Hidden Gem Half Marathon sets Sept. 11 as return date, but organizers playing it safe

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Hidden Gem Half Marathon sets Sept. 11 as return date, but organizers playing it safe

March 13, 2021 - 10:12
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Runners head out from the starting line in the first Hidden Gem Half Marathon on Sept. 7, 2019. The race was canceled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a date has been set for 2021 in hopes the event can resume. (Chronicle file photo)

The Hidden Gem Half Marathon is set to make its triumphant return to Flossmoor on Saturday, Sept. 11 — provided the COVID-19 pandemic and weather both cooperate.

Organizers announced the 2021 date for the 13.1-mile run on Feb. 23 via Facebook. Tom Dobrez, one of the founders of Flossmoor’s Future, which sponsors the race, said much will depend on the trajectory of the pandemic, but they are hoping for the best.

“We’re excited,” Dobrez said.

“At this point, we’re cautiously optimistic,” added Betsy Cutrara, who helped create and direct the first Hidden Gem Half Marathon. “We’re hopeful.”

The Hidden Gem saw a successful debut in 2019, with more than 600 runners compared to the 300-500 organizers expected. The event drew runners from 17 states and three countries, with full families, wedding parties and other groups taking part.

“That blew us away — the outreach of this race,” Dobrez said.
 


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But the Hidden Gem was canceled in 2020 because of concerns related to the pandemic. Dobrez said with so much enthusiasm surrounding what was to be the second year, having to put off a second run was disappointing.

“A lot of people missed it, naturally,” he said. “We really, really wanted to do it. It’s something that’s clicked for us.”

The Hidden Gem was the first big project of Flossmoor’s Future, a nonprofit organization that promotes the village and organizes events. The half marathon was designed to showcase Flossmoor’s amenities, from its parks and schools to its sculptures and business district. The length, in particular, was to attract runners in a way a 5K might not, as half marathons are harder to find.

“We thought we were filling a void,” Dobrez said. “And it’s obvious that we did.”

The inaugural run started near Infant Jesus of Prague Church and finished on Sterling Avenue, north of the Flossmoor Public Library. It went through Baythorne, Ballantrae and Flossmoor Hills/Highlands neighborhoods before turning east to cross Governors Highway. Then, the race route went through Old Flossmoor, Heather Hill, Braeburn/Brassie and Flossmoor Park.

The course — which was certified by the Chicago Area Runners Association and added to its circuit in the ill-fated 2020 season — will likely be similar in 2021. Dobrez said the only significant tweak comes in the final stretch in an effort to get runners through more neighborhoods in Flossmoor.

The run once again would be on the CARA circuit, as the organization extended the offer for another year. That helps, Dobrez said, because it makes Flossmoor’s run an official race for tour points and a stop runners may want to make on the road to races such as the Chicago Marathon.


Runners pass the sculpture garden on the Homewood-Flossmoor High School campus during the 2019 Hidden Gem race. The race route was designed to show off Flossmoor's amenities, including schools, parks, neighborhoods and public art. (Chronicle file photo)

The Hidden Gem Half Marathon was presented in 2019 by UChicago Medicine as well as a number of other sponsors/donors. Dobrez said he has not received any negative feedback from past sponsors and hopes many will be on board again for this year’s run. He added that because the 2020 half marathon was still in the early planning stages, organizers had not committed to many expenses. So, the cancellation was more of a disappointment than a financial concern.

“I do feel because the run was such a success with the runners themselves, we still have this momentum,” Dobrez said.

“I don’t think the flame is going to be out at all,” Cutrara said of the excitement. “It’s just hiding until it can be a ‘yes,’ and then it will be raging again.”

Additional entertainment and the extra happenings surrounding the Hidden Gem Half Marathon, such as Bike the Gem, are still up in the air, with organizers keeping an eye on COVID-19 rates and how restrictions evolve as the year progresses. But Dobrez said it is a safe bet Flossmoor Station Restaurant & Brewery’s popular race-day brew will likely be back in some form.

“It’s feasible that we will do Bike the Gem,” Dobrez said. “The plan was to do it full slate, and that’s how it’s going to start. We’ll change as needed.”

Cutrara added, “These next couple of months will help us know. We’re all being cautious.”

Dobrez said the party following the race as well as the start of the event are the most at-risk based on restrictions, as those are the two biggest gathering points for the Hidden Gem. Dobrez said while organizers hope to go all-out for the Hidden Gem, safety will lead all decisions.

“We’re going to make sure it’s a safe race,” he said. “We’re going to be following all guidelines.”

Dobrez said more announcements will be on the way soon, but those interested can keep up on the latest at hiddengemhalf.com.