A mile could do some good

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The Race That's Good for Life was honored by the Chicago Area Runners Association as one of the three top races in 2008, and this year marks its 28th running (April 19, in Oak Park). But the event has always focused most of its attention on the twin 5K runs - separate races for women and men. Frequently overlooked are the Youth Mile and the 5K Fitness Walk.

I recently returned from a reunion with my old Thailand Peace Corps group in Hawaii, afterwards spending a few more days on the Kona coast of the Big Island visiting my Oak Park neighbor, Fran Sullivan, who has a winter place there. Since the Big Island has few beaches, many residents and vacationers hung out around the pool at the condo where Fran lives. Not to be too blunt here, but most of the crowd resembled a bunch of beached whales slowly cooking in the hot sun - not including Fran, who's very fit.

And that brings me back to the Youth Mile event. We all know that far too many sedentary kids eat too much while parked in front of the TV, so any encouragement to engage in active sports should be a no-brainer. But somehow, the Youth Mile only attracts about 100 kids each year, and I'm told that at least some District 97 schools have running programs in gym class. Several years ago I recall there was at least one school where kids ran a mile.

The Youth Mile race provides a cool t-shirt, and awards medals to the top three girls and boys in three age groups: 7-8, 9-10 and 11-12. So this event should tie in with any school gym classes that encourage running. A mile is also a good starting distance for young runners, regardless of their speed.

The Fitness Walk covers the same 5K (3.1 mile) course as the featured races, but is non-competitive, meaning that participants walk the distance - hopefully, at a brisk pace. A three-mile walk is also a pretty good form of exercise without the exertion of a competitive race. And thinking back to the Hawaii pool scene, most of those folks could probably use some regular three-mile walks.

Obviously for regular runners, the two featured 5K races are always fun and competitive. But if you are a fairly recent convert to running, the 5K distance is a good way to initiate your racing career. It's short enough so that beginners with a limited base of running can cover the distance, but those with more experience will push hard through the entire race. They know that a hard 5K run can be a pretty intense experience. Maybe even Brad Spencer, Wednesday Journal's sports editor, will run again this year.

So check out The Race That's Good for Life. Race application forms are at The Competitive Foot store in Downtown Oak Park and at other places around the village. Registration fees for the Youth Mile and for the Fitness Walk are $13. On-line registration is encouraged at http://race.oprc.net. And there is no race-day registration, so you need to sign up in advance.

Paul Oppenheim is a member of the Oak Park Runners Club.

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