and they had chip timing for the race. The course was well marked with flags and there were course marshalls guiding runners on the course. Packet pickup at the race was easy. Race results were available immediately. Good beer at the finish line is always a treat. As an aside, there is a craft brewery in Schiller Park, the town where the race was held. Local is always nice, right? A minor quibble, but I wanted to mention it. The chili is homemade and the people who make it are at every race. Every runner received a red cotton hoodie with a cute design on it. Free race photos are always a win!


Just to keep it real for you, there were jets coming in for a landing overhead during the race. The forest preserve where we ran is about 5 minutes away from OHare Airport. You don't get that in Colorado, do you?

For my first venture into trail running, Chicago-style, I was really pleased. I'm excited for more!

Have you ever run a trail race? What's your favorite distance? Time of year?

I'm linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics, as well as the Runners' Roundup: DebbieDeborahSmithaJenRachel, and Lisa.


42 comments :

  1. This sounds like it was a well organized and fun race! I'm glad that you are enjoying trail running. Sometimes we need to try new stuff with this whole running thing, lol.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You’re making it tempting. Maybe trail racing is in my future. Definitely easier on the feet.

    Congrats to you.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I have never run a trail race in Winter! Whenever I mention trail racing, people's first reaction is always falling. I would definitely be scared of that in Winter. Nice job getting out there Wendy -- and good job overall. That's a great pace for a trail race.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was a pretty flat course, so I didn't have to contend with hills.

      Delete
  4. It's hard to find trail races in my area, especially this time of year. I'm sure they're there, I just need to do a little more digging. I also love the laid-back atmosphere (on the few trail events I have run). The technical aspects make for good distractions and I believe "level" the competition a bit. Besides, it's nice to be out there in nature. Why not enjoy the scenery? Great job!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Now that you mention it, a trail race in winter in Chicago is rather odd. But it looks wonderful! Seems that you had perfect weather, too! And I love that last picture of you waving at the camera! You look so happy. I can see more trail races happening in the future!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This race totally reminded me of my childhood and playing in the woods in the winter!

      Delete
  6. Well Fantastic And Good For You

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  7. I’m so glad you enjoyed the trails! You are going to be hooked in no time... well actually, you’ll be hooked by the time you finish your trek through the Everglades!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm pretty sure I already am! What a nice change of pace...literally! <3

      Delete
  8. Sounds like a fun race! That's great that there were craft beers and homemade chili after the race. I haven't tried a trail race but you make it sound like a pretty good experience :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you would like it. There's not as much pressure to go fast. Just to go.

      Delete
  9. You're faster than me on the roads, and I'm younger than you and don't have RA. Definitely allow yourself to feel some pride over your finish time!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha! You're too kind. I was just surprised how many women in my age group beat me--it was such a small race! Always the competitor, I am...

      Delete
  10. I love seeing you look so happy! This trail running thing might be your new jam :) Sounds super low key and fun. Sometimes that is just the kind of race you need to remember what you love about running

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 100% agree and this is definitely something I can grow old with.

      Delete
  11. Yay for a great race! I tell you what, we just don't have good beer at our races, I guess I need to come to Chicago for that.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I don't know..Michelob Ultra seems to be taking over all the races here. I don't like it at all. It's nice to find a race with real beer!

      Delete
  12. I'm glad your first foray into trail running was a positive one! You totally lucked out on the weather! Do you remember the Muddy Monk trail races? This sounds a lot like those. In fact some of them were in Schiller Woods. I wonder if US bought the series??

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Now that you mention it, yes! I do remember that race series. I never ran them though. If you want to join me, there's a race in April in Palos.

      Delete
  13. Sounds like such a fun race! I love trail races here in the Chicagoland/Great Lakes region. They may not be like out West, but they are fun!
    Your comment about the planes made me think of hiking in Seattle! We were once hiking way out in the Cascades, but the air show was going on. Two jets flew threw the canyon and we all about jumped out of our skin!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's always unnerving when something unexpected like that happens!

      Delete
  14. A trail race is a trail race! I love them and wish we had more out here where the trails are plentiful! It's true they are much more relaxed. You can't really worry about your time since the distances are more random and the terrain can vary so much. Good job and congratulations on your first!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm surprised at how many trail races we have here. Who knew?

      Delete
  15. Congrats! That race is a win, 100%.

    I don't run on trails, at least not if I can help it. After fracturing my pelvis, I'm super careful about running surfaces--even though that fracture wasn't from a fall, I can't help but think a fall would be Bad News for me.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're smart! Yesterday I ran on some trails and tripped a couple of times on some roots. Luckily, I stayed upright!

      Delete
  16. I love a good trail run. I've done a 10K, several 5Ks and a Ragnar Trail Relay. They are so much more relaxed than road races, and I find everyone is so much more social and communal. I'm so glad you had a great experience and I hope you will enjoy many more events with them!

    ReplyDelete
  17. Waiting for the porta-potty lines to clear before starting the race? Oh, Tokyo, why can't you be like this trail race??? Congrats on a great race!

    ReplyDelete
  18. What a fun experience! I've never done a trail run and have never really considered one (since I dont run on trails). That atmosphere sounds so refreshing!
    Thanks for linking up!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Sounds like a great experience! My husband likes to run trail races and is always trying to get me to try one. I'm always afraid of tripping and falling - but you do make the atmosphere sound so appealing!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I like the whole thing--being in nature and no pressure to push the pace. You should try it!

      Delete
  20. I have two comments. First and most important, I LOVE that photo of you. It's perfection. You look so great and HAPPY!!! Second of all, HOLY FAST TRAIL RUNNER!!! That's a GREAT pace for a trail race. I don't think I can keep up with you! Congrats again, my friend. So happy for you. <3

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh, you know me, always the competitor! I couldn't believe how fast those old ladies ran. :p

      Delete
  21. Great job, Wendy! I might have done one of their road races but not sure. I also like races that are well organized. That is so weird about the 2 port-a-potties. I would be nervous too.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Awesome job, Wendy!! Yes I LOVE trail races - they are so much different than road and the community is great. USOLE does a wonderful job.

    ReplyDelete