Proud to Run participants pre-race/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: After the landmark decision by the Supreme Court on Friday, Saturday’s Proud to Run event—a 10K run and 5K run/walk that has been around since 1982—celebrated its biggest year yet, with more than 1,700 registrants (for the last several years the event has hovered around 1500 participants). And walking up to basecamp in a grassy expanse of Montrose Harbor, it was clear that there was indeed plenty of celebration going on, with thumping music, colorful costumes and excited runners.
I spoke with race director Justin Koziatek before the race and he stressed that the race is “here for people to celebrate Pride in a fun and healthy way,” but also that the 5K includes a walk option to make it clear that anyone can participate regardless of experience. He also pointed out an effort to be more inclusive by tailoring the running categories to “male-identified” and “female-identified.” Read the rest of this entry »
Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Like witnessing a world-premiere play on opening night, participating in an inaugural race is exciting. Particularly when that race is planned in a popular new location and set at a rather uncommon distance. Saturday morning, the location was the skating ribbon around the climbing walls in Maggie Daley Park and the distance was a single mile. Not only was the promise of being one of the first to run around a new track intriguing (the ribbon has been open but used for skating—both ice and inline—up till this point) but the chance to test the legs on a distance that’s typically reserved for track meets made it especially unique.
CARA hosted the event, with categories for youth, open and all-comers running in sixteen waves spread out over several hours. Just over 100 racers made their way around the twists and turns of the ribbon, racing only against their given wave group (typically around ten runners to a wave) with a miked announcer calling out names and position numbers. The full length of the ribbon meant runners had to circle it five times to complete a mile (organizers rang a bell for the final lap) and the curvature didn’t make full-out sprinting especially easy, but it was indeed, as the CARA website described it, a “memorable experience for racers.”
Cash prizes were given to the top three finishers with a bonus promised for any male who could run a sub-4:00 and any female who could run a sub 4:40 (witnessing those feats would have been worth the cost of admission). The small field of runners and the track-meet-like atmosphere of the race allowed for more camaraderie and spectating than any other race I’ve run in the last several years. Though adding runners would spread the waves out even further, this could easily be an exciting half-day event in future years. Read the rest of this entry »
The finishing chute of the Volition America Half Marathon/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Billed as a collection of half marathons that is “the first of its kind to honor America through running,” the Volition America Half Marathon series kicks off its inaugural season this year with six races across the country. This weekend’s American-themed races—a half marathon and a 5K—down Chicago’s Lakefront Trail marked the second event in the series (the first was in Boise, Idaho in April). And it was just as “steeped with patriotic distinction” as the website promised. Read the rest of this entry »
Entering Starved Rock State Park/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Weather plays a big part in any race, but when that weather involves lightning, it can essentially define the race (as runners of the Illinois Marathon learned last month). And the storm that rolled in Saturday morning during the Starved Rock Country Marathon certainly did that. With a steady rain pouring and lightning striking, the event alert system was raised to black (Extreme) and the race was officially called off. The announcement was made at the aid station at mile 20.6, buses were sent out to collect runners and the race was over. Or was it?
Despite official announcements that the race was cancelled due to weather, many runners (this one included) kept running and experienced a waterlogged, post-storm course that was still heavily supported by volunteers and police officers alike. Buses did make the rounds but there was no forceful collection of runners—it was left to the discretion of the runner to decide what to do. Which made sense as the race wasn’t called until after the storm had already passed.
But aside from the race-defining storm, this still-new race (now in its second year) made a strong showing and a good case for growth and future registrations. Starting and finishing in downtown Ottawa, parking is easy, facilities are plentiful and locals are welcoming. The marathon is still small but the half marathon (which started fifteen minutes after the marathon) is much larger than the marathon. The views may not be as spectacular as advertised—the road through Starved Rock State Park is lovely, but greenery blocks most of the other scenery—but a small, country race is a welcome reprieve from big city marathons. As long as it doesn’t rain. (Zach Freeman) Read the rest of this entry »
Big Sur International Marathon course/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: There are a few big marathons that the average person on the street could list off at a moment’s notice. You know the ones I mean: New York, Chicago, Boston. World-class runs, to be sure. And then there are those marathons that the average person is probably not aware of, and may even be surprised to discover exist, but that have been mythologized in the world of the average runner to a revered status that those on the outside can hardly comprehend. The Big Sur International Marathon, that epic Californian canter from Big Sur to Carmel along the winding, wide-open Highway 1, falls squarely in the latter category.
Though it sells out just as quickly and leaves hopeful runners just as frantic for a place at the starting line, with a registration cap around a tenth the size of Chicago or New York, Big Sur, which just had its thirtieth running on Sunday, operates on an entirely different framework than these massive urban events. “Spectators are outnumbered by grazing cows and horses,” boasts the race program, and it certainly seems possible, given the complete closure of the only roadway spectators could gather on. Still, an assortment of musicians (including the iconic betuxed pianist at a grand piano near the halfway mark) provide plenty of on-course encouragement. Read the rest of this entry »
Runners eye finish line candy at the Santa Hustle 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Six years in and the Adrenaline Sports Management (ASM) Santa Hustle 5K is now officially in eight locations across the country. When I last ran this race two years ago, Chicago was the first and largest of the series, and while Chicago may still boast the largest turnout (with around 5,500 hustling Santas participating this year), the South Portland, Maine race kicked off last month and today’s starting time was shared with around 2,000 Milwaukee Santa Hustlers.
