The draw of weekday road races


From the city to the suburbs, summer marks the beginning of weeknight road race season in Chicago. The draw of these nighttime festivities varies based on event, but one commonality unites them all: the race organizer’s desire to share his or her passion for the sport.

Coral Berta, 35, enjoys seeing how her body reacts in different situations. The Sundowner 5K, hosted by the Joliet Park District on July 24, allows Berta to do just that. Berta, a member of the Run for Inwood Run Club, appreciates the fact that the Joliet Park District puts on an evening weekday race for several reasons.

“This is a good race to gauge your evening performances, seeing that many of us work all day,” Berta says. “It’s also a different type of weather…cooler in the evening in the summer.”

According to Donna Gale, fitness coordinator at the Joliet Park District, race organizers created the Sundowner 5K to be an evening race with a great post-race party, showcasing Joliet’s Pilcher Park. This particular race also allows those runners who work on weekends to compete in a local race.

Last year’s Sundowner 5K attracted over 1,100 runners, compared to Joliet Park District’s other two Saturday morning races that drew between 700 and 800 runners. As the Sundowner 5K enters its 14th year, Gale hopes that the summer weather and the shorter distance will help the event to continue to grow in size.

Whether participants want to run against stiff competition or simply enjoy a casual evening run, Gale says a vast array of abilities turn out for the Sundowner 5K.

“There is a wide range in the level of competition from several runners finishing in under 20 minutes to recreational walkers,” Gale says. “The race appeals to competitive runners because it is well organized, ChronoTrack timed and the course is fast, scenic and paved.”

Berta also believes that the level of competition is increasing. “More and more competitive runners are coming out to Joliet for these big races,” she says. “It is nice being challenged and seeing new and old faces.”

If evening temperatures, competition and the scenic course don’t draw runners to Joliet, Gale hopes that the swag will.

“We host a quality event with great shirts, a great post-race party and custom finisher medals for all participants,” Gale says.

The Sundowner may be a great event for runners who would like to wind down after a crazy work week, but what about the runners that want to end their Thursday night with a bang? For those looking for a race with festival atmosphere, RAM Racing hosts the Rock the Night 5K, formerly the Terrapin 5K, on Aug. 21 at Soldier Field.

“The race tends to draw an older demographic,” Geneva Costopulos, RAM Racing’s social media manager, says. “[Most participants are] running this race after work in the city as a fun Thursday night after-work outing. In the past, it has also brought the runner’s families out to enjoy the post-race entertainment.”

This year, Big Head Todd and the Monsters will headline the post-race party, and hamburgers, hot dogs and beer will abound after the race. Costopulos says that Rock the Night has “one of the most fun post-race parties,” and that more participants tend to stay around later to enjoy the atmosphere than at Saturday or Sunday morning races where they would typically run and go home.

“It is a very different atmosphere because it is a combined music festival,” Costopulos says. “People often like going out on Thursday night, as opposed to Fridays or Saturdays when it tends to be busier, and Rock the Night is not your typical happy hour.”

If Thursday night parties aren’t your thing, perhaps a weeknight tribute to the King is. On the Thursday evening closest to Aug. 16, the day Elvis died, runners descend on Lincoln Park dressed in their best Elvis attire for the annual Elvis is Alive 5K.

According to Robin Monsky, Fleet Feet’s public relations and media inquiries manager, the Elvis is Alive 5K draws close to 2,000 runners each year, 80 percent of which dress in sequins, capes, wigs, sunglasses and sideburns. Around 10 percent of participants show up dressed in head-to-toe Elvis costumes and receive special privileges, such as their own start corral.

Elvis is Alive, this year scheduled for Aug. 14, is self-timed and runner-centric. Monsky says that the welcoming environment, attention to detail and relaxed, enjoyable atmosphere keep runners coming back year after year.

“The only goal for this race is for people to have fun with their friends, hang out with other people who believe running is not just exercise but enjoyable, hear a great post-race concert and have a great time,” Monsky says. “It really was one of the first ‘themed’ runs in Chicago and people continue to look forward to the novelty of this event and its early weekend timing.”

Thursday seems to no longer be an awkward day between the workweek and the start of the weekend. Now, runners can look forward to Thursdays.

As Monsky says, whether you’re dressed like the King, running towards a finish line of music and refreshments or simply enjoying the company of fellow running buddies, “Can you think of a better excuse to start your weekend a little earl