Basecamp for Energizer Night Race for a Brighter World/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Despite this race’s title (and a gigantic inflatable pink bunny situated near the stage at basecamp), there was a distinct lack of staid corporate vibes at last night’s Energizer Night Race for a Brighter World. As participants gathered near the stage in Dusable Harbor—many sporting pink bunny ears and the Energizer headlamp included in the race packet—the race announcer quipped that some unsuspecting walker on the Lakefront Trail would see 900 pink rabbits running toward them and be reminded of their last trip on LSD. “Whoa,” the DJ jokingly admonished. “This is a family race!” “Right,” the announcer joked back. “I’m talking about their last trip on Lake Shore Drive!”
There was also a lack of jockeying for position near the starting line, despite nearly a thousand runners queuing up for this 5K for “families and young adults.” Night races are known for being a little less competitive than morning races but without pace groups things can still sometimes get pushy; this one sported a remarkably jovial group of runners and walkers.
The race kicked off around 8:10pm, once the sun had set but before darkness had fully settled in. Combined with the bunny ears, the headlamps provided a cool visual but didn’t necessarily illuminate the path in the dusky light—but waiting for it to get darker would have been an unnecessary delay. Finishing back in Dusable Harbor to the thumps of the DJ (which eventually gave way to a live band), runners gathered to dance, drink (beer was for sale at $5 a cup) and enjoy the view of a bunch of runners who just kept going and going and… Read the rest of this entry »
Runners cross the finish line at The Original 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Sharing memories of his first 5K—where his father put out a cigarette at the starting line before someone yelled “Go!” to get the race started—Fleet Feet owner Dave Zimmer enthusiastically thanked the roughly 1000 runners gathered at the starting line for the inaugural Original 5K. Intended to take runners “back to the 70s when American distance runners stood atop the podiums of the world’s most famous races” the Original 5K sported a solid 70s theme, with a low entry fee, volunteers shouting out course times from stopwatches along the course and a pair of Wigwam tube socks replacing a race shirt in the official packet. In short, a relative back-to-basics running experience along the lakefront.
I say “relative” because the race was still chip-timed (“do you really want to wait a couple of weeks to receive your results in the mail?” the race’s website asks), most runners sported new-fangled running gear and the post-race party included Clif bar samples. But the complimentary post-race beer kept it old-school: Miller High Life.
“I think this running thing might just catch on,” race announcer Dave Kappas frequently quipped throughout the morning. Indeed it might. If the Original 5K proved anything Saturday morning—aside from the fact that Chicagoans love a good themed race—it’s that a race, stripped of all its fanciness, is a group of people meeting in one place and running together for a good time. Whether they’re wearing tube socks and headbands or Garmins and iPhones. “Is this the best running city in America or what?” Zimmer declared rhetorically at the starting line, to resounding cheers from the runners. There’s a pretty good chance it is. Read the rest of this entry »
Finishers of Tough Mudder Chicago/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Right off the bat it must be said: for anyone in even slightly above-average shape, the Tough Mudder—a (roughly) ten-mile muddy romp of an obstacle course that takes place in cities across the world—should really be called the Fun Mudder. This new designation is in no way meant to diminish the challenge of the event (billing it as “probably the toughest event on the planet” is certainly overselling the difficulty, but it ain’t easy either); it is instead meant to highlight the surprising amount of unbridled joy and camaraderie you can feel while tromping through mud and getting a solid workout at the same time.
After experiencing Tough Mudder Chicago (which was actually in Richmond, Illinois) it’s clear that the phrase “Tough Mudder” doesn’t just refer to the course itself, although that’s obviously a big part of it. Instead, the title refers to the whole immersive experience of the event, from following their prescribed training regiments to riding a shuttle bus to the event to hitting a knee at the starting line while an announcer spends twenty minutes pumping you up for the race ahead to downing that first complimentary beer after crossing the finish line. The whole thing is undeniably an all-out great time.
Yes, there are various challenges along the way, though most of them sound more intimidating than they really are. Among others, the “Arctic Enema” submerses participants in ice water, “Pitfall” sends you wading through a murky wetland with sudden drop-offs and “Berlin Walls” involves scaling tall, wooden structures. But while many of the obstacles may be more entertaining than trying (“Mud Mile” involves slithering up and over a series of mud mounds), there’s a mythologizing effect that sets in after you complete the Mudder and get your finisher’s shirt. Read the rest of this entry »
Runners finish the Universal Sole Four Mile Challenge/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Before the Universal Sole Four Mile Classic could even get started Thursday evening, a particularly strong gust of wind grabbed one of the covered tents from the basecamp, picked it up and tossed it over the starting line and directly into Dusable Harbor. After gazing into the water for a few seconds, race announcer (and Universal Sole owner) Joel Feinberg remarked into the mic, “Well, that tent’s a goner.”
