Street Smart Chicago

Race Review: BTN Big 10K (July 27, 2013)

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Post-race at the BTN Big 10K/photo: Zach Freeman

Post-race at the BTN Big 10K/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown: Sometimes it’s clear when an organization is doing something right. Last year the inaugural BTN Big 10K sold out (with around 4,500 participants showing up on race day). Solid organization, lots of promotion, the BTN name recognition and good word-of-mouth from last year’s race led to almost that many people showing up for the 5K run alone this year, with registrations for the 5K and 10K together reaching 12,000. So I guess students and alumni in the Big Ten love to represent their alma maters.

While last year’s races started and finished in front of Soldier Field, base camp moved slightly north this year, with runners lining up in their starting corrals along Solidarity Drive in front of the Adler Planetarium. Fans and mascots from all twelve schools lined the starting line to cheer, as corrals of runners were released every thirty seconds. The two distances were appropriately spaced out, with the 10K starting at 7am and the 5K not starting until 8:30.   Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Runnin’ With the Horses 5K (June 8, 2013)

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Runnin' With the Horses 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runnin’ With the Horses 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown: Starting in the parking lot and finishing at the actual finish line that the horses cross at the Balmoral Park horse track in Crete, Illinois, the Runnin’ With the Horses 5K is one of a kind when it comes to Chicago-area races.

The first quarter mile of the course takes place in the parking lot outside the track, but things quickly get more exciting as runners take a sharp left and head through the outdoor spectating area, passing through the middle of the crowd before circling the perimeter of the track and then entering the horse track itself for roughly the last mile and a half. The gravel of the track provides an ideal running surface and race horses warming up only yards away makes for a memorable racing experience.

After the run there’s plenty of water and Gatorade on hand, but the real treat is a voucher good for three beers at the Brewhaha Beer Festival, where an impressive selection of domestic and microbrewery offerings await, along with a live band and a chance to place a wager on the night’s races. Yesterday’s race marked the fifth annual running of the race and the largest field yet (around 250 total runners). I’m guessing the distance from Chicago is keeping entries low, but it’s well worth the drive. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Ridge Run (May 27, 2013)

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Ridge Run 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Ridge Run 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown: This morning’s race in Beverly’s Ridge Park marked thirty-six years for the Ridge Run, Chicago’s oldest 10K event. And for a Chicago transplant who has probably spent only a few hours south of 60th Street in the past five years, the Southwest Side neighborhood of Beverly (also known as Beverly Hills, I’m told) sounded like a distant and mysterious suburban land until I ran through its streets this morning (twice).

See, the Ridge Run has a unique (as far as I know) option for racers. while many races provide more than one distance option at their event, the Ridge Run offers a 10K at 8am followed by a 5K at 9:30, and gives runners the option of registering and running both distances in a single morning (it’s called the Ridge Run Challenge, and I highly recommend it).

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Race Review: Soldier Field 10 Mile (May 25, 2013)

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Photo: Brian Hieggelke

Photo: Brian Hieggelke

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown: A “Superfan” of Da Bears fantasy; in fact, so many Superfan types were in the race I half expected to see someone chowing on an Italian sausage-and-beef combo while running the course. With 17,500 runners, congestion is an occasional problem except when running on Lake Shore Drive, and the wave start is a welcome component, but those of us in the last corrals did not start till nearly a half hour after our appointed starting time. But that minor quibble is more than offset by a beautiful course culminating in one of the most singular finish lines anywhere, a highly organized operation, and a better-than-average after-party featuring the still-running alt rockers Soul Asylum. I biked over, since the starting line is a mile or so south of the “usual” Grant Park spots, and that proved to be the perfect way to get there and back quickly and easily. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Magellan Development Chicago Spring Half Marathon & 10K (May 19, 2013)

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Chicago Spring Half post-race party/Photo: Zach Freeman

Chicago Spring Half post-race party/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown:  Unlike the gusting winds and rain of the 2012 race, this year’s Chicago Spring Half Marathon & 10K (newly christened the Magellan Development Chicago Spring  Half, for shorthand) offered runners a warm spring morning in the mid-seventies with sunny skies and a light breeze. The course remained the same, with both races starting in DuSable Harbor, following the Lakefront Trail out and back and finishing in The Park at Lakeshore East.

And though the nicer weather was a welcome change for runners of this year’s event, it also meant that there were a lot more non-participants enjoying a stroll, run or bike ride on the (unclosed) Lakefront Trail to contend with. Still, mile-markers were clearly placed and volunteers were readily available with plenty of water and Gatorade. The placement of the starting line does make for a more easily manageable start, but it also leads to a bit of confusion as runners pass back through the starting track on their way to the finish line (which is about a third of a mile further).

