Street Smart Chicago

Race Review: Chicago Full Moon Run (July 29, 2015)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, News etc., Running No Comments »
Runners prepare for the Full Moon Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners prepare for the Full Moon Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Standing at the makeshift starting line at the edge of Norwood Park last night—a day before the true full moon, race directors readily acknowledged—preparing for the kickoff of the fourth annual Chicago Full Moon Run, I marveled at the peaceful suburban neighborhood streets around me (had I really just parked my car for free only a block from the race?). Only I wasn’t in the suburbs. I was in the far northwest corner of Chicago, where parking is plentiful and you can run a foot race on the streets as long as you have a few volunteers directing traffic.

And that’s the way this race runs. Coupled with a mile race (billed as the “1 Mile Lunar Orbit”), this neighborhood event managed to draw in almost 200 participants this year with its cheap entry fee and charity mission (proceeds going to “benefit the battle against Multiple Sclerosis”). The 5K course is a double loop around Norwood Park and the surrounding neighborhoods, a quick, flat course through tree-lined streets on a perfectly-temperatured evening that led to a lot of quick running. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: WIPEOUTRUN (July 25, 2015)

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Participants finish the WIPEOUTRUN on the Happy Endings slide/Photo: Zach Freeman

Participants finish the WIPEOUTRUN on the Happy Endings slide/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Since 2008, the reality series “Wipeout” has been a mainstay for ABC, with the network airing 148 episodes of the obstacle-course-challenge show over seven seasons. Despite recent rumblings that season eight has been cancelled due to low viewership (neither confirmed nor denied by ABC), the brand, pairing with what was formerly ROC (Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge) Race, has taken to the streets with a nationwide race series called WIPEOUTRUN.

Setting up shop in the parking lots surrounding U.S. Cellular Field for the Chicago leg of this tour, thousands of participants paraded through a course consisting of giant inflatable obstacles with names like “Big Balls,” “Sweeper” and “Foam of Fury.” And though many of these certainly have the right to be called obstacles, there are also a number that are just entertaining water park rides—from the inner-tube-driven Tumble Tubes to the epic finale slide christened Happy Endings.

Though billed as a 5K, the course, which wound its way around a series of cones and fences, registered as only slightly longer than two miles by my measure. Still, lines at various obstacles extended completion time to at least a forty-five minute experience. Individual costumes and team themes provided an extra level of entertainment on the course, along with pounding music and the fun of watching other participants… wipe out. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: BTN Big 10K (July 25, 2015)

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Big Ten fans at the starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: For six hours Saturday morning, the area between Soldier Field and McCormick Place was swarming with more than 13,000 Big Ten fans—alumni, students, parents and supporters—all with a common purpose, despite their varying school allegiances: to run 6.2 miles (or at least 3.1). This is the fourth year for the BTN Big 10K (which also features a 5K distance) and, back in its original location near Soldier Field, it continues to draw large crowds and put on a large post-race party (christened the “Fan Fest” and featuring bags, games and food).

This is a large race by any measure and race organizers have dealt with this by breaking the field out into waves and releasing packs of runners every three minutes, allowing for a more open course. Having the course follow the far less scenic route west of Lake Shore Drive allowed for comfortable running despite the large numbers. The familiar slip ‘n’ slide of years past appeared around mile five and though it didn’t have many takers, its appeal on a hot, humid July morning can’t be overstated. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Proud to Run (June 27, 2015)

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Proud to Run

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 »

Race Review: Run the Ribbon Mile Race (June 20, 2015)

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Runners competing around the ribbon/Photo: Zach Freeman

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 »

Race Review: Volition America Half Marathon (June 6, 2015)

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The finishing chute of the Volition America Half Marathon/Photo: Zach Freeman

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 »

Race Review: Starved Rock Country Marathon (May 16, 2015)

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Entering Starved Rock State Park/Photo: Zach Freeman

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 »

Race Review: Big Sur International Marathon (April 26, 2015)

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Big Sur International Marathon course/Photo: Zach Freeman

Big Sur International Marathon course/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

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 »

Race Review: Santa Hustle 5K (December 6, 2014)

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Runners cross the finish line at the Santa Hustle 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners eye finish line candy at the Santa Hustle 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

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 »

Race Review: Pumpkins in the Park 5K (October 25, 2014)

Lincoln Park, Running No Comments »
Runners nearing the finish line at the Pumpkins in the Park 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners nearing the finish line at the Pumpkins in the Park 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

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 »