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The Gem 2023: First timers, former college runners take top honors in Hidden Gem

Hidden Gem Half Marathon 2023 winners are, left, Hailey Bowes in the women’s category and Blake Buysse in the men’s. (David P. Funk/H-F Chronicle)

Hailey Bowes didn’t get to run in the Hidden Gem last year. A stress fracture forced the Arlington Heights native to skip the race and prepare a little more cautiously this year. It made a positive difference.

“I wanted to come back and redeem myself,” she said. “I cross trained really, really hard. I got (the injury) in August and I still ran the (Chicago) marathon in October and it was fine. I’m just really grateful that it didn’t linger much but it did kind of switch up my training for this year.”

Bowes, who ran collegiately at the University of Ohio, did indeed redeem herself. She was the women’s winner and set a new women’s record for the race, posting a new personal best of one hour, 14 minutes and 42 seconds. Her previous record was 1:15:20. 

Jane Bareikis was the 2022 women’s winner at 1:15:28. Chirine Njeim won the previous year in 1:16.53. 

“I’m even happier because that was almost a minute (personal record). That’s really fun,” Bowes said. “I was not expecting that, to be honest. I thought I was running slow at first and I kept tracking my time and I was like ‘Oh wow, I’m actually a lot faster than I thought I was doing.’” 

She said she stuck with a group of men that were in front of her. Every time a male runner passed her, she tried to stay with him as long as she could. The enthusiastic crowd also helped her through the tough points, Bowes said. 

Around the 9th or 10th mile, she felt a second wind. 

“I really wanted to win but I didn’t really have that time goal. I just wanted to compete and practice for the (Chicago) marathon,” Bowes said. 

The Hidden Gem is a road race through the streets of Flossmoor. Many runners use it as part of a build-up in training before tapering off for the Chicago Marathon, which will be Oct. 8. 

Both Bowes and men’s winner Blake Buysse said that’s exactly why they signed up.

“I love this race. The city of Flossmoor really gets behind it so it’s super fun,” Buysse said. “It was a fun time out there.” 

Buysse was the first to cross the finishing line at 1:05:38. Oscar Medina won last year’s men’s division with a time of 1:05:17. The 2021 winner, Colin Mickow, finished at 1:03:48.

Buysse said he began the run conservatively, staying with second-place finisher Carlos Cabrera and third-place runner Dan Kremske.

“At mile 6, I was feeling good so I decided to make a move. I got a gap and held it,” he said. “I didn’t really have a plan coming in. I was just going to see how I was feeling.”

It was the first half marathon for Buysse, a Minnesota native who graduated from Loyola University Chicago in the spring. He ran track and cross country for the Ramblers. 

He said the goal was to be under 66 minutes because the aim is to go under 2:18 in the Chicago marathon. 

“I knew if I could do that, I’d be in pretty good shape,” Buysse said. “This is a very good half marathon, a lot of talent out here.” 

Jon Labok, of Homewood, was the fastest local. He turned in a time of 1:36:23. Angus Atkins-Trimnell, also from Homewood, finished at 1:38:24. Flossmoor’s John Kristoff crossed the line at 1:39.26. 

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