Distance Night Explodes in Year Three
By Chris Quick, Distance Night in Palatine Meet Director
It was incredible to see the meet truly become what I always envisioned it could be. We were helped once again by great weather - low winds, temps in the high 40s - but it was really the willingness of the athletes and the coaches to commit that made it all happen. My fear every year is that we won’t be able to pry people from their pre-existing meets for a better opportunity, but so many are opting in that the pressure is becoming overwhelming. The bottom line has become: there is no way a distance runner in Illinois or Wisconsin can find a better race in any event outside of their state meets or post-season meets. That fact makes me so happy because it means that we are delivering value to the one constituency that matters most to us - the athletes. And with that interest comes an expansion in everything else that is possible - charity, fan experience, partnerships, and community. Thanks so much for being with us and let’s keep making this better and better.
clayton mendez ties meet record
In terms of competition, how are we going to top the action from that Boys 1600 Main Event? As soon as Jacobs' Zack Albrecht irrationally shot to the lead, my first thought was, "Oh my God. I couldn't have paid someone to rabbit this thing any better." Zack's crazy opening (roughly 27-58-1:30 through the 600) strung the field out and goosed the big dogs of the field into action. I watched the last 600 unfold with Miles Christensen from Downers Grove North, and we kept trying to figure out who the guys challenging Clayton Mendez were. One turned out to be Thomas Shilgalis from Naperville Central. The other two were our Wisconsin guys - Ansel Fellman and Drew Bosley. So great to see Illinois and Wisconsin kids mixing it up like that and the result was marvelous - four of the top eight times in the US for 1600 meters, including a 4:08.64 that put Mendez at US #2.
Rachel Hickey Runs 2:10.70 to Win Girls 800
I took a moment after the Girls 800 Main Event was over to talk with Rachel Hickey. She was one of the first 10 people to register for the original Distance Night in 2016. That race was the one that made her career and gave her the confidence that she could be better than a solid runner - she could be great. Later that spring, she won the Class 2A state title. On Saturday, she stormed by Highland Park's Stephanie Kriss to run a US #8 time in the 800 in 2:10.70. I sought her out just to thank her for helping get my meet off the ground, and she responded with a basic "Are you kidding me? This meet helped make my career!" Great to feel the mutual respect.
Charity Efforts Continue to Expand
Let's talk Special Olympics. I contacted Jordan Feldman, one of the area directors for Special Olympics, three years ago and told him I wanted permission to use their organization as the title charity for our event. In return, we would contribute as much of the gate receipts as we could to Special Olympics. Admission would be by a $5 donation to Special Olympics or a pair of used athletic shoes for the MORE foundation. With that in place, we did $1,800 at the gate and 6 huge boxes of shoes in 2016. Last year, we did $2,800 at the gate and 8 huge boxes. This year? $4,400 at the gate and 12 huge boxes of shoes. After covering our expenses, we have been able to give $6,700 of that money to Special Olympics.
I don't know how many people were there, but numerous coaches and athletes came up to me during the night and were amazed how much the meet had blown up. That's intentional. We are raising money for a good cause and giving admission by donation for a reason: I want to sell out Chic Anderson Stadium for a track meet. I want high school kids to come and watch a meet as spectators. I want fans to come and watch a track meet where their kid isn't even running. Let's make this the kind of meet that kids and fans want to watch AND have it be for a good cause.
One of my freshman athletes, Brandon Waller, has autism and was eligible to compete in the Special Olympics 800. Brandon has improved a ton this year, and we had high hopes that he could make the podium and earn a medal. On the Tuesday before the meet, he ran 5:22 for 1600, and I was hoping he could run 2:30 or better and compete to win. He did his absolute best and ran 2:31 for a huge PR and a third place finish.
Grace Mayer from Lyons Township was also one of our contestants in the Special Olympics race. I run every now and then with her coach, Alex Lyons, and he kept telling me how excited she was to race at our event. A girl with cerebral palsy and an 800 meter PR of 4:50 or so was going to run with the big dogs. She got to ride the bus with the LT varsity (the girls who placed 3rd in Class 3A CC). She got to run under the lights and with more than a thousand people watching. And she ran a 19 second PR (from what I heard). I didn't see the exact time because I was crying through the whole race.
