Front of a parade at the start? Beer tent and bagpipers at the finish? Yes please!
Manhattan Irish Fest Parade 5k bills itself as the only 5k in North America that starts a parade. Directed by Ray Wertelka of the Prairie State Road Runners this CARA-recognized race is in its fifth year.
Irish Fest reigns supreme in Manhattan, Ill. for this weekend. Entry into the race gets you the usual shirt and the magic button that allows you into the fest all weekend.
Sleep in Saturday? This is the 5k for you! It begins just after 11 a.m. In small town Illinois a race starts after the scheduled Metra train passes through town! Being a point-to-point you need to plan your parking strategy beforehand. The race provides a shuttle bus from the Metra station about a mile from the start. Plentiful parking there along with day-of packet pickup. I went to the station first, and it was packed with volunteers. Many were in costumes, all were in green and it was a festive atmosphere.
Since there is no gear check I wanted to park closer to the finish and found street parking. The start, finish, and festival tent were all within easy walking distance of my car.
St. Paul’s church is the start of everything Irish. The runners congregate there to mingle inside and use the restrooms and the parade musters there. Runners were interspersed with bagpipers and floats.
Over 330 of my closest friends mostly in green, some in costume, lined up with me. The Metra train cleared the town and we were off. Within a couple of blocks we hit downtown. The crowd was ready for us! In some places they were 6-7 deep! The announcer at the reviewing stand was calling out our names as we passed. I like to high-five kids and opportunities abound. I felt like I was in the midst of the Chicago Marathon with the crowds going wild!
Then silence. We travelled down a lonely section of Route 52 finally winding through neighborhood streets for the last half of the race. Cheering course marshalls in costumes directed us while waving noisemakers.
Refreshments at the finish included fruit and cookies. Those were a hit! Pick up a printout of your results and head to the Irish Fest tent to redeem your drink ticket.
Runners had entry buttons but the wait for the tent was long and unfortunately awards started while quite a few winners were still in line. The award ceremony itself was a bit rushed. Age groups were unusual and also caused for some confusion. Overall winners were John Collet and Samantha Bond. Masters winners were Javier Martinez and Deborah Simental.
After the awards there was a quick costume contest which my friend Debbie Dye won! The rest of our time was spent redeeming beer tickets, purchasing food and watching some excellent bagpipers including raising our glasses to Amazing Grace.
With this race held early in the month it is a great green warmup for the Shamrock Shuffle. Travel down south of Joliet to small town Manhattan IL to be Irish for the day!