Come Monday, it's time for a fun run

RUNNING

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PAUL OPPENHEIM

Can't have a runners' club without regular fun runs. It's what we do. If you're in a running group, you expect to run. The Oak Park Runners Club has runs on Monday evenings and Saturday mornings, and it's interesting how the Monday runs have flourished over the past couple of years.

But it took a while to establish the right day and time. Various days were tried when the club was younger, and Mondays worked out better than other weekdays. For years they started and finished at Lake and East at the high school stadium. Participation was loyal, but sometimes small, and a continued deficiency was that slower-paced runners didn't stick around for very long. It was no fun for a slower runner to show up and watch the crowd fade into the distance after the first couple of blocks. We just couldn't attract a steady following of slower-paced runners, so Monday nights got something of an undeserved reputation as being only for fast, competitive types.

Then a couple years ago, past OPRC president Christina Nixon approached Tim Eggert, owner of The Competitive Foot, to ask if the Monday runs could use his store as the start/finish point. He said sure, and generously allowed the runners to store their stuff behind the counter, and even use the store's restroom. In fact, a few runners show up right from work, change into their running stuff in the store, do the run, pick up their clothes and head for home. And there's now a wider participation, so slower-paced runners finally have company.

The route makes a big loop through north Oak Park with a stop for water at Lindberg Park. Those going 5.5 miles return to the Foot while the 8-milers head west, completing a longer loop through River Forest. Current OPRC President, Nick Bensen brings the Gatorade jug during warm weather, and has instituted Monday Runs of the Month that add post-run gatherings for refreshments at a designated restaurant or saloon. These events have added a monthly social element to the fun runs.

With knee problems and schedule conflicts, I hadn't done the Monday run for a long time. So on a recent Monday evening I showed up. A group of about 25 runners appeared at the start time, and I realized there were a number of them I didn't know?#34;largely a different bunch from my more familiar Saturday group. Obviously Mondays have developed their own loyal following.

In my knee rehab mode, I stayed with the mid-group for five minutes, walked a minute, then hung with the back of the pack for another five minutes before heading back toward home. It was nice to finally see a loyal and varied group of Monday runners.

Monday runs also feature monthly appearances of Physical Therapists Jodi Skrzypek and Kristen Passaglia from Physiotherapy Associates who provide advice on training, injury prevention and treatment. And on the evening I was there, a New Balance shoe representative was on hand to display the NB shoe selection and raffle off a pair of shoes to a lucky fun runner. Seems that Mondays have evolved into lots more than just a run.

It's like the evolution of gyms into "health clubs." I was raised in gyms where you worked hard, sweated a lot and got yelled at by the coach. And they smelled bad. Now they're spotless and shiny, provide elevator music, carpets on the floors, soap, shampoo, deodorant, towels and even smell fresh. Likewise, the Monday fun runs have evolved from their rudimentary origins into something nicer.

If you're looking for a group run, no matter what your ability, give the Monday runs a try?#34;6:30 p.m. at the Competitive Foot in Downtown Oak Park. You don't even have to be a club member.

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