For me the course was the star of this race. Ten miles of reclaimed railroad, five runners wide, no traffic and slightly downhill the entire distance. A quarter-mile tunnel, exposed rock and a few trestles crossing gorges and waterways provided enough variety to keep the scenery interesting throughout the run. While the fall foliage may have passed its peak during the November 3 run, there was still color in the thousands of trees lining the course.
Even though the course was the highlight for me, race preparations, logistics and execution helped make the Tunnel Hill 10 Miler a premier running event in Southern Illinois. River to River Runners did a great job of organizing the registration, pre-race information and packet pickup. Several buses were staged and ready to transport three waves of runners from the park in Vienna to the race start. An informal gear check to return items from the start to the finish of the point to point race.
Weather for this year’s race was clear and dry with temperatures starting in the low-30s but warming to the mid-40s with little wind. Runners experience the namesake tunnel in the first mile, which gives people the chance to adjust to any GPS or data streaming issues early in the race. For the next couple miles, I settled into a comfortable pace and took in the scenery as the pack spread out. My music stopped in the fifth mile, but I was content to enjoy the experience without the normal motivating distraction. Soon my Garmin and pace calculations became the focus. By mile six runners around me were spread considerably and I realized I was no longer passing people.
In the seventh mile I was passed by one person, then by a couple of guys running together and finally two more runners which gave me a group to follow for a last couple miles. I wasn’t able to follow closely, but it was enough to take my mind away from negative thoughts. At mile eight I realized that I had the chance to improve on last year’s race time if I could maintain my average pace. Unfortunately, my average was getting slower with each mile.
Mile nine was most unusual as I ran past a competitor who had passed me around the fifth mile. I assume the young man’s pace caught up with him which resulted in him hurling just off the trail. Within eyesight were two men walking, one encouraging the other who was shaking his head as they walked. After passing them I noticed yet another gentleman walking with less than a half mile to the finish. He was limping a bit while he walked with a hand on his hip.
Seeing these vivid displays of distress reminded me to just run my race and let the finish time be. As much as I wanted to beat last year’s time, I didn’t want a major disappointment at this point. Soon, the trail opened to the park in Vienna where a brief distance around the park led to the finish line. I crossed a half-minute faster than last year.
Race organizers enlisted the local Panera to provide post-race soup, sweets, bread and caffeinated beverages. The Panera food was a welcome addition to the traditional water, apples and bananas offered at most runs. Medals, shirts, chip timing and train whistle awards all were top quality, helping make the Tunnel Hill Ten Miler a race to add to next year’s calendar.