A Series of Moments from Distance Night 2018

Coach Quick here. I will write a more formal recap of my favorite race moments later this week, but as I put Distance Night 2018 to bed and move on with my athletes and our season, I wanted to leave you with some of my favorite moments. Away we go...

  • 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.
  • Speaking of Mendez, is his coach Billy Poole-Harris the most fun guy to hang out with at a track meet or what? Billy comes from an incredible track lineage, but he is surely making his own mark in the sport. You can't beat his enthusiasm or sense of play. I know I have a blast every time I run into him at a meet.
  • Prior to the meet, I got to talk on the phone with Craig Virgin about our respective histories with the University of Illinois track and cross country teams. He obviously had a lot more to do with the team than I did (as a manager and admin assistant from 1994-1998), and it was fascinating to hear him talk about the atmosphere surrounding the program in the mid-1970s when Gary Wieneke and his guys really got it going. I would have loved to be in the Armory when it was full and rocking.
  • 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.
  • Grace Mayer from Lyons Township was 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. 
  • 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.
  • Speaking of heroes, Rob Harvey was one of mine growing up as well. 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 had 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.
  • Can we all just 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!
  • 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.
  • Three weeks ago I was home in Moline, IL for Easter and got to see Rock Island Alleman's Spencer Smith easily win the 1600 at the Gene Shipley Invite with some incredible late race speed. I made it a point to seek him out after the meet and personally invite him to Distance Night. He decided to come race and responded by running a 9:17 to win the Boys Undercard 3200 meters. Even cooler, I got to talk with his dad, who was one of my eighth grade teachers at John Deere Middle School in Moline.
  • I got an e-mail the day after the meet from Jenny Spangler asking if I had found a Grayslake North jacket. I simply responded back that the jacket was in my car, and asked the obvious: "Are you the Jenny Spangler who was a 1996 Olympian in the marathon?" It was of course, and I was happy that a die hard pro runner like her enjoyed the meet and saw how much fun all the kids were having. Even prouder that we could help her daughter catch a great race (and get her jacket back).
  • 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.
  • Speaking of community races, we were 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.
  • It was 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.
  • 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. 
  • 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.
  • 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. 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 keep working to make the kind of meet that kids and fans want to watch. Those are too rare these days. We are going to turn this into the biggest Saturday night, distance running party you have ever seen. In the future? Live music. Why not? They do it during road races. An idea to think on for sure.
  • Here's another idea for you all. Joe Parks and I talk every year about the Palatine Invite and Distance Night. One thing we 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.
  • So I honestly have to admit that I wished that Katelynne Hart ran 9:52 at our meet, but I understand what a home meet like Sue Pariseau means to a team and a program. We would never let kids do individual things on the day of the Palatine Relays. Sometimes track has to be all about the team. However, it was really cool that she came by to watch our meet. It was even better to see her get asked to prom by Danny Kilrea from Lyons Township. Those two have been in so many national and international meets in the last year that they have to be pretty good friends by now. Great to see these two happy and smiling after all the racing was over.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The optics on those two Gauntlet 1600 races are incredible. The energy just pulses down that straightaway and certainly has to be part of the incredible racing we have seen the last three years.
  • 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 infamos #FIBONews crew. Thanks so much for all your hard work!

Craig Virgin to Appear at Distance Night in Palatine

Wednesday, March 21

In a nice turn of events, we are able to announce today that Illinois distance running legend Craig Virgin will be at Distance Night this year. A two-time Olympian and World Cross Country champion, Virgin will be handing out awards and speaking with athletes throughout the night. Who wants to come race and then get their award from an Olympian?

For me, there have always been three defining forces in Illinois distance running: Joe Newton, Craig Virgin, and Dana Miroballi. All three found great success on the track, but it was their contributions at Detweiller Park in Peoria that everyone truly remembers. If Joe Newton is the godfather of team excellence in Illinois, then it is Virgin and Miroballi who really set the standards for individual excellence. Dana Miroballi from Wheeling is the only athlete - male or female - to win four consecutive state cross country titles. And Virgin...well, everyone knows about the state titles and the great track times, but his legacy is all about one number: 13:50.6.

The Illinois boys state cross country meet moved to Detweiller in 1971. Craig Virgin had placed sixth as a sophomore in 1970, running 13:06 for 2.75 (?) and finishing 27 seconds behind Lincoln-Way legend Dave Merrick (results here). But over the next year, the farm boy from Lebanon set his sights on bigger and better things. The match between Virgin and Detweiller was one made in heaven as he used the extra distance to pound the competition into submission. In that first year, he ran 13:59 and won by 30 seconds over Lee Erickson from Lincoln Way (results here).

