Do what's good for life: Run in this race

Running Columnist

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PAUL OPPENHEIM

Hard to believe, but The Race That's Good for Life is heading into its 24th running. Organized in 1982 during the Oak Park Runners Club's first year, the race was originally called The Fall 5K, and intended as a warmup for the annual Frank Lloyd Wright Run 10K. That inaugural race started and finished at Field Playground behind Mann School (anybody remember that?), and one of our early sponsors was the Wednesday Journal. In those days, 5Ks weren't too common, and we felt that the distance was easily doable for most runners?#34;a good tuneup for the more popular 10K distances.

To avoid competing with numerous other fall races, the club then shifted the race to a spring event, and it has since become firmly established as one of the region's finest early-season races. The Race That's Good for Life is also a long-time fixture on the prestigious Chicago Area Runners Association annual race circuit, consisting of about 20 of the region's best running events.

Its unique feature is separate 5K races for women and men, an innovation started in 1991?#34;the first such double race in the Chicago area. This was designed to give women their own event, so that the winner would actually be the first finisher and not just mixed in with the guys. The arrangement also gave running parents an opportunity to bring the kids so Dad could babysit while Mom ran, and vice-versa. The two race format also causes less crowding on the streets than a single co-ed event. It has worked well over the years.

Later, as the race matured more competitive innovations were added, including prize money, a Youth Mile race, Clydesdale weight divisions for heavier runners, and a 5K race walk. Along with the non-competitive 5K Fitness Walk and Junior Jog for the little kids, there's something for practically everybody.

It's interesting how the modest prize money ($200 for the winners) has attracted an occasional high-caliber runner from out of town in addition to the top Chicago runners. The race record of 14:25 was set by Poland's Artur Blazinski in 1998, and last year's female winner was Denisa Costescu, a Romanian, living in Michigan. But the event is primarily intended to be runner-friendly for those of all abilities, so the average fitness runners from our community make up most of the field.

I've been running the streets of Oak Park for nearly 30 years, but this year it seems like I'm seeing more runners than ever?#34;and even on those chilly days that would normally discourage the more casual joggers. That's a positive sign, and I hope that means that many of you plan to sign up. Proceeds from the event benefit the United Way of Oak Park, River Forest and Forest Park, so you can do good for yourself and for your community with your entry fee.

And since those entry fees cover only part of the costs, sponsors are essential for producing a high quality race. The runners club works hard to find sponsors who gain the opportunity to focus their products and services on about 1500 fitness-oriented, mostly middle-income people from the near western suburbs and throughout the region. Those sponsors are listed on race literature and on the race web site.

If you're a beginning runner and are considering the race, you should be able to run for at least 30 minutes without stopping. That endurance level should easily allow you to run an entire 5K race (caution: don't start out too fast on race day or you'll pay the price at Miles 2 and 3).

Mark your calendars for April 10?#34;but note that there's no race-day registration. You must sign up in advance. Race applications are at various places around town including The Competitive Foot, or sign up online at [http://race.oprc.com].

Paul Oppenheim has been a member of the Oak Park Runners Club since 1982.

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