A great day for running

Over 2,000 participants enjoy events, fun-filled race through Oak Park

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By Paul Oppenheim

Running Columnist

Five days before race day, John Kolman, Director of The Race That's Good for Life, sounded very upbeat: "The weather forecast looks good for racing, and with our race named as the Road Runners Club of America's State Championship 5K, some big guns may turn out.

Kolman added: "But at its core, our race is still a family friendly event."

Publicity Director Erin Vandenberg was similarly pleased, saying, "Registration numbers have already exceeded last year's excellent showing, with over 1300 runners signed up."

And five days later, on a sunny, warm race day, total signups for all events hit 2,000, far beyond any previous participation numbers for this annual event, organized by the Oak Park Runners Club.

The leadoff event was the Youth One Mile race, won by Clare Hardiman, 11, from Chicago who earned bragging rights by beating the boys in a quick 6:18. Atop the boys' division was Michael Cozzi, only 9, from Gilberts in 6:25.

In the women's 5K, top honors were taken by Maria Lindberg, 31, of Elmhurst in 17:24, followed by Pamela Staton, age 27, from Chicago in 17:51 (Staton was also last year's second place finisher). In third place was Wendy Jaehn, 39, also from Chicago, who is Executive Director of the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA).

"It's one of my favorite races," said Jaehn, who also accompanied her son Hunter in the Youth Mile, "since it was his first race." She likes the separate race format since she could run the 5K, and also watch her family members run.

In the men's 5K, top honors were taken by James Akita, 33, from Elmhurst in 15:17, beating Ryan Giuliano, 29, of Schaumburg by a comfortable 15 seconds. As in the woman's race, Giuliano repeated his second place finish from last year. Third place was won by Emisael Favela, 37, from Berwyn in 15:48.

Akita, an Elmhurst College grad and former running standout, is now the school's cross country and track coach, and has obviously remained in top running shape. He noted that he had run a hard race in the previous weekend's Shamrock Shuffle 8K in Downtown Chicago, and was "very pleased" with his win a week later in Oak Park.

Something of a surprise hit was the Junior Dash for little kids. In prior years the event has been known as the "Junior Jog," an informal run for the little kids to fill time while the other race results are being tallied.

This year, in partnership with the Collaboration for Early Childhood, the race's designated charity beneficiary, race organizers decided to make a bigger production, complete with Sesame Street's furry, bright-red Elmo at the finish line. There were separate starts for kids 3 and under, 4 year-olds, plus 5 and 6 year-olds. Participation from kids and their parents exceeded all estimates, so race organizers will have to increase their supplies of finish line goodies for next year. 

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