Staggering Depth Emerges in the Girls Fields
Palatine girls coach Joe Parks and I kept reflecting during the week before the meet that our greatest accomplishment has been creating an incredible girls meet. Post-season meets often struggle to get girls to participate, and in year one it looked like we would have the same problem. We only had 21 girls in the 3200 in the first year and struggled to fill that side of the meet. That concern is no more. We had more girls enter the meet than guys this year, and our centerpiece race was the Girls 1600 Main Event, where all 16 kids were seeded at 5:06 or better. Seeing that on paper, I was greedy. I didn't want a race where 2-3 girls broke 5:00. I wanted a generational race, a collective performance that shifted our thinking about what a mid-season race for girls might look like. We got it. Has there ever been a race on Illinois soil where ten high school girls broke 5:00 for 1600 in the same race? It sure is possible, but it would take some digging to figure out. Best I could find was eight girls in the 2012 Class 3A state final. We just helped to redefine how deep and fast a girls 1600 could be. Kudos to those kids and their coaches.
Sophomore Josh Methner Arrives with Wild 3200 Finish
For anyone who watched the Boys 3200 Main Event, I just have to ask: what the heck happened? The last 400 meters of that race were nuts. The pace was merciless to begin with as it went out in 65 seconds for 400 and 4:33 through the 1600. At the bell, there were 5-6 guys still in contention. Then it got freaky. From my vantage point, I saw someone go down around 180 meters to go. I found out later that it was Chicago F.W. Parker star Jack MacNabola. He got up and finished in 9:14 but had been vying for the win before falling. Then, at the wire Tommy Brady from Maine South face planted as he tried to hold off Hersey's hard-charging Josh Methner. Brady landed a step before the line, but quickly rolled over and tried in vain to finish. He came across in third in a time of 9:08 while Waukegan's Marcos Garcia finished second in 9:07. Methner's kick was a huge breakthrough for him. I watched the race with two of my best alums and kept telling them I thought Methner would be there at 200 to go, but wouldn't have the kick to win. This race's revelation: he surely does have that kick. What a privilege to watch a new national star in the making. His 9:06 places him #4 nationally for sophomores. The only problem? Tyler Cushing and Brett Gardner ran the #7 and #10 national times just behind him in the same race. Never any margin for error in Illinois. Another hungry guy is always right behind you.
Community Races Become Part of Distance Night
We started community races this year before our high school meet got rolling, and I was really excited to have my own kids compete. Madeline (11), Christopher (9), and J.J. (6) are not runners yet by any means. We are letting them figure out what they want to be involved with, but I did want them to give the Youth 800 a try. By 80 meters into the race, J.J. was crying. The field left him behind early on, and he was embarrassed. So I hopped in with him and jogged. Honestly, he showed me a lot. He was persistent, he worked hard, and he refused to give up. None of my kids beat anyone. But they got to see what a race was like and that had value in itself. I was proud of all three of them.
We were also lucky to have 28 junior high kids compete. We of course want this to be a platform for our developing athletes in Palatine, and our kids did great. We had nine boys run 5:52 or better, and our two up and coming 7th graders - Andrew Jordan and Jack Cassacio - ran 5:02 and 5:14. Many thanks to Kristen Jordan (PHS alum and member of all four Palatine state title teams from 1989-1992) for putting the St. Thomas boys in a meet at Carmel H.S. that started at 4:00 pm, driving them directly from there to our meet, and having them be a part of it even though they couldn't warm-up. Andrew told me that he tempoed a 5:24 to stay fresh and then unloaded a lifetime PR of 5:02 at Distance Night. Gotta love that knowledge and attitude. All our kids proved just how important it is for us coaches to create opportunities to race for all members of our community.
Later on, it was also fun to watch my friend, John Sipple, run in the Open 1600. Sipple and his Downers Grove North boys are on the ride of a lifetime this year after winning Class 3A state and placing 4th at Nike Nationals. Coach Sipple's discipline and exuberance have a ton to do with it as does Assistant Coach Jill Blondell. She just ran 2:57 in the Boston Marathon in the most abysmal conditions in at least a generation (Desi Linden won in 2:39). In our Open 1600, Sip went out and dropped a 4:52. Probably could have been faster without all the looks over the shoulder in the last 50 meters, but it is always great to see coaches who are still passionate about staying fit and racing hard. The DGN boys went out two hours later and ran 10:15 in the DMR to record the #5 time in the nation this spring.
