On Saturday, May 5th, I ran The Willow 10 Mile trail race at Willow River State Park in Hudson, WI. This year was the inaugural year. Along with the 10 mile distance, a 20 mile option was also offered; the 20 mile was two loops of the 10 mile course.
Logistics for this race were about as simple as they come, other than having to wait in line at the park entrance to obtain the daily parking pass. Cost for non-residents was $13, or $10 for Wisconsin residents. For anyone considering this race in the future, I highly recommend bringing cash, because it helps the line move faster!
After following a winding road to the Nature Center within the park, I arrived at the large parking lot, which had plenty of room. Due to the number of race participants being limited to 300 between both distances, the parking lot never filled up completely.
When I arrived, I picked up my packet, which consisted of a trucker-style baseball cap and a race bib. Restrooms were plentiful, with indoor, flush-toilet, restrooms attached to the picnic pavilion and a line of porta-potties near the parking lot. The picnic pavilion housed several picnic tables, and there was a playground for any children in attendance.
After some short announcements, the 10 mile race started a few minutes early. The 20 mile race started before the 10 mile, and I believe they started on time, as well.
The course was beautiful, well-marked, and hilly. Yes, I realize hilly is a relative term, but it contained the largest hills I’ve ever done in a race. I once thought Ragnar Great River was hilly, but this course had Great River beat (at least in terms of runner position #7). Every time I thought I had conquered the last uphill portion, another one was in front of me, with each one being steeper. It was brutal and at one point, I wondered who signed me up for this….then I remembered, it was me, and I’d paid to do it. At least the downhill portions following those inclines were fun!
The best part of the course, though, was the waterfall. I have never stopped to take pictures during a race before, but I just couldn’t pass it up!
As I mentioned above, the course was well-marked. I only questioned myself once, but another runner was able to clarify I was going the right way. There were two water and aide stations, but I was carrying everything I needed for the race and didn’t stop at either of them. Volunteer support was awesome for this race, with approximately 50 of them on the course! They were very encouraging and supportive; the absolute best kind of race volunteers.
What really struck me about this race was how friendly everyone was. The lead 20-milers, who were lapping me when I reached mile 7, were giving me encouraging words and cheering me on. As they whizzed by me, they were chatty. While runners as a community are awesome, there just seems to be something extra special about the trail running community. Out there, it becomes even less about pace and even more about camaraderie and taking on what nature has to throw at us.
As tough as this race was, with its monster hills, I really enjoyed it. In typical runner-brain fashion, I didn’t love it once I hit the last few miles. When I finished, I was sure I’d never consider doing this race again. By the time I got to breakfast an hour later, I was considering doing the race again. When breakfast was over, I decided I really liked this race and would do it again someday.
Now, a few weeks removed, I’ve decided this race was fun! It was hard, and took me a week to feel fully recovered, but it was beautiful. The Willow is a race for those who enjoy a challenge, beautiful scenery, and a low-key, friendly race environment. I highly recommend this one!
My official finishing time was 2:23:31, which was much faster than what I was hoping for, considering the hills and the fact that this was my longest trail run ever.