Monday, June 11, 2012

What You Didn't Know about the Chicago Women's Half Marathon

Freihofer's Run celebrates women runners, too. Credit: michaelstyne
I might be making a bit of a broad assumption but when you're a runner, a triathlete or an endurance junkie, it's tough not to get excited about a new race that lands on your radar. I know I've been giddy over Ironman St. George (or maybe I was more freaked out by its intensity) and Ironman New York City (even though I still have no desire to pedal the Palisades Parkway or bounce between New Jersey and New York in a single race). I was thrilled to read about the now defunct Lakeshore Marathon--a spring marathon for Chicagoans on the Lakefront Path that disappeared after 2005. In the last year, I've heard about several new events landing in Chicagoland from the Zooma half marathon in Lake Geneva to the Run for Your Heart 5K that was held indoors at McCormick Place, and from Fort2Base with its unique nautical mileage to the upcoming Big 10K and Chicago 10K. And I've often registered for a newer race instead of a mainstay, especially when one is closer to home than the other or most cost-effective.

That last thought is something I could totally see myself doing with the inaugural Chicago Women's Half Marathon and 5K on June 24. It's in Grant Park--far closer than the triathlons I considered in Pleasant Prairie and Lake Geneva. It's new--as you can tell from the use of inaugural. And as far as half marathons go, it's pretty affordable--$65 for the half and $35 for the 5K.

But we took the thrills and chills for the Chicago Women's Half one step further and dug up the facts that you may not have known about the race. I never would have known No. 3 until someone told me. Here's why you'll want to get excited for this inaugural 13.1-miler through the Windy City.
  1. It's the lone women's-only race within the city of Chicago. The Nike Women's Marathon makes news in San Francisco. The Zooma series travels across the U.S. but the closest one to the Windy City is in Lake Geneva (still, a great place to have a challenging and fun 13.1-mile run). Women's Running magazine has their race series but they don't hit around here. The Divas set up camp in different cities from year to year--last year they were in Vail for one heck of a hilly, high-altitude lung buster, but this year they'll be in Puerto Rico in November and then Hawaii sometime in 2013.
  2. The Chicago Women's Half Marathon replaces Fleet Feet Chicago's annual 5K/10K for women held in July. At first glance, that sounds like bad news, but it's not. Think about the old women's race: It's the middle of July, it's hot and humid, it's not exactly prime running weather. Yet women are thrilled to participate and since I first started running it in 2003--or maybe even 2002, I can't remember because I've lost a few shirts--it's never short on runners. The weather alone, and June's bounty of cooler days on the docket, make a promising case for the change. So does the fact that we're running more often, farther and faster. The half marathon upgrade really isn't that daunting and gives you a good, solid workout that doesn't leave you asking for more as is often my case after a 5K, and sometimes a 10K. 
  3. The 40th anniversary of Title IX is the same weekend. If you had to move the date of a race, it certainly makes sense to move the date to one that is more meaningful than arbitrary. And while the half marathon happens on Sunday, June 24, the 23rd is also significant because it's the day that the Title IX legislation was passed in 1972, calling for gender equality and helping to create high school and college sports teams for women. "The 40th Anniversary of Title IX is the day before and we are celebrating it all weekend long," says Lisa Zimmer, who owns Fleet Feet Chicago with her husband Dave. "We’ve met thousands of great female runners of all shapes and abilities and we are here to celebrate that women are athletes." And that's something that many attribute to Title IX.
  4. Women's running is booming--and so is the half marathon distance. Participation in half marathons is up. If you look at the male/female split in races, specifically at 13.1 miles and under, there is either near equal distribution among the sexes or the women even take an edge (this is based on me looking up my race results on a Sunday afternoon and noticing the stats Active posts on the searchable results page). And women-only running events are on the rise: There were 18 such events in 2010 yet that number exploded to more than 200 in 2011. Wow!
  5. Adding the half marathon has been a long time coming. Fleet Feet Chicago owners, Dave and Lisa Zimmer, have hosted their women-only 5K/10K race for 12 years, yet they've considered expanding it to a half marathon for nearly five of those years. With the milestone anniversary of Title IX falling this year, it seemed like the appropriate time to go bigger--or rather, longer.
  6. Finishers get a yoga mat. I'm tempted to hobble my way to the finish of the 5K (I'm pretty sure I read the mats are for all participants and I'm nursing a calf muscle that's painful to run on) just to get free goodies that aren't your typical race shirt, medal and post-race food.
  7. There's a lot of girl power--even more than you'd expect from a women's race. The women who were selected as ambassadors for the race are beyond inspirational. If you thought you had a cool story about how you got into running, they likely have you beat. They all trumped me, from the 40-year-old who's running 40 races around the country to ring in her new decade to the rookie who reminded me of myself--a swimmer who got into running--and had yet to run her first half marathon. Talk to them about their running like I did and you instantly know why they were chosen as faces for the race. They're driven, they're inspiring and they're easy to identify with--that's just for starters.
Am I missing anything unique about the Women's Half? I hope not, but in case I am, you can find all of the race details at

Photo grabbed from michaelstyne at

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