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Preserves Provide Training Ground for Runner

Melissa Garlough
Runner Sprints Through Preserves

I am blessed as a mom of three children: Emma (15), Kaitlyn (13), and Lorelai (9). I am a professional home organizer and own my own business.

My family and I all have many passions and together we live a very full and busy life. Besides supporting and cheering on my kids and trying to organize the world, my favorite interests are running, taking photos and traveling/exploring.

Discovering DuPage Forest Preserves 

I discovered the DuPage forest preserves not long after we moved to Naperville almost 12 years ago. A neighbor asked me to join her on a run near Herrick Lake Forest Preserve in Wheaton one day. There is a point of entry that was only a mile from the house I lived in at the time. It was a very happy discovery!


A beautiful winter scene at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve captured by Melissa Garlough. 

What Brings Her Back Time and Time Again

During that first run, I realized how beautiful, peaceful and well maintained the forest preserves are and kept going back for more. I love the changes in scenery during each of the seasons.

As a runner, I like to train year-round, so as long as the snow isn’t too deep I’m out there at least once a week regardless of the weather. I especially love the animal sightings. I’ve seen deer, coyote, herons, rabbits, horses, frogs and many other birds. My other favorite is the flowers – I especially love the pop of color when the orange and purple flowers surround the trails.


Melissa Garlough stops to see the Danada horses during a winter run. Photo by Melissa Garlough


Catching the Nature Bug

I’m originally from a rural area in Michigan and while growing up, I spent a lot of time outdoors. My home was surrounded by open fields – some with horses and cows, others with just open hills and wildflowers. There were also woods that my siblings and I were allowed to explore. We would swing on vines, splash through creeks, and pick wildflowers. We also took family vacations to scenic areas and I have always loved admiring all that nature has to offer. My favorite vacations are now built around nature and exploring the national parks.    


A winter view of the trail at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. Photo by Melissa Garlough


Favorite Things to Do in the Preserves

Run! I ran my first marathon (Chicago) in 2014 and again in 2015, 2017 and 2018. Almost all of my long-run training was done at Herrick Lake Forest Preserve. Since then, I have run one marathon every year and many other races. I ran the Boston Marathon in 2016 and New York City in 2019.

Almost all of my long-run training has been done in the local forest preserves for each of these marathons. I’ve set a goal to become a 6-star finisher. This year was supposed to be the Berlin Marathon, but due to the coronavirus, Berlin has been canceled this year.

I’ll still be training this year to run a marathon and if at all possible, Berlin in 2021. The comfort of the trails will help me prepare physically and emotionally for the long journey ahead. 

In addition to running, hiking and taking pictures are also my favorite pastimes. I recently went on some kayaks in a local preserve as well and I’d love to begin exploring the preserves in new ways if time allows.  


How Nature Inspires

Besides inspiring my running, nature provides me with inspiration in other parts of my life. Whether it’s the quiet, the beautiful surroundings, the fresh air, or a combination of the three, a lot of ideas and solutions have popped into my brain while out in nature. I only take a few pictures when I’m training, but when hiking or walking, I take pictures whenever something catches my eye because I want to capture it and be able to remember that feeling. Nature is a reminder that we are part of a beautiful world. A world that is so different from the busy, commercial world we have created. It is abundant with reminders to protect our world and find peace within ourselves. 


Melissa Garlough stops during one of her runs to capture this beautiful photo of Herrick Lake. Photo by Melissa Garlough

Advice to Others

Inspiration should come naturally. My advice is to allow inspiration to find you by immersing yourself in nature whenever you can. Find a small block of time you can tune out the world, try heading out to a local forest preserve, and just take in your surroundings in whatever way appeals to you. Go alone or bring your friends or family. Find an event if that helps — there are so many great events offered through the DuPage Forest Preserve District. Find the time and everything else will fall into place!


Melissa Garlough shows off some of the medals she's earned in marathons and running events. Photo courtesy of Melissa Garlough



If you have a fun or unique way of catching nature in our preserves and would like to be featured in a “Catching Nature” blog, please contact Deb Humiston at

Forest Preserve District of DuPage County

Photo of blog author Forest Preserve District of DuPage County
The Forest Preserve District of DuPage County welcomes more than 6.2 million visitors a year; and manages nearly 26,000 acres in 60 forest preserves containing prairies, woodlands and wetlands.

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