Autumn in Chicago descends with a sense of urgency—a nagging itch to get outside and enjoy the all-too-fleeting days of coatless sweaters and blazing flora. During these idyllic weeks between volleyball season and ice skating time, I like to stick with working out al fresco to put some color in my cheeks while I can.
Get on your bike and ride
As you read this, the precious window of time when you can enjoy cycling without drowning in sweat or risk losing a digit to frostbite is, millimeter by kilometer, beginning to close. So saddle up and dig that crisp autumn air! As a year-round cyclist, I can testify that that fall is far and away the best time to ride. And Chicago is one of the most cycling friendly cities in the nation; we're so into urban riding, just one Critical Mass ride a month isn't enough. You can find a friendly mob of bikers stopping traffic almost every weekend: Evanston Critical Mass holds one on the first Friday of each month, Hyde Park on third Friday and the mother of them all leaves Daley Plaza at 5:30 on the last Friday. Trust me; you haven't lived till you've wished "Happy Friday" to four lanes of SUVs stopped in their tracks by you, your Schwinn and 500 of your friends.
Run for fun with Fleet Feet Sports
As someone who's barely willing to sprint for the bus, I have trouble suppressing a skeptical smirk when the words "run" and "fun" appear in the same sentence. Regardless, last Saturday, I rose at 6:30 a.m. and headed up to Lincoln Square for my first ever fun run, hosted by Fleet Feet Sports. Eight perfectly sane-looking people gathered to start their weekend by jogging six miles. Apparently fall is the perfect time to get into running. The wooded North Branch Trail was in full autumnal glory; the brisk morning air was refreshing; and the time passed quickly while I chatted with the other runners. I returned to Fleet Feet triumphant and resolved to return the following week. Still, I get it if you don't want to rise early on a Saturday. Running Away in Wicker Park motivates their Tuesday evening fun runners with beer and pizza at Piece. I may just go into training.
Take a hike in the forest preserve
If running isn't your speed, slow down and really drink in the fall colors with a hike through one of Chicago's forest preserves. I know, who has time to schlep out of the city with the holiday mania quickly approaching? The first time I took a woodland hike it was half begrudgingly to appease my friend Alina, who taught me the importance of occasionally going somewhere with no buildings in sight. Now one of my favorite ways to halt the quickstep of time is by taking off an afternoon to stroll through the North Branch Trail System. Chicago is ringed by protected forest areas, all open to the public and most accessible by Metra or CTA. Sometimes the most rejuvenating workout is the one that just gets you out of the city.
Better yet, volunteer
Feel healthy in body and soul by working up a sweat cutting brush, harvesting seeds or clearing litter. The Forest Preserve District is always looking for volunteers to do everything from picking up trash to leading school groups. Two hours caring for Mother Nature will have you feeling better than a week at the gym, and doesn't cost a dime.