That first state title, won in 13:59, had to be impressive. Virgin's drive and will to win were already legendary by then, I would assume. But we would be talking about Virgin as being among the Illinois greats if his legacy stopped there. Jorge Torres ran 14:00. Donald Sage ran 14:03. The greats from the 1970s ran right at that mark too: Tom Graves 13:56, Dave Walters 13:57, Jim Spivey 14:00. However, the seconds between 13:59 and 13:50.6 have proven to make all the difference (1972 results here). Those 8.4 seconds are all that separates Virgin from being among the greats. They are the fleeting bits of time that have always stood between Virgin and the rest of the pack in the land of imagination and myth.

I have been to every Illinois state final since 1980. It is always special when an athlete begins to gather the momentum to challenge the mark. The hype builds through the season and the whispers start to gather force: Will this be the year it goes down? I was sure in 2007 that Chris Derrick would be the man. He fell just short in 13:52. Then, in 2010, my sense of surety extended to Lukas Verzbicas - an athlete who broke the national indoor 5K record as a freshman (albeit at sophomore age). Verzbicas managed a 13:54 and blamed his near shortfall on a "divine wind" pushing him back in the last 400 meters.

In an age where so much has ostensibly gotten better for athletes - shoes, nutrition, training methodologies, racing opportunities, etc. - Virgin's 13:50.6 has managed to hold off the onslaught. It is a mark of pure myth. Many thousands have tried and none have conquered. When you look at the resumes of those who have "failed," the mark's transcendence is even more impressive. Spivey: 3-time Olympian. Derrick: four times in the Top 10 at NCAA Division I cross country, 4th at the Olympic trials in the 10K. Torres: NCAA Division I cross country champion, 10K Olympian, Verzbicas: 3:59.71 for the mile and a national record 8:29.46 for the two mile. 

I have met Craig Virgin multiple times and always been impressed by two attributes within him. First, he is incredibly supportive of Illinois cross country, especially its top tier runners. Each year at Detweiller I see him welcome new members into the club of "ultra" elites. I have seen him take multiple young athletes under his wing and impart advice that only the truest of champions need to receive. The man has simply raced and succeeded at every level, and watching him pass that knowledge on to younger athletes has always been generous.

And second, I have always been struck by his pride in that mark. What drove a boy from a small town, who grew up on a farm and had virtually no resources to train with, to run that time? What clues can we find in his makeup? It has always struck me as a great American story. The man born to a small and humble life discovers that he has potential that will take him farther than anyone around him could imagine. There is a different kind of American ferocity in such work. The mark does not come from a suburb or a comfortable middle class home. Something in those 8 seconds comes from the place itself - Lebanon, farm country, land of humility, early mornings, and unnoticed and life-long hard work.

Virgin has finally released that story for all of us to read, and I encourage all cross country fans to give his new book Virgin Territory: The Story of Craig Virgin, America's Renaissance Runner a read. I recently ordered my copy for spring break reading and can't wait to see the back story to Illinois' most renowned runner.

Many thanks for Craig's appearance need to be extended to Palatine alum Patrick Carpenter, who put this all together. Patrick was a member of our 1980 Class 2A state runner-up cross country team, and he bleeds for the sport. He is our awards announcer at Distance Night and will work with Craig throughout the evening. Thanks for reading everyone! All I've got to say now is: Who's next? Let's go!

Video - 2017 Boys Main Event 1600

In this battle of national elites, Jack Aho (Grayslake Central, IL) comes from behind to narrowly nip Finn Gessner (Madison-LaFollette, WI) as both guys ran 4:12. Brian Griffith (Lake Zurich, IL) also broke under 4:13. All three athletes were Foot Locker finalists the preceding fall with Gessner finishing 2nd in the National final.

Top 20 Distance Night in Palatine Moments

As we count down to the opening of registration on February 15, 2018, we will also be counting down the Top 20 moments from our first two years. This year's edition is on Saturday, April 21 at Chic Anderson Stadium in Palatine, IL.

1. Sean torpy and jon davis square off in the gauntlet 1600

Jon Davis (Oakwood, IL) was one of the hottest runners in the United States in 2016. Hailing from just outside Champaign, he had taken the Class A distance world by storm before traveling to the Arcadia Invite where he ran 8:51. He had won our Palatine Invite cross country in the fall, and getting him to run at the inaugural Distance Night was a huge coup. We will always appreciate his commitment to travel north and help us get the meet off the ground.

Sean Torpy (Sandburg, IL) couldn't be properly described as an underdog, but he had flown under the radar in a couple of senses. Firstly, he was one half of a powerful twin duo with his brother, Chris. Secondly, he had dedicated his fall to a team effort which resulted in a Class 3A state title for Sandburg and a 4th place team finish at NXN. Already an accomplished team runner in CC and in his school's 4 x 800, he was just on the cusp of breaking out as an individual.

