The Starting Line: Four new things to try in 2014

The Starting Line: Four new things to try in 2014

Try something new in the New Year.

You might love your regular runs or bike rides or Crossfit sessions, but trying something a little different can help keep you from getting bored and challenge you by building your fitness in a different way. And you may end up falling in love with a new sport or activity.

Here are suggestions for four new things to try in 2014. A couple were subjects of recent columns. And a couple of others are on my list of activities for the coming year.

1. Climbing

Rock climbing is something I've long wanted to try. And despite the flatness of our landscape, there is good climbing to be had in Illinois.

The best place to head is the southern part of the state, which offers a number of places to climb. The Illinois Climbers Association recommends: Giant City State Park, Makanda; Ferne Clyffe State Park, Goreville, nearby Cedar Bluff (with a number of hard climbs, as well as good routes for new climbers) and Draper's Bluff. Jackson Falls to the east has the largest concentration of climbing routes in southern Illinois, most of them with a more difficult grade. For more information, go to

If you want to learn indoors or want to climb when the weather is nasty, try a climbing gym. Bloomington has an indoor facility called Upper Limits. It has a 30-foot-tall main area with a number of routes and features; 65-foot-tall silos; and a bouldering area.

It also has an outdoor wall and offers rappeling from the top of the building. The rock gym offers a number of classes, including a two-hour lesson for new climbers and a six-week intro course. For more information, go to

In Champaign, the University of Illinois Activities & Recreation Center has 35.5-foot climbing wall. The Stephens Family YMCA has a 30-foot wall. To find other rock climbing gyms in the state, go to

2. Cyclocross

This bike racing event is on a closed loop, mostly off-road, with obstacles to negotiate, such as mud, gravel, sand, barriers, muddy hills or stairs. Bikers must usually dismount and carry their bikes at some point on the course. They'll also get heckled by spectators, and given "hand-ups": beer, candy, money or other treats. Most people ride cyclocross with a road bike with bigger tires, but you can ride on any kind of bike.

Cyclocross is a fall and winter sport. The season is winding down, but one of the earliest events next fall is the mid-September Patriot Cyclocross race in Rantoul. Local racing ends in mid-December, with the Miller Chill Cyclocross race in Bloomington.

"Traditional cyclocross is a very muddy, cold-weather sport," said Melinda Higley of Champaign, a mountain bike and cyclocross racer. "There is some kind of draw to toughing it out through the conditions."

For information about local cyclocross races, check out CICX - Central Illinois Cyclocross on Facebook. The Chicago area hosts many races, including the Chicago Cross Cup. Information about it can be found at

3. Ultrarunning

When 26.2 miles just isn't enough. An ultra is any distance more than a marathon, but the most common race distances are 50 kilometers, 50 miles, 100 kilometers and 100 miles. Ultras might also be timed events — run as far as you can in eight or 12 or 24 hours — rather than a specific distance.

If you've run the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon and are interested in running longer distances, you're in luck. There is a strong group of ultrarunners in this area, and a number of ultra races.

The Clinton Lake Ultra is March 29. It's 30 miles: three loops of a 10-mile trail around a portion of the lake. It's wooded, hilly and mostly single-track. For more information on the race, go to

The Clinton Lake Ultra is the first race in a new Central Illinois Trail Ultra Series. The other races are: the Evergreen Lake Ultra on Sept. 14, with distances of 34 and 51 miles, at Comlara County Park near Hudson; the Forest Glen Trail Run on Oct. 18, a 50K in Vermilion County; and McNotAgain, a 30-mile race Nov. 8 at McNaughton Park near Pekin. For more information on the ultra series, go to

If you want a timed event rather than a specific distance, the Kennekuk Road Runners have been putting on the Howl at the Moon 8-Hour Run/Walk for 23 years now. It's in August at Kennekuk Cove County Park in Vermilion County. Participants run or walk a 3.29-mile loop in the park. The popular race attracts many runners from both the local area and out of state. For more information about it, go to and look under "Events/Results" on the home page.

I'm hoping 2014 will be the year for my first ultra.


This is a team challenge based on military training. They began in 2010, and there are events all over the country. Those scheduled for Illinois in 2014 are all in Chicago.

Participants travel to various points around a city, with a time frame in which to reach each destination and a problem to deal with along the way. The challenge involves participants carrying a backpack with bricks in it, and at times also carrying logs or each other; getting into a body of water; and doing calisthenics such a push-ups, squats, bear crawls or lunges.

The emphasis is on teamwork rather than individual effort.

"It's totally different than going to the gym, totally different than doing a triathlon or a race, even totally different than doing a Tough Mudder," said Josh Markiewicz of Savoy, a former Green Beret, who organized a custom GORUCK event in Champaign in November. "I really like to challenge myself and push myself, and I think GORUCK pushes you physically, but it pushes you mentally, too."

For more information, go to

Happy New Year!

Jodi Heckel, News-Gazette magazine editor, is a runner, swimmer and occasional triathlete. You can email her at, or follow her at Her blog is at

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