The Top 10 list is a standard feature of year’s end, along with champagne and funny hats. Top 10 movies of the year. Top 10 news stories.
It’s no different at The Starting Line, except that I’m looking forward, rather than back, to tell you the Top 10 races you must run in 2012.
This is a list of my favorite races, and some I’ve never run but would like to — maybe in 2012. I hope you find one that sounds fun or that gives you something to train for in the coming year. Or email me with your favorite race that you think belongs on a Top 10 list. I’m working on my race calendar for the year.
Here we go:
No. 10: Local ultras Howl at the Moon and the Clinton Lake Trail Run
If you’re an ultramarathon runner or considering an ultra distance, there are two local ultra races. Howl at the Moon, put on by the Kennekuk Road Runners, is an eight-hour event in August. You run or walk on a 3.29-mile loop at Kennekuk Cove County Park. You can do as much or as little distance as you’d like, so it’s a good introduction to the ultramarathon distance.
For more experienced ultra runners, the Clinton Lake Trail Run is a 30-mile run on a challenging trail around the lake. The ultra runners do three loops of the 10-mile trail, and there’s also a 10-mile run. And that’s your only option for 2012. These races fill up fast, and the 30-miler at Clinton is already full.
No. 9: Bix 7
This is on my bucket list of races to do. It’s a 7-mile run in the Quad Cities that I’ve heard about since I started running as a teenager.
The race offers prize money and attracts elite runners. Six of the top eight male finishers in 2011 were Kenyans. Marathoner greats Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson compete there regularly.
No. 8: Canal Connection
Another race I haven’t done but hope to run in 2012. It’s a 10K run on the Illinois-Michigan canal path, between LaSalle and Utica. The first three-quarters of a mile is downhill, so it’s a good place to get a PR.
No. 7: Screaming Pumpkin Marathon Relay
This is a fun Halloween weekend race in Peoria I’ve done the last two years. You can run the full marathon or a 6.55-mile run, but most people do the marathon relay, in costume.
The race course is a hilly 6.55-mile loop through Springdale Cemetery on a Friday night. It’s a prediction race, so no watches or cellphones are allowed. The winners are those who finish the race closest to midnight. While your teammates are running, you can hang out, eat and listen to live music.
No. 6: A small town 5K or 10K
There are lots of these races all summer long. Many coincide with a local festival, and you never know what goodies you’ll get. All runners get a block of cheese at the Arthur Rat Race. You can score a bottle of Aqua Velva and free entry to the demolition derby at the Fisher Fair 5K. The Kirby Derby in Monticello offers really nice race shirts and finisher medals.
On my calendar for 2012 — the Countryside 10K in Sidney. I want one of their cowbell awards!
No. 5: Siberian Express/Wild Wild Wilderness
These are two Kennekuk Road Runners races, run on the same 7.45-mile trail at Kickapoo State Park.
The Siberian Express is run the first Saturday in January, and it’s NEVER canceled, no matter what Mother Nature brings. The last time I ran it, the temperature was frigid and there were several inches of snow on the ground. It was beautiful. The race was run the day after a blizzard in 1999.
Wilderness is the warm weather alternative. It’s run in late September, and the trail is gorgeous then.
No. 4: Hilly 15Ks: Mountain Goat, Steamboat, Shoreline Classic
I love the 15K distance, and there are several good ones in the area with some challenging hills.
The Mountain Goat is run on roads at Kickapoo State Park in March. It’s an out-and-back course — two loops for the 10K and three for the 15K — with three big hills per loop. I think it’s the toughest 15K in the area, although a friend argues that distinction goes to the Steamboat Classic.
Steamboat, in mid-June, starts and finishes in downtown Peoria and includes a couple loops through Glen Oak Park, where you hit the hills. One of the cool things about Steamboat is the race attracts elite runners, so you may be running with (or behind) some world-class runners. There’s also a 4-mile race — advertised as the world’s fastest course — and the 2010 female winner of the 4-mile race also won the New York City Marathon that year.
Shoreline Classic is in mid-September in Decatur. It includes a 15K and a 5K, and it runs around Lake Decatur. It also draws some very fast runners.
No. 3: Allerton Trail Run
This is Second Wind Running Club’s flagship race on the last Sunday of October. It’s a 5.5-mile trail run through Allerton Park. The park and the trail are lovely. The race draws a good crowd from throughout central Illinois. And there’s a great postrace brunch in the meadow.
Because the race is close to Halloween (or sometimes on Halloween), many of the runners and volunteers are in costume.
No. 2: River to River Relay
My favorite race of the year. I’ve run this relay in southern Illinois for 12 of the last 13 years.
It’s a hilly 80-mile relay, with 250 teams of eight runners each participating. Each team member runs three legs during the day, totaling between 9 and 11 miles.
What makes it so fun is hanging out with your team all day, cheering each other on and the friendly competition with the other teams running alongside you, some of whom we see year after year.
It’s not easy to get a team into this race, as there are always more teams than available spots. It’s too late to enter a team for 2012, but if you want to run, there are always teams looking for another runner or two to take the place of team members who had to drop out. Check out the race’s “Miss Lonely Feet” feature for teams looking for runners or vice versa.
No. 1: Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon
This race has so much going for it: the incredible job the organizers do every year; its popularity and growth since it debuted in 2009; the new features each year, such as the I-Challenges; and the finish in Memorial Stadium.
There are multiple races to choose, so you can find a distance that suits you. And what could be better than running in front of a hometown crowd, with your neighbors, family and friends cheering you on?
Happy New Year and happy running.
Last Run of 2011:
Body N’ Sole Sports will host its annual New Year’s Eve Fun Run at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 at the store at 1317 Dunlap Ave., Savoy. The run is 3 miles through Savoy, and entry is a $5 donation or a food item for the Eastern Illinois Foodbank.
The store provides refreshments and gives out a lot of door prizes, but only to those who have registered. RSVP by Wednesday at firstname.lastname@example.org  or 356-8926.
Photos: Top, An early 2012 racing opportunity is the Siberian Express at Kickapoo State Park near Danville. The 7.45-mile trail race will be held Jan. 7. Bottom, This year's Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon is scheduled for the weekend of April 27-28. The races finish in Memorial Stadium.