Cory Blanchette was a teacher and coach at Manteno High School in Manteno, Illinois. He was hit by a car and killed while he was out running in 2011 and he left behind a wife and four kids and countless other people who lived in the area or attended Manteno High School who loved him dearly. So dearly in fact, that in 2012 the town decided start hosting an annual 5K in his honor with proceeds from the race going to his family. This past Sunday was the third year for the race and my second time doing it, and I’m already looking forward to doing it again next year.
Manteno is a village in the far south suburbs of Chicago (off of I-57 just south of the Will / Kankakee County line), and while a lot of people who live closer to downtown Chicago may not have heard of Manteno yet, it’s actually one of the fastest growing towns in Kankakee County. Over the last several years it’s seen a steady increase in residents while at the same time building up a pretty impressive downtown area with a nice mix of shopping and places to eat, while still maintaining the charm of a small town. Residents who live there, both new and old, seem to truly care about one another (which is one of the reasons this race was put together).
The race itself is also one of the better local 5Ks that I’ve run. It’s not a big race – there are maybe a couple hundred runners total and most of the participants are local to the area (either from Manteno or surrounding towns like Peotone, Bourbonnais, Bradley, etc…) but it’s organized almost just as well as some of the bigger races that I’ve done.
In addition to the 5K, there’s also a one mile fun walk and a kids dash. You can either register online or on race day at the high school. Packet pickup is on race morning for everyone, regardless of how you registered (there’s plenty of time to register or pick up your packet on race day since registration opens at 8am the race doesn’t start until 9). Participants get race t-shirts and a goody bag that contains information about other local races, an outdoor guide to Kankakee County, and coupons for some local businesses and restaurants.
The course starts in front of Manteno High School and heads northeast. Runners go down Westshore Blvd, which borders Lake Manteno (nice houses with the lake visible in the background at some points) before heading west and then north through Legacy Park (nice scenic open area on the northwest side of Manteno). There’s a water table in the park at around 1.5 miles into the course (the only one, but being a 5K, that’s all it needs, and there are also a couple residents at various points along the course who stand at the end of their driveways and hand out water to the runners as well).
After leaving Legacy Park, the course goes through a couple other neighborhoods in Manteno before heading back to the high school and finishing with a lap around the high school track. Runners are provided with fresh fruit and water after crossing the finish line.
The course is nice and flat with just the right combination of different types of scenery, curves, and straight roads to keep things interesting and it also has plenty of volunteers directing runners and helping out at the start and finish lines. Since a lot of the runners are Manteno residents, there’s also a decent amount of crowd support in the various neighborhoods for a race of this size.
This race is a touching memorial to a coach and teacher who was so well loved, not just by his students but also by the entire town of Manteno. My biggest memory of this year’s race wasn’t actually the race itself though – it was something that happened before the race started when people were still picking up their race packets. Outside of the high school, there was a big banner with a picture of Cory Blanchette on it and some text that said “In Honor Of Coach Blanchette”. After I picked up my packet and was on my way out to my car to drop it off, I noticed a family that was getting ready to take a picture in front of the banner…. and a little girl who looked to be a few years younger than my daughter Sara said “I want to stand by daddy” and went and stood next to the picture….. I had a hard time holding it together after that. So the other thing about this race is that it should also serve as a reminder to runners that if you run on open roads, make sure to always be aware of your surroundings, wear reflective clothing, especially at night, and make sure your headphones are set at a volume where you can still listen for oncoming traffic.
Overall, the Cory Blanchette Memorial 5K is a fun race to run in a nice town during a time of year that typically also has really nice weather. The location happens to be convenient for me since I live in a neighboring town that’s only about a 10 minute drive from Manteno, but even if I were to move a little bit further away, I would probably still come back to run this one. If you’re looking for a nice laid back fall 5K to run and you live on the south side of Chicago or in the south suburbs, you should definitely give this one a look.