This duo joined Grayslake Central's Jack Aho and West Aurora's Connor McCue to front a stellar field for our first ever Gauntlet 1600. We invited the entire crowd out onto the track to provide the energy, and left it to these fine athletes to do the rest. From the gun, the race smoked. Davis hit the 400 meters in 58 and attempted to take the field by storm. A savvy veteran, Torpy tracked him beautifully, drawing even by the 800 mark as they came through in 2:04. From there, it was a master class in pacing for Torpy. He clicked off two more 62 second quarters to run away with the victory in a meet and stadium record of 4:08.64. Davis crossed two seconds later in 4:10 while Aho and McCue ran huge PBs at 4:12. They put on a show that was fitting for the vision we had laid out for the meet.

The aftermath was interesting. Torpy celebrated the new PB, his group's momentum, and a momentary one upping of brother Chris, who had skipped the meet after going to prom the night before. Later that season, the brothers would celebrate together with a 7:37 state record for the 4 x 800 meters, individual state championships (one apiece) in the 800 and the 1600, and twin scholarships to Miami (Ohio). They graduated as two of the finest runners in Illinois state history.

Jon Davis that night was one of the last guys to leave the stadium. He cooled down for a long time, and I could feel him stewing and angry. Even in defeat, I came to admire his intensity. True champions never like to lose, and they know how to turn temporary setbacks into progress. Jon would win double state titles in the Class A 1600 and 3200 before moving on to run for the University of Illinois. Two weeks ago, he became the first person ever to break 4:00 in the U of I Armory, setting a school record of 3:58.46. 

Torpy. Davis. Aho. State champions all. We can't thank them enough for helping make Distance Night an ongoing opportunity for all the champions to come. Here's to the many more great moments to come!

2. Clayton mendez breaks 9:00

It would be easy to see Clayton Mendez's 2017 track season as an answer to all the haters. He burst onto the scene as a sophomore in the 2015 cross country season, placing 12th in the Class 3A state meet in a time of 14:37. And then...nothing...for the better part of a year. Mendez qualified to state track as a sophomore with a 9:29 in the IHSA Sectional, but then was a DNS at the IHSA State meet. In cross country the next year, he finished 79th in a time of 15:17. Rumors abounded among those who didn't know the story. But meanwhile, the chip on his shoulder grew and grew. It just took some time for Clayton Mendez to get it right.

The 2017 track season was a return to form from one of the nation's most talented and hungry athletes. He stunned the state - and the nation - with a 9:03 clocking indoors for 3200 meters. But the real hunt was on. Mendez wanted that sub-9:00 time for 3200 meters, and he chose Distance Night as his showcase. From the gun, he attacked right on the pace: 67 second lap after 67 second lap. As he came to 400 meters to go, the crowd rose in unison and urged him on. He rose to the task alone and out front with only the chip and his dreams to power him. He crossed the line in 8:59.46 and his return to the state and national scene was complete.

Since then, Clayton has gone on to establish himself as a national force. He finished runner-up in the Class 3A IHSA State meet before moving on to finish 18th at NXN and 9th at Foot Locker. As good a student as he is an athlete, Clayton will move on to run for Stanford next year, but we will always remember him as the first athlete to break 9:00 at Distance Night.

3. Karina liz and rachel hickey give it all

I have written about the epic dual between Karina Liz (Aurora Central Catholic) and Rachel Hickey (Lasalle-Peru) elsewhere on this web site, but I recap it here for one reason: because the ultimate running quote comes from Steve Prefontaine, "To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift." Pre had a flair for the poetic, and I certainly see the romance of honorable struggle written in some form at every track meet I go to. That poetry often becomes more stark when it involves a race between two bona fide elites.

At Distance Night 2016, Karina Liz was the defending Illinois Class 2A statechampion in the 800 meters. Two times over in fact. She didn't win those state titles by cruising on her laurels. State champions know that a hungry challenger can arise at any moment. And arise she did in this race in the form of Rachel Hickey. Rachel was certainly an athlete on the rise, but she had never really gone up against the best. Down  the final straightaway of the 800 meters, the champion battled the challenger. She pulled away only in the final few meters to win 2:13.32 to 2:14.29. But Liz had to know at that moment that a new challenger had emerged. Both girls sat 10 meters apart on the infield, vomiting and laying stricken. Both had given their absolute best. Not a month later, in a reprise of the same matchup, it was Hickey who prevailed to become the 800 meter state champion. So the romance goes. Always a champion. Always a challenger. 

4. Three Foot locker finalists contest the 1600

One of our goals at Distance Night has been to attract the best athletes from the Midwest for a low-cost night of elite racing. Everything came together in 2017 when Finn Gessner (Madison LaFollette, WI) agreed to come race Jack Aho (Grayslake Central) and Brian Griffith (Lake Zurich). The three athletes had met each other at the Foot Locker cross country nationals where all three represented the Midwest region. Gessner placed 2nd overall at Foot Locker, and two weeks prior to Distance Night he had run 8:47.57 for 3200 meters at the Arcadia Invite in California. On this night, he agreed to step down in distance to take on the two Illinois distance aces.

