Chicago running season begins in a shuffle

By Ashley Badgley

Chicago’s running season is in full swing, and runners from all over the Chicago area are training for events in the warm weather.

The Shamrock Shuffle, which took place on March 28, is the second largest annual race in Chicago and draws more than 30,000 participants each year, according to race director Carey Pinkowski.

“For 30 years, the Shamrock Shuffle has been a kick-off to the running season,” Pinkowski said. “I’ve seen the same people come back and run every year.”

The race, along with several other major Chicago races, is a way to test new technology for each running season. Pinkowski is also the race director for the Chicago Marathon, which takes place every October, and he said companies and racers often use the races to test out new gadgets.

“It is important for us to deliver racers new technology such as chip technology [to time their runs],” Pinkowski said. “It’s a way for us to introduce new applications, whether it is an emergency medical technology, communication technology or just working with the city.”

The race provides many vendors and companies the opportunity to promote their work and products during the race, especially when it comes to charity work.

While the major races of Chicago do not have specific associated charities, they do provide people the opportunity to run for whatever cause or charity they choose.

Pinkowski said the charities he is affiliated with have raised more than $42 million since 2002. One of the largest racing fundraisers in Chicago is the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society has a runner program with the sole purpose of fundraising for cancer research and recruiting new runners at races.

Emily Hamilton is the income development representative for American Cancer Society’s Charity Runner Program. The program was started in Chicago in 2005, and within the last year, it has expanded nationally.

“Running [to support a] charity is definitely a way to make your miles more meaningful,” Hamilton said. “Running is often an individual sport, and it’s all about that runner. Our program takes what could be considered a selfish activity and makes it about so much more.”

Hamilton said many people in her program are motivated to run by their support for the American Cancer Society, but the American Cancer Society has also inspired many supporters and survivors to start running themselves.

“The charity runner program provides athletes the opportunity to combine two of their passions: running for the American Cancer Society and their passion for competing in endurance activities,” Hamilton said.

There were 36 people running at the 2009 Shamrock Shuffle for the American Cancer Society, said Hamilton, and those 36 people have raised more than $8,000 altogether for the program.

The Chicago Area Running Association is a major program for runners in Chicago. They use the association to meet other runners, train for races and get affiliated with charities for which they want to fundraise. CARA is for all ages and levels of runners, and it has several new programs starting this spring running season.

Michael Swisher is the training program manager of CARA, and he oversees all of the training groups.

“The basic idea of all our programs is [providing] clinics and seminars throughout the program to get people going,” Swisher said.

CARA is affiliated with more than 50 different charities, including the American Cancer Society. The affiliations are a way to raise more money for causes that otherwise may not have had as much exposure, Swisher said.

“[We] let charities concentrate on getting their word out and getting people into our running programs,” Swisher said.

CARA has more and more members every year, and for their running sessions that meet at the Lincoln Park site, there are more than 900 runners who come out to train on Saturday mornings at 6:30.

The Chicago running season unofficially started with the Shamrock Shuffle and will end with the Chicago Marathon in October, but Pinkowski said he believes the training and passion for the sport in Chicago last year round.

“Running means a lot to a lot of people,” Pinkowski said. “It’s a Chicago tradition, no doubt about it.”

The Shamrock Shuffle is usually a race of Chicagoans, said Pinkowski, but this race leads to several other races that bring in money for the city and its merchants.