The Good Life Race has now won Race of the Year honors from the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) in four of the last five years. The latest award was announced at the CARA awards banquet in February, and it sets a pretty big high goal to hit once again in 2017. This year’s production by the Oak Park Runners Club, Race Number 36, will be on Sunday, April 23rd, so mark your calendars.

I bumped into Chicago Marathon Director, Carey Pinkowski, at that CARA banquet and he asked for some tips. He was kidding, but it’s still nice to be recognized.

As always, the event features separate 5K races for women and men, plus a Youth Mile, a 5K Fitness Walk, and a Junior Dash for young kids. Proceeds from this year’s race will benefit the Collaboration for Early Childhood and the Oak Park-River Forest Food Pantry. Last year the race donated $25,000 to its charitable partners.

Carried over from last year is the Community Team Challenge where employees of local businesses and organizations can compete for bragging rights while reinforcing their employers’ wellness plans. The obvious goal is to emphasize personal and corporate fitness.

Race Director, Keith Strom, says, “We strive each year to continuously improve the race experience for both our participants and partners. Within this spirit, we have looked to enhance both our green and community initiatives. We have been a green certified race for the last couple of years. But starting last year, we took it a step further, and working with community partners became a zero waste event.”

This focus on recycling and minimizing waste (paper, food containers, etc.) was one element in the Race of the Year award. 

So, what goes into making one race better than another? There are some fine races out there, so picking one over another often comes down to splitting hairs. Initially, all the basic elements have to be done right – the course must be accurate, runner safety has to be assured (traffic protection, medical facilities, etc.), adequate water and toilet facilities must be available, and results should be provided promptly and accurately. Beyond that are amenities such as t-shirts, refreshments, entertainment or other goodies that people appreciate, which make a race stand out from the rest.

Starting in 1982 I’ve been involved in every one of these races, and I’ve seen how easy it is for something to go wrong. Race organizers can plan everything perfectly, but race day depends on many volunteers who show up that day for their assignments, so stuff can happen. Fortunately, the Oak Park Runners Club has been doing this long enough so there is a sizeable group of people who know what they’re doing, but we can never take things for granted.

One favorite example that sticks in my mind was at a race (not ours) in a neighboring community that ran a one-mile race for kids after the main 5K race. It was led by one of the municipal police cars, and the cops apparently got lost in their own town. Anxious parents were waiting at the finish line at the expected time, but no kids were in sight. It was a warm day, and finally the exhausted kids dragged in, having run well beyond one mile. At that point the fire department sent out its ambulance to pick up stragglers. Those kids turned out to be the envy of the others since they got an ambulance ride. Like I say, stuff happens.

So, another year, another race, and we intend to make it good as ever.

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

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