Aho and Griffith had run each other a great deal in their careers, and adding Gessner to the equation just thickened the plot. The three superstars went at it early and often during the race, but the last lap held all the fireworks. Playing to his strength rather than his speed, Gessner cranked the pace at 500 meters to go and tried to take the sting out of the kickers. It nearly worked. Only a final surge in the last 50 meters allowed Aho to sneak by for the win. The results were stellar: Aho 4:12.05, Gessner 4:12.14, and Griffith 4:12.93. The final 100 meters was a classic battle. The crowd had been invited onto the track to create a gauntlet. The music blared over the stadium speakers. And two great state champions - athletes with national resumes - battled to the final inches. May we keep engineering such moments in the years to come!

5. biddle and o'Brien revisit an old msl rivalry

Rivalries are the essence of sport, and they are often the lifeblood of great track meets. At Distance Night 2016, Mid-Suburban League rivals Megan Biddle (Hoffman Estates) and Kelly O'Brien (Palatine) squared off in the 1600 meter run for what felt like the 100th time. Ever since freshman year, the two had seen each other: at local cross country dual meets, in conference meet clashes, and in the Illinois state finals. Sometimes a big race - even a state or national level one - can feel just like home when it involves an old, cozy rival.

Biddle and O'Brien ran with contrasting styles. Biddle liked to run more even or negative splits, engaging in a thoughtful style that had brought her great success. O'Brien often liked to charge to the lead and use her guts to hang on in the latter stages. On this night, it was Biddle who ran her race style to perfection. She tailed the hard-charging O'Brien into the last 200 meters before unleashing a savage kick. Her victorious time of 4:54.29 was a school record and lifetime best. O'Brien would exact revenge as she grabbed the state title later that year, but this was Biddle's moment. I told her afterward I had never seen her with that kind of kick. Both athletes continued on to run in college - Biddle at Illinois State, O'Brien at Northwestern - but it was these early rivalries that planted the seeds of greatness for both.

6. freshman stephanie kriss runs a state leading time

I am not sure that anyone knew who Stephanie Kriss was before Distance Night 2017. Sure, the Highland Park freshman had run 2:24 at her indoor conference meet, but that did not make many waves outside of the Central Suburban League. She advanced her seed and punched her ticket to Distance Night with a 2:21 clocking just a week before our event. This won her a spot in our Undercard 800 meter race.

When the gun went off, she blasted to lead and just kept pouring it on. At the finish the clock read 2:12.83. It not only was the fastest 800 meter time ever run at Distance Night, but also the fastest time in the state of Illinois. The buzz around the stadium was palpable. Mike Newman, from Runnerspace.com, was beside himself. Had that really just happened? Did an unknown freshman just run 2:12 in the Undercard - the supposedly slower heat? She had, and her time would hold on as the fastest of the night when even Rachel Hickey and Abby Fioresi, both 800 meter state champions, were unable to unseat her. Stephanie did not end the season as the state champion, but she fired a powerful warning shot that her career would be one to watch. She also finished the year as an All-State athlete. We look forward to more of these moments to come from both Stephanie and whoever the next anonymous freshman is that shocks the world.

7. hunter cobbley throws his fist in the air

To quote John "Cougar" Mellencamp, I was born in a small town (Geneseo, IL to be exact). I grew up watching my dad, Jeff Quick's, Geneseo boys and girls cross country teams take on the best in the state throughout the 1980s.  With an enrollment of only 900, both his teams managed to place top five in the state in Class 2A during that decade. So I have always appreciated the small town man who finds greatness when up against the big school kids. Enter Hunter Cobbley.

In the 3200 at Distance Night 2016, a group of five athletes hit the 400 meters to go together, and it was like a jailbreak occurred. They had been out in 4:41 and now all five chased negative splits, a great time, and the win. Heath Warren from Springfield shifted gears as he sought his school's record for the event. Colin DeYoung (Illiana Christian) and Evan Mitchell (Lincoln-Way West) battled for the lead down the backstretch and around the final curve. And right in the thick of things, on the race of his life, was Hunter Cobbley of El-Paso Gridley. As they all crossed the line in 9:13-9:14, I saw Hunter throw his fist in the air. He finished third in 9:14.27, and I asked his coach afterward what that was all about.

So here's the story. As a junior, Hunter was the first person in his school's history to break 10:00 for 3200 meters when he ran 9:56. As a senior, he advanced that record down to 9:46 during the indoor season. But to run 9:14...that is on another planet entirely. It is the type of breakthrough that only happens once for an athlete. Heck, it is the type of breakthrough that might only happen once for a program. To set up a race that brought that moment to Hunter Cobbley and the El Paso-Gridley program fills me with pride. May there be many more just like it. Pump those fists!

