Druley: Fox Valley Marathon keeps gaining clout

ST. CHARLES – Walking the streets near downtown St. Charles offered its usual serenity Sunday morning.

The sun, the trees, the breeze – all of it accentuated for consumption on the first day of fall.

As you trekked closer to the intersection of First and Illinois streets, however, a less-traditional dynamic entered the equation. Heard from neighboring front porches, garages and yards was the blaring, unbridled optimism of nearly everyone associated with the Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon.

“Kane County, they should be proud of themselves. This is a very top-notch race here,” runner John Collet would say later above the din of classic rock from the loudspeakers.

Naturally, that’s music to the ears of co-organizers Craig Bixler and Dave Sheble.

From the time they launched the event in 2010, Bixler and Sheble stressed Fox Valley was a complement, not competition, to the Chicago Marathon held three weeks later.

To be sure, the roughly 3,700 runners who descended on St. Charles and the Fox River Trail for the marathon, half-marathon and 20-mile run will seem as tiny as many runners’ waistlines compared to the field that’s running Oct. 13 in Chicago.

One contingent among that 3,700 is even smaller, but the fact it exists illustrates why one late September Sunday in STC should be especially active for years to come.

“I think there’s two crowds anymore. There’s people that want more of a party atmosphere and the large field. Then there’s the other side,” said Jeff Kelly, who won Sunday’s marathon in 2:40:01. “I want the simple race, something like this where you don’t have 10,000 people around you. I like this better. I’ve done enough of those rock ’n’ roll races.”

Remember, 26.2 miles is 26.2 miles, and, taken from those refueling after their runs, Fox Valley sounds just as well-coiffed as its brethren.

“I think this race is so good that I prefer to do this rather than Chicago. So I don’t run Chicago. I run this, and I’m running Naperville in November,” said marathoner Tim Arends of St. Charles. “This is such a great race, to me, I don’t think you’re missing anything. It’s a great course and every year, it’s well-run.”

With its scenery, shade and flat layout, the Fox River Trail course speeds up the marathon process and the influx of interested athletes.

You can practice on the Fox Valley course on any day of the week. Try doing that in Chicago.

Bixler and Sheble plan to cap the field at about 4,500 runners next fall. Look for Fox Valley to keep boosting its reputation as a destination race for regional runners after that.

“I just think we’re fortunate. We’re fortunate that we’re in an area that supports this kind of thing actively as far as the city, the residents, the police. And passively, just as far as the facilities that are here,” Bixler said.

“You can’t do this anywhere, and it wouldn’t be the same most places. It wouldn’t be the same experience for the runners. So the fact that we get to take advantage of so much that’s been put in place. The cities have just done things right for many years, and this is just one piece of being able to take advantage.”

Kevin Druley is a sportswriter for the Kane County Chronicle. He can be reached at 630-845-5347 or kdruley@shawmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter at @kevindruley.