March Madness Half Marathon

by Michele Heller

I heard about this race in Cary, IL near Chicago and thought it sounded fun. In 2015, I signed up and went on my first overnight race trip by myself. It was such a great race, I talked Nicholas into going up again in 2017 (even though I was 5 months pregnant) and he thought it was a very good race as well. This year, we have decided to run a half marathon every month and we both agreed that this would be our March half.

So, what makes this race so much fun? Hard to say really. It is a very hilly half, so hilly that the race has actually named all the hills. Fun names such as lung buster hill and sole crusher hill. Nicholas said it was a mini-Boston course. The first three miles are a net downhill so the vortex sucks you in right away and you are flying. Then come all the hills to suck all the energy out of you. For some reason, there are really fast people that come to this race each year. They pull out the top 10 males and females for overall results. The top male was 1:12 and the 10th place male was a blazing 1:18! That’s a fast race. Don’t let this discourage you, there are plenty of people that are closer to the 3-hour mark as well.

2018 was about trying to make a comeback with mileage and speed after two years of injuries and a pregnancy. For some crazy reason, I decided to go for it and get a post-pregnancy PR on this hilly course. I told Nicholas I wanted to break the 1:40 barrier again which I had not seen since 2015. Because he had run Mountain Goat really hard on Saturday, he woke up on Sunday feeling sore and decided he would just run the half with me and help me to my goal.

I needed to run about a 7:30 pace. As per usual on this course, we ran the first three miles closer to 7:00. I would need this time bank towards the end when I was drained. Nicholas was very encouraging and kept me on track. He said he could see it in my face during those last few miles that I was just done. I had to pull the energy from every reserve I had just to try and hold onto an 8:00 pace at the end. Somehow, I pulled it off and achieved my goal with a 1:39:34.

This is a very well-run race and I highly recommend it. Sign up is on December 31st at 6:00am every year and usually fills up within an hour. There are 1000 spots available so plan ahead. The race swag isn’t the usual tech shirt or t-shirt, you get a nice hooded sweatshirt. Before the race, you can hang out inside the high school to stay warm. After the race, they have plenty of homemade hot pretzels for you and a party in the gym. We stayed in Crystal Lake where there are plenty of hotels under $100 and only a 5 minute drive to the start line. I have now run this race 3 times and if I can finally get my BQ this year, I will definitely plan on running again next year as a great precursor to Boston.

This article originally appeared in the May/June 2019 issue of In Passing.