Street Smart Chicago

Race Review: Run to Remember (May 3, 2014)

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Runners near the finish line during the Run to Remember/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners near the finish line during the Run to Remember/Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

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 »

Race Review: Phi Delta Chi 5K Run/Walk (April 27, 2014)

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RECOMMENDED RACE

Participants lined up to start the Phi Delta Chi 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

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 »

Race Review: Ravenswood Run (April 27, 2014)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, Lincoln Square, News etc., Running No Comments »

RECOMMENDED RACE

Runners finishing the 18th annual Ravenswood Run/Photo: Zach Freeman

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 »

Race Review: Chi Town Half Marathon & 10K (April 6, 2014)

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RECOMMENDED RACE

Finish line of the Chi Town Half Marathon & 10K/Photo: Zach Freeman

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 »

Race Review: Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle (March 30, 2014)

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RECOMMENDED RACE

Shamrock Shuffle starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

Shamrock Shuffle starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown:  The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle is often called out as being the start of Chicago’s running season due both to its size and its placement in the calendar. Some years Chicago’s fickle weather patterns can make this claim seem a bit dubious despite the large crowds of runners and running teams participating, but Sunday morning as the sun rose and temperatures rose with it (all the way to the mid-fifties!), it was evident that racing season in Chicago had officially begun.

As race announcers made sure to inform runners before, during and after the race, the Shamrock Shuffle is the largest 8K in the world (in fact, it’s one of the largest racing events in the world) and corralling more than 30,000 runners is never an easy task. But organizers seem to have gotten this massive race coordination down to a science and all the moving parts fell into place perfectly throughout the event. The further division of the racing field into three waves (up from two last year) allowed for a bit more space on the course and a more steady stream of runners throughout the morning.

The course gives runners a taste of the Chicago Marathon experience, following part of the course and letting them experience the joys (and pains) of jostling for position in such a crowded field. The post-race party around the Buckingham Fountain featured a live band, a free beer for each runner over twenty-one and plenty of sunshine. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Chi-Town Big Game 5/10K (February 2, 2014)

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RECOMMENDED RACE

Runners walking back to the United Club after the race/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners walking back to the United Club after the race/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown:  It’s amazing how much difference a little sunshine can make. Last year this race was a slog through snow, wind and low temperatures. This year, despite the temperature on race day actually being colder than last year (around ten degrees vs last year’s twelve), the course for the Chi-Town Big Game 5K/10K was actually downright comfortable. Luckily for runners and race organizers alike, both the 5K and 10K courses took advantage of the open spaces of the Lakefront Trail and participants spent most of their time running in the sun, rather than in the shade (where those ten degrees felt a lot less friendly).

Still, most runners didn’t spend much time standing around the starting or finishing lines before or after the race, opting instead to spend pre- and post-race downtime inside Soldier Field’s United Club, which once again served as basecamp for the race. Reasonable start times (9am for the 5K, 9:20am for the 10K) kept runners from waking up too early, an expanded array of food and beverage options from the concession stands were available after the race (each participant was given a ticket for one beverage and one food item) and a live cover band kept the mood lively. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Rudolph Ramble (December 15, 2013)

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The titular rambler/Photo by Zach Freeman

The titular rambler/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown:

Early on in this packed race it became readily apparent why it’s called a “ramble” and not a “dash” (though the Donner Dash is the kid’s race that’s tied in with the Rudolph Ramble). With 1,600 participants, the running paths chosen for the course would have a tough time accommodating everyone on a good day—and Sunday was not a good day. With temperatures in the low teens and mounds of snow left over from Saturday, this course became a bit of a cold slog right from the start, with lengthy backups and crowded conditions throughout. In areas where the trail doubled back on itself, dividing the already narrow trail in half, running became even more difficult. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Jingle Bell Run/Walk (December 14, 2013)

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Santa and Mrs. Claus mingle with runners before the race

Santa and Mrs. Claus mingle with runners before the race

RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown:
Who says you have to go to the suburbs for a challenging trail run? After this morning’s snow-filled Jingle Bell Run/Walk for Arthritis, Chicago can boast a race to compete with the best of them —and it takes place right in the heart of Lincoln Park! Starting and finishing in front of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum (where most of the brave participants took shelter up until a few minutes before the race kicked off) this large but generally low key charity run morphed under a thick layer of fresh (and constantly falling) snow into a winter wonderland of trail running delight.

But while the snow certainly added a level of difficulty to the proceedings, the temperature (hovering just around 30 degrees) kept it from being a true slog. 10K runners took off on a mostly unplowed course through Lincoln Park at 9am with 5K runners following shortly thereafter. Smiling volunteers lined the course at various intervals, giving out encouragement and high fives. And the picturesque views throughout made any complaints about the course seem frivolous. As runners, when we approach a course like this, we are generally saying (though not in so many words): “My life is cushy enough that I feel the need to introduce arbitrary obstacles into it so that I may overcome them.” This morning the Jingle Bell Run/Walk provided just such an obstacle. And it was a blast to overcome it.

As an added bonus, Santa and Mrs. Claus were waiting inside after the race where runners could get a photo with them. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital RBC Race for the Kids 5K Run (October 6, 2013)

-Neighborhood/Suburb, Hyde Park, News etc., Running No Comments »

RECOMMENDED RACE

Comer5KBreakdown:

While there are a large number of races taking place in Chicago throughout the year in various northern sections of the city (Lincoln Park, Montrose Harbor and Grant Park come to mind) aside from the two popular halfs (Chicago Half Marathon and the Chicago 13.1 Marathon), there aren’t a lot of racing opportunities south of Museum Campus. The rather lengthily titled University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children’s Hospital RBC Race for the Kids 5K Run, starting and finishing on the University of Chicago campus, provides just such an opportunity. And though it might be a hike for non-South Siders to get to, it’s worth the trip.

With a reported 1,701 participants registered this year (and around half opting for chip-timing), the University of Chicago quad (at 58th Street between University and Ellis) was packed with runners before the race. Setting up base camp in the midst of the impressively historic academic buildings in this location provided an air of illustriousness to the proceedings and a clear boundary for the vendor tents. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Friends of the Poor 5K Run/Walk (September 28, 2013)

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Finishers from the Friends of the Poor 5K and runners of the MMRF 5K/Photo by Zach Freeman

Finishers from the Friends of the Poor 5K and runners of the MMRF 5K/Photo by Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Chicago is home to an impressive (and ever-growing) number of races. From 5Ks to marathons and beyond, there’s typically at least one race happening in the city on any given weekend day. This is a huge plus for Chicago runners. And it’s typically helpful to race coordinators as well, since they can rely on a core group of runners always in the market for a run. But this Saturday morning the popularity of running put a damper on two separate runs happening at the same time.

Starting at 9am, the second annual Friends of the Poor 5K Run/Walk (coordinated by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul Chicago and DePaul University) kicked off across the street from the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum. At the same time, less than a mile south in Lincoln Park, the MMRF Race for Research 5K Walk/Run also started. And while neither race was huge (Friends of the Poor had around 120 runners while MMRF had around 600), flaws in the Chicago Park District permit-application process were witnessed firsthand by members of both races as the two courses directly overlapped (with both courses passing through each other’s start/finish lines). Read the rest of this entry »