If you see Spider Man, Cat in the Hat, an Elf, or a Bee Keeper running in the middle of the street, don’t panic. It’s just Oak Park runner Rainer Schochat keeping things interesting during his daily runs through the village.
During this time in which he can’t meet up with the tightly knit running communities he has immersed himself with in recent years, the 64-year-old, former math professor has been dressing up in various costumes before conducting his cardio workouts. Since starting this routine, Schochat has caught the support and attention of the community.
“To stay safe, I have been running in the middle of the street, and cars have been very accommodating,” said Schochat. “I think it puts people sort of in a good mood. People, including the Oak Park police, do give double-takes, applaud, or shout out. It’s been fun and something I can do at a safe distance.”
Schochat, who is part of various running groups in Oak Park, decided to make the most out of a poor situation by rotating costumes every day before his runs. So far, he has taken on the roles of Green Man, Bumble Bee, Bee Keeper, Spider Man, The Red Baron, The Cat in the Hat, Parisian Man, Renaissance Man, and the Snorkeler (keeping a dolphin’s length distance, as recommended by the Shedd Aquarium’s social distancing guide.)
To the delight of peers, Schochat has shared photos of his inspired characters on his running clubs’ social media pages. That led to him coordinating his costume themes with carefully mapped routes, which, when completed, created shareable “GPS pictures” in his Strava running app. For example, when he went out into the world as a guitar player, his running route was in the shape of an electric guitar.
“Running for me is a social event anyway and, since all of the joining is now on social media, it keeps me connected and it gets me out there,” said Schochat. “[the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA)] has a small staff so they actively post virtual runs and upload your runs and pictures. I’ve done that and I’ve received a nice response on Facebook from my other groups as well.”
Even before the pandemic put Schochat in a position of running solo, he had participated in “in-costume” running events.
With the friends he met through Lively Running’s Wednesday evening craft beer run in Oak Park, Schochat signed up for the inaugural Hemingway eight-kilometer race in July 2015. Since he took up running that year, it was his first official race and, consequently, his first “in-costume” event. All of the participants were encouraged to dress as if they were running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain.
From that event onward, Schochat’s love for running grew to the point where he joined the Oak Park Runners Club. Since 2015, he has attended their weekly Monday night fun runs as well as road trips and race events. In 2017, he joined CARA and trained for the Chicago Marathon. After successfully completing his first marathon, Schochat has gone on to run 3 or 4 marathons per year and ran about 30 other races of various distances in 2019 alone.
“My body seems to cooperate,” said Schochat. “Other people can sing or play instruments. I can’t do that. But I can throw myself into running.”
Before he began his costume bonanza, Schochat had 11 events and trips planned for this spring and summer. Having completed the Napa Valley Marathon in March, he was set to fly to France for the Paris Marathon on April 5. However, due to safety concerns around COVID-19, he has postponed his trip.
However, he isn’t wasting time on self-pity over his lost races or trips. Well aware of the struggles and losses of others impacted by the pandemic, he is just grateful he can keep running, and stay connected to his community in a manner that is fun and heart-felt.
“If you can’t be goofy now, I don’t know when you can be,” he said laughing.
Now, having taken a week or two off in order to move into a new home in Berwyn, Schochat suggests he still has a few ideas up his sleeve for future themed runs. And while he acknowledges that we are living through very sobering times, he’s enjoyed virtually lifting the spirits of some of his fellow runners, and running the relatively vehicle-free streets of his town, bringing smiles to the faces of children and families out filling the sidewalks.
“I certainly will [consider doing themed runs into the future],” said Schochat. “I might not do them like I was every day but I’ve had a lot of fun so far.”