Lincoln Park Zoo celebrated its 40th running of the Run for the Zoo this weekend and this traditional Chicago race once again proved why it is on the race calendar for area runners year after year.
The Run for the Zoo is one of the oldest races in Chicago and even though it has gone through several changes throughout the years, the one thing that is always constant is the family friendly atmosphere and the happiness of not only running, but being able to spend time at a zoo that has been around for 150 years.
I haven’t been able to run this event for several years but was very excited to return for 2018. As a suburbanite, I don’t spend a great deal of time in the city, but have always enjoyed popping through Lincoln Park Zoo if I am in the area, even if it is just for a few minutes. There were a few changes to the course since the last time I participated, but the start on Cannon Drive is one of the highlights of the race for me. It is not a perfectly flat first few meters, but the long, straight road is perfect for starting off the race. As I ran down the street and hopped onto the path, I saw a few friends that lived in the area getting their morning run in and was able to yell, “hello.” That start helps give the course a local neighborhood feel, even though most of it takes place on the Lakefront Path.
The final mile of the 5k was made a little more difficult due to the rain from the day before but running down the nature walk before heading into the zoo made for a pretty and scenic penultimate half mile. The final 500 meters or so wind through the south end of the zoo, past the camels and other animal pens. I always found it fun to actually race through the zoo, but also found it to be a tense experience as the route twists and turns several times with little, bumpy hills that you don’t notice when just walking around with your family.
I believe that the main reason most people participate in this event is because it is such a family friendly day. The kids obstacle races- dubbed the “Safari Stampede”- are a spectacle within itself not only because so many of the kids dart through the course and over the obstacles with no fear, but because you can see the absolute joy in their faces throughout the race and at the finish.
When the racing is over, especially on a beautiful day like we had on Sunday, runners can be seen strolling around the zoo laughing and having fun but with that little extra joy that is usually in the atmosphere when a group of runners are all in the same place. The Run for the Zoo is an event that allows you to be a kid again, no matter what your age, and can help you to rediscover why animals are so important to our world.