These days, there is no shortage of gimmicky races in the Chicago area, each providing varying degrees of cheesy fun. With cookies and milk on the course and at the finish line (along with candy and, yes, even water), a mascot-like Rudolph on hand for photos and a Santa hat and beard provided for dressing up on race day, the Santa Hustle easily succeeds in the “healthy holiday fun” category but, crucially, it also manages to provide a well-supported starting line, course and basecamp for runners who enjoy race legitimacy with their fun runs.
Best of all, the weather (almost) cooperated, with temperatures in the mid-thirties allowing for plenty of warmth while wearing the kitschy-comfy red Santa Hustle sweatshirt. This year several other Santa Hustles included a half-marathon option. Here’s hoping Chicago expands to include a longer distance in the future—ASM is ready to coordinate it. As the saying goes, “If you build it, the Santas will hustle it.” Read the rest of this entry »
Runners nearing the finish line at the Pumpkins in the Park 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: If ever a race was designed for family-friendliness, the Pumpkins in the Park 5K—with its early afternoon timing, costume contest, trick-or-treating and various distances for young runners—is it. Kicking off at the southwest end of Lincoln Park at 4pm on Saturday, roughly 1,400 runners made their way around the South Field House and the various softball fields before heading north on the west side of the Rowing Lagoon. I’ve been in costume-themed races before but Saturday’s race was awash in them: Batmans (Batmen?), bananas, Gumbys and many more made up a surprising percentage of the participants. Read the rest of this entry »
Runners finishing strong at the Strike Out ALS 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: What a difference a year makes. Last summer the temperature during the Strike Out ALS 5K hovered in the high nineties with nary a cloud to be seen. Last night, runners experienced comfortable fall weather with temperatures in the low sixties and some light rain. And any runner will tell you that the latter is much preferred.
And organizers are lucky the weather was so forgiving as they switched up the course for this fifth annual event to include more time outside; rather than ending the race at home plate after a journey through the bowels of U.S. Cellular Field, the new course spent a bit more time in the parking lot and worked in a full loop around the warning track, cutting out the lengthy tour of the stadium’s tunnel system.
Timed to coincide with the All-Star Game, the post-race party includes a viewing of the game on multiple screens with beer and baseball food for purchase. It’s a race with a moving mission—many of the participants have a direct connection to ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and are there more for the fundraising than the running—but organizers manage to target both audiences. And it never hurts to have a course that lets the average Joe (or Josephine) experience a baseball field from the perspective of a professional player. Read the rest of this entry »
Runners enjoy the post-race party/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: When a race initially launches, it’s sometimes up in the air as to whether it will survive or not. But with a title that name-checks both burgers AND beer, there was never really a question of whether this 5K (started in 2012) would succeed. It also didn’t hurt that it was started as a logical extension (and expansion) of Universal Sole’s popular monthly fun runs of the same name. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the Burgers & Beer 5K has grown fast enough to migrate slowly south—from Montrose Harbor to Lakeshore East to Soldier Field—in only three years.
Last night’s third annual race, starting and finishing on Waldron Drive just southeast of Soldier Field, followed a new out-and-back course along the Lakefront Trail while the pre- and post-race parties took place amidst a flurry of vendor booths on the sidewalk around the stadium. Goose Island still provides the beer but this year the burgers were switched from Fizz Bar to Billy Goat Tavern (perhaps a rechristening to Borgers & Beer is now called for?).
Race organizers haven’t quite figured out how to speed up the burger assembly line (it can be slow business adding pickles, onions, ketchup and mustard to a post-race burger) and depending on your finishing time there was a sizable wait for a burger, but the beer line was short and sweet, with IDs being checked before the race to limit the amount of post-race time runners spent without beer in their belly. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: “The show will go on!” the race director’s voice booms excitedly from the speakers as groups of runners huddle together under various overhangs and race tents, delaying their inevitable exposure to the pouring rain. It’s just before 8am on Saturday morning and it has been raining steadily for hours with no signs of letting up. And still, almost seven-hundred runners are gathered in Chinatown Square to tackle the Chinatown 5K. Briefly, the rain does lighten just before the official start, but then it comes back full force within a few minutes, making for a very wet street race.
But despite the weather—or, perhaps, because of it—a jovial atmosphere permeates the entire race, with more starting-line chatter and looks of excitement than I’ve seen at any race outside of an obstacle run (where the joviality is almost more important than the run itself). “Maybe we don’t even need to put water in the cups!” remarks the race director, describing the water stations along the course. She’s not far from the truth. I’m completely soaked within seconds of checking my gear (along with my precious umbrella) and approaching the starting line. Read the rest of this entry »