Every year, our team travels down to Peoria, Illinois to compete in the First to the Finish Invitational. We bring our potential varsity group of around 14-17 guys, and the top 10 race in the varsity race while the rest are in the open race. I've gone all four years and have been in both races. If you've never seen the start of the race before, I'd definitely check it out as there's some of the most aggressive starts you will see in high school.
Detweiller Park is the state course for Illinois, so most of the elite runners are familiar with the course. Because of that, you're times can be through the roof if you're on your A game. Danny Kilrea ended up winning the race last year in a 14:02 for 3 miles, which caused the field to go out in a crazy pace to try and keep up with him. I think I was around 25th at the mile and my first split was 4:40.
For the most part, there's not a monumental difference from racing people in Indiana versus Illinois runners. Most of our team didn't even know any other runners in the race besides for the elite guys, so as a team we didn't know what to expect. I'd say from experience that the race was way more physical than any Indiana race has ever been. 500m in, you have to go by some sharp turns, and if you don't want to get cut off you have to make room for yourself. You have to go by some parts three times, so each time it gets less crowded as people start to space out from each other in the race.
Overall, it's a great challenge for our team as well as a good bonding experience. It was our goal to win this meet after finishing 5th last year, and our top guys all raced well on the same day to get the job done. If your team doesn't travel out of the state, I'd definitely recommend it. It is an unique experience and puts a chip on your shoulder to run well to represent the state of Indiana. Illinois has some of the best competition as well, so if you enjoy racing some of the best runners in the nation, make the trip to anywhere in Illinois.