Local runners club covers the Gem route in tribute to canceled race

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Local runners club covers the Gem route in tribute to canceled race

September 14, 2020 - 21:15
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The run on Saturday morning wasn't the Hidden Gem Half Marathon, even though it occurred on the scheduled day for the race.

It was a tribute to the Gem.

Members of the HF Community Running Club head out for a run along the route of the Hidden Gem Half Marathon shortly after 7 a.m. on Saturday. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Members of the HF Community Running Club head out for a run along the route of the Hidden Gem Half Marathon shortly after 7 a.m. on Saturday. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

The half marathon race would have been run on Saturday, Sept. 12, if not for the COVID-19 pandemic. About a dozen members of the HF Community Running Club, accompanied by one cyclist, decided to run the race route in honor of the thwarted event.

The half marathon's inaugural run in September 2019 was deemed a big success by organizers, runners and Flossmoor residents. The race attracted more than 620 runners and several hundred volunteers, who not only helped manage the race but cheered runners from neighborhoods along the route. 

Running club member MIchelle Nelson said running the race route on Saturday was a way to keep the magic of the event alive in spite of the official hiatus.

"Last year was such a fantastic event, and we wanted to bring that feeling back," she said. "We're out here today with our friends that we've been running with and looking to have a good race."
Betsy Cutrara, who came up with the idea for the Hidden Gem race, was among the runners on Saturday. 

"I'm just giving it a whirl. We'll see if I make it," she said. "We've got to remember the Gem."

In addition to Cutrara and Nelson, runners on Saturday included Eric Bauer, Bonnie Bell-Pease, Susan Dudik, Bridget Gallagher, Sarah Gundlach, Staci Halbert, Margie Hockenberry, John Kristoff, Kristen Salkas, Paula Swisher and Kim Zehnder. And Alexandra Green, who accompanied the runners by bicycle.

The date for the race was intended to position it as a part of runners' preparation for big autumn races, like the Chicago Marathon, also canceled this year. That's what Salkas had in mind on Saturday.

"I was so sad about the Gem," she said.  She found an IRONMAN event out west that she is preparing for, so the run on Saturday still served as part of her training regime. 

In an email to the Chronicle after the run, Nelson said, "We had about as much fun as you can have running 13.1 miles. We had neighbors put up two water stations in Heather Hill and other neighbors came out to cheer us on in Heather Hill and Old Flossmoor. Numerous others saw us out on their walk and cheered. It wasn’t the full Gem, but it was fun."

Runners head north on Kedzie Avenue briefly while following the route of the Hidden Gem Half Marathon in an unofficial race on Saturday. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Runners head north on Kedzie Avenue briefly while following the route of the Hidden Gem Half Marathon in an unofficial race on Saturday. (Eric Crump/H-F Chronicle)

Flossmoor's Future, the organization that sponsors the race, plans to bring the official event back in 2021 and hopes to pick up the momentum started with the inaugural race. 

The first race had been sanctioned by the Chicago Area Runners Association, an achievement Flossmoor's Future officials were proud of, considering the race was in its first year. CARA had included the Gem on its exclusive Runners' Choice Circuit before the pandemic disrupted the running season.

The race was designed from the start as more than a sporting event. It was also intended to market the village to the outside world and to its residents, providing a unifying project.

Cutrara said the idea came from her experience learning about the village and its people by running its streets. 

"Running was how I personally fell in love with Flossmoor," she said. "I began to run when I first moved here and found it was the best way for me to learn about this community. 

"Running also gave me an opportunity to meet fabulous Flossmoor people and eventually I gathered a running group of moms (18 years and running) who have become my life-long friends."

She and other organizers were pleased with the good impression the village made on visiting runners last year, but they were even happier to see the way residents rallied to the cause and worked together to make it a success.

"There in lies the real reason behind the Gem," Cutrara said. "It is amazing how the village and its people embraced it and committed to making it the magical, connecting, spirited and prideful Gem that it became."

#hiddengemhalf 

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