8. tyler starnes wins inaugural special olympics 800

State champions come in all shapes and sizes, and our meet has been a breeding ground for quite a few champions in waiting. One of my favorite athletes was Tyler Starnes from Elmwood Park. When I started recruiting a field for our first ever Special Olympics 800, Elmwood Park coach Patrick Sheridan got back to me right away and said he had a great kid for us. In 2015, Tyler ran for his varsity team as a sophomore - in the Illinois state cross country meet. He finished that race in 16:57, but was building toward bigger things - a sub-5:00 mile and state titles in the Special Olympics.

During his Distance Night race, Tyler hung back early, and I wondered whether he was as good as advertised. But in the second lap, he just turned it on. As the crowd rose to its feet and the tears welled in my eyes, Tyler Starnes came from behind and stormed to victory in 2:32. The next year, he won the Illinois Special Olympics state title in both the 1500 and the 3000 (in times of 4:40 and 10:20). We have been privileged at Distance Night to see many champions have a breakthrough race before moving onto bigger and better things. But I will always remember Tyler Starnes as one of the first - and one of the best ever. Read more about him from the Chicago Tribune: http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/highschool/ct-spt-1025-prep-cc-elmwood-park-tyler-starnes-20151024-story.html.

9. olivia niziolek dominates in 4:54

We were privileged in our second year to welcome a ton of new programs and elites who had missed out on the fun in year one. I first saw Olivia Niziolek (Maine South) and her teammate, Maddie Dingle, charging to the lead in the middle stages of the 2016 Richard Spring cross country invite at Detweiller Park. I knew then and there that I wanted both them and their program involved and was excited to add them to the mix.

What I couldn't have known is that Niziolek was ready to run 4:54 for 1600 meters. It used to be that the sub-5:00 mark was almost mythical in girls high school distance running. Increasingly, marks under that barrier have become normalized, and it is one of our goals to contribute to that trend. Even better, we hope that we can start setting new bars. Girls can and will regularly run under 4:50 for 1600 meters when given the chance. Previous to our meet, Olivia had never run under 5:03 for the distance. She left with not just a small breakthrough against an aging standard of greatness, but rather with an advancement toward the new bars that we all hope to set. If we continue to give great athletes access to prime racing opportunities, we can set the new standards.

10. dakota roman blasts a meet record 3200

Heading into our inaugural meet, the hardest event to recruit for was the girls 3200. We ended up with a field of 19 girls, many of whom had solid reputations but had not yet delivered an elite time. It was an opportunity ripe for the taking, and the race played out wonderfully. Lake Zurich's courageous front-runner Caitlin Shepard stormed to the lead and wound up the entire field. This bold move actualized the field, and it was Dakota Roman (Batavia, IL) who saw the opening and took it. Over the last 800 meters, she poured it on, driving herself to a huge PB of 10:42.38.

The time was a huge improvement for Dakota, and she led eight other girls under 11:00, many of whom surpassed that mark for the first time. This race taught me that within a group of so-called "'solid" athletes, there always lurks an elite - or eight. Watching Dakota Roman find a new gear was a true pleasure. She continues to run in college for Illinois State.

11. hall and mcintyre duel for class a supremacy

More than anything, our intent at Distance Night is to give great athletes access to deep and elite fields that mimic the experience of championship racing. For guys like Logan Hall (Arthur-Lovington) and Wyatt McIntyre (Athens), finding a field that can actualize their talents is not as easy as driving to the next suburb over. Both guys hail from small towns in down-state Illinois so getting to run against the star suburban athletes who dominate Class 3A is a rarity.

In 2017 both Hall and McIntyre were dragged into the jet wash Clayton Mendez created as he sought a sub-9:00 clocking for 3200 meters (more on him in the days to come). The duo locked up with Lake Zurich star Matt Pereira in a spirited battle not just to emerge as the top runners in the state, but to declare supremacy over each other in Class A. Hall outlasted McIntyre and Pereira by just enough as the three hit the finish in 9:11.06, 9:11.32, and 9:11.79. Hall carried that momentum to the Class A state title in the 3200 meters later in the season, but McIntyre responded by coming back in their senior cross country seasons to earn his first state title. Theirs will be one of the rivalries to watch throughout the 2018 track season. Hopefully, these soon-to-be University of Illinois teammates will square off again at Distance Night 2018.

12. isabelle and ryan christiansen team up

Over the past two years, Isabelle Christiansen (Oswego, IL) has built herself into one of the best distance runners in Illinois. She placed 9th in the Class 3A state cross country meet as a sophomore before returning this year to finish 27th as a junior. She was also 6th in the Class 3A 1600 as a soph in a blazing 5:00.60. However, in 2016 she wasn't even the biggest star of her own family at our Distance Night event.