Starting and finishing under a giant Red Bull arch in Dusable —home of the tent-swallowing waters—the northerly wind was an obstacle on the out half of this out-and-back open course along the Lakefront Trail, but it was a motivator on the way back, pushing runners to the finish line. The relatively compact basecamp consisted of a gear check, a timing-chip pickup booth and a massage tent (Muscle Milk and Red Bull were passing out free samples). But lest runners think this was the entirety of the race package, a large-scale post-race party took place inside the Lakeshore Sport & Fitness mega-gym with pizza, casserole, beer and other goodies.
Like some other Universal Sole races—the Burgers and Beer 5K comes to mind—the Four Mile Classic has the aura of a low-key race put together by runners for runners, low on frills but heavy on having a good run and celebrating afterwards. This race is still relatively small and finding its footing along the lakefront but it won’t be long before more runners catch on. Read the rest of this entry »
Students cross the finish line at the 5K March to College/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Some races are all about the course. Some are all about the post-race party. And some are all about the charity and its benefactors. The 5K March to College—put on by Companies That Care in order to help its students “dream about going to college and be able to get there”—falls into that final group, with a college and career fair starting at 2pm leading into the 5:30pm race start time and the vast majority of participants being the very students the race is meant to support.
Now in its third year, this race has seen steady growth since its inception in 2012. The crowded starting line this year spilled out around the starting area on Columbus just east of Upper Hutchinson Field and swarmed onto the course once the race was underway. Despite numerous reminders from the race announcer that walkers should move to the back of the pack, youthful exuberance and a lack of pace signs led to a slightly rocky start.
But the open course along the Lakefront—heading north by Museum Campus and turning around just before Dusable Harbor—provided plenty of space for runners (and walkers) to spread out and enjoy an evening trek along the lake. The finish line was exciting, particularly once younger runners started racing in, but the post-race refreshments (bananas, apples and stale bagels) left a little bit to be desired. Still, when you’re running a race that’s centered around the charity it was created to support, a stale bagel is a small price to pay for the positive vibes and the potential to inspire a student to go to college. Read the rest of this entry »
The Glo Run course/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: “Where the eff is the start line?!” the DJ-cum-race announcer confusedly queries the throngs of brightly clad race participants. No one seems to know. “Oh,” he says, gesturing broadly to his right, “To my left!” This is the way the Glo Run—a nationwide, multi-location, nighttime rave party 5K—gets started in Chicago on a Saturday night. As thousands of runners and walkers make their way to the crowded starting line at the south end of Grant Park, the DJ is wondering aloud, “Who’s got the craziest dance moves right now?” In short, this is much more rave than race.
Still, as much as the type-A runner within me wants to cynically dismiss this event as unorganized—especially after waiting over an hour for pre-race packet pickup the night before at Fleet Feet, there’s a party-like atmosphere that permeates every part of this race (at the starting line, beach balls start bouncing around above the crowd like we’re at a music festival), not least of all because the people I’m lined up with at the starting line are not really there to run; they’re just there to do something fun on a Saturday night.
Unlike the Firefly Run—a race with a similar concept that I ran last year—the Glo Run includes a number of glowing, pulsing, music-blasting set pieces to run through along the open course and also managed a slow-moving but serviceable gear check (volunteers were not having an easy time finding numbered bags in the dark). I could list the reasons why runners might not rush to sign up for this rather gimmicky lakefront run (no chip time, an extremely crowded course and starting chute, high entry fee), but I can hear the several-thousand strong crowd chanting along with Icona Pop at the massive post-race party: “I don’t care! I love it!” There’s something to be said for an unabashedly good time. Read the rest of this entry »
Runners near the finish line during the Run to Remember/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: “There’s great awards!” declared the race announcer a few minutes before the tenth annual Run to Remember kicked off at eight this morning. “Well, there’s good awards,” he amended quickly with a laugh. “I hate to oversell.” But aside from this comedically retracted overselling of the awards, nothing else about this quickly growing annual race supporting the Chicago Police Memorial Foundation (at more than 5,000 participants, this was officially the largest showing to date) was overstated or oversold.
Starting and finishing near Gold Star Memorial Park just east of Soldier Field, this year’s race boasted much tighter organization than previous years, with clearly marked pace groups, plenty of course support and the signature bagpipers playing before, during and after the race. Most impressively, a police helicopter was on hand, flying back and forth over the Lakefront course during the race and making an especially memorable low pass just as the singer of the National Anthem held the high note in “free.”