Craig Virgin Comes to Distance Night
Patrick Carpenter is one of the All-Time Great alums of the Palatine program. He ran for Joe Johnson in the 1980s and has continued to be involved in the Palatine Relays, our alumni scholarship for the Doug Lindberg Award, and so many other elements of our program. It was through his contacts and charity that we were able to bring Craig Virgin in to attend the meet and hand out awards. Craig’s credentials speak for themself - three time Olympian, two time World Cross Country champion, All-Time record holder at Detweiller Park - but it was even better to get to see just how much of a track and cross country nut he really is. It was a thrill to talk to Craig on the phone about running history, the University of Illinois track and cross teams, and so much more. Seeing so many kids interact with him during the meet made the history of our sport come to life. As a true historian of the sport, facilitating those connections meant so much to me.
In the middle of the meet Craig Virgin asked me if I would like Dana Miroballi to swing by our meet. He had apparently texted her (like there is some super secret elite text message chain none of us mere mortals are privy to). I told him, "Of course!" Miroballi was one of my heroes growing up. Actually, she was more mythical. I saw her win all 4 of her state cross country titles, one in stunning fashion where she kicked down her teammate Alice Doyle as they went 1-2. She did swing by, and it was such a treat to introduce a true Illinois running legend to our crowd. Miroballi won ten state titles in high school - 4 CC, 4 3200, and 2 1600. She recently moved back to the area, and it was great to see her back around Illinois distance running. It was even more fun to watch her son Luke run around our infield and have a ball at a track meet. We talked together after the meet as we went to our cars, and Luke couldn't stop chatting about all the running around he was doing. Such an unexpected treat to meet the two of them.
Family, Friends, and Fellowship Continue to Define the Event
In terms of childhood heroes, Wheaton Warrenville South girls coach Rob Harvey was one of mine growing up. He anchored my dad's 1989 4 x 800 state champion relay to a 7:43.69 finish. Even more, he was a friend and mentor to my brother, Chad, who has cerebral palsy. In the intervening years, Rob has become even more of a brother to Chad and I, and we have been thrilled to watch him become an incredible coach at Wheaton Warrenville South. His girls have won a couple of state CC trophies and also set the 4 x 800 meter relay state record, becoming the first Illinois girls relay to break 9:00. He is also the timer for Distance Night, and he goes so far above and beyond what other timers would be willing to do. We craft the meet from February on, and it is no coincidence that it is run so well.
With that dedication to creating a great meet in mind, it was incredible to see Rob celebrate Laurel Moneysmith's win in the Girls Undercard 3200. Laurel charged from behind to win the race and destroy her PR, running 11:09. His freshman, Sam Poglitsch, later ran 5:00.05 in the Girls Main Event 1600 even though she lost her shoe at 600 meters to go. Seeing those results only validated the hard work we put into getting the meet together. We want to create opportunities for our kids too. My boys Evan Eckels and Art Oshinson ran PRs in the 1600 and 800. Anne Marie Jordan and Kate Lechowicz destroyed their PRs by running 10:59 and 11:00 in the Girls Main Event 3200. Seeing our kids get the opportunity to shine really made all the hours worth it.
I would also like to take a second and applaud Michael Newman for being the track nut that he is. The guy spent his whole morning filming races and doing interviews at the Sue Pariseau Invitational. When he walked in to our meet, he and I geeked out about how incredible Hart's 9:52 3200 really was. Most other regular people would have gone to the early morning meet and called it a day. But Michael Newman is not a regular dude. He bleeds track and CC. No way he would miss our meet, and I was lucky to be able to tell him how mch his early support meant in helping us start the meet three years ago. Many thanks Newms!
New Awards for Main Event Winners
Joe Parks and I have talked since day one about having a special award for our winners, some kind of unique totem or symbol of our meet. For the first year, I labored without success to recreate the Crete Monee flight trophies. I called their current AD, their former AD, their current and former coaches. Nothing. I acted like a crazy private investigator trying to bring those bad boys back. So I slept on it for a year. Then, Nick Hurley from Dick Pond came up with the idea of handing out a record. That idea was a winner. My wife had found a bunch of lame old records (as in pre-rock and roll era easy listening records) thrown out in the trash. She grabbed them, and then my graphic design partner and friend, Eric Blyth, fashioned our logo into a record sticker. It was a labor of love, but they looked great. Seeing kids walk out with those trophies signed by Craig Virgin made the hours of work to create them all worth it.
