Englewood is a neighborhood on the south side of Chicago that has a reputation for being one of the most dangerous, violent neighborhoods in the city…. So it’s probably not the first place that comes to mind when people think about where they would want to run a 5K…. but when a friend of mine told me that the inaugural Englewood 5K was going to be held on November 2nd, I jumped at the chance to sign up for it.
There are a number of reasons that I wanted to run this race:
- Nothing is ever as bad as it’s portrayed by the media. Englewood does have its share of problems, but so do a lot of other places, and pretending like the area between 75th Street and Garfield Blvd on the south side is some type of hotbed of criminal activity that must always be avoided at all costs lest something terrible happens to you does a big disservice to the thousands of good hard working people who live there and are doing their best to make an honest living.
- I can’t claim to have the same experiences as some of the residents in Englewood, but I did grow up on the south side and I spent a fair bit of my childhood living in poverty or near poverty. My mom was a single parent who spent a number of sleepless nights trying to figure out how she would make ends meet for us financially, and when I was in high school, I knew a lot of people who went off to join gangs and sell drugs. I learned a lot from those experiences and even though my life is a lot different now than it was when I was younger (thanks to a combination of hard work and luck), I’ll still always be more than happy to do what I can to help inspire residents of any south side community to live healthier lifestyles and take pride in their neighborhoods.
- When races or other events like this do well, it shows the residents of neighborhoods like Englewood that people from around the city and surrounding areas care about them and their neighborhood and want to do their part to be supportive and help to improve it. Being proud of where you live and knowing that you’re part of a bigger community with friends everywhere who care about you and will come out of the woodwork to support you will help you to feel empowered to improve not only your own life but the lives of others around you as well. Even though this race was primarily focused on Englewood, it’s success will have a ripple effect that will ultimately lift up the entire city of Chicago.
Now onto the race itself. The Englewood 5K was organized by Forever Fitness Chicago, LLC which is an organization that embraces nutrition, fitness, and educating individuals on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. The theme of this year’s race was “Ditch the Weight & Guns” and its purpose is to promote nutrition, fitness, and nonviolence throughout Chicago (with a specific focus on the Greater Englewood community). The idea being that poor health choices throughout a community ultimately contribute to social disorganization and that through events like this one, community members can learn about the benefits of making healthier choices and be inspired to live healthier lifestyles, which will ultimately improve the community as a whole. It makes a lot of sense.
Like I mentioned earlier, this was the inaugural year for the Englewood 5K….. but you wouldn’t know that from the way the race was organized. The course, along with the pre and post race activities, volunteers, goodie bags, etc… were all really well thought out.
The course started and ended at Ogden Park, which is a nice open area with wooded edges that’s centrally located in Englewood. Being the beginning of November, there were plenty of fall colors on the trees and the weather was perfect for running.
Packet pickup was available on race day only but it started at 8am and the race itself didn’t start until 10 so there was plenty of time for everyone to arrive and get their packets. It was a little after 9 when I got there and the race organizers had just run out of t-shirts, but I was able to write down my contact information and within two days I exchanged a couple emails with Ariana Taylor from Forever Fitness who let me know that she would be mailing my shirt to me. Believe it or not but the fact that the race organizers ran out of t-shirts is actually a good thing. Close to 1000 people came out for the race which was a lot bigger of a turnout than I think anyone expected.
There was a fun atmosphere leading up to the start of the race and about 20 minutes before it started, there were a few announcements and a prayer, and then at a couple minutes before 10, all of the runners made their way over to the start line.
The course was flat and fast and for the most part was shaped like a giant rectangle – it headed south down Racine for about a mile before heading west for a few blocks and then north on Loomis past the other side of Ogden Park. From there it turned east onto 64th street and headed down another half mile or so before turning south again and then eventually heading back towards the the Ogden Park entrance at 65th and Racine. There was a small water table at the one mile marker and a bigger one at the two mile marker and both tables had plenty of volunteers on hand to make sure that all of the runners were taken care of.
There was also plenty of crowd support – cheerleaders and football players from the local high schools along with some race volunteers were standing at various points along the course cheering the runners on and offering high fives and there were also plenty of local residents who stood alongside the course or looked out their front doors and windows to say good morning and wave to the runners. I heard more than a few people who were watching the race make comments about how they wanted to come out and run it next year…. and as I was walking back to my car after I finished the race, a lady stopped me to ask me about my medal. I told her about the race and explained what it was for and she said she would be interested in running next year too, so I have a feeling that the turnout next year might be even better than it was this year.
A big crowd of volunteers and runners stood at the finish line congratulating people and welcoming them. There were also medals for the first 350 finishers (which was pretty cool since finishers medals are not always common in neighborhood 5Ks) and goody bags handed out at the finish line that contained sports drinks, Kind bars, and ads for some of the local businesses in the area.
To underscore how important this race was, not just to Englewood but to the entire city of Chicago as a whole, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago also came out to run it. Before the race, he said hello to all of the participants and volunteers and took pictures with anyone who wanted one. Then he ran the course with everyone and after he crossed the finish line, he hung out and gave high fives to all of the runners and walkers who finished after he did.
I was also happy to meet up with a few friends at the race – as a pretty good example of what a small world it really is, when I did Mayor’s Midnight Sun Half Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska earlier this year, I met a couple other runners – Colleen who also happened to be from Chicago, and Shamal, who lives in Washington, DC. Shamal happened to be in town during the weekend of the race and Colleen gave the two of us a heads up about it, so we all met up and had a mini reunion of sorts, which made the morning even more enjoyable.
Overall, I thought this was a great race. I’m not sure if Forever Fitness plans to make this an annual event or not but I’m hoping that they do because I would love to come out and run it again next year.