Howl at the Moon
Rob Apple of Nashville, Tenn., is a prolific ultramarathoner. He runs 30 to 40 events each year, and he’s run a total of 655 ultramarathons. Most recently, he ran races in the Alps, in Chamonix, France, and Verbier, Switzerland.
One local event is always on his race calendar, though: Howl at the Moon, an eight-hour ultramarathon at Kennekuk Cove County Park. This year’s race Aug. 10 will be the 23rd year for the ultra, and it will be Apple’s 21st year of running it.
“I’ve had so many friends there over the years, it’s just like a family reunion,” he said of the race.
The race was originally run on a 1-mile loop at Lincoln Park in Danville, but it needed more room. So it was moved to a 1-mile loop at Kickapoo State Park that is used for cross country meets.
It soon outgrew that venue as well, and moved again to Kennekuk Cove County Park. It was run on paved roads there at first, then moved to a trail loop that is mostly grass.
The race grew but still attracted mostly local runners until Apple began talking it up in the ultra running community.
“He really brought legitimacy to the race,” Hendren said.
As with many ultramarathons, it’s become a lot harder to get into the race. Howl reaches its 200-person limit for online registration within a few weeks. The race also accepts 100 mailed entries, and usually a few more runners are allowed to enter after the limit has been reached, to even out some of the divisions, Hendren said.
This year’s race will have 332 runners from 19 states, including New York, New Mexico and Hawaii.
Timed ultramarathons are relatively rare, compared with fixed-distance races such as 50K, 50-mile and 100-mile races, Hendren said. And most timed events are either 12 or 24 hours. That’s one of the reasons Howl attracts so many runners, especially first-time ultra runners.
“If you are uncertain if you can make 50K in eight hours, going up to Ice Age (in Wisconsin) or somewhere to run a tough trail where you might not finish it is a little daunting,” Hendren said. “This is a really good introduction for ultra runners because it’s a loop course, and there’s a lot of aid you wouldn’t necessarily get if you do a 50K on trails. It makes it really convenient for runners to focus just on running, not on the logistics of it.”
Most ultramarathons have cutoff times as well, and if a runner does not reach certain points on the course within certain times, he or she can’t go on. Runners don’t face that hurdle in a timed event.
Runners and walkers at Howl cover a 3.29-mile loop at Kennekuk Cove. There are 12 scorers, and runners check in with the same person throughout the eight-hour run. The scorers record when a runner starts a loop and when he or she finishes it.
A few runners have a goal of running some number of miles less than a marathon, Hendren said, but most want to cover at least 27 miles — getting past the 26.2 marathon mark makes it an official ultramarathon — or 50 kilometers (about 31 miles). The course records for runners are 61.72 miles (male) and 58.43 miles (female), and the course record for walkers is 41.48.
The fact that Howl is a timed event rather than a specific distance appealed to Rose Rodriguez of Orlando, Fla. She ran Howl in 2012. It was her first ultramarathon.
She was in Indianapolis last summer for a family reunion, and she searched online to see if she could find a race in the area. She found information about Howl at the Moon. At the time, she’d run 10 marathons and wanted a different kind of challenge.
Rodriguez wanted to run 50K at Howl. Once she passed that distance, she thought she’d try for 35 miles. She ended up doing a little more than 38 miles.
“I surpassed what I thought I was capable of, and I’d certainly never run that distance,” she said.
She’s running Howl again this year, and her goal is 40 miles.
Rodriguez said one of her favorite aspects of the race was being able to see her family at the start/finish area on each loop.
“You’re really tired, but as you’re getting closer to the tent, it’s easier to bring yourself there because you know they are just around the corner. You know every 3 miles or every half hour, you’re going to see them,” she said. “It’s a mental boost.”
She also enjoyed the camaraderie of an ultra.
“It’s a totally different atmosphere than a marathon,” Rodriguez said. “There’s really not a whole lot of talking when you’re running a marathon.”
She had “10 marathons, first ultra” written on the back of her shirt at last year’s Howl, and it sparked conversations with several other runners.
Apple agreed: “It’s really fun to do a timed run because you get to see people the entire time. When you’re doing a 50-miler through the mountains, you see everybody at the start and then you get all spread out. An eight-hour race really gives you a chance to hook up with different people and catch up with old friends.”
Howl is not just eight hours of running, but a weekend of socializing, he said.
While camping isn’t usually allowed at Kennekuk, an exception is made for Howl weekend. Many runners camp out Friday night before the race, and some spend Saturday night at the park.
The race has become so popular, Reddy added the Baby Howl a few years ago. Runners and their families and volunteers can run one loop of the course Friday night, giving family members a chance to see the course the runners will cover the next day.
“It’s a great race,” Apple said. “It’s very unique. Illinois is lucky to have an event like it.”
Howlin’ in 2013, ’14
The 2013 Howl at the Moon 8-Hour Ultramarathon will be run Aug. 10 at Kennekuk Cove County Park. This year’s race is full.
The 2014 race will begin accepting entries on Earth Day: April 22, 2014. Look for information at www.kennekuk.com.
Photos: Top: Runners pass through the start/finish area lined with tents and campers during the 2012 Howl at the Moon 8-Hour Ultramarathon at Kennekuk Cove County Park. Photo provided by Susie Moman. Bottom: Runners at the 2012 Howl at the Moon 8-Hour Ultramarathon run through a section of prairie grasses. Photo provided by Debra Studniarz.