That's because little brother Ryan stole the show. Entered in our Special Olympics 800, Ryan took to the track in a Chicago Bulls jersey. If I had to guess, he weighed in at a mighty 70 lbs and stood about 4' 6". He competed hard, though, and entering the home stretch, he felt the noise of the crowd and started to celebrate with 100 meters to go. When he got to the finish line, he turned to the crowd, flexed his muscles, and broke into a wide smile. He just stood there and soaked up the standing ovation. Isabelle ran 5:03.99 later that night in our Main Event 1600, but she had to go home as the lesser of two stars.

In all seriousness, the opportunity to have both Christiansen kids competing their best in the same venue on the same night was a dream come true. Seeing our Special Olympians competing side-by-side with the best in the Midwest is truly a special experience and unique to Distance Night. Let me know at cquick@d211.org if you know a Special Olympian who might be interested in racing.

13. arthur santoro sets new 800 meter record

Over the past 10-15 years, there has been a distance running renaissance in the city of Chicago. Athletes from Whitney Young, Jones, Latin, Northside College Prep, and many others have once again become players on the state and national scene. No program epitomizes that rise better than Andrew Adelmann's group at Chicago Jones. They have been team state champions in Illiniois Class 2A cross country and a force in Class 3A track.

Andrew has worked hard to make sure that his athletes have access to the best races, and Arthur Santoro was able to take that opportunity and spin it into a big win last year. He had been a capable 800 meter runner for the past couple years, but his 1:54.86 was a big PB and the highest quality win of his career. It was also an improvement on our previous meet record. The opportunity to give all kids access to top flight races - whether from the big city or a small town - is part of our founding vision. We could not be more proud to see these kids get the big results that their talent deserves.

14. Jacob Gebhardt breaks through to 4:14

Sometimes the major drama in the race is not between the known quantities duking it out at the front. It lies within the brave challenger, taking a ride and testing his or her mettle. Last year, there was really no logical reason for Sterling's Jacob Gebhardt to challenge Jack Aho, Finn Gessner, and Brian Griffith in the Main Event 1600. All three were Foot Locker National finalists and state champion caliber athletes - out of his league on paper.

But races exist in the heart as well as on paper, and Gebhardt was determined to challenge, unafraid to attach himself to a pace he had never experienced before. As the race unfolded, he kept hanging in, hanging in. In some ways, there is nothing more pure than the impulse to go where you have never gone before in a race. Gebhardt was not awarded the win on this night as the furious kicks in the last lap left him out of the top three. But he did finish fourth in 4:14.51 - a staggering new PB. In doing so he once again proved my favorite part about distance running - the races happen on the track rather than on paper. On any given night, given the right field and the right slant of light, you might be the one to catch the magic. In doing so, we get to see the new champions appear right before our eyes. 

15. Lauren kUbinski storms to a 5:04 1600 - from the undercard

As a long-time distance coach, I always arrive at a track meet and hope that my athletes are in the "fast" heats of the distance races. I hate when my athletes do not get to test themselves against the best a meet has to offer. In starting Distance Night, one of our goals was simple: create a meet with such incredible depth that there simply were no "slow" heats. Every race would have depth and quality.

This point was best proven in 2016 when Lauren Kubinski of Schaumburg High School toed the line in the Undercard 1600. She came in with a seed in the 5:20s, but ten minutes later she walked off the track with a glowing new PB of 5:04.69. I remember talking to Joe Parks, the Palatine girls coach, soon after that race and seeing the glow in his eyes. We had created a circumstance that allowed Kubinski to reach far beyond what she had accomplished before, and it didn't have to be the fastest heat of the day. Getting the best an elite athlete has to offer is often much more about putting them in the correct competitive circumstance than anything else. At Distance Night we hope to seed kids in deep fields near their previous bests and then let them take their games to the next level due to the stimulus. Many thanks to Lauren Kubinski for showing that greatness can come from anywhere if work together to set up the right circumstances.

16. Palos Heights shepard sweeps distance medley relays

We added the Distance Medley Relay (1200-400-800-1600) as a means of getting more kids into the meet. Our hope was that the event would eventually turn into an elite level showcase that enabled teams to take rare shots at school records in this rarely run event. In 2016, Palos Heights Shepard took the DMR title behind the strong anchor leg from junior Caleb Washington.

They returned last year with a vengeance and a clear goal: to bring the ladies along and sweep the Distance Night DMR titles. Mission accomplished. A team player until the end, Washington forswore an individual race to help his team defend their title. He ran a scorching anchor leg to take his foursome to the win in a meet record of 10:30. The ladies held up their end of the bargain, winning by 5 seconds in a new record of 12:47.

We imagined the DMR as a showcase for up and coming programs that did not have individuals in the meet. It would be a place to gather experience. Consider that done. The past two years have helped put Shepard distance running on the map, and we look forward to them defending their titles against increasingly tough fields this coming year.

17. Greigh wells finishes second in inaugural special olympics 800

The addition of a Special Olympics race happened rather late in the game in planning for our inaugural Distance Night in 2016. Since we were donating most of the gate proceeds to Special Olympics, it was only natural that we might include a race gauged toward these athletes.

