Thursday, June 28, 2012

Strike Out ALS 5K: Where Baseball and Running Mix

Running the warning track at the 2011 Strike Out ALS 5K
I’ve walked three miles (or what felt like it) in the pouring rain to watch the Home Run Derby. I’ve scoured the internet for tickets to a face-off between the Cubs and the Yankees—and then begged and pleaded for a friend to sit in what could be Wrigley Field’s worst possible seats. I’ve biked from Chicago’s North side to U.S. Cellular Field to finish the Nike Rock ‘n’ Run 5K steps from the outfield. I’ve read more baseball-themed books than I can remember—Campy, the story of Brooklyn Dodger Roy Campanella, is currently on my nightstand. I’ve run around the warning track of U.S. Cellular—and up and down its ramps and steps—mere days after getting cleared to run post-stress fracture.

I love baseball almost as much as I love running. So when the two come together as they do at the Strike Out ALS 5K, it doesn’t take much convincing to get me to go. Even if I barely arrived before the race started (yeah, I completely underestimated the traffic). Even if I didn’t know what my legs would do after not running since April (it was July). Even if it was hot and humid and not letting up as day turned to night. Even if part of the course involved running two loops around the ballpark’s parking lots (some might be turned off but I was too happy to try running again to care—and this year’s course promises to be different).

Toss all of my “even ifs” aside—they happened after I was already committed to run. I was initially attracted to the race for three reasons: running with the media team (let’s just say I was sick of the injured runner label I had and owe a huge thank you to the media pull that granted me a comped entry), running around U.S. Cellular Field, and supporting the fight against ALS also known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. It didn’t take reading Gehrig’s bio to learn about ALS, but it did make the disease’s devastation hit home as I read about this iron horse who grew weaker and weaker.

But Strike Out ALS isn’t a pity party in the least—it’s all celebration. It’s one of the Les Turner ALS Foundation’s signature events and it's in its third running. It’s a fundraiser for the organization to help with research, patient services, education and awareness, but you don’t have to fundraise beyond the registration fee to be a part. Its pre-race ceremony is so moving it’ll bring tears to your eyes—and it’s nothing more than hearing the stories of those living with ALS. It’s held on the same night as the All-Star Game--this year that's Tuesday, July 10--so participants can hang out on the concourse and in the stadium seats at U.S. Cellular to watch the All-Star Game on the big screen (grab a hot dog and it’s almost like you’re there).

The only unfortunate part is that in the same way ALS kind of goes under the radar, so does this race (maybe this post will help change things?). But that's all the more reason to come out. I'll admit that I didn't know about its inaugural running until the last minute and when I did I was either in the final days of Ironman taper or the first days of its recovery to be able to participate. It was the media team that got me involved last year and helped make me a return participant. Yet two of my likes from last year--the ability to park the car 10 minutes before the race starts and not feel rushed to grab our race numbers and wiggle into the starting area, and the smaller crowd that I miss from the 5Ks that got me to love running 10-plus years ago--would likely be a race director's nightmare.

But my third like, the course, sounds even better than before. Half the time I could care less about how I run my race miles (I did weave my way through McCormick Place to experience an indoor 5K in February) as long as they happen. So I didn't even realize that our run up and down the stadium stairs for our loop around the warning track wasn't handicap accessible. But the baseball fan in me is excited for the 2012 course. This time around, runners aren't just taking a loop around the warning track at U.S. Cellular, they're finishing on it. "[It's] something that sets our race apart from every other 5K out there in Chicago," says race director Kim McIver. The stairs were eliminated: Participants will run through the tunnel that leads onto the field. And there's a track to trample inside the tunnel, courtesy of Bo Jackson.

If these aren't reasons enough to run, watch this video and it should take you over the edge. I swear it's not just me being flooded with memories from last year--and catching myself for a split-second on the screen (oh how I thought I avoided walking past the video camera). As someone may have said in the video, you're exercising your muscles for those who can't.

For more details, to register or to donate, click here.

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