The 99th floor of the Willis Tower was filled with the who's who of Chicago running on Saturday night, from Chicago's own Hal Higdon, author and marathoner extraordinaire, to Carey Pinkowski, director of the Chicago Marathon, and Wendy Jaehn, director of CARA, the Chicago Area Runners Association.
It was a celebration in honor of CARA's 35th Anniversary, and in true runners' style, the laughs and the food were both plentiful. Higdon, CARA's training program consultant, joked that his programs have a 99 percent success rate.
"And I say 99 percent because we might have one person trip and fall in [a] pothole," he exclaimed to the crowd.
CARA director Wendy Jaehn reminded everyone of the organization’s mission, asking, "How can CARA be engaged in the community? How can CARA be the voice of the runner?"
She elaborated on the history of the organization, which few people realize was formed in opposition to policies of what was then called the "Mayor Daley Marathon" -- namely the 1978 price increase from $5 to a whopping $10.
Things have clearly changed since then, but CARA's goals remain the same. To advocate for the athlete, to engage communities and spread the love of running, and to provide a network of training and support for Chicago runners -- all of these radiated from party-goers on Saturday, as they reflected on how far CARA's come and where they plan to go.
When CARA formed, women were scarce in the field of competition, and those that did participate were commonly referred to as “runaway wives,” Jaehn shared. But according to Higdon, now 60 percent of half-marathon participants are female. And this increase in the Chicago area is in large part due to CARA’s advocacy efforts, training programs, and initiatives over the last 35 years.
Pinkowski reflected on his aspirations for future endeavors, saying of the now solid partnership between CARA and the Chicago Marathon, “We’ll continue to grow those relationships and keep the running culture here. We hope it can continue for many, many years in the future.”