FKT: Josh Sanders - Chief Illini Trail (IL) - 2019-03-08

Route variation
out & back
Gender category
Finish date
Total time
4h 33m 45s

The CIT is one of only a dozen or so listed FKT’s within a few hours drive of my house and the only legit (wilderness, single track, hilly, etc.) trail FKT in Illinois. So, it’s been on my radar for a while. I figured it should be a little warmer and less snowy in central Illinois by early/mid-March, so I put on the calendar. Turns out, a winter weather system moved through the night before and into the morning of my attempt. Let’s just say it made things interesting. 

First off, a word about this trail. I’ve had the good fortune to travel to every state and explore much of the US. So, it’s a somewhat educated opinion that central Illinois is the most boring part of the country. It’s just flat cornfields in every direction with an occasional tree in the distance. At least Iowa has a few rolling hills. At least Nebraska has some soybeans and wheat mixed in. The CIT doesn’t seem to belong there. The man made lake is cool and the bluffs/ravines and heavy woods actually make you feel like you’re in a much cooler part of the Midwest. It’s a cool trail for this area. 

Generally speaking, in good conditions, I would have run nearly an hour faster but the winter weather made this a slog. I am a positive person and I dislike complaining, so it’s hard for me to write an honest trip report for this FKT but this run just sucked. The trail doesn’t get traveled much at all in winter. So there were heavy leaves over the whole forest floor. With 1-2 inches of heavy wet snow/freezing rain on top of the leaves, the trail was almost indistinguishable from the rest of the woods. The trail is marked by white blazes on the trees but the wet snow that morning stuck to the trees and if I hadn’t had my GPS, it would have been impossible to stay on course.

The real issue was just how bad the footing was. Simply put, without exaggeration, it was the worst footing I’ve ever experienced as a runner. Several inches of wet leaves underneath a layer of wet snow mixed with a layer of freezing rain made this a ridiculous run. When it was flat, it felt like running on sand. When you were going uphill, you’d slip back at least a few inches with each step. When you were going downhill it was just scary, like skiing but with no ability to brake. The trail is often single track, only a foot wide, carved into the side of a ravine that was 50 feet or more above the lake. Those ravines are steep. In the summer it probably doesn’t matter but when the trail and whole ravine is covered in snow, slipping off means your going to slide a long way. Twice the wet snow and leaves just slipped out from under me and I slid down the ravine. Once maybe 8-10 feet and another time I couldn’t stop my fall until hitting a tree a good 15 feet down. 

I made it to the southern terminus in 2:11 and was about 20 minutes ahead of record pace but exhausted myself trying to run on this slick snow. It was often slower going downhill due to slippery footing than uphill. I fell more times during the first half of this run than I have in all my trail running career combined up this point. One of my slides of the ravine bent a finger back awkwardly and it was hurting. One fall bent my leg awkwardly and my hip felt off the rest of the run. My right elbow probably got hit the hardest. The worst fall was going downhill and falling back directly on my tailbone. It shot pain up my whole body and I just hoped I could get up. I ended up quite bruised and bloodied. Kind of ridiculous for a trail run in Illinois. If this wasn’t an FKT attempt, there is no way I would’ve run here today. It was just a frustrating slog. I’d driven 4 ½ hours to get there and I was going to finish what I started but it was miserable conditions. My goal coming in was 3:30 or less but on this day it was just about keeping my legs moving forwarding and finish it.

I finished back at the northern trailhead with a time of 4:33:45. My GPS mileage was almost exactly on at 22.59 miles. I’m excited to have FKT #6 in the books and knock 20+ minutes off Rob’s time. This is a fun trail and in the right conditions, a good ultra runner can easily knock an hour off this time and a really good effort from a really good runner could definitely get it under 3 hours. I hope some of the Illinois and/or ultra runners get into this course because it really is worthy of having a competitive time for the FKT.