It was still dark when they began to arrive. Car after car slipped into downtown St. Charles before dawn on Sunday, drivers going from lot to lot, street to street, looking for places to park.
They were not coming in for a church service, although for some, perhaps, the morning would be the culmination of a spiritual journey of sorts, steeling their bodies and minds for the challenge of a 13.1-, 20- or 26.2-mile run down the Fox Valley and up again.
For some, like Karen Kowalik of Schaumburg, the Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon represented a personal milestone. The half-marathon she ran Sunday was the 50th run she’s completed since she took up the sport 17 years or so ago. She was 51 then; today she’s 68.
She finished with a time of 51:39 and finished second of three in the women’s age 65-69 division.
“I’m quite excited and still kind of floating high on” finishing her 50th race, Kowalik said early Sunday evening. “I’m glad it’s over now, but it was perfect weather, and I felt so good.
“I’m just glad I’m healthy and … so blessed to be able to do it,” she continued, “and to have such a great trainer.”
That trainer is Kate Galliett of ProKine Performance in St. Charles, who wrote in an email to Patch Sunday afternoon that Kowalik “had a fantastic race and looked as strong as ever finishing. I'm so proud of her.”
Galliett waited for Karen along the Illinois Street bridge, cheering her on as she approached and then running alongside her for the final hundred yards or so to the finish line.
“My mom always told me, ‘God only gives you one body, and it’s up to you what you do with it,’” Kowalik said. “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of others and help them. I believe that.”
Other runners perhaps had reasons for running that were similar to Kowalik’s, pushing their bodies to perform well. For some, perhaps it was their first half-marathon, their first 20-mile run or their first full marathon. Others ran because they wanted to qualify for the Boston Marathon — it’s only 3 years old, but the Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon is already a respected event. In August, Chicago Magazine named it the best among those it considered, even over the Chicago Marathon.
Tony Andracki, the communications coordinator for the Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon, said there were nearly 3,000 runners this year — that’s about 1,000 more than last year, when the weather was more challenging, and triple the number from 2010, the marathon’s inaugural year.
The marathon’s draw is broad. There were runners representing 29 states, Washington, D.C., a military base and Canada (eight runners), Netherlands (one runner), Brazil (two), and Australia (one), Andracki said.
Results from the Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon can be found at: