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The fifth annual Allerton Trails Half Marathon and 10K race is scheduled to begin this Saturday morning at 9 a.m. Check-in at the Monticello-area Allerton Park & Retreat Center begins at 7:15 a.m.
It is also the fourth year of the Trail-Glo 5K Run/Walk at 8:30 p.m. Friday, also at the park.
In addition, the event raises money each year for Make-a-Wish Illinois.
Dean Hixson originated the race, seeing the potential after a bridge replacement at the park reconnected trails that lie on both sides of the Sangamon River. Hixson now lives out of state, but can’t get the race out of his blood and still organizes it from his Alabama home.
We asked Dean a few questions about the history of the race, and why he still does it.
Q. As a race organizer, is it one of the best venues you have been a part of? Why?
A. I don’t think there’s a better place in the Midwest to have trail races than Allerton Park. The scenery and terrain are so varied – winding trails through beautiful woods and past rivers and ponds, but also through meadows, gardens, statuary, and for half marathoners, even a working farm (we altered the course so it actually goes through a barn. Why? Because it was there)!
The trails are wide enough for runners to pass each other safely, and we have just enough road access to get water/Gatorade stations where they’re needed. And then there’s the FuDog Garden. It’s an absolutely perfect clearing for running to the finish line while the music’s blasting and the big blue FuDogs look on. Right under the tower is the perfect space for post-race awards, the kids’ races, food, DJ fun, photos, etc.!
Q. What makes this event unique?
A. Number One, Allerton Park itself. No doubt. Having said that, we go out of our way to give the runners and walkers something interesting or odd to look forward to as they make their way around the trails. The Trail-Glo 5K is unique because it’s a very visual event to begin with. Monticello’s own Dee Smith hooks up some of his Christmas House craziness along the course, and he also does some great work with colored lights on the Buddha Tower and some of the statues. It’s breathtaking!
On both days, the course features musical performers from Monticello High School and from Delta Sigma Phi fraternity at Millikin University. This year, Millikin’s cheerleaders will be raising the energy level out there as well. My favorite tradition is a bit of costumed human performance art we do each year on a stone pedestal in the Lost Garden out by Mile 4. We keep it a surprise, but we’ve got a great one ready for 2017!
Q. What made you want to keep it going even though you now live out of state?
A. I’m now guaranteed Filippo’s pizza at least once a year! But really, it’s downright addictive to work with so many dedicated people in and near Monticello with our efforts all leading to wishes for children with life-threatening medical conditions. The local running community is special and a lot of fun, and it’s very rewarding to serve them – and it’s their support that has combined into more than $50,000 for Make-A-Wish thus far!
Allerton staff went out on a limb in making the race a formal Allerton event, and I wanted to climb out there with them. The race now benefits the park as well as Make-A-Wish Illinois, and will lead to even more improvements there. It’s great just to be able to help out.
Q. Is there a Make a Wish moment planned this year?
A. Well, each year we have some Wish Families helping out at the start and finish areas, and Wish Kids giving finishers their medals. All of these people have been through so much that it’s really a “moment” just to have them involved like that.
A few years back Make-A-Wish actually granted a wish right after the race. A little boy with a severe heart condition had wished for a camping trailer that could meet his medical needs so his family could go camping together. Make-A-Wish pulled it up right behind the finish area and told him to turn around. It was a magic moment (and it’s on YouTube – search “Allerton Trails” “Lukas”).
For 2017 one of our Wish Kids will be working the finish line on his birthday, so we should have some fun with that. Oh, and on Friday night, an entire wedding party (getting married at Allerton the next afternoon) signed up to run the Trail-Glo 5K as their “rehearsal dinner” (we serve Ray’s Chilli at the finish, so I think that counts as dinner). They’ll start off their marriage with about a $500 donation to a worthy cause, with about 300 of us cheering on the Bride and Groom out on the course!
Q. Do you have any good stories from past races?
A. I talk to a lot of runners at the finish line and each of them has a good story from their race or from their fitness journey leading up to it. That’s part of the fun of race weekend.
In our second year, the Ladies Cross Country team from St. Mary’s College in Indiana – about 20 athletes – decided to make the Allerton weekend a team retreat. They drove over in the team vans, ran the Trail-Glo 5K, spent the night, and then ran the Saturday races. Well, when they first arrived at the park, a couple of music majors from Millikin jumped on board their bus and sang them a brilliant arrangement of the St. Mary’s school song as a welcome! Oh, and St. Mary’s is coming back next week! This time they’re staying at lodging in the park. We’re so thrilled to have them back!
Q. Do you have anything else to add?
A. You bet. I encourage Monticello folks to come out to the park and cheer on the runners and walkers this weekend. And for those who have the time and energy, sign up on race day (arrive early) and get out and run or walk with us Friday night or Saturday morning! It’s a fun and busy time in the park, and quite a spectacle. So many key volunteers from Monticello come back year after year giving their all on race weekend, and the races simply would not happen without them! And then there are some great contributions from Monticello businesses, helping to keep costs down and meeting material needs. The whole race weekend is in many ways a celebration of a truly great town!
Additional information on the race is available at www.allertonraces.com.