My brother, Chad Quick, has been relegated to a wheelchair since birth due to cerebral palsy. He participated in Special Olympics throughout his younger years, and I knew that we might be able to give our Special Olympians a chance to race alongside the best in the Midwest. After putting out feelers to area coaches and parents, I received an email from Dana Wells, stating that she thought this race might be a good one for her seventh-grader, Greigh.

We signed him up and he ran great, placing second overall. In 2017 Greigh didn't run because he was too busy racing for his junior high team at Barrington Prairie Middle School. In 2018 Greigh Wells was one of the fastest freshman on a loaded Barrington team, placing 56th in the Palatine Invite freshman race in 14:37 for 2.5 miles. Perhaps this year, he will improve enough to make our freshman 1600 race. If not, he will always have a home at Distance Night, competing to bring the Special Olympics 800 title back to Barrington High School for the first time.

18. Three Freshmen Break 4:30 for 1600 Meters

When I was a freshman in 1991, it still felt like breaking 5:00 was a big deal. Coaching distance running in the new millennium has certainly disabused me of that notion. Now, it is routine for 7th and 8th graders to make the leap and for freshman to reach the truly spectacular.

Our 2017 freshman 1600 was loaded as it took a seed of 4:47 just to make the field. The tough York duo of Ethan Kern and Daniel Klysh were pitted against Batavia's Damian Rodriguez, Hersey's Josh Methner, and the Wheaton Warrenville South duo of Jacob Kluckhohn and William Hauenstein. In the end, Ethan Kern laid down the law in the final 200 meters and shattered the meet record, running 4:28.67 for 1600 meters. Rodriguez and Klysh also dipped under 4:30. Behind them, Noah McIntyre (Athens), Methner, Kluckhohn, and Aidan King (St. Charles East) all ran under 4:34. Twelfth place? Still 4:40 and some change.The next generation of distance running stars had been declared.

Methner went on to finish Top 10 in Class 3A cross this past season. Hauenstein and Kluckohn? Both Top 7 on Wheaton Warrenville South's first ever state trophy team. McIntyre? Heir apparent to his state champion brother. Rodriguez? One of the top men on Batavia's up and coming XC program. We can't wait to see the next generation of stars again at our meet this year.

19. The Magnussen Family Comes Full Circle

Claudia Magnussen made a great name for herself at Pana High School. Running for the small school just south of Decatur, IL, she developed into one of the state’s finest distance runners. After placing 12th in Class A cross country as a junior, she improved to run 17:20 and finish runner-up during her senior year. Only Illinois All-Time Great Anna Sophia Keller stood between her and a state title.

That term All-Time Great also applied to Claudia’s dad Mark as well. Hall of Fame Palatine coach Joe Johnson used that term to describe any man who gave his all as a distance runner in our program. Mark is remembered at Palatine for his desperate charge to the lead in the 1980 Class 2A state. Emboldened by a fiery speech from Coach Johnson on Friday night, he set a new PB in the mile en route to leading the state meet at halfway. He ultimately finished 30th as our team claimed a second place finish - our program’s first trophy finish.

Now, Claudia and Mark Magnussen returned to Chic Anderson Stadium to watch her run 5:02.65 in our Main Event 1600 meter run. On hand were her grandparents and quite a few Palatine All-Time greats, including her dad Mark. Distance running is all about deepening relationships and building family. To see one family’s story come full circle made us proud. After a successful senior year, including All-State finishes in the Class A 1600 and 3200, Claudia continued her family’s running tradition at Notre Dame.

20. Fast Food wins the inaugural 4 x 400 meter Costume Relay

Everyone knows that distance runners are a wacky bunch. Zany. A bit off. Quirky. The best of us choose to embrace that and let our freak flag fly. So, at the end of a serious night of distance running with the best in the Midwest, we like to finish the night by dressing up as food products with our friends and battling it out in the 4 x 400 meter relay. Our 2016 winners of the costume relay were 2 boys and 2 girls from Yorkville high school who dressed as a banana, a hot dog (with mustard only), a taco, and a piece of pizza. I am not sure who exactly "won" the race, but the true victors were these screwy kids with the best costumes. Second place was the foursome who dressed up as Jimmy John's delivery drivers because...you know...subs so fast you'll freak. 

The costume relay is open to the first 12 teams who sign up each year and is our last event of the evening. In 2017, we ran to "Tacky" by Weird Al Yankovic. The cost for this race is nothing, and athletes can sign up on the infield at the awards tent when they arrive. We encourage teams to be co-ed and from multiple schools if possible. The only requirements? You have to wear a costume and you've got to be fun to have fun. Let's make some new memories in 2018.

Distance Night in Palatine is Back!

