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  • Writer's pictureGreg Hipp, Executive Director

Milestone Year In Review And A Focus On Our Future

It has been a special year within the CARA community as we reached the milestone of 40-years serving and leading the running community of Chicagoland.

I have enjoyed running with and working alongside members at the vast and broad range of programming and events CARA offers to engage its members. As well as working with our staff and member leaders to support the running community at-large on projects and programs that support everyone that runs in Chicagoland.

The way I am wired, much of my focus is already on what is next for CARA and how to serve the running community as Chicagoland's running club. But I cannot help but look back at some of the highlights of what has been a great year for CARA and local running.

In February Carey Pinkowski earned the CARA Lifetime Achievement Award at the CARA Awards Party. His work leading the Bank of America Chicago Marathon has transformed running in Chicago. Through all of Carey's successes, what we admire most is how he has remained connected and supportive of CARA and all of our fellow local running clubs that are inspired by the marathon.

In March we brought back a CARA tradition with the race day headquarters at the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K. After a two-year hiatus, club members gathered at Bar Louie Printers Row for pre-race gear check, post-race drinks and camaraderie. Originally founded by CARA, the Shamrock Shuffle 8K celebrates its 40th year in 2019, and we are excited to have it on the CARA Runners’ Choice Circuit once again.

April saw us come together at our Wintrust Lakefront 10 Miler & 5K. Over 2,200 registered, making 2018 the third-straight year with registration over 2,000. For perspective, in 2015 race participation had fallen to only 1,200 runners. The resurgence of this classic CARA race has been exciting, and we hope all CARA runners join in on April 13, 2019. Let's keep growing this race!

Also in April, this year’s CARA Boston Bus turned out to be a game changer when Boston Marathon weather turned windy, rainy, and cold. As usual, every seat was taken and those onboard were able to wait for the start on our two warm and dry buses parked in the Athlete’s Village.

This year was our third of the ‘Go Run program, in partnership with the Chicago Park District, that provides 5K and 1 Mile timed races/runs in neighborhood parks.

‘Go Run events are free, but we know cost is not the only barrier to participation in running. There are many neighborhoods where getting connected to running is difficult. We hosted our 66 'Go Run events at six different parks from as far north as Warren Park (Pratt Blvd. and Western Ave.), west to Columbus Park (Austin Blvd. and Jackson Blvd.), to as far south as Big Marsh Park (103rd St. and Stony Island Ave.).

These runs are grassroots, hassle free, and un-intimidating. 3,331 runners of all ages and abilities completed a ‘Go Run in 2018. With 30-percent of participants under the age of 18, and the average age was only 30, 'Go Run is helping build a new generation of runners. ‘Go Run has also become a family affair as we see families running together, parents pushing jogging strollers or running with the family dog. If you have not yet experienced 'Go Run keep an eye out for our 2019 schedule announcement soon.

Nearly 2,000 CARA members trained for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon through the CARA summer marathon training program. Members lead training at six suburban locations (Darien, Libertyville, Niles, Oak Forest, Schaumburg, and Wheaton), along with five different groups in the city. This past summer we launched a new training site at Lincoln Park led by member site coordinators Brian and Heather Cloutier. Over 100 members trained from this new site and we look forward to seeing the site grow quickly.

Approximately 40% of CARA training program runners ran for a charity at the 2018 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. We estimate that members raised at least $1.2 million for their chosen charities. CARA again provided upwards of $65,000 in subsidized training fees for those running for CARA partner charity teams. Our goal is to increase our support, and we will be increasing our efforts to raise member support for this purpose.

CARA continued to provide hydration stations for all runners along the Lakefront Trail in 2018. Our hydration workers and volunteers served at various Lakefront Trail locations for 48 weeks of the past year, along with six different suburban locations during summer and winter training programs. During summer months, CARA stations served approximately 20,000 cups of fluid each weekend.

CARA’s “Power of the Group” was in full effect when we came together for our Orangetheory Fitness Ready to Run 20 Miler and Marathon Day VIP Experience. What I love most about these events is how it brings together all of our training groups. Each group has a unique culture, but these dates show we are all still one CARA community.

Stronger together is what CARA runners experienced at Ready to Run. A 20 miler is rarely easy, and the hot weather made this one especially challenging. But thanks to the collective group of over 2,000 runners, along with 100’s of volunteers, we had a successful run to begin the marathon taper.

We celebrated marathon day in Chicago at the VIP Experience. On a cold and rainy day members enjoyed a warm place to gather pre-race, private toilets at the start corrals, and a great post-race celebration at the Hilton on Michigan Avenue. As runners filed back in from their marathon finishes, and I saw the joy they were experiencing, I was immediately recharged for the next training program.

Two weeks after the Marathon we brought together the leaders who made 2018 a great success. The CARA Appreciation Party is a special day where we celebrate the organization’s member-driven philosophy. With over 800 dates of programs and events this past year, CARA leaders gave their time to nearly 10,000 volunteer roles, resulting in over 40,000 hours of service. That service spans from CARA’s events and programs, to community service projects like trail clean-ups, and community outreach.

In 2018 CARA provided quarterly, free educational clinics for race directors. I had the opportunity to share the safety, operational, and logistical standards found in CARA’s Best Practices Guidelines. Each clinic also provided a guest speaker on a valuable race director topic. This year 64 races around Chicagoland committed to the standards of the CARA Best Practices Guidelines by choosing to become CARA Certified Races. In 2019, we encourage you to look for the blue 2019 Certified Race emblem and support these races who choose to hold themselves accountable to a high standard.

The CARA Runners Choice Circuit came down to the wire in several categories this year. Women’s overall champion Jane Bareikis won the final race to edge out runner-up Erika Edmonson by just two-points. On the men’s side, overall winner Steffen Uhrich had a dominating year, taking the lead in late-April and never looking back.

The CARA Circuit is not only focused on providing opportunity for CARA members. The Circuit promotes club competition to support camaraderie and engagement for all local clubs. Five different running clubs and racing teams earned club honors in this year's Circuit: Elmhurst Running Club, Evanston Running Club, Fast Track, Fleet Feet, and Oak Park Runners Club.

In December, runners saw the opening of the separated Lakefront Trail and the first phase of the Navy Pier Flyover. There is no place that brings Chicago's runners together better, and more often than the Lakefront Trail.

This challenging and complicated project has come to this point after two-years of nearly bi-weekly planning meetings with the Chicago Park District and Active Transportation Alliance. We have advocated for runners, with an eye on both the needs of individual runners, running groups, and the needs of local running events that use the trail.

The result of this project is a separated path where runners and bikers have their own paved paths. While we believe there is more to be done, we believe this to be a big win for all trail users, allowing for a safer and more enjoyable Lakefront Trail experience for us all.

As the year has progressed, on social media and our website, we have been sharing benchmark dates and accomplishments from our 40 years serving the running community. Member Bridget Montgomery dove deep into the archives, old newsletters, board meeting notes, and spent hours interviewing CARA leaders from over the years. One of her accomplishments from this research was a historical timeline. If you have not yet checked it out, you can visit it at

As I opened with, I am already focused on what is next for CARA. Developing a strategic plan for CARA has been a focus of my first 18-months as executive director. My time on CARA staff, since 2015, gave me a great head start on working with our Board of Directors to create this plan. But over the past year I have focused on asking questions, listening on runs, reading survey's, and working collaboratively with our staff and Board of Directors to ensure we have a clear vision for our future. The result of that work is a new CARA Strategic Plan completed at the recent November Board of Directors meeting.

With this plan in place, we are fast at work on strengthening our priorities, and on preparing to launch new initiatives identified in this plan. Much of what we will begin sharing soon focuses on bringing members together more often, making running safer and more accessible, strengthening our presence in the community, and developing new ways to communicate with our members. We are in a great position to accomplish these goals, and to advance our defined mission:

The Chicago Area Runners Association, CARA, is a non-profit organization committed to serving and advocating for the local running community. We are Chicagoland’s running club, providing accessible opportunities for all runners to train, race, learn, be social and volunteer.

I look forward to how CARA can continue to serve you and the running community this year. As you look back on all that running has done for you in 2018 we continue to need your support through membership, participation, and volunteerism. With strong member leadership, we can accomplish so much for the running community!

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