Maybe you're a seasoned runner wanting to take your performance to the next level. Perhaps you're a novice with an unfortunate inclination to run like a duck, eager to streamline your form and garner other animal comparisons (cheetah sounds good). Regardless of your skill level, you're ready and willing to face the mental and physical challenges that running (at any speed and any distance) brings. Whatever your needs, there are several organizations throughout the city that can help you satisfy your running jones.
Lincoln Park Pacers
With around 200 members, the Pacers are one of Chicago' largest and, according to team spokeswoman Jennifer Leslie, "friendliest" running clubs. Two scheduled five mile runs a week, at 8 a.m. on Saturday and 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday, take members through Lincoln Park and along the lakefront path. Occasionally, the group takes "field trips" and runs through different neighborhoods and in the forest preserves. Pacers are dedicated, running year-round regardless of the weather, but they aren't elitists: Runners of all levels and interests are welcome. The $20 yearly membership also includes a social network: Pacers go to local restaurants after group runs, hosts a few parties throughout the year and read up on running via a quarterly newsletter.
Runs @ Universal Sole
Currently in its fifth year, the Universal Sole-Reebok Track Club is made up of runners of all abilities and age groups. Team spokesperson Cameron Stuber says Universal Sole gives members "the opportunity to shine," and that the only requirement to join is "a love and passion for running and racing and the desire to improve." The free membership includes access to the shoe experts at Universal Sole, as well as occasional pep talks from guest runners; legend Dick Beardsley and former world record holder Steve Jones have both run with the group. Universal Sole members run after work on Monday and early on Saturday, training to take on a variety of distances, from mile-long runs to ultra marathons.
Founded in 1982, the Frontrunners took its name from the best-selling novel, "The Front Runner," in which running is a symbol of gay and lesbian pride. Twenty-three years later, Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago has about 250 gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transsexuals and their supportive friends as members. For a $25 annual membership fee ($40 for families), this active club offers regular fun runs and walks, social events, volunteering opportunities and a monthly newsletter. The group welcomes athletes of all levels, from "competitors to conversationalists" and runs at 9 a.m. Saturday and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday along the lakefront, rain or shine. Team representative Corbin Woodling says Frontrunners owes its success to the "camaraderie" of the group feel when running with others, noting that "it keeps them running and walking regularly." Frontrunners Chicago is part of a world wide organization of Frontrunner/Frontwalkers clubs; there are currently 65 chapters in the United States, with another 30 overseas.
Chicago Area Runners Association
Get it straight: Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) is not a running club. It is, according to CEO David Patt, a "metropolitan-wide membership association with over 7,000 members." Incorporated in 1978, CARA attracts all kinds of runners, "competitive, recreational, old, young, racers, non-racers, marathoners, non-marathoners." CARA believes that running will "help you lead a longer, healthier life." To that end, members have dozens of running locations throughout the city to choose from. Members can run twice a week or every day, from two miles at a time to longer runs of 15 to 20 miles, depending on the group they join (CARA serves as an umbrella group for several of the city's running clubs), literally providing something for everyone. Dues are $38 for one year, and $65 for two; there are also family and youth memberships. CARA sponsors a variety of performance, gear and nutrition clinics as part of its training programs; registration costs for these programs is not included in the membership fee.
MultiplexCLUBS Running Program
(773) 755-3232, ext. 230
While it may not be one of the city's largest, the MultiplexCLUBS Running Program (soon to be named the Fitness Formula Clubs Running Program) is one of the most comprehensive. MultiplexCLUBS divides its training programs into three sections: fall, winter travel and spring programs. In the fall, runners train for all of the summer running events and end the season at the Chicago Marathon. When winter hits, motivated members stay in shape and set their sites on a warm-weather locale: in the past, Multiplex runners have run the Miami, Las Vegas and Mardi Gras marathons. The spring program focuses on events like the Indy Mini Marathon and the Y-Me Race for Breast Cancer 5k. Scott Lewandowski, General Manager of the club's Halsted Street locations, says weekly runs are "balanced with strength training (led by personal trainers), yoga and Pilates classes and nutrition guidance with registered dietitians." The group meets Tuesday through Thursday and on Saturdays. Weekday runs are held at each of the five city clubs, and all groups meet for the Saturday runs. Programs start at $175 for 12 weeks.
RunBig Chicago is Chicago's running, fitness and multisport club for Clydesdale athletes. What exactly is a Clydesdale athlete? For men, athletes who weigh more than 170 pounds are considered "Clydesdales;" for women, anyone tipping the scale at more than 135 pounds is eligible to compete as "Clydesdale" or "Athena." Weight Division Competition is the fastest growing segment in endurance sports. According to RunBig, "big athletes may never finish first in a race, but they are excellent athletes among their peers and deserve to be recognized for their efforts and accomplishments." Believing that athletes excel when "allowed to compete on a level playing field," RunBig works to ensure "Clydesdale" categories are as acceptable in races as "Age Group" categories are. A $20 annual fee ($30 gets you a team tech shirt), includes participation in RunBig races, discounts on training programs with professional "Clydesdale-oriented" coaches, an e-mail newsletter, discounts at area stores, free clinics and a year-end party and awards ceremony.
The Chicago Walkers Club
With a membership of about 150, the Chicago Walkers club is the only racewalking club in the city. Racewalking is serious exercise: It's an Olympic track and field event and, unlike running, requires a specific technique of "keeping the striking foot straight and having one foot on the ground at all times." If you're thinking this will be "easier" than running, think again! Like runners, club members train during the week and on Saturday, and participate in numerous races, such as the Indy 500 Mini-Marathon, the Chicago Half Marathon and the Chicago Marathon. Club President Rebecca Gilman says all skill levels are welcome, but new members are instructed on technique "during the period regular members are warming up." Coaches then help newbies during the hour-long walks on the Lincoln Park running path to help them "master the form. An annual membership fee of $15 for individuals and $25 for families includes a host of social activities, including a summer brunch, a winter holiday party and a spring pizza party.