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Siberian Express: One cold run

The running season is over, right? Once cold weather comes around, most of us pack it in for the year and pack on the pounds. Not so for some diehards. For some, the start of the new year is just the beginning of the racing season. The first race of the year occurs just seven days into 2012. The Siberian Express is hosted by the Kennekuk Road Runners (KRR), and it’s run at Kickapoo State Park, west of Danville.

Chuck Bohall
Chuck Bohall is ready for subzero temperatures at the 2010 Riddle Run.

This race, in its 28 year, is for the hearty. Average January temperatures in Danville are 35 degrees for a high and 19 degrees for a low. As we all know, temperatures in Central Illinois can swing one way or the other with brutal consequences. According to the KRR Siberian Express race flier (pdf), last year’s weather was highlighted with an inch of snow, a 4 degree low and a high of only 19 degrees. That’s not the worst of it. The race flier also boasts that, “In 1999 we had a blizzard with 10 foot drifts & the event still took place. Past events had minus 20 degree wind chill, freezing rain, snow, heavy rain, ankle deep mud and two days in the 60’s.” It’s best to plan for the unexpected.

The course is run on the Wilderness Trail, site of the Wild Wild Wilderness Trail Run (WWW) — also put on annually by the KRR in late September. It is a 7.45 mile run on narrow trails with some open prairie. The course features what is locally known as the “stairway to seven,” a steep incline that takes runners to the race’s seventh mile and its final stretch to the finish line.

I asked one of the race directors, Scott Hendren, if runners should expect anything different with the course this year compared to any other year. “We don’t plan to do anything different with the course this year. A few years ago, the state took out the bridge over the Middle Fork River, which required us to reroute the course, making it a little tougher,” Hendren said. “Participants seem to enjoy that new challenge though. As always with a winter run, the weather has a lot to do with what it will be like.”

Runners prepare to compete in the 2010 Riddle Run held in Lake of the Woods in Mahomet, another local cold weather event (when it is scheduled).

The Siberian Express is also the first race in KRR’s Grand Slam event, consisting of the Siberian Express, Mountain Goat, Lake Mingo Trail Run, and Wild Wild Wilderness. If you run each event and finish, special awards are presented to Grand Slam participants in September. This year, KRR will be incorporating themes into their signature races: “2012 is the 35th Anniversary of the Kennekuk Road Runners, so we are planning a lot of special themes and events for 2012. The Hawaiian theme for the Siberian will kick things off. Club members and participants at our open events can expect a lot of fun in 2012.”

How many people take part in such an event? The numbers are quite impressive. The race had 398, 402, and 416 participants in 2009, 2010, and 2011 respectively. Compare that to WWW and its more temperate late September weather. The 2011 WWW had a mere 278 finishers over the same course. That’s amazing!

“We anticipate about 500 entrants and about 450 finishers this year. As a club, we are seeing a local resurgence of running, due at least in part, in my opinion, because of the success of the Illinois Marathon,” Hendren said.

It’s hard to imagine why anyone would run in the tough conditions experienced in early January in central Illinois. Hendren had some insight:

As for why 400 to 500 runners will come out the first Saturday in January, regardless of the weather, to run a tough 7.45 mile trail race, all I can say is we have been doing this race for 28 years and it is always a highlight of the running year. While some folks do race it for time, most are just out there to kick off the new year, have a good time, and enjoy a run on a beautiful trail with their running friends. Plus, the post-race party is unlike any other post-race event they are likely to enjoy at any other event.

Race day registration begins at 9:30 a.m., and the race starts at 11:00 a.m. Will you be running Siberian in 2012?

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