If you travel around Oak Park, you have certainly seen your neighbors out in the fresh air, running down our shady streets. Oak Parkers looking to start a running program live in a great place to do that. Inclusion of running in your lifestyle may have some minor challenges, but can also have some very significant benefits.
Physical benefits of running include increased endurance or stamina, muscle tone, weight loss or weight maintenance, and general fitness. Obviously, this is important when training for the local 5K, but it also has more subtle importance. In the Oak Park Runners Club, we use the term “Train for Life.” This phrase describes the everyday benefits of a running program. Climbing the stairs at the Green Line station, running for the bus that is pulling in to your stop, riding bicycles, keeping up with your children, and using remote parking lots at the shopping malls are just a few of the everyday activities that can test your fitness level.
Running is as simple as putting one foot in front of the other; the difficult part is getting started. The safest and easiest way to begin a running program is to begin a walking program and slowly incorporate small running intervals. Over time, make your running segments longer and longer until the fitness program morphs into a running program with small walking intervals. Eventually the walking breaks disappear. Be sure to make this a gradual conversion from walking to running and get clearance from your physician.
Also: Be sure to get a good pair of running shoes. The staff at running stores such as The Competitive Foot or Run Chicago can help you find the shoe that best suits your running style and fitness level.
Most exercise programs take at least three months to begin to see improvements. The best exercise programs are not three- or six-month activities—they become part of your lifestyle.
Oak Park has many tree-lined streets that are ideal for running in the warm weather months. However, they can also have significant traffic—the urban runner must always remain vigilant of the distracted driver. Running with bright colors and small flashing lights that attached to your shirt help you to remain safe. The best tactic may be to assume that all drivers will not stop at stop signs. Direct eye contact with motorists is an excellent practice.
If you want to avoid traffic altogether, Oak Park is uniquely situated near several running trails; the Illinois Prairie Path, Chicago Lakefront Trail, the Des Plaines River Trail, and the Salt Creek Trail are available to drive to for longer runs. Trails allow the runner to tread on softer surfaces, get cover from the summer sun, and run longer distances without worrying about vehicles.
Many runners wish to gauge their progress and running in road races is an easy method. Oak Park has two well established races: The Frank Lloyd Wright Race in the fall offers 5K and 10K distances, while the Race That’s Good For Life runs in the spring offer individual women and men 5Ks, a youth one-miler, and a junior dash for the runners of the future. The Race That’s Good For Life has been selected several times by the Chicago Area Runners Association as the best race in the Chicago area including the last two years.
Running with a group or club makes running so much easier. Whether you are a beginner or a veteran, a group provides support, advice, and a scheduled day and time for running. Support can help motivate you on days that you need it and, in turn, you can provide support to other group members when you are feeling strong and motivated. Group running is also safer as it is much easier for motorists to see a group of brightly dressed runners than it is to see one lone runner.
The Oak Park Runners Club is a local club that has been existence for over 35 years. It is highly diversified group consisting of new runners, veteran runners, runners in their 20s to 80s, runners who run a couple of times per week to stay in shape, and runners who are training for marathons. For more information check out the website here.
Nick Bensen has been running for 30 years and is president of the Oak Park Runners Club.
Photo by Flickr member The Q Speaks