Today was the inaugural running of the Paleozoic Trail Runs 25k and 50k trail races held on the limestone and dirt trails of Palos Forest Preserve just outside Chicago (but a world away).
The RD was friend and ultra Grand Slam finisher Mr Bill Thom and his wife Michelle. Bill has run many many many (and many) miles on these trails the years he did the famous Western States 100 ultra in California. In fact Bill and I stayed at the same hotel one year in Truckee (he was running, I was vacationing).
Bill had wanted to put on a 50k on these trails especially as it had been a long time since Universal Sole's Detonty 50k had been held. In those years since getting permits for events at Palos has become very hard but Bill was able to secure permission for a race although he could not get the orange trails so had to use the limestone trails to the east of Little Red School House and the dirt trails of Bullfrog Lake. In a given year this would make for a good fast course and fine for veteran trail runners and newbies.
I offered to volunteer at the race and Bill asked me to captain the start/finish Wolf Rd aid station which the runners hit twice on each loop. The other aid station was captained by Brian Gaines and the New Leaf Ultra Runs group, my running group. In the end both aid stations were staffed by New Leaf plus Annie from Indiana!
Due to the weather this year Bill was unable to bike the course until the day before and give course setter Terry a grand tour. The course that day was muddy on the dirt and snow/icy and wet on the limestone. That would not change for the next day!
I arrived early before sunrise and set up getting packet pick up ready for the 7am check in. My friend Rich who looks like Mick Jagger helped me before he ran the 25k and then volunteer Annie arrived plus New Leafer Tifanie. Bill had everyone's bib, timing chip, safety pins and T shirt in a plastic sealed envelope. All we had to do was ask their names, distance go to the correct box or cooler and they were set for the race. Roughly 90 50ks and 116 25ks were signed up of which only 15 were no shows.
Bill with help from Michelle and myself gave a pre-race talk before sending the 50k runners off then 15 minutes later the 25k runners. Tifanie, Annie and I then converted the packet pick up station into an aid station and helped Bill get the timing table/mats into place. Water, Gatorade was poured while small bowls were filled with salty, cheesey snacks, candy, bananas, Clif Bars and oreos.
Around 1 hour 20 minutes the first runners began to appear but sadly something had gone a tad wrong on the course with many getting lost or taking wrong routes back to the main trail. Now if this was a road race the place would have erupted. Sure they were not happy about it but they all took it in stride and went out on the smaller dirt loop. Some folks missed turns on that loop even though it was marked well and most seemed to get it right second time through. On the main loop the course setters had got a little lost in the dark but righted themselves in the end. As I was at the main aid station and never on the course I really not sure what happened out there. In the end no one was really upset and put it down to being a trail race in tough condition.
The runners arrived some in groups some alone some with cheering crew. They fueled up and headed back out on the challenging trails. The winner was around 3 hours 45 or 50 minute (I don't recall exactly and it might be a few days before official results are up). Second place guy was not far behind but he did get lost so that changed his distance and time. Shelly Cook won the female 50k division. Most people finished the distance they signed up for with very few dropping down or not finishing. With the conditions that was amazing to witness.
Everyone who finished received a really nice medal (different wording for each distance) and a drink cozy. The medals and cozy were a big hit.
An amazing sight during the race was around 100 sandhill cranes flying over Palos headed north probably yo Wisconsin - maybe winter is soon to be over.
For a first time event it was a lot of fun. There are some issues with the course to sort out for next year and I've given the RD some suggestion which he agreed would likely work. He would also love to have it a little later (April) but a lot depends on the preserve department.
Thanks to Bill and Michelle for hosting, thanks to New Leaf that hosted the mid loop aid stations and the New Leafs that helped at the start/finish. Congrats to everyone that finished the distance, it was tough and challenging out there.
Results will be here http://www.runrace.net/findarace.php?id=13075IL1&tab=a2 once Bill has had some rest and figured them out