Your Silly Road Race 9:23.11

September 23rd, 2011 in Articles by 1 Comment

Cross country: it’s not just for kids anymore!

We’ve been gushing love about cross country the past few weeks (check the “Articles” tab to see our recent D-I cross country previews), so it seemed on theme to mention the first annual Illinois Club XC Invitational – to be run in Harm’s Woods just north of Chicago on Saturday, November 12th.

The Illinois Club XC Invitational is exactly as the name describes: a contest over hill and dale pitting the best Open and Masters club teams in Illinois head to head. It’s a unique race for several reasons:

A) It’s cross country people! Anyone who came to running post-high school may have yet to enjoy the unique pain that is racing over soft grass and dirt paths while scaling hills and dodging rocks.

B) In addition to the Open and Masters divisions, the Illinois Club XC Invitational will feature an age-graded competition using WMA tables, so any old guys who like to talk smack to the young guns can put their money where their mouths are.

C) The location is a place called “Harm’s Woods.” Seems to sum up the concept of cross country pretty well.

Registration is on-site only and begins at 10 a.m. on race day. The All-Comers race (for runners not affiliated with a running club) begins at 11 a.m. The Open race follows at noon, with a separate Masters race to follow at 1:10 p.m. (Male and female are combined in each of those events.)

We spoke with John Hennelly, the race director, to gather some additional info on this unique event.

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FTF: What was the inspiration to organize this race?

JH: [Some teammates] and I were driving back from the Gilbert Cross Country Challenge yakking about how much fun we had, and how all the massive, over-priced, over-hyped, over-produced corporate-sponsored races with corrals and expos and porta john lines and gear check tents had really gotten old, when we decided we should just have a club race, and keep it simple, with lollipop sticks and a guy with a stop watch shouting times at the finish.

FTF: There’s cross country, and then there’s “cross country!” What’s the Harms Woods course like? Are we talking quarter-inch spikes just to get through it, or is it somewhat tame? Any hills?

JH: Harms Woods is the site of the High School Regionals up here, and it is flat and grassy. It starts with a long straight across a field, and it may be a bit soggy. Runners loop this magnificent field twice. For spectators they will be able to easily view the whole race at a glance. After looping the runners cut through a short wooded area, cross another field, and then merge onto a horse trail.  This is not a course for a PR, but it is flat and roomy, allowing for lots of strategy. The smart teams will stick together.

Spikes are fine, and may be helpful, but know that the course crosses a bike trail twice, and a concrete bridge (about 10 meters in length) twice.

This is the first year of the event, so I chose Harms Woods because it is close to home to keep it simple. In future years we hopefully will move the site around so other clubs can host. We also want to encourage downstate teams to race.

FTF: What’s the official distance?

JH: I am waiting for the course to be chalked before I measure. [My] GPS had it a little over three miles. I’m not obsessed with the exact distance because this is a team competition, and no one should show up looking for some sort of PR. It’s not that kind of course; it’s not that kind of event. It will not be certified. (People need to stop staring at their GPS watches while running.) However, understanding that everyone will want to know their pace, we will diligently place accurate half mile and mile markers.

FTF: Are you offering any prizes, or just bragging rights?

JH: There will be prizes for the championship teams. The top finishers get a prize, and the top individuals. Everyone else…. you get beer stories.

I am toying with the idea of a virtual traveling trophy. I am concerned that a traditional trophy would just end up in somebody’s bedroom, and no one would ever see it or get to take pride in it. So I am going to propose to the Club Presidents that we create a trophy online with the team champions “engraved” in it, and all the clubs would have to link to the trophy Web page from their homepage. This should be highly motivating. Imagine if Evanston Running Club, whom I race with, had to link to a Web page with Oak Park’s name on the trophy. We would be pretty motivated to run harder next year.

FTF: Is there an after-party or meet-up where said bragging can take place?

JH: We are working with CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association) to get a sponsor for food and drink after the race, right there at Harms Woods. If not, we will figure a nearby location where everyone can reconvene to get food, drinks, and start fist fights.

FTF: How many clubs have expressed interest?

JH: Almost every club in CARA has expressed strong interest. A handful of clubs downstate have expressed interest. I imagine we will end up with 10-15 clubs fielding teams, but not in all categories.

FTF: Do clubs have to be from Illinois, or can any club participate?

JH: Any club in Illinois can run, but you have to be a legitimate club. It can’t be you and your four buddies from Kenya. Established clubs with membership. And you do need to be an Illinois club. That is what this race is about: Illinois Clubs. (Other runners can run in the All-Comers race.)

FTF: What else should we know about this unique and interesting event?

JH: The All-Comers race is open to anyone, even if you don’t belong to a club. And [the race] costs $5! What to you get for $5? No t-shirts, no goodie bag, no chips, no bands along the course, no medals for running, no free massages, no expo, no endless email updates. For $5 you get to run in a grassy field and forest preserve with a bunch of other runners and see how many you can beat.

After all races, we will calculate every runner’s age-graded score, then rank runners and score teams in the traditional manner. It is fun because for some clubs it may make sense to run a slower runner who has a better age-graded time. I know of at least one club that is stacking their team to win the age-graded.

Finally, this event is about two things:

  • Celebrating the running clubs, and letting them run not as a bunch of individuals in a 20,000-person race, but as a team, against other teams. That’s what I love about XC.
  • Running a simple, low-cost event where the race is what counts, not all the extra stuff.

For additional information about The Illinois Club XC Invitational, check out the Evanston Running Club Web site.

Rick Miller is the co-founder of Faster Than Forty. You can read more about him (not that you’d want to) here.

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Author: FasterThanForty

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