About midway through this 5K trail adventure (organizers were correct to deem this more than a “run”), the jovial encouragement from a race volunteer at the first turnoff (“It’s all uphill from here!”) started to feel less and less like a joke. There must have been downhill sections to match the uphill sections, but they just felt so much shorter. Like running on a sandy beach, running through fresh snow adds an extra level of exertion to any run, especially on a trail that carefully winds its way through the hilly expanses of the scenic Hickory Knolls Natural Area in St. Charles, which only recent grooming opened up for a workable running trail.
The weather cooperated nicely, making sunglasses and waterproof socks desirable accessories to defend against the bright sunlight bouncing off the snow-laden ground and the only partially frozen stream that an announcer warned/boasted about; it’s a peculiar idiosyncrasy of trail runners that the revelation that they’d be running through “three to four inches of water for ten to fifteen feet” got a round of cheers on a sub-freezing day.
Using the amenable Hickory Knolls Discovery Center as a makeshift basecamp was a bonus, giving the 120 or so registrants (a talkative mix of trail-running diehards and newcomers) a comfortably heated place to talk about past and not-so-distant-future challenges both before and after the race. Filing out to the starting line as a collective group helped to further build camaraderie as everyone was afforded a few minutes to check their ice cleats, organize into tiny pace groups and ogle the brave soul running shirtless.
Road races are for challenging PRs, trail runs are for challenging nature. Today, the click of cleats on the pavement of the final stretch sounded like a victory drum. (Zach Freeman)
Course: 5. Well-marked, picturesque and, above all else, challenging. Small waves helped keep the trail from becoming too crowded.
Organization (bag check, etc.): 5. Plenty of parking nearby so no bag check required. Friendly and energetic organizers got the start, finish and awards off without a hitch.
Goody Bag (includes shirt): 3. Fancy running hat in place of shirt and a coupon for a RoadID.
Weather: 4. A brisk 25 degrees and sunny.
Overall: 4.25. Recommended Race. The right amount of punishment and reward. Very well-coordinated for a first annual. We’ll see how Fox River Trail Runners handles a bigger turnout in 2013.