When 20-year-old Drew Myers set off Sunday in his Darien neighborhood for a half marathon race that he mapped out, he assumed he would be alone the whole time.

He thought wrong.

Due to some planning by his mother over the past week, about 60 people — most complete strangers — turned out to cheer him on.

After the race, Drew said he was “pleasantly surprised,” with all the excitement — and happy that he completed it in one hour, 55 minutes, which was under his goal of under two hours.

Training

Drew, a sophomore at Northwestern University in Illinois, said he never considered himself a runner. He had played baseball and tennis in the past, and was on his college’s club tennis team.

He had wanted to get in better shape, and started running last year. He raced a local Turkey Trot 5K on Thanksgiving, and said he enjoyed the experience.

When he found out some friends had run the Byline Chicago Spring Half Marathon the year prior, “it seemed like a fun thing to do,” he said. “I thought I had a good goal and it would be good exercise for me.”

So he signed up.

He had been training at college since the fall, using a beginner’s plan he got from Runner’s World.

He got himself into top shape, he said. He was running about 20 miles a week for the last month as well as doing speed workouts, weight training, and core strengthening exercises.

He had planned to run the Chi Town 10K in April, but it was first postponed to June, and then canceled.

When he learned he wouldn’t be going back to school in the spring, and that his race — renamed the Hoka One One Chicago Half Marathon — was postponed to September, he decided that he still wanted to go the distance — but in Darien.

“We would have flown to Chicago to watch him race, so when he told us he is doing it in Darien, I knew that I wanted to surprise him with a little boost like it was the real race,” his mother, Leslie, said.

The race would have been Sunday, May 17, so he decided that he would still race on that day.

A week before his planned race, he charted a route, which included Brush Island Road, the Post Road, Ring’s End, Goodwives River Road around Pear Tree Point Beach, Long Neck Point, Old Kings Highway, Noroton, Park Place, and Nearwater Lane.

Over a three-day period while walking and on a bike, Leslie left notes in people’s mailboxes along the route, “to try and surprise him by getting fans along the way. He has no idea,” said Leslie, prior to the big day.

She gave everyone Drew’s starting point, estimated finish time and pace per mile, so they would get an idea of when he would be running by.

“I have gotten some really touching emails and willingness to cheer him on,” she said.

She had also contacted family members and friends, the Noroton Fire Department and The Darien Times, to come on board with her plans.

Letters of support

The following are some responses Leslie received to the letters she sent out, telling those who live on the race route about Drew’s plans:

  What a perfect idea! The girls are so excited to cheer him on! Let us know when he starts and wish him the best of luck! Will he need some cold water or anything? Or a light hose spray? So excited to see him and all he’s accomplished training! You’re such a sweet mom for putting this all together! And we are so happy we can be part of supporting him!

 Sounds good. We’ll have a few snacks and water out, and of course some encouraging words. Looking forward to cheering him on!

 We will definitely come out and cheer him on!! [We] have both run New York City Marathon.

 Having grown up in Darien, having two sons and two grandsons I am touched by your loving ‘surprise’! They, too, are competitors. Forward all engines, good luck to your son on Sunday. I hope to see him!?

 It is wonderful what your son Drew is doing, I applaud his determination. I will be happy to help you in your surprise. We must support the positive things our children do.

 I am in Nearwater, can cheer him up twice, at the beginning and at the end. I will make a lot of noise with my cow bells.

 Back in the 1980s and ’ 90s I ran a few half marathons, several 10Ks. It is a huge accomplishment and I commend Drew for sticking to his challenge. Now I’m 80 years old and I walk my miles ... knees can only take so much running.

The surprise

At 8 a.m. sharp on a sunny Sunday morning, Drew began his race, from his house on Brush Island Road.

“My dad [Curt] and brother [Evan, 18] biked 100 feet in front of me the entire way,” said Drew, who also has a 12-year-old brother named Adam.

As he started running, he noticed that his immediate neighbors were cheering.

“I hopped on Nearwater Lane and I saw more people doing it,” he said.

He quickly realized that his race wasn’t just going to be a family event.

Then, at around the five-mile mark, he saw The Darien Times photographer, Bryan Haeffele.

Further along the route, someone had set up a water station, just for him, he said.

All along the course, spectators were cheering, holding up motivational signs, ringing cow bells and banging pots and pans.

When he ran by the Noroton Fire Department, which was along his route, firefighters were honking their horns.

At the “finish line,” Drew ran through an arch of balloons and ribbon while friends and family cheered him in.

He said while he was a little embarrassed with all the excitement at first, he was also very happy.

“My mom did a really good job. It was as close a real race as possible,” he said.

“It was really nice,” he said.

“Making the best of the circumstances”

While Drew said he “wasn’t so thrilled about doing online classes and having to come home from college due to the pandemic, “I was really happy with myself that I kept a pre-coronavirus goal in mind and was still able to do it.”

“We made the best of the circumstances because there is not a whole lot we can do,” added Drew, a political science major who plans to study abroad in Paris, France, in the fall.

Drew also wants to race the Chicago Half Marathon at its new date on Sept. 27 — if it’s still on. He said he hopes to beat his time from Sunday.

He added that while so many factors are beyond everyone’s control these days, setting personal goals at this time will help make quarantine “a little bit more enjoyable.”

sfox@darientimes.com