Like a long-distance runner hitting a wall halfway through a race, the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon faltered briefly last month, but has rebounded and is on pace for success this year, organizers said last Friday.
With expenses almost outpacing revenue, a 10K race has been added to “enhance the race, to make the race more attractive, but probably the most important reason — [raise] more money!” event committee chairman Jeff Prestinario said with a smile to about 20 half marathon organizers at a meeting held at the Palos Heights Recreation Center, 6601 W. 127th St.
Prestinario acknowledged that he and event co-founder Mel Diab (owner of the Running for Kicks specialty running shop, 7158 W. 127th St.), briefly considered walking away from the run, now in its seventh year and billed as the premier athletic event in the southwest suburbs.
“We had to do something for this race to continue. So the easiest and best thing for us to do was to add this 10K,” Prestinario said. “If you realized it or not, last year our numbers were down, so we decided that we needed to do something. Otherwise, Mel was not planning on having the race. So we needed to do that, and we’re going forward.”
The half marathon is set for Sunday, May 4, on a course that starts and ends near Palos Heights City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive. The half marathon starts at 7:30 a.m., the 10K race begins at 7:40, and a “Run, Walk or Roll” half-mile race (for people with disabilities) is set to start at 7:45.
Some 2,000 runners are expected to participate, with an equivalent number of spectators. Proceeds from the event benefit the American Cancer Society, the South West Special Recreation