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Chicago Marathoner Offers City Running Tours

Marlin Keesler's dedication to his children led him to run a marathon in all 50 states. Now he shares his enthusiasm with locals and tourists.

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    Chicago Running Tours
    Runners participate in one of the tours from Chicago Running Tours.

    There are a million ways to see Chicago, whether by car, boat, tour bus or train. But one local man has found a new way to show off the city -- by foot.

    Marlin Keesler started Chicago Running Tours in March. He and a few other guides make up the small business that leads themed running tours through the city of varying distance.

    For any avid runner, Keesler's job might sound like a dream come true. He spends his days running through some of Chicago's most interesting neighborhoods and teaches people about what they see. But this is not a job Keesler ever dreamed of doing.

    "The irony of the whole thing is I don't like to run," he said.

    That's a powerful statement coming from a man who has run more than 50 marathons -- at least one in every state.

    Keesler began running marathons when he was traveling with his wife and two children, who have autism. He and his wife wanted to use travel to teach their kids social skills and gain new knowledge about the world. Keesler also wanted to teach them about goal-setting. He came up with the idea of running a marathon in every state to demonstrate his point.

    Keesler accomplished his goal, but he didn't gain a love of running.

    "I told everyone I'm never, ever running again unless I get paid for it," he said.

    Soon enough, he was getting paid for it. At the time, he was working for Continental Airlines. His coworkers signed him up to be a running tour guide with City Running Tours without telling him. He did it once and kept going back. He stayed with City Running Tours as a guide for two years giving about 15 tours total.

    Then Keesler was laid off after Continental merged with United Airlines in 2010. That same week he was asked if he wanted to be a manager at City Running Tours. He said yes.

    Keesler decided to start his own running tour group, Chicago Running Tours, a few years later. He wanted to start his own business so he could use his tours as a way to give back. He designed his business model specifically to promote that idea.

    Here's how it works. When non-profit organizations sign up for a tour, Keesler donates a portion of their registration fee back to the business. The more runners they bring him, the greater the donation.

    As a way to include everybody, Keesler also stresses that the pace is slow for these tours. It's not a race. They stop frequently and he takes the time to explain what they're seeing and tell stories. It's like any other tour except that you run between sites.

    "The biggest advantage we have over buses and boats is we can stop and expand on the story," Keesler said. "We have no time constraints."

    The regularly scheduled tours include a 5K in and around Grant Park , a 3.4-mile run along the Chicago River and Keesler's favorite -- the 3.8-mile "Chicago Tragic Events" tour that takes runners to the sites of the city's biggest disasters.

    Keesler also offers four feature runs that groups can request at any time. These runs are a bit longer, but they feature more sights than the others. The feature runs include the "City in a Garden" tour that focuses in Chicago's green space, the "Tower to Tower" tour about Chicago's architecture, the "Run to Wrigley" which begins at the Tribune Tower and ends at Wrigley Field and the "Devil in the White City" tour that's based on the book by the same name.

    The length of the feature runs range between five and nine miles. The runner who does them all has the privilege of saying he or she ran a marathon. The four runs add up perfectly to 26.2 miles.

    "The running tour is what the city really needs," Keesler said. "How many times can you go to a city and run a marathon on any given day?"

    The price of the run range from $25 to $90. You can visit the Chicago Running Tours website to sign up.