Big plans for big race

By Jeff Vorva

The sixth annual First Midwest Half Marathon in Palos Heights is three and a half months away and already has 721 athletes registered.

"That's about 100 more than last year at this time," Chicago Special Events Management representative Matt Scodellaro said.

Considering that's more than half of the 1,340 figure of runners who crossed the finish line in the inaugural race in 2008, it has organizers thinking that they have a shot at 2,500 runners in 2013, which is their max.

The committee organizing the half marathon held its first meeting last Friday.

Scodellaro told fellow members that 75 runners have registered so far from Tinley Park, 70 from Orland Park, 70 from Chicago and 33 from Palos Heights.

The race name has been streamlined from its old moniker of the First Midwest Bank Southwest Half Marathon.

Another new wrinkle will be the addition of pace runners to aid some of the leaders.

"Most of the big races have pace runners," Committee Chairman Jeff Prestanario said. "That's something we will be incorporating in our race."

U.S. Rep. Dan Lipinski will be invited to co-chair the event with former state Sen. Ed Maloney, Prestinario added.

This year's race will begin at 7:30 a.m. Sunday, May 5. A special needs race will start at 7:45 a.m. Volunteers will check in at 5 a.m. The awards presentation is set for 11 a.m.

Committee members said they are happy with the progress of the race over the years, but are hoping to attract more of a buzz for it. Prestanario wants more television stations to come to Palos Heights to cover the event, he said. Members of the committee suggested trying to lure a celebrity to run the 13.1- mile race. Former baseball great Carlton Fisk and WGN anchor Robin Baumgarten's names were mentioned.

"We're expecting the race to grow," Prestanario said. "Maybe as the economy gets better, we will get more runners who may be willing to spend the money to get in the race. As our race gets more and more known and popular, it will grow. We'll just keep working at it."