Another race recap from this past weekend? You bet.
I found out about the Quarry Crusher race the same day I found out about the Yorkville race, and naturally signed up for this one as well. Because how many chances do you ever get to run down and up a quarry? And because I’m a glutton for punishment, I naturally signed up for the Double; to do it twice.
The race morning forecast called for rain, rain, and rain. While it was raining when I arrived, and during packet pickup, the storms moved out of the area, making way for sunny blue skies by race start at 8.
It should be no surprise that the morning of, my legs were very tight. The Yorkville race on Friday night, followed by a long run Saturday morning, and a work event that kept me on my feet most of Saturday afternoon. I took some time to do a half-hearted extended warm-up, but cut that short for one last bathroom trip.
Coming into the race, my biggest question mark was what kind of shoes to wear. I grew up less than a mile from a Vulcan (the host of this event) Quarry as well as Halquist Quarry, in Sussex, so I more or less knew what to expect from the terrain. Limestone and gravel. Trail shoes seemed like they would be too aggressive, but racing flats not aggressive enough. So I settled on my older pair of Saucony Freedom; enough grip on the sole, but still light enough to let me have some speed.
We lined up, and quickly we were off. After the briefest incline, we descended a ridiculously steep hill into the quarry, made a right turn, and continued our descent. In the early stages of the first mile, I traded off the lead with another runner as we quickly broke away from most of the pack. Of course, a 5:54 mile will do that.
Since Mile 1 took us all the way to the bottom, Mile 2 started to take us back out. After a couple turns, we hit our first short and steep hill, I surged back into the lead here as we began to tackle a long grinding up hill. Another runner joined us on this ascent as we went three wide up the hill.
Coming around a corner, we saw the hill kept going and turned into another steep incline. Knowing that those of us in the Double would need to do this all again, I channeled my inner trail runner and hiked up the steep portion of this hill rather than running it. One of the other guys (running the single loop race) in our pack did the same, while the other guy took the lead back by powering over the hill.
After a little more uphill grind, we passed Mile 2 (7:34) before making our way to the flattest part of the course, a straight shot back to where we entered the quarry. I maintained my slot in second, while inching back up to the leader. We let the runner in the single loop go, as he headed back up the hill to the finish (and win), we made the turn back into the quarry.
As mentioned, I was gaining a little on the flat, before the leader thundered back down the hill, as we crossed Mile 3 (6:45).
But as we came around the turn, I noticed I had gained significant ground as the course leveled out. I took a chance and made the pass at about 3.5, and before we got to that short steep hill again. We crossed Mile 4 (6:36) conveniently right before we got back to the hilliest part of the loop.
Sitting in the lead, I wasn’t sure how close second place was after the pass, but I was assuming this would come down to, essentially, a sprint of the huge hill we started the race running down. Because of this, I took the hills in Mile 5 (8:18) exceptionally conservative.
As I crested the last hill, before the straight away, I took a look back and saw that I had opened up about a 100m lead through the hills. I knew I had a good chance to increase that gap coming down the “flat” portion of the course. According to my Strava, I cranked back down to some low 6s in here, before the ascent back to the start.
That last hill. Talk about steep. And of course, this bad boy was right at the end of the race. Other than weaving through single loop runners, my only other memory of the hill was watching someone puke their guts out almost at the top. Mostly, I was trying to push, but also listen if the second place runner was churning up the hill.
Any saving grace of the finish was that from the top of the hill, it was a slight downhill to the finish line. I hit the jets, as best I could, to bring home the win, and finish time of 40:13 for the 5.7 mile course.
As it turned out, I had broken away more than I thought, with almost a minute and a half gap between me and second place.
But what a race. The steepness of those hills was definitely unmatched by any road race I’ve done (maybe La Jolla…maybe). And what a duel between me and Junior Alex Hernandez.
It’s not often that you get to come away with the W, and to do it on a tough course was even cooler. Plus, since this was the inaugural Quarry Crusher in Chicago; I technically hold the course record too! But that’ll only last one year until some fast dude shows up and smashes it next year.