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Fox Valley Marathon continues to gather good vibes: Founders created ‘premier’ event that benefits entire region

Fox Valley Marathon founders created ‘premier’ event that benefits entire region

Craig Bixler (left) and Dave Sheble (right) are co-directors and founders of the Fox Valley Marathon races, which had their seventh running last September. Sheble and Bixler also are founders and race directors of Last Chance BQ.2 – now considered the No. 1 qualifying event for the Boston Marathon – and the Naperville Marathon, a race created in part to catch overflow from the Fox Valley Marathon, which sells out every year.
Craig Bixler (left) and Dave Sheble (right) are co-directors and founders of the Fox Valley Marathon races, which had their seventh running last September. Sheble and Bixler also are founders and race directors of Last Chance BQ.2 – now considered the No. 1 qualifying event for the Boston Marathon – and the Naperville Marathon, a race created in part to catch overflow from the Fox Valley Marathon, which sells out every year.

The impetus for the Fox Valley Marathon was a bad race experience for Dave Sheble and Craig Bixler, who were St. Charles neighbors in the same starting corral at the 2007 Chicago Marathon.

It was a hot disaster for both runners, with scorching temperatures and stifling humidity preventing the friends from achieving ideal times.

To make up for the disappointing race, they decided to run a marathon just three weeks later in Grand Rapids, Mich., and the experience was a 180 from Chicago.

“It was a beautiful course; [it had] a great race director … we were driving home saying, ‘That’s kind of [like] where we live – we could do this in our area,’” Sheble recalled. “It took us a couple of years from that date to get up the nerve and have the time and commitment to explore [a marathon] as a possibility … [but] we just finished seven years.”

The Fox Valley Marathon – known for its beautiful, shady, flat course that follows the Fox River Trail from St. Charles to Aurora and back – has grown into one of the premier fall races in the Chicago area. It also has expanded to include a half marathon and a 20-mile run, the latter of which is a perfect training distance for those running the Chicago Marathon weeks later.

Some may believe the Fox Valley Marathon only affects runners. Though that would still impact thousands of people each year, it’s simply not the case. At least three facets of the annual event create ripples throughout the Fox Valley.  

First is philanthropy.

The Fox Valley Marathon has a strong, two-tiered charity program that, in some years, has raised $100,000 for local charities, Bixler said.

“We basically tell runners, if you donate $100 to a charity, we’ll pay half of your registration cost. That’s how the program started,” Sheble said. “Then, we started finding charities that wanted to do fundraising … [we had] 50 to 60 runners this year raising money for charities.”

Second, the marathon promotes a healthy lifestyle, and not just for adults.

Bixler and Sheble created a Kids Marathon to get youngsters active, Bixler said. Participants are asked to run one mile 25 times throughout the summer, and on race day, they put on a race bib – just like the marathoners – and run the last 1.2 miles to complete a full marathon and receive a finisher’s medal.

“It’s special because it’s tied them to a healthy lifestyle, to a commitment,” Sheble said. “But it’s also gotten a lot of parents, a lot of adults involved.”

Third, the race is a great tourism booster, said St. Charles Mayor Ray Rogina.

“I want to guess half those [runners] are visitors,” he said. “Some are from out of state; the winner [one] year was from Virginia … . People stay overnight, carbo-load in our restaurants; some people come back to our town.”

Bixler and Sheble work year-round, putting in 18-hour days when race day approaches. There’s registration, promotion and runner amenities to handle. It takes cooperation from the cities and park districts to handle logistics.

But it’s worth the effort.

“Whether [you’re] hosting or running or spectating, there is so much energy at a marathon,” Bixler said. “… Sometimes I get depressed watching the news or checking out the supermarket tabloids and I think, is this who we really are now? Then I’m out at a race, and I think, no, THIS is who we are as a country, all this positive enthusiasm and energy. It’s absolutely great to be a part of that.”

Though they’ve been named Everyday Heroes for the positive impact their race has had on the community, the two men won’t take credit.

“This has never been about us,” said Sheble. “It’s always been about the runners and charities. We’re two people out of 1,000 who make this happen.”

Still, as a public official and runner, Rogina understands why the Fox Valley Marathon is so beloved.

“I have done the ‘trifecta’ over five of the seven years, running the half, the 20-miler and the full marathon,” said Rogina. “Each race is special, with full credit to Dave and Craig as directors, and their staff. They certainly are heroes to me.”

The Sheble lowdown

Who he is: Race director of the Fox Valley Marathon

Village of residence: Yorkville (formerly of St. Charles)

Age: 60

Hobbies: Running, lacrosse, golf – any active activity

Fun fact: “I’ve played lacrosse at virtually every level.”

The Bixler lowdown

Who he is: Race director of the Fox Valley Marathon

Village of residence: St. Charles

Age: 56

Family: Wife, Patty Gawrys; daughters, Allison and Shannon; son, Daniel

Hobbies: Running, spending time and being active with family

Fun fact: “I love sailing with my dad. The past couple of years, we’ve done sailing trips out on the Gulf of Mexico, up and down the [Florida] coast.”

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