Happy Birthday

by David Schug

Ten years ago, en route to running my fastest-ever marathon (but failing to qualify for Boston), I won a race: The 2006 Sam Costa Quarter Marathon on my 32nd birthday. It was the only race I had ever won besides high school track relays with a bunch of teammates faster than me.  

Fast forward a decade. I’m now blessed with two kids, ages 3 and 5, and haven’t entered a marathon in four years. I run two to three races a year, but more like the 5-mile to 13.1-mile variety, as long training runs don’t jibe that well with parenting. Forty percent of my weekly mileage is with a jogging stroller, with the other 60 percent consisting of intervals and pace runs.  

So for a 42nd birthday present from my wife, I requested entrance into a race. She gave me three or four options on days that fit into our calendar, and the Blue Chevy Trail Classic 10K at the Farmdale Reservoir near Peoria caught my eye. Far enough from home to require a hotel with a pool for the kids, but not long enough to make them antsy in the car. And the race was on trails!  

Race day. I leave the family at the hotel and grab the GPS to find this place. My goal is to finish in the top 10 and not get hurt. It’s drizzling rain and 60 degrees. I gather up with the other 100 runners and the race official shouts, “Go!” I start off in eighth place. A half mile in I’m in sixth, and a mile in I’m staring at the backs of three guys single file in front of me. The trails are singletrack – primarily used for mountain biking and horseback riding (I did encounter lingering evidence…). I spend the next mile looking at these same three backs. I want to see the path for myself. My GPS is going in and out, but it seems like we aren’t moving all that fast. At mile two, I see a widening in the trail down to a creek – the first of eight or nine stream crossings. I make my move and surge into the lead. I expect one of the other runners to go with me, but no one does. I enjoy the clearly-marked open trail ahead of me, small switchbacks up hills, and riprap protecting the downhills. This is beautiful. Between there and the finish, I see no one other than the nice volunteer handing out water at the halfway point.  

After the awards ceremony, I head back to our hotel. My wife is busy getting ready for the day. After a couple of minutes, my five-year-old looks up innocently and asks, “Did you win, Daddy?” Yes, Julia, I did. 

This race report originally appeared in the July/August 2016 issue of In Passing.