For such a large field there was a remarkable amount of space along the open course, most likely because so many participants chose to walk. After a decade, this race has really come into its own, adding runners as the popularity of running increases, while still staying true to its roots of honoring the memory of fallen officers. “That is the primary reason we are here today,” a race announcer reminded runners at the starting line, and photos of those officers lining the last quarter mile of the course really drive that point home. Read the rest of this entry »
Participants lined up to start the Phi Delta Chi 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Rain and wind threatened to put both a literal and figurative damper on this grassroots race organized by Phi Delta Chi (a professional pharmacy fraternity) in Montrose Harbor this morning as the 9:30 starting time approached. But within minutes of runners taking off, the clouds shifted, the rain dissipated and the sun came out, allowing for the small field of around 150 participants (walkers and runners) to get the most out of the out-and-back course along the lakefront trail.
A single well-stocked water station—appropriately situated just after the first mile (and after the second on the way back)—provided runners with hydration and plenty of course attendants were stationed along the way to keep foot traffic going in the right direction. The open course felt plenty wide for the number of runners but the mile markers could use some work; the first evaded me and the second was placed far too early along the course leading to confusion regarding the distance to the finish line (a sentiment I heard reiterated by other participants).
But as with the best smaller races, there was a sense of excitement and earnestness that drove the Phi Delta Chi 5K and made it more than merely another small 5K (an increasingly rare find within Chicago city limits these days). From the proud announcement regarding the money participants raised for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to the cheering volunteers along the course and at the finish line the investment in the enjoyment of the runners was palpable. This is only the second year that Phi Delta Chi has hosted this race so there’s plenty of room for growth. Read the rest of this entry »
Runners finishing the eighteenth annual Ravenswood Run/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: Just before the starting gun went off on the eighteenth annual Ravenswood Run—a neighborhood favorite that, judging by the fact that it sold out last week, clearly attracts runners from all over the city—Fleet Feet owner Dave Zimmer reminded the roughly 3,000 runners gathered at the starting line just north of Wilson and Hermitage that it’s been a “brutal, brutal Chicago winter.” He wasn’t trying to drudge up bad memories. In fact he was merely reiterating what a representative from All Saints’ Episcopal Church had just stated moments before in a pre-race prayer: “It’s been a long, hard, cold winter. And apparently it’s not done!” But both of these statements were code for something Chicago runners need little reminder of: “It may be forty-five degrees, but hey—it ain’t negative twenty!”
And it certainly ain’t. Forty-five may sound cold when you’re standing around, but for running it’s fairly ideal. And, despite a small chance of rain, the sky held out and allowed for nice cloud cover without the bothersome precipitation that often comes with it. With a course that snaked through neighborhoods in both Ravenswood and Lincoln Square—and even up Lincoln through the iconic Lincoln Square strip between Leland and Lawrence—the Ravenswood Run is as much a race as a celebration of neighborhood and neighborliness, as proven by the many spectators standing outside their houses sipping coffee and cheering on the runners.
A sense of camaraderie is one of the harder aspects to control for when putting on a race with so many participants, but this one manages to represent both the “neighborhood” aspect of its subtitle (Ravenswood Run: A Neighborhood 5K) and the high quality and organization of a big Chicago 5K. Weather is a big factor in any race and today’s weather certainly played into the success of this annual event but it’s the solid neighborhood vibe that’s kept people coming back for eighteen years. Read the rest of this entry »
Finish line of the Chi Town Half Marathon & 10K/Photo: Zach Freeman
Breakdown: The little patch of trail between Diversey Harbor and North Cannon Drive across the street from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum hosts its fair share of running events throughout the year. And it’s no wonder: it’s in easily accessible Lincoln Park and offers a quick route to the Lakefront Trail—a big requirement for smaller races looking to make use of open trail space. On Sunday, All Community Events put the familiar space to good use for their Chi Town Half Marathon & 10K event.
Just around 1,200 runners showed up at the starting line (with a little more than half opting for the half marathon). The relatively small field allowed for organizers to start both events simultaneously—not a bad idea considering that the courses were identical for the first five-and-a-half miles (though it did lead to some crowding at the start, and a bottleneck right before the starting line). After circling Diversey Harbor once and heading north for a second round, 10K runners turned off and headed back to basecamp and the finish line while half marathoners went as far north as Foster.
Luckily, some lovely spring weather sweetened the event with sunny skies and temperatures in the forties helping runners enjoy the course. The Chi Town Half Marathon & 10K is a fairly no-frills event on the lakefront but the course was clear, the volunteers were smiling and the chip-timing worked (with printed leaderboards being posted as runners were coming in). A cover band played hits from the nineties to keep things lively. Read the rest of this entry »