Innovation Remains a Core Mission
I read a book recently by Bill Belichick called The Education of a Coach. In the book, he highlights one of his most important mantras: Keep Evolving. I put that phrase on a post-it note above my computer, and I think it applies to Distance Night. We have tried from the start to focus this meet on an often ignored constituency: the athletes. Our kids spend a lot of time at tedious track meets, and it is our goal to create an exciting and fast-paced meet with fun opportunities, music, and tons of social media worthy optics. One breakthrough for me was that the top Naperville North girls went and asked Coach Dan Iverson to come to our meet. That would mean they would have to run two meets in one day as they were entered in the Sue Pariseau Invitational on Saturday morning. So they did both. Sarah Schmitt ran a 10:25 PR in the morning and then anchored their DMR in 5:00. The best part for me though was that the athletes ASKED to come to our meet because it was fast and fun. If you can get one of your customers to state the mission statement of your event back to you, you are doing things right.
One Coach Joe Parks and I agree on is that we should try five things each year that no one else is attempting. Ideally, we want to appeal to our favorite target demographic: high school kids. This year we added Distance Night branded T-shirts, gave away New Balance singlets, involved Youth Hunger Opposition in Palatine as a new charity, had our junior boys dress in suits and ties to interview all the winners as #FIBONews, gave out branded records as awards, started three community races, connected our timer to a projector/screen at the finish line, and tried to get a photo booth off the ground (didn't work). If you run an event, think about what you can do to increase the fan and athlete experience.
The Distance Coaching Community Comes Together
My list of great coaching friends I got to catch up with is too long to list here. Always great to be at a meet where so many of my friends, mentors, and rivals are all gathered together. Even more fun to meet new coaches from out of state. So many of the Wisconsin coaches had stories about how their entire seasons had been erased by the weather and how grateful they were to get into a meet of this caliber. Hopefully they head back north and let everyone know about our meet.
I would like to close by thanking all of the workers and stakeholders who have helped to develop this meet. Coach Alex Soto clerked our Community Races and put together those fields. Coach Ruth Allen served as clerk for our Special Olympians and made sure they warmed up and got to the check in tent on time. ITCCCA Hall of Famer Fred Miller once again was our booth announcer with help from PHS athletes Kyle Douglas, Robbie McCracken, and Cole Kiefer. ITCCCA Hall of Famer Steve Currins and long-time volunteer Jim Briggs ran our finish line. Rob Harvey, Matt Schefler, and Chris Arthurs from Wheaton Warrenville South ran our timing system. David Everett, Tony Jones, and the MileSplit team provided our online streaming coverage. PHS alum and Prairie Ridge coach Patrick Carpenter was our awards announcer and was responsible for bringing Craig Virgin in for the meet. Outdoor grounds manager Josh Lahman and his co-workers Jake and Marty helped with the site planning and all the set up and tear down. Michael Newman was on hand to cover the meet for Runnerspace while Mike Eaken provided coverage for the Daily Herald. Barrington CC coach Chris Stec was our starter while PHS alum and official Kendall Cox was our back-up starter and break-line judge. Nick Hurley, Chris Wilhite, and Molly Molokie helped us design and order our gear and set up the interview tent on our infield. If you were impressed with the efficiency of the heats and how quickly the meet was run, thank dual clerks Coach Kevin Conway and Coach (for Deerfield now) Mike Nigliaccio. My sophomore boys ran the registration desk with my wife, Meredith, my mom, Penny, my daughter, Madeline, and Brooke Hjelm. Sandy Izewski continues to return each year even though her son has graduated and served as our ticket taker. Kathy Sauerland volunteered to help at the gate and also sold event T-shirts. Sharon Brown continues to man the finish line gate even though all her sons and daughter have graduated from PHS. Student council president Jamie Henning ran our YHOP booth. Daniela Casillas and Lauryn Simons helped in our awards tent. Our freshman boys ran the concessions with help from our VIP Booster parents. Last but not least, Malcolm Filichia, Shrey Parikh, Guilherme Deghi, Zach Cherian, and Shamoun Daudi were the infamous #FIBONews crew. Thanks so much for all your hard work!