A tale of two running clubs

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By PAUL OPPENHEIM

As I've noted before, Oak Park and River Forest has two running clubs, the Oak Park Runners Club (OPRC) and the Oak-William Runners (OWies). Both, obviously, are groups of people who like to run, but the clubs have evolved in completely different directions. And a few local runners enjoy participation with both groups.

The OWies have about 30 people on their list, and the group is essentially a bunch of guys (and an occasional female or two) who get together for early morning runs three, or sometimes four times a week. Most mornings see anywhere from a handful to maybe 15 OWies assemble at the start. During the week their 5:30 a.m. Tuesday and Thursday morning runs follow the same basic four-mile route (beginning and ending at Oak & William). But Tuesdays also include a lap of the Concordia track, and Thursdays may include a little "hill" work in a nearby parking garage. Saturday runs are longer and sometimes more competitive?#34;often along the Des Plaines River forest preserve trail. They have no dues, no formal meetings and no newsletter. Group communication is by way of a Yahoo email group where members tend to mercilessly tease each other?#34;often about those who failed to show up (those messages can generate a ton of e-mails on your computer). One of the OWies serves a single year term as Captain--this year it's Dave Chen--whose duties are mostly to nag those who don't show up, to determine the route of the Saturday runs, and to arrange the annual breakfast meeting in January where they give out a bunch of "awards" recognizing practically everybody, in mostly humorous categories. They also award a Runner of the Year traveling trophy to one of their deserving members.

The Oak Park Runners Club, on the other hand, has about 175 runners on its roster, mostly from the near western suburbs, and has evolved a more formal organizational structure. The club charges small annual dues, has club officers, monthly meetings, a newsletter, a website and twice-weekly fun runs. Monday evening OPRC fun runs at 6:30 p.m. cover either 5.5 or 8 miles, with start and finish at the Competitive Foot store in Downtown Oak Park. Saturday morning runs of 10 miles or more start at Madison & Home. These runs aren't restricted to club members, and all are welcome. A couple of recent club innovations are once-a-month social gatherings in a local pub after the Monday evening run, and a monthly trail run where members assemble in Oak Park before car-pooling to the designated running trail.

The club actively competes with other groups on the Club Race Circuit of the Chicago Area Runners Association, and many OPRC members are active competitors in races throughout the region. OPRC also sponsors its own CARA Circuit race, The Race That's Good for Life, which is held every April here in Oak Park (April 10th this year). Club officers are elected every year, but officers mostly keep their jobs until they feel like stepping down. Current OPRC President is Nick Bensen.

The Oak Park Runners Club is a bit more diverse than the OWies, with members of all ages, genders and abilities, but both groups are simply groups of people who like to run and who encourage others to participate. And nobody should be under the impression that either group is a bunch of elite, highly competitive runners, or that newcomers should be intimidated. If you're interested in running and want to stay motivated by participating with a group, show up for one of their runs. Website for the Oak Park Runners Club is http://oprc.net.Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club and the Oak-William Runners.

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