It’s the post-race party in The Park at Lakeshore East that makes this event worth the price. It also makes it abundantly clear why Magellan Development Group (creators of Lakeshore East) is eager to host this event: it highlights the manicured beauty of their planned community, with runners being granted tickets to a well-stocked “picnic” (featuring eggs, pancakes, sausage and coconut water) in the park amidst the many sponsor booths. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Race to Wrigley 5K (May 11, 2013)

News etc., Running, Wrigleyville No Comments »
Race to Wrigley runners/Photo: Zach Freeman

Race to Wrigley runners/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown:  For the eighth straight year, Chicago Cubs Charities organized the Race to Wrigley, a 5K through Wrigleyville that starts at the intersection of Addison and Clark and ends with a brief jaunt through the Wrigley Field ground-level concourse. After being warmed up by WGN’s Dina Bair and Danni Allen (winner of Season 14 of The Biggest Loser), the 3,000 or so timed runners (self-organized into pace groups) took off down a blocked-off Addison.

Organization along the course, including directional information and water stations were heavily attended and clearly marked, with a great deal of fanfare paid to the finish line area in front of Wrigley Field. The pre- and post-race party area in the space between Clark, Waveland and Wrigley Field was less well-organized, with a slow-moving and regrettably unsystematic gear check slowing things up and too many participants crammed into the space after finishing the run. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Cinco de Miler (May 5, 2013)

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Cinco de Miler post-race party/Photo: Zach Freeman

Cinco de Miler post-race party/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown: If there’s a better way to start off Cinco de Mayo in Chicago, I haven’t found it. Mostly following last year’s five-mile course from a blocked-off Simonds Drive north to Hollywood Avenue and back, this year’s Cinco de Miler kept everything that worked last year and even managed to improve on a few details.

The signature mariachi band was back (with a few additional members this time around) and the finishing chute was a bit more streamlined, curving around a cheering area and directing runners back to the post-race party. RAM Racing knows how to do swag and the race shirts were much improved: last year’s long-sleeve red and white running shirts were replaced with stylish dark gray cotton/polyester blends. The finisher’s drinking mug was replaced with a finisher’s medal that doubles as a bottle-opener (which runners could make use of immediately after the race at the beer tent).

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Race Review: Start Early Run (April 13, 2013)

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Start Early 10K runners / photo: Zach Freeman

Start Early 10K runners/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown:  Despite the race’s name, the Start Early 5K & 10K Run/Walk, now in its sixteenth year, didn’t start until 10am this morning, when it kicked off with a one-mile pledge walk, followed by the 5K at 10:15am and the 10K at 10:20am. That’s because, obviously, “Start Early” doesn’t refer to race times but to the beneficiary of the race. April is Child Abuse Prevention Month and the Chicago chapter of Prevent Child Abuse America coordinates this event to raise both funds and public awareness for their cause.

This morning, with the grass at the southwest corner of Columbus and Balbo saturated from earlier rain and the temperature sticking in the mid-thirties with dark clouds threatening rain and/or snow (a light snow ended up winning out), a late start was welcome. Both the 5K and 10K runs took place almost entirely on public paths, running through Museum Campus and along the Lakeshore Trail. The poor weather kept the trails from being too crowded with other runners but getting back to the finish line for the 10K became a game of navigating a slew of families heading to the Field Museum or the Shedd Aquarium. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K (April 7, 2013)

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Shamrock Shuffle starting line / photo: Zach Freeman

Shamrock Shuffle starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED

Breakdown:  Seeing as the 8K isn’t a particularly common race distance, holding the title of “World’s Largest 8K” might sound like a questionable claim to fame to some, but the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle, often cited as the start of Chicago’s running season, is no small shakes. With a sold-out capacity of 40,000 runners, the Shamrock Shuffle is not only one of Chicago’s largest racing events, but ranks up there with the largest racing events in the world.

For the second year in a row, race organizers took the wise, though somewhat controversial (last year, at least) step of separating runners out with two start times (8:30am and 9:15am), effectively fielding two races with 20,000 participants each rather than one gigantic field. And for the second year in a row the decision proved beneficial. Though it’s certainly preferable to be a part of the first wave, it’s always preferable to have more open space on the course. Additionally, corrals were easy to get into and the two waves were clearly delineated by the color of the running bibs. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Fox Valley Winter Challenge Trail Race #2

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photo 3There’s something about running through a fresh layer of snow that’s both refreshing and exasperating at the same time. On one hand, it’s the kind of experience that connects you with the sport of running in its purest form, just barreling along through whatever’s in your path. But on the other, boy is it tough. When rolling hills are involved, a few inches of snow can turn a trail run into an adventure. And that’s exactly what the Fox River Trail Runners’ Hickory Knolls Trail 8K (known simply as “Trail Race #2” in their Winter Challenge Trail Series) was: a wooded adventure.

Adding an additional three kilometers to last year’s inaugural Hickory Knolls 5K Trail Adventure, race organizers sought to turn a winding, snowy course into a legitimate challenge. Despite some repeated sections (and one ill-advised course crossing that caused some clustering), this year’s course expansions were all welcome changes to any runner looking to tackle a winter trail race offering more than just running in the cold.
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