Mike Ditka no longer spends Sundays on Soldier Field’s sidelines, but Da Coach made a brief reappearance Saturday at the Ditka Dash 5K. Below Soldier Field, he served up motivation for the 5,000 runners donning his iconic aviators, mustache and Bears colors.
Between the women wearing fake Ditka ‘staches and others wearing literal bear costumes, the start line was an exercise in people watching. With an MC pumping up the crowd and playing the Rocky theme, it was also a giant party.
The party continued through the race itself, which began on a concrete path moving south toward McCormick Place. Colored strobe lights blared in a dark tunnel under McCormick Place and music blasted at the aid stations at every half mile (unfortunately, no Super Bowl Shuffle). For a 5K in freezing weather, there were also a lot of enthusiastic volunteers screaming their encouragement.
I certainly appreciated the motivation at the 1.5 mile mark, when the course turned directly into 30-mile headwinds. Even though the lakefront wind sent snow flying into my eyes, I enjoyed the views of the lake and the skyline. And in what seemed like five minutes, I’d reached the finisher’s chute, where I got a bedazzled two-sided medal bearing Ditka’s shades and a motivational message (seriously, the medal alone is worth the entry fee.)
After running, I could rejoin the party, starting with a free Miller Lite and some live music. There was also a costume party, live music and a Polish sausage tent. With a huge field, fun theme and festive atmosphere, I can see why this race sells out yearly. But despite the 5,000 person field, the field stretched out pretty quickly and wave starts further split the crowd, making it much less congested than I expected.
Overall, the Ditka Dash boasts all the advantages of a giant novelty race without any of the logistical headaches or crowding. So even if, like me, you usually stay away from novelty races, Ditka Dash is a great choice.