Race Review: Des Plaines River Trail Races – Half Marathon

Just over three weeks ago on Sunday, October 17, I ran my second in-person race since prior to the pandemic. The first was the Chicago Half (which I reviewed in 2018). At the beginning of 2020, I had planned that year to complete my 10th Marathon. Check. And my 50th Half Marathon. Five weeks after the marathon, the world shut down. Half Marathons 49 and 50 would have to wait.

I put these races on the calendar at the last minute; as part of marathon training. 49 was the Chicago Half in late-September.  That went surprising well all around. A little weird remembering how to navigate around other runners coming out of the start corral, but all good.

The Des Plaines River Trail Races were on my radar since I moved out here. It’s not a technical trail course, but rather a 6 to 10 foot wide path of crushed gravel. The flat-ish course wound through several Lake County Forest Preserves along the Des Plaines River. It was an absolutely gorgeous course, aided by the perfect, sunny fall morning. 

The “Races” also included a full-marathon and a 50-mile Ultra. My friend, Jamie won the 50-miler by the way – 50 miles in 6:07:11! That’s a 7:20 per mile pace! Enough to beat the first male by 21 minutes and set a women’s course record by 48 minutes! So in awe of her, I had to mention it.  My half marathon pace was considerably slower, just saying. 

The start/finish was at Half Day Forest Preserve just off Milwaukee Avenue in Vernon Hills. Parking for Marathoners and Half-Marathoners was at a corporate park location about a mile away. Shuttle bus service brought runners and spectators to/from the start/finish.  All of the races were on an out-and-back course that first went south on the DPR Trail to a turn-around just before Half Day Road. Coming back through the start area the course continued making a loop through Captain Daniel Wright Woods and continuing north. 

The Half turn around was between the Route 60/Town Line Road underpass and St. Mary’s Road and followed the same course back to the finish which was near the start. The Full turn around was just before Route 137/Buckley Road in Libertyville, while the 50 miler went as far north as Wadsworth Road in Waukegan. The Des Plaines River Trail is 31 miles (or about 50 kilometers) from the Wisconsin border into Cook County.  It’s a fabulous place to run and bike. Kurt and I have biked all of it and run a lot of it.  

Do I recommend the race? Absolutely. The weather conditions for my race were ideal. I’ve spoken to people who have run it in adverse weather conditions in years past and maybe didn’t come away as satisfied as I did. Yes, rain will make for a lot of mud and even flooding. They have an alternative course at the ready for this reason. Thankfully they didn’t need it this year. It was cool at the start though and they had a plan for that too: several fire pits scattered through the field adjacent to the start. A nice touch and very affective. 

The event website answered any questions I had. Registration was easy. Long sleeve tech shirt was a keeper. And event volunteers and staff were friendly and helpful. Hydration stations were about every 2 miles and were self-serve because of pandemic safety concerns. I would have appreciated if they were also hands-free – not because I was worried about germs, but because I felt I lost time having to fully stop to turn the handle to fill my water bottle. Everyone was instructed to self-carry as no cups were provided. 

The only glitch is that according to my Garmin, the Half Marathon turnaround was in the wrong place. My Garmin and the mile markers were way off after that. When I got to the finish, I was at 12.87 miles. I kept running to get to 13.1 and the time on my watch was 2:03:19, although official race results give me 2:01:56. Maybe race organizers didn’t know, or maybe they choose not to do anything about it. “Stuff” happens, right? And who’s going to complain about a better time?

Regardless, Half Marathon #50 was great! It is especially so nice to be out there running races in person – with other runners! 

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