The 2015 race season is gearing up, and it’s time for runners to begin planning their annual race schedule. Despite the sub-zero temperatures in the winter and 90-degree humid weather in the summer, Chicago hosts races year-round, and with every season, there’s at least one race worth checking out. Here are a few of my personal favorites.
Spring: Ravenswood Run 5K
On paper, I shouldn’t enjoy the Ravenswood Run 5K at all. I don’t like 5Ks, and generally speaking if I register for a 5K, I only do so because I know I stand a decent chance of placing in my age group. Ravenswood, however, consistently draws some of the fastest runners in the area, making it a real challenge to place in the top 10.
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Regardless, I love this race. The stiff competition always pushes me to run my hardest. I’ve either set or nearly tied my 5K PR every time I’ve run it. It offers a wonderful change of pace from most city races, taking you on city streets through Ravenswood and Lincoln Square instead of up and down the Lakefront Trail. All Saints’ Episcopal Church hosts a pancake breakfast after the event, and Ann Sather offers cinnamon roll samples at the post-race party as well (which, admittedly, may be my favorite part about the race).
Summer: BTN Big 10K
This race has grown substantially since its inaugural year in 2012. While this does make both the course and post-race party quite crowded at times, I’ve always enjoyed the BTN Big 10K. This race is a must-do for Big 10 football fans. Mascots and cheerleaders from several Big 10 schools always make appearances, and sound systems play different schools’ fight songs along the course.
The post-race party has a distinct tailgate vibe, with food, beer and a variety of football-themed games. Each school’s alumni association sets up a tent at the post-race party and offers free school gear to those interested: past swag has included foam fingers, sunglasses and trucker hats. I’ve never been to a post-race party more fun than the one at the BTN Big 10K.
Fall: Chicago Half Marathon
Newly moved this year to coincide perfectly with training for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, the Chicago Half Marathon provides runners with the ideal opportunity to test their fitness before the big race on Oct. 11. With a late September date, the race stands a decent chance of having ideal running weather, making this a good option for those looking to set a new half marathon PR.
The Chicago Half Marathon winds through Jackson Park before taking runners up and down a completely car-free Lake Shore Drive -- another rare opportunity in Chicago racing. The course is almost entirely flat, and long turn-free stretches on Lake Shore give you the opportunity to really test your speed. In the past, the race has also provided shuttles from various downtown and North Side locations, making it a breeze to get to the race site.
Winter: Jingle Bell 5K
If you want to earn some hardcore runner points, Jingle Bell often gives you that opportunity. Out of the three times I’ve run this race, only one year has had decent weather. Once, we even ran through a snowstorm on the completely unplowed inner Lakefront Trail, resulting in my slowest 5K time ever and more post-race soreness than I had ever previously experienced from that short of a race.
Despite consistently poor conditions (the race does take place in mid-December, after all), the holiday cheer and amazing Christmas-themed costumes worn by most participants make the race more than worth it. As a bonus, all of the race’s pre- and post-race events take place inside the Peggy Notebart Nature Museum, giving you a place to stay warm and dry before and after the run. The race also supports the Arthritis Foundation and is a wonderful way to use your running for a good cause during the holiday season.
Bethany Stripp is a local runner and the editor-in-chief of Chicago Athlete magazine.