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Fox Valley 20-miler: A PR and so much more

My training plan included a 20-miler as a final long run before my first Chicago Marathon. As I started scanning race options close to home, I found the Fox Valley 20-miler, which was an option along with the race’s marathon and half marathon offerings.

It’s brilliant for the race to offer the 20-mile option since I’m positive I was not the only runner preparing for the Chicago race. The race was held in St. Charles, Ill., which is roughly 40 miles west of the Windy City.

I had found another 20-mile “race” on the same weekend also near Chicago. However, this one did not offer a medal or similar amenities for finishing the unusual distance. That sounded more like paying for a training run than anything else. Hard pass.

In any case, the Fox Valley race was well organized, volunteers were helpful and the course was well marked. And, of course, it was an automatic PR since I had never raced that distance before.

Pre-race information and packet pickup

For starters, the race provided helpful, timely and detailed information on its website and emails it sent out leading up to race day. The pre-race instructions included links to helpful information such as parking.

I found packet pickup reasonably well, thanks to a volunteer who was near the 1.2-mile kids race. There were scores of kids, some running with parents or siblings, and others going solo. Either way, it was cool to see the future generations wearing bib numbers and having fun.

Packet pickup was easy and the volunteer was helpful in walking me through how to attach the tracker to my sneaker. The race did virtual coupons, which was nice, and the long-sleeve tech shirt is among my favorite race shirts to date.

At packet pickup, there were a half-dozen or so local vendors, including a shoe store with an array of discounted sneakers, running gear and more. (It’s worth noting that the race offers four different days for packet pickup and three different locations, including one in Chicago for runners who live or work closer to the city.)

I didn’t spend much time there as I had already driven three hours and needed to get into my hotel room and relax.

Race morning

I intended this race to be an endurance test, as part of my rebuild after being sidelined due to emergency surgery in May. Additionally, it was a good test for my fueling for the Chicago Marathon.

I have been testing a plethora of Gatorade Endurance products and brought them along with me for this race. I’ll go into the details of how those worked in a blog post later this week but suffice it to say that they worked mostly well, though I did have some gut discomfort after having some on-course Gatorade around Mile 8. I’ll need to balance that with water so as not to have issues during Chicago.

There was plenty of free parking near the race start-finish. And an incredible number of port-a-potties. About an hour before the race, there was no line.

The race

Each of the three races start at the same time and are loop courses, finishing where the runners began. Runners head out along one side of the Fox River, criss-cross it a few times and then transition over it at the appropriate spot to run for their race distance, heading back on the opposite side of the river. The signs and volunteers guiding runners to their race-specific turns were very helpful. There was never an issue with knowing which way to go.

The majority of each of the courses are on the Fox River Trail, a public trail system that was open to other runners, cyclists, walkers and others during the race. The 7 a.m. race start likely kept members of the public to a minimum on the trail. The non-racers who were on the trail that morning were friendly and offered positive support along the way. Speaking of crowd support, there was a strong showing of festive, cheery onlookers throughout much of the course.

There were aid stations aplenty. According to the runner guide, there were 15 for full marathoners, 12 for the 20-milers and seven for the half marathoners.

Aid station volunteers were helpful, dishing out water and Gatorade, and gels were available at one of the latter aid stations.

For me, I had a successful race, finishing officially in 2:47:55, good enough for second place in my age group of 40something runners. Overall, I came in 38th out of 474 runners. A solid return to road racing, after surgery set me back four months ago. Still, I believe that I am capable of going even faster.


After runners finished the race, they received their medal and water and Gatorade in small plastic cups. That is one of my few complaints about the race. The post-race drinks were provided in plastic cups, not full water or Gatorade bottles. That seemed like a tremendous waste of plastic, and there were definitely a large number of cups that became litter.

In the post-race area runners were treated to a frozen popsicle-like treat, chips, bananas, watermelon slices (wrapped in plastic instead of laid out in a more environmentally friendly way), etc. Runners ages 21 and older were able to get a beer as part of the post-race celebration.

Other amenities included complimentary massages, which were a nice touch, a PR Bell that could be rung by those who set a new personal best and plenty of vendors with various wares.

I didn’t stay too long at the post-race celebration since I had to get back on the road to drive home. But the celebration was definitely festive and a good way to reward oneself after a long, hot run that was well supported by the community.

Run this race if you are …

  1. Running the Chicago Marathon and looking for a 20-mile race, perfectly timed for the final long run.

  2. Looking for a PR at an unusual distance.

  3. Training for your first marathon or looking to build up speed for a flat marathon.

Don’t run this race if you are …

  1. Wanting a challenging road race with significant hills, instead of minor rolling hills.

  2. Against running in warm temperatures. It’s mid-September and while the race started around 67 degrees, it warmed up quickly and hit 80 sometime between 9 and 10 a.m.

  3. Opposed to an unusual amount of plastic cups being used when there are other means to dish out water to runners.

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