The trail will consist of a approximately 15.6 mile loop around Sand Ridge State Forest. This forest is a 7200 acre island surrounded by farm fields. It represents a unique and beautiful ecosystem unlike anywhere else in the state. The most notable feature is the soft sandy soil. It allows the native population of prickly pear cactus to thrive despite Illinois’ otherwise incompatible conditions.
Since the native soil consists of a large amount of sand, the runners will generally benefit from dry feet for the whole race unless it’s actively raining. No creeks, no mud, and the puddles drain almost instantly. The blessing and curse of the trail is that some portions of the trail are soft and rolling, not unlike a sand dune. Wearing gaiters is recommended to keep the sand out of your shoes. Other portions are flat, well packed, and runnable.
The extremely soft portions of the trail we affectionately refer to as “tank traps”. They take the place of big hills on our course. You’d normally have to walk big hills…and here you’ll probably want to walk some of the extremely soft areas. Many times you can avoid the soft sand by picking a line near the side of the trail where the roots of plants stabilize the sand. Use caution as going off trail can expose you to thorns or poison ivy (ask the race director how he knows!)
The course will wander primarily through forest “double track” trail mixed with single track, through native hardwood forest, sand prairie, and old experimental pine plantations.
The total elevation gain is mild compared to many trail ultras but more than the flat rail-trail ultras. Remember the name of the park is Sand RIDGE, its not a totally dead flat trail. We just mean that it’s flatter than some of our neighboring trail races. We gauged the elevation with multiple devices and believe this is an accurate representation of the course loop represented in the counter-clockwise direction:
This course should be characterized as very challenging, the surface itself is unimproved. There is no pavement or crushed gravel other than crossing intersections along the trail. Tough-as-nails runners are those who will find success here.
There will be 3 aid stations in addition to the S/F aid station. They will be located at miles 3.33, 6.66, and 11.5 (so splits between aid stations will be approximately 3.33, 3.33, 4.9, and 4.1 back to the S/F) along the approximately 15.6 mile loop with the option for additional unmanned aid stations in the event of unseasonably hot weather. The mile splits will be different on even numbered loops as those loops will be run in the opposite direction.