Street Smart Chicago

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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Race Review: Chi-Town Big Game 5/10K (February 3, 2013)

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Photo: Zach Freeman

Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown: Waking up and checking the weather report this morning, it’s quite possible that a number of runners decided to roll over and go back to sleep. It’s understandable. With the temperature stubbornly stuck at twelve degrees and the sun hiding behind dense cloud cover and heavily falling snow it certainly didn’t seem like ideal race weather. And less than half an hour before the 9am start time for the Chi-Town Big Game 5/10K, the starting line just south of Soldier Field was mostly devoid of runners, despite blaring race music and several volunteers. But in the warm interior of Soldier Field’s United Club, around a thousand runners were bustling with pre-race energy.
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Race Review: F^3 Events Lake Half Marathon (January 26, 2013)

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Yeti at F^3 Lake Half

Photo by Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown: Rarely does a runner need to worry about getting frostbite and a sunburn during the same race, but the sub-freezing temperatures, bright sunshine and the reflective nature of the freshly fallen snow (F^3 race organizers were lucky enough for yesterday to mark the first time in 335 days that the Windy City received at least an inch of snow) succeeded in creating the perfect mix of coldness and brightness to firmly establish conditions for both.

Starting and finishing in Montrose Harbor, the fourth annual F^3 Lake Half Marathon benefited not only from beautiful snow-covered scenery, but also from the spirit of excitement that a well-organized half marathon on the lakefront during the long-distance-race-starved month of January enkindles in the local running community. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Jingle Bell Run/Walk (December 15, 2012)

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RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown: “Think of what this weather could be!” declared the race announcer to the huddled runners at the starting line of the Jingle Bell Run/Walk this morning just before the 9am start time, as the temperature hovered around forty-five degrees and a steady drizzle fell. “At least we’re not running in icy snow!” And though many of us who showed up may still have envied our counterparts who decided to stay in their warm (dry) beds this morning, there’s a certain pride that comes with running in adverse conditions. And once the race got started (with the 5K and 10K runners taking off at the same time), the light rain was quickly forgotten, and even stopped completely (if briefly) about twenty minutes in. The benefit of the rain was that the course, which made heavy use of the Lakefront Trail, was very open, with very few non-participants braving a run in the rain. The field looked a little slimmer than expected, but there was still a good mix of hardcore runners and dedicated Arthritis Foundation supporters taking part in both distances. When a race is well run and the course clearly managed, the weather isn’t as much of a factor. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Santa Hustle 5K (December 1, 2012)

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RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown: In only its fourth year, the Adrenaline Sports Management (ASM) Santa Hustle 5K has already expanded to seven locations across the country, with Chicago’s being the first and largest of the season with around 8,000 runners this year. And almost all of them listened to their inner holiday spirit and donned the Santa shirt, hat and beard included in the goodie bag on race day, leading to a red sea of Santas of all shapes and sizes. Christmas music blared at base camp and along the course, and a vast spread of cookies and milk was available after the race. Having runners group themselves by pace seemed to work well and kept the course open, even for the trip back along the Lakefront Trail. Whether you’re a runner or not (ASM says about eighty-five percent of participants this year do not consider themselves “runners”), this well-organized, family-friendly fun run is a perfect way to start December in a very merry mood. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Lifetime Chicago Turkey Day 5K (November 22, 2012)

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RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown: Along with gathering together with friends and family to eat as much food as possible, a quick morning race has also become a traditionally popular family activity to take on during Thanksgiving, with more than ten races in the Chicago area taking place today and several more scheduled for this weekend. Now in its thirty-fifth year, the Lifetime Chicago Turkey Day 5K (or TD5K for acronym lovers) is one of those races, and probably the most convenient for those celebrating T-Day in Chicago proper, especially since it starts at the sleep-in friendly time of 9am. Starting on Cannon Drive in front of the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum, the race spends a good deal of time on a blocked-off lane of Lake Shore Drive before following the Lakefront Trail to finish back on Cannon Drive. Changed from an 8K to a 5K, this year’s race drew around 6,000 people, which led to a somewhat last-minute waved start, with new waves being released every thirty to sixty seconds. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Athens Classic Marathon (November 11, 2012)

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Photo: Zach Freeman

RECOMMENDED RACE

Breakdown: There are plenty of high-profile international marathons, but you’d be hard-pressed (in fact it would be impossible) to find one more historically important than the Athens Classic Marathon, which ran its thirtieth-anniversary race last weekend (more than 2,500 years after the Battle of Marathon) in Greece. Starting in front of the Marathon Flame in an official Marathon Start Venue in the city of Marathonas (you may be more familiar with its Americanized name: Marathon), this race highlights everything about the true origins of the marathon, from following the purported path from the tale of Pheidippides’ victorious (and fatal) run from Marathon to Athens in 490 BC to finishing inside the Panathinaikon Stadium, which also served as the finish line for the initial marathon in the 1896 Olympics. At the starting line, runners are asked to raise their right hand and recite the Runner’s Oath before fireworks are ignited, balloons are released and a starting cannon (a gun’s just not epic enough) announce the start of the race. Nearly the entire course is marked with official historical marathon sign posts at every kilometer and as participants wind through several villages, the streets are lined with citizens young and old enthusiastically cheering “Bravo! Bravo! Bravo!” For newbies and experienced runners alike, the Athens Classic Marathon is an intentionally emotional experience, successfully instilling a sense of history, community, accomplishment and determination into the entire proceedings. Read the rest of this entry »