Save the date...April 22, 2017. We will once again be filling Chic Anderson Stadium in Palatine, IL with music, fun, and the finest distance runners from the state of Illinois and the Midwest. The event will feature 32 elite athletes per event in just the 800,  1600, and 3200 meter runs. The Top 16 boys and girls run  in The Main Event under the lights at 9:00 pm while the rest compete in The Undercard which begins at 7:00 pm. To expand the opportunity to more athletes, we also offer a freshmen boys 1600, an emerging girls 1600, and a distance medley relay for each gender.

The idea to start an outdoor distance only meet was born from a couple of impulses. As the son of a coach, I am a long-time track lover. I used to chart long jump performances as a youth and have been  split timing sprint relays since I could punch a watch. I love track and field. But a creeping thought started to emerge over the last five years that I wasn't having as much fun attending track meets as I should be. Most meets last forever. Since the weather is often awful in Illinois during the early outdoor season, that often produces a dreary mix of tedium and bone-shivering cold. In our zeal to let as many teams and athletes participate as possible, we have also filled the track experience with far too many flights and sections. Track is too often a beautiful beast that feeds upon itself.

A few coaches around Illinois have been experimenting with event specialty meets, and I have never walked away from any of these experiences without feeling the true exhilaration I want to feel for track and field. Look at the roster of specialty meets already offered in Illinois:

  • The Windy City Pole Vault Summit
  • Fremd Throws Invite
  • Batavia Distance Madness
  • West Suburban Last Chance meet
  • Downers South Mustang Relays

All of these events were ones that we hoped to mimic or even improve upon when Joe Parks and I came up with the idea to do a co-ed, elite distance meet during the outdoor season. At the urging of J.B. Hansen at Lake Zurich, we started a low key co-ed JV last chance meet in the spring of 2015. In about 90 minutes, we ran just the three main distance events - the 800, 1600, and 3200 - along with a co-ed costume 4 x 400 relay to end the night. J.B. had been inspired by a similar meet run by Lyons Township, York, Hinsdale Central, and Downers Grove North that gave non-varsity athletes a final chance to PR under the lights. The results for all of our kids in that meet were spectacular. We performed under the lights in good conditions. We played music before and after the races. We ran the final 1600 meter races through The Gauntlet (thanks Tony Holler!). We focused on the old Al Carius motto of "Run for fun and personal bests." The results were magical. I vividly recall one young girl walking out of the stadium that night exclaiming to her teammate, "I've never had fun at a track meet before, but that was so much fun!" From the mouths of babes...

It was obvious that the same approach would work for the most elite runners. Distance Night in Palatine is an attempt not just to capture the essence of distance running, but also a great sporting experience more generally. We wanted to mold a student-centered experience and produce the kind of meet that a high school student-athlete would want to participate in. We wanted to play music. We wanted to give every athlete a cool piece of gear. We wanted to use the event to promote charitable causes. We wanted to give fans a tight three hour experience of elite racing.

Consider it mission accomplished. We are truly thankful for all of the student-athletes, coaches, and fans who gave a brand new meet a shot. Our plan this year is to keep the same format and same amount of sections, but increase the qualities of each individual  field. We hope not just to reach out to more of the best athletes and track programs in Illinois, but to expand beyond our borders to include athletes from throughout the Midwest.

Our goal is to become the premier distance meet of the outdoor track season in the Midwest. Whether you are looking to run a scholarship time, set a PR, or record a seed time, we want to provide that opportunity. Maybe you run for a small school and never get top flight competition. Maybe you are an emerging elite who doesn't have big race experience. Maybe you are already a state champion and want to challenge your limits. All of those outcomes came true last year, and we can't wait to see who puts the fire down on the Palatine track this April. 

This meet would not be possible without the generous support of our athletic department and our sponsors. Palatine Athletic Director Jerry Dobbs was gracious enough to allow us to host another meet, and we are especially thankful for the support of Patty Leaf-Burke, Sonnya Lozano, and our outdoor grounds grew. We would also like to thank our sponsors - Dick Pond and New Balance. Nick Hurley at Dick Pond was instrumental in helping us get this event off the ground and in making sure that each athlete got a meet jersey or T-shirt. New Balance provided the meet signage and helped add legitimacy to our event in its first year. We hope to extend each partnership and in turn provide a richer experience for the fans and the athletes.

Last but not least, I would like to thank Special Olympics and all of the parents, teachers, and athletes that made our Special Olympics 800 happen last year. Since Special Olympics is the primary beneficiary of the event, it was natural to highlight the efforts of these athletes. The result was a magical run by our Special Olympians - a great reminder for all our elite athletes that running the race to the best of your ability  is the ultimate goal. I would like to thank Jordan Feldman, Area 18 Director for Special Olympics Illinois, for helping us get this event off the ground. 

In the end, we here at Palatine High School are so happy to present another opportunity for our great athletes and track fans to celebrate the best distance runners in the Midwest. Let's get excited and make this an even better event than last year! See you all soon.