I ran the half marathon Saturday at Allerton Park outside Monticello, my fourth half marathon in as many years. Part of my motivation for my first Allerton run was the opportunity to enjoy the park’s beauty, its nature and a sunny spring morning. I was pleased with what I saw, though not my finish time.
Having visited Allerton periodically with my parents back in my college days (more than 30 years ago), and again at a conference a few years ago, I know it’s special. In 2007 the Illinois Bureau of Tourism cited Allerton as one of the seven wonders of Illinois.
Beginning on a roadway carved into a forest, runners got their first look at the Sangamon River. The wide roadway was ideal for participants to settle into their pace and separate based on their speed. By the first trailhead, the field spread out as runners navigate the path that ascends along the rolling hills above the river. In the second half of the run, you pass through the lowlands, or bottoms, where water from spring rains remains standing.
“You will get muddy,” is among the instructions at the start. That proves true. Multiple rains leave pockets of mud and soft spots unavoidable, though event organizers made last-minute route adjustments to avoid the most severely impacted spots.
As you pass along the river, water clarity a bit muddy on this day, you wouldn’t know this is Central Illinois. The Allerton forest hides the vast openness of the nearby prairie. As mile 5 approaches, the course rambles through a meadow, grasses tall. At the 10K point, you run between Allerton’s notorious Fu Dogs, past the tower and watch the 10K participants finish. The park tour is half done.
Another meadow complete with a pond introduces the second half of the run. At one point, the path parallels a farm field ready for the planting activity that will begin in a few weeks. You run through a small shed, then head toward the trek that descends through the lowlands.
The park has 14 miles of trails, so we don’t see them all. But it is enough to appreciate this gift to the University of Illinois that provides a glimpse into Robert Allerton’s world of creating art through nature.
Once a private estate, the park was donated to the University in 1946. The race covers many park features – formal gardens, outdoor sculptures, high and low areas along the river, forests, floodplains, meadows and natural prairie. You see Illinois from a perspective outside the typical flat prairie, and appreciate the value this gift continues to provide.