The World Airline Road Race is unique in several ways: not only is it an annual 10K/5K race for airline employees, but it is a four-day festival where runners from all over the world travel to participate.
Every year, Ron Maxwell, the Chairman of WARR, and an United Airlines employee, plan an international 10K and 5K race, where runners from all over the world fly to participate; previously, the race has been held in Prague, Amsterdam, Sydney, London, Dublin, Dubai and other destinations, but the 35th annual race is to be held in Chicago on Sept. 24.
Maxwell, who’s been the chairman since 2010, lives in Chicago, and says it was time the race was held here.
“We want to be in different continents and make sure there’s variety year after year,” Maxwell says. “I am very proud of [Chicago] and want to show it off.”
As a full-time employee at United Airlines, Maxwell says planning this event, no matter what country it’s in, comes with complications; aside from the fact that it is almost a second full-time job, having fluid communication and strong relationships with leaders in the race destination can be difficult.
His first year, the race was held in London, which he says was an ideal location as it was a very easy community to work with. However, he has had a couple years where it was a lot more stressful due to a community procrastinating on plans, government issues or time commitment.
“It’s very hard … out of the seven years I’ve done it, I’ve had two that were really difficult,” Maxwell admits. “It can get super labor intensive on my end, as I spend two to three hours a day organizing after work for about four months before the event.”
However, Maxwell says when race weekend comes, all his frustrations and stresses are worth it.
“When I first volunteered [to be Chairman], my friends thought I was crazy, and it took me a couple years to realize how special it is,” Maxwell says, “but once you develop a relationship with these people, you make friends … now, I can meet up with people in Tokyo for drinks and stay at their house.”
His favorite part about the entire event, though, is the fact that runners from different countries get to travel when they may not otherwise be able too; the WARR sends out invitations, giving runners from all over the world the ability to book a flight to the race.
Race weekend will kick off Sept. 21 with a Meet and Greet at Chuck’s Restaurant at the Hard Rock Hotel Chicago. Maxwell says the main goal of this day is to allow travelers to reunite with friends and fellow runners they haven’t seen in a year, and relax over a few drinks.
“People fly in from all over the world, so we like them to just throw their luggage in the hotel, and walk downstairs to see people they haven’t in awhile,” he adds. “They can fight off the jet lag.”
On Thursday is the T-Shirt Swap, which Maxwell explains is one of the most popular events of the weekend. Here, participants will bring t-shirts from their favorite hometown race or something that reminds them of their country, and swap it with someone from another.
The swapping of shirts began in 1982, he says, when a woman from Czechoslovakia was wearing a shirt from her local 5K, and another runner wanted it. From there, trading became very popular, and now several countries produce extra shirts just for this event. The times and location of the T-Shirt Swap are yet to be announced.
Friday’s ‘WARRtering’ Hole is another anticipated event of race weekend, where, like the Meet and Greet, racers are encouraged to relax over a meal and some drinks. This year, it will be held at Joy District restaurant from 6 to 9 p.m.
Finally, the race will take place on Saturday, Sept. 24. Both 10K and 5K distances are available, starting at 7 a.m. The start and finish lines are just south of the Columbia Yacht Club on Lake Michigan, and runners will head south towards the Field Museum, and loop back north. Later that evening is an awards dinner at Navy Pier, where both overall and age group winners are recognized, followed by a closing ceremony.
Although it is a busy weekend, Maxwell says he understands why runners come back year after year.
“I did the race for the first time in 2007 in Sydney, and was hooked ever since. The camaraderie is amazing,” he explains. “Running can change somebody’s attitude towards work and towards life, and that’s the reason I do it.”
This year, United Airlines is expecting more than 1,200 runners, 90 percent of which are people who work for an airline. The official event charity is Back on My Feet – Chicago, a national non-profit to change the way homelessness is perceived.