Quarryman — A Circuit Excursion

The Calm Before the Storm — 6AM in Lemont, IL

The sun had just started to peak out from behind a low bank of silver lined clouds, infusing the already quiet morning in this sleepy hamlet 30 miles southwest of Chicago with a hushed, idyllic aspect, when a freight train thundered by, rousing a flock of starlings from a nearby rooftop and alerting nearly 500 runners that the start of the Quarryman Challenge 10 Mile Road Race was just 15 minutes away.

Following several weeks of unrelenting rain, the dry conditions and low winds are a welcome relief on this Spring Saturday morning in Lemont, IL. At 54 degrees, conditions are near perfect for racing on this, the fourth race in CARA’s 2017 Runners’ Choice Circuit.

CARA Member Melanie Higgins is feeling nervous excitement as she lingers by the CARA tent in the parking lot adjacent to the race start. This is her first time running the Quarryman, and she’s not sure what to expect. Melanie is training for the Cleveland Marathon on Sunday, May 21, and with just a week to go she is using today’s race as her final long run. Her plan is to take it easy, enjoy the scenery, and most importantly — remain injury free.

Clockwise: CARA Member Angelica Guerrero (post-race with an armful of awards); CARA Member Melanie Higgins (deep in pre-race contemplation); CARA Member & Ambassador Ann Greely with Melanie at CARA tent

The Quarryman, a crowd favorite and longtime staple of the Runners’ Choice Circuit, is one of 15 events in the 2017 circuit lineup. Created to promote local races and provide CARA members and area running clubs with a friendly, competitive structure to come together and earn points toward year-end awards, the Runners’ Choice Circuit culminates in an awards banquet in the New Year — an opportunity for racers to exchange running shoes for suits and high heels, and revel in the glory of the past season’s achievements while celebrating the best of Chicagoland running.

But right now that’s all a long way off. This morning, runners are focused on the task at hand. And after a live performance of the National Anthem, race organizers begin to usher participants to the start line. At 7:30 AM, following a few short announcements, an air horn sounds the start of the 10 mile race. A line of elite runners, poised in classic race lean, take flight immediately, and within a few minutes the entire field have all but disappeared from sight. Once the street is cleared, the 5K sets up and starts quickly, leaving race organizers and volunteers time to prepare for the post-race party, and friends, family members, and spectators a little while to take in the sights of the village of Lemont.

Racers poised at the start line

By the time the beer kegs are tapped and the pizza boxes all laid out, the 5K leaders are already approaching the finish. And a little more than half an hour later the 10 Mile overall winner — James Akita, with a time of 55.59 — glides across the line to cheers and applause from the crowd. Over the course of the next 90 minutes, other runners finish the race, among them Melanie Higgins, who comes in feeling happy, relieved, and tired.

“It was a very hilly, winding course,” says Melanie. “Lots of variety, and very pretty.”

The hills are a recurring theme in the many conversations that spontaneously erupt between finishers. A topic of some outward grumbling, the good-natured complaints are unmistakably tinged with the pride of having faced — and overcome — adversity.

In a race boasting beautiful scenery, small town charm, and a challenging course, those runners fast and resilient enough to achieve a winning finish can walk away with one of the most unique and memorable awards seen at any race. Awards are handmade using rocks from the eponymous “quarry”, with affixed plaques listing placement and division. Presented to overall, age group, masters, and King and Queen of the Hill winners, awards also include prize money for top finishers.

Rock Star Race awards

Although not a recipient of an award in today’s race, Melanie still gives Quarryman an enthusiastic thumbs-up. She will definitely recommend this race, though she admits this might have something to do with making sure she’s not the only one who has to suffer through those hills. Her plan is to convince her running group, The Chicago Running Ladies #chicagorunningladies, to run together next year.

Melanie and her new running pal, Katherine, basking in post-race euphoria

The next CARA Runners’ Choice Circuit race is the Ridge Run 10K on May 29. Please join us in Beverly on Chicago’s south side for this annual classic, and celebrate Memorial Day with 2,000+ of your closest running friends.

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