A Case for an Open Race

ADerksCoaching Blogs, Opinion 4 Comments

As most people know at this point, the IHSA Advisory committee recently made the decision to ban the organization of a formal “Time Trial” the day before the IHSA State XC meet.  While the rule has already been in place that teams should not organize time trials or practices together, the new conditions take a much stricter stance, and would ban time trials in any form on the days preceding the state meet…  Timed or untimed.  Basically, no “hard efforts” allowed in any day leading up to the state meet.  While I fully understand the concern of not wanting Detweiller Park to become the Wild Wild West where anything goes in the days leading up to the most important races of the season, I think there is a solution out there that is common sense and can appease all sides.

First off, I think we can all agree that the way the rogue time trial went down this past season is probably not in anyone’s best interest.  While I was not at the 2:00pm coaches meeting where apparently an announcement was made by officials to put a halt to the planned time trial,  I am not a fan of blatantly ignoring the requests of IHSA officials.  A large time trial taking place at a busy time on the course without several teams/officials knowing about it was, perhaps, an irresponsible action on the part of those of us that opted to participate.  

Now that the horse is out of the barn on this, let’s talk about why some teams feel so strongly about participating in a time trial on Detweiller’s “revered course”…

Regardless of the somewhat reckless nature of this unofficial “race” in 2015, let us not ignore the fact that several teams have carried on this tradition of a Friday time trial in their own way for years.  Post-season time trials are a part of the culture of many teams, implemented as a way to give those who may not be represented in the top-seven a chance to compete. While other sports may deem “JV” athletes unworthy of great, fun opportunities or treat non-varsity competitors as 2nd class citizens, many cross country coaches get the fact that our team that toes the line in the “official” state championships race is but a mere representation of the greater team and all it’s members.  

The reason this unofficial open race has grown to what happened this past season is that coaches have seen the benefits of engaging in friendly competitions with other teams as a way to give the athletes a chance to race on the Detweiller Park course one last time, in peak shape, with other like-minded competitors.  It promotes sportsmanship, camaraderie, and friendship.  It brings out the best in all.  One of my greatest coaching memories came during a time trial at the Sectional meet course in 2014, when another team happened to be out on the course at the same time.  The result was several inspiring efforts from everyone involved.  The afternoon ended with a huddle in which the opposing coach commended our team on a great season, and challenged us to keep improving as a program.  That meant more to our guys than anything I could have told them.  

Running at Detweiller on November 6 is different than running there on September 12.  Those of us that have had the chance to see the looks on athlete’s faces when they get that PR in an end-of-the-season time trial know the value of these moments in the lives of our athletes.  I would also note that the varsity runners preparing for their race get great enjoyment cheering on their teammates in these time trials.

So, in light of the comments made at the IHSA Advisory Meeting regarding this issue, I would like to propose some solutions that will appease everyone.  These ideas are not all my own, but a compilation of ideas tossed around by fellow coaches.

Regarding wear and tear on the course:  

We agree that the condition of the course on Saturday is the most important thing.  If the Detweiller Park course is not in proper shape due to recent rain/weather, or if there are adverse weather conditions on Friday, then the Open race would be cancelled.  No questions asked.  Mother nature wins.

Let’s be frank:  Athletes, coaches, and alternates run on this course each year between the hours of 12:00pm and 5:00pm in heavy numbers.  I believe it is a bit of a stretch to assume (given good weather) that a 20-25 minute open race would put the course in worse shape than any previous year.  

Regarding the safety of Saturday’s competitors:

While I also think it is a stretch to view running a 3-mile time trial as a threat to the safety of those practicing, I do understand the concern.  Therefore, based on ideas from colleagues, I propose the following schedule for Friday:

10:00am – 2:00pm:  Detweiller Park course open for practice (only IHSA State meet top 12 competitors/coaches allowed- absolutely no time trials timed or untimed permitted)

2:00 – 2:30pm:  Open Coed 3-mile race.  Practices may continue but all present know that a time trial is being run.

2:30 – 5:30:  Course reopens for team practice

Part of the problem now is that so many teams are doing time trials at different times,  it is more of a safety concern. At any given time in a five-hour span, you could have an unannounced, PR-hungry runner blazing by an unsuspecting athlete.  Having a set time schedule would eliminate the element of surprise.

Another idea I have heard is to offer a time trial AFTER the conclusion of the State meet on Saturday.  However, I am not a fan of this.  Saturday is about the state races, teams, fans, awards ceremonies, etc.  It is not the time/place for time trials.  The end of the day should be spent attending the awards ceremony, going to eat with fans, parents, administrators, etc.  Doesn’t “feel” like a good fit.  It also makes it very unlikely that 1A and 2A schools would participate, as they would have to stick around much longer just to run in a time trial.

Regarding the safety of “open race” competitors:

We acknowledge that the mere act of running a race, practice or not, poses health risks.  In light of this, it will be made clear that this time for Open races is not the responsibility of the IHSA.  Runners can sign waivers if needed.  From 2:00-2:30, it is just individuals running at a public park.

Regarding the timing/finish of the Open race:

All runners will be started and  timed by coaches.  An alternate finish line will be used adjacent to the real finish line so as not to disrupt the pre-race preparations of the finish line workers, timing company, or IHSA officials.  No chip timing. No bib numbers,  No course marshals.  No frills.  Just raw enthusiasm.


Additionally, while this does not need to be a money maker, there are obvious financial incentives for including an official Open race.  For the sake of example, let’s propose that each runner is charged $5.  If 200 runners compete, that is $1000 that could be raised.  This money could be used to improve the IHSA State meet experience, or simply go to defray the costs that the IHSA takes on to carry out the state meet.  For example, I think we could all agree that a video board for live results would be an immediate fan/coach favorite.  Open race money could help with the rental of this.

Lastly, several people have compared the idea of an open race at Detweiller to the EIU “Races Under the Lights” at the state track meet.  I understand that these are two different sports with two very different circumstances.  However, I think the spirit of each is the same, and the importance to teams is the same.  This is an opportunity to do what is right for kids and right for our sport.   I will never forget the 1600m under the lights at EIU last year, when I had the privilege to run in the same heat as our freshman Ben Otstott, who was gunning for our freshman school record.  As I kicked down the home straight and crossed the line, I turned back immediately to see Ben right on my heels… I gave him a big hug as he crossed the line in 4:35 to shatter the record-  a race and coaching moment I will never forget!  No other sport allows opportunities for moments like that.  I would love to see similar moments on Friday afternoons at Detweiller Park in November in the future.   

There are, perhaps, other issues that were discussed by the advisory committee, but I feel these proposals address what seem to be the greatest concerns, and act as a starting point for reopening the dialogue about the subject. Perhaps I am also naive about all the minutia that the IHSA/Peoria Park District/lawyers have to take into consideration when determining who gets to run where and when and assume what risk….  I do not claim to have all the perfect answers or solutions, but our state is full of passionate coaches and officials who I am sure have great suggestions and ideas.  

The last thing any coach of a state qualifying team wants to do is jeopardize the race experience or course conditions for the main races on Saturday.  Let’s be very clear about that.  Let’s also be clear in that this Friday time trial tradition is part of the fabric of our sport, and it would be refreshing to see the IHSA and coaches work together to assure that it is carried on in a responsible, practical way.  Let’s help create more positive memories our athletes.  



Andy Derks

Plainfield North High School


Comments 4

  1. This is a great idea. Race Under The Lights at State track has become ridiculously popular. I imagine this less official “open” CC race will be popular as well.

    Now if we could just get them to stop scheduling award ceremonies and races at the SAME TIME. There’s a 40-minute period between races where NOTHING HAPPENS, then they start awards and a race at the same time. If anybody has an explanation on how this makes ANY sense, please let me know.

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