Can a sub-8 mile save the Hennepin?

World-record ultra marathon contender Mike Bialick (pictured above) from Minnesota will run the Hennepin Hundred this year on October 1-2. He'll be pushed by another contender, Oswaldo Lopez from California. More accurately, they will race on October 1: both are potential sub-13 hour racers, and the race starts at 7am. That's 100 miles of running below an 8 minute/mile pace.

The takeaway: two of North America's elite ultra endurance athletes are running the Hennepin Canal State Trail.

As a regional multi-use trail with the length to support overnight through-hikes and bicycle touring, the Hennepin Canal State Trail is in ruin. It suffers most from governors and legislators refusing to responsibly fund the trails and parks it expects the Illinois Department of Natural Resources to maintain.

The disintegrating "chip seal" surface + inadequate funding for maintenance has allowed vegetation to nearly obliterate some sections of the Hennepin Canal State Trail.

But it's a wonderful trail for an ultra marathon across a beautiful rural slice of Illinois. Last year's Hennepin Hundred brought runners and support crew from 28 states and five countries to Whiteside, Bureau, and Henry Counties. On October 1 this year, the ultra running world will be focused on the Hennepin Canal thanks to Mike, Oswaldo, and the PRs they'll inspire as other ultra men and women measure themselves against our continent's best.

Along much of the trail, there's real beauty in the ruin. This is a trail worth saving.

Along much of the trail, there's real beauty in the ruin. This is a trail worth saving.

Mike & Oswaldo, Michele, all the hundreds of racers, support crew, volunteers, partner communities, they're helping us lift up the Hennepin Canal State Trail. We're celebrating the trail and the experiences it offers, and leveraging that experience to bring people to Illinois. Even as failing infrastructure, the Hennepin Canal State Trail is returning significant value to our communities because we've invited people to join us for a run.

The additional value it could return, if the state will take its trails seriously, makes the trail worth saving. Thank you to everyone involved in this year's Hennepin Hundred, and we wish all racers their best run ever. We have the course for it, and because of your race, it will get better and better.