The City of Big Quads: Running in Chicago

running in chicago
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As summer finally shows its warm face, Chicagoans look for any and every reason to be outdoors. Whether it’s restaurant patio seating, a baseball game or just parking farther away from the grocery store, the city takes advantage of every possible moment to soak up the sunshine. This season, instead of spending these glory days holding a BBQ rib in one hand and a margarita in the other, why not burn off some of those stored up winter calories and go for a jog? Running is a great way to enjoy our coveted heated months as well as lead a healthier lifestyle.

Chicago has an enormous running community with tons of people who can help get you on your path to toned hamstrings and endorphin highs. In fact, the Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA) was created to do just that. Founded in 1978, CARA is a non-profit organization “devoted to expanding, motivating, supporting and celebrating the running community of Chicagoland.” With over 8,600 members, the group offers resources for every aspect of the journey including startup and hydration tips, finding a level appropriate course, training techniques and organized group runs for meeting fellow jogging enthusiasts. A yearly membership fee of $44 gets you discounts on training programs, race entry fees and area retailers, admission to members-only race day tents, a subscription to Runner’s World magazine, access to personal coaches and much more.

According to Megan Sullivan, the Training Program Manager for CARA, training programs are CARA’s biggest draw, especially for new runners. The fee ranges between $100 to $150 and includes a 12 to 18 week commitment consisting of group runs. Runners participate in set courses with hydration stops along the way. Pace leaders are assigned to small groups to keep all its members within their set speed. This way runners are not only training to run the distance but also keep within their desired finish time. Equally popular is the 10-week beginners program. These weekly gatherings involve a discussion with experienced runners or professionals about proper techniques, safety, nutrition, conditioning, motivation and to answer specific questions. It is concluded with a two to three mile group run. The object of this program is not only to get you comfortable running regularly, but also tap you into a supportive exercise community and, most importantly, prepare you to run your very first race!

“There is a common misconception,” Megan says. “People think, ‘I’m not fast, I’m not cut out for this.’ But running is not discriminatory. There are all different paces, all different levels and a place for everyone. You’ve just got to get out there and do it.”

If you’re not in it for the racing aspect, and simply want to run on your own, look no further than the lakefront running path. The lakefront has over 26 miles of path with mile markers along the way to keep you up to date with your distance. And if you get too tired, you can lay on the beach for a break!

Before you know it we’ll yet again be sporting thief-like face masks and eskimo-looking body suits just so we don’t go numb on our daily commute to work. So make the most of this beautiful time by throwing on gym shoes and blasting Springsteen out of your ipod. Cause, baby, you were born to run.

For more information on CARA, go to

Jessie Stegner

About Jessie Stegner

Jessie has been living in Chicago since 2007 and loved every minute of it. Her only setback is, due to growing up in Sierra Madre, California, she can't feel her toes between the months of November and June. With a degree in Theatre from the University of Colorado at Boulder and training from Second City and Improv Olympic, Stegner can usually be found on a stage somewhere trying to make people laugh. She enjoys falling asleep to the sound of the El train, drinking Blue Moon, jogging on the lovely streets of Ravenswood, eating Thai food and watching White Sox baseball.

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