Saturday, March 16, 2013

Paleozoic Trail Runs 25k and 50k

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 once Bill has had some rest and figured them out


Chris said...

Maybe I'll do this race next year instead of the Land Between the Lakes in KY.

Bernie said...

In the end I got my long run in for the weekend so I appreciate the effort putting on the race. But you lost me at “something went a tad wrong” - as RD I would never have even posted results? I could never recommend the race based on lack of acknowledgement of gaps in course design, poor poor course marking(especially on short loop, and briefed / knowledgeable support staff.

Jim said...

I appreciate all the work by Bill and all the volunteers. It's never easy putting together something like this for the first time, and I'm certain that working with the fine bureaucrats from the Cook County Forest Preserve District was no picnic either. I found myself off-course once all day and was quickly directed back on-course by volunteers. My only wish was for more of the singletrack trails and less horse trails.

IJSEvents said...

Bernie. Thanks for the comments. I was just a volunteer there not the RD although think you knew that. I choice those words because it is how I felt. The RD has since sent a long email to everyone. Yesterday he had asked for information from all the volunteers so he could gather thoughts before emailing the runners and he also factored in emails he had received from some runners. He admitted things went wrong and took full blame (unlike the Chicago Marathon RD in 2007). I do agree the results should probably be nullified and he has to come up with a game plan for getting the course marked correctly something he has already got advise and ideas on from volunteers (all who are ultra runners by the way). Hopefully if the race is not fozziled it'll be on in 2014 but this time done right. I know the RD has his heart in the right place, he is a mutiple time 100 mile finisher but "something went a tad wrong" this time. My words and I am sticking to them. I do understand your feelings though, thanks

IJSEvents said...

Jim: according to Bill the CCFPD would not allow him to use any single track and he was lucky to get Bullfrog Lake (yeah you nailed it with the burecaucrats). I love running the orange ST MTB trails besides the first of the 3 Ravines LOL. Do you remember the Detonty 50k held there years ago, that used a lot of the ST including the orange trails but the RD then ran into permit issues.

Jim said...

Ian, thanks for the information. This was my first time at Palos, ever, so I was happy for the opportunity to finally experience a little of what everyone loves about the place. I'll go back and explore more on my own.

IJSEvents said...

Jim: the New Leaf running group who manned the on course aid station and where most of the folks at HQ AS (I am a member) run there as a group often. Check out the info in your goody bag/envelop.

Jim said...

One final comment: I hope that Bill doesn't let what happened discourage him, or let people's comments make him question holding the event again.

A map of the course was available on the race website along with a text description and mileage points. I familiarized myself with it for a few minutes, and as I said above, I ended up going off-course 1 time all day (Bonus mileage, hurray!).

Ultimately, it is the runner's responsibility to navigate the course as it was designed. I just don't see that it was that difficult. Could a few places have been marked a bit more clearly? Yes. I'm sure they will be next year.

{Begin Rant} There are some people who want to flame on Bill and the race, fine, have your say. But, maybe then those same people should RD an event of their own or volunteer to mark a course some time. {End Rant}