Rare treat for runners

Woodstock's Lacey Heaver runs towards the finish line during Flight 4 of the Ryan Byrne Festival on Saturday at Emricson Park in Woodstock. Heaver took first place in the flight.
Woodstock's Lacey Heaver runs towards the finish line during Flight 4 of the Ryan Byrne Festival on Saturday at Emricson Park in Woodstock. Heaver took first place in the flight.

WOODSTOCK – Richmond-Burton junior Ben Gardner found himself in a different race Saturday at the Woodstock Ryan Byrne Festival.

Running in the meet with flighted races, Gardner was alone after the first mile on the 3.1-mile course at Emricson Park.

“I was racing myself there,” said Gardner, the Flight 5 winner. “It was a mental game because there was no one else to pace off of. Having everyone cheering you on out front was a blast. It was kind of weird, I’m not used to that.”

In the flighted race, all No. 7 runners from boys and girls, varsity and junior varsity, are sent out together first. Every 20 minutes, another flight is started. Those runners, like Gardner, who normally don’t lead a race, are thrust outside their comfort zone.

Each flight counts the same, so for a day, a team’s No. 7 runner is as valuable as its No. 1.

McHenry won the varsity boys team title with 19 points, followed by R-B (23) and Huntley (24). Prairie Ridge and Woodstock tied for the girls title with 21 points each. There also is an overall trophy awarded to the school with the lowest four scores for boys varsity and junior varsity, and girls varsity and junior varsity. Prairie Ridge won that trophy with 78 points in the four team races. Huntley (111) was second and McHenry (114) was third.

McHenry’s Calvin Quarterman (No. 2) and Kyle Mindick (4) won their flights to lead the Warriors to the boys team title. Prairie Ridge’s Joe Cowlin defeated McHenry’s Jesse Reiser in Flight 1 in a race of two of the area’s top boys runners.

Woodstock’s Maura Beattie won Flight 1 for the girls, with McHenry’s Lauren Opatrny taking second.

The runners enjoy the change from the norm in the middle of their season.

“It really gives the runners toward the back half of the lineup a chance to win a race,” said R-B’s No. 6 runner Mike Bland, who also won his flight. “The feeling of winning a race is so much fun. This is one of my favorite meets of the year. I’m usually trying to be in the top 50.”

Woodstock’s Kerstin Wolf won Flight 3 and said she likes aspects of the different format.

“I enjoy how it’s mixed up, and I like running with the guys,” Wolf said. “The smaller groups are kind of nice. Everyone has a chance to get medals. You can run with people who are faster than you and can push you, but you have a chance to compete with them.”

Prairie Ridge sophomore Scott Hearne won the varsity boys Flight 3 and said his 16:47 was close to a personal best, even though he was running in front and on a difficult course.

“This is a fun race,” Hearne said. “It makes it more fun to run against people your speed. I took the lead when two guys went the wrong way and was able to hold them off in the bowl.”

The race was named in 1999 for Byrne, a former Northwest Herald sports writer who died of cancer in May of that year. Byrne ran on some strong teams at Crystal Lake Central, and his passion for running showed with his coverage of cross country and track and field.

His parents, Peter and Kris, have a plaque at a tree that marks the course’s spot where one-half mile remains. The final words on the plaque are, “… you are not alone. Run with Ryan.”

Prairie Ridge girls coach Kelly MacDonald was at Central when Byrne ran and later when he covered races for the Northwest Herald. She mentioned what the race meant to her team Friday at school.

“We do a visualization where we sit in a dark room and I talk them through their race,” MacDonald said. “We talked about Ryan and why we’re running here [at Woodstock]. I said, ‘When you get to this point [with the plaque], say thanks because you’re alive and you can do what you love.”

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