Registration officially opened Jan. 12 for the 2020 Hidden Gem Half Marathon in Flossmoor — eight months to the day before the second annual race will take place — and organizers have received a boost in the event's status.
The Chicago Area Runner's Association, which certified the 2019 Hidden Gem, has added the race to a more exclusive club, its Runners' Choice Circuit.
The circuit includes races selected by the CARA Race Committee. The committee selects races based on member feedback and data collected from surveys completed by race participants, according to Greg Hipp, CARA executive director.
The committee's recommendations are approved by CARA's board of directors.
"The Hidden Gem Half Marathon received some of the highest survey scores among fellow CARA Certified Races in 2019," Hipp said. "We were impressed by that feedback, along with the race's course, and the race's commitment to building a competitive event by offering prize money to attract top runners."
The circuit includes 15 races from around the Chicago area at www.circuitraces.com. Results from circuit races count toward CARA members' personal running goals.
Tom Dobrez, one of the founders of Flossmoor's Future, the race sponsor, said the organization's leaders are delighted with the selection for the CARA circuit, and believe the Sept. 12 race will help build on the success of the first hidden gem race in 2019.
"Not only are they saying this race is legitimate but it has an above average standard," he said. "To accomplish that in year two is just phenomenal."
The race was the first big project of Flossmoor's Future, an organization that was created with two main missions: to bring the community together and to promote the village to the wider world.
Dobrez said the race succeeded at both.
Neighborhoods along the route got organized, created neighborhood themes and came out to cheer on runners. Many residents dressed in theme-inspired costumes.
Homewood-Flossmoor High School cheerleaders lined the route through the campus, giving runners a steady stream of encouragement, and the marching band gave them a musical fanfare as they crossed Governors Highway, heading back into Flossmoor neighborhoods.
The race also attracted outside attention. The local and regional running community's participation was beyond the group's expectations.
"Our goal was 300 runners," Dobrez said. "We thought we could handle 500; 600 showed up."
He said the race committee's biggest challenge at the moment is deciding whether to cap the number of runners.
"Everybody had this remarkable experience," he said. "We don't want the experience to change."
Runners interested in securing a spot in the 2020 race can register at www.hiddengemhalf.com. The registration fee is $60 before April 1, $70 between April 2 and Aug. 12, then $80 after Aug. 12. CARA members receive a $10 discount.
Dobrez said the route would be very similar to last year's. It was designed to give runners and spectators a tour of Flossmoor's best features, including parks, schools, public art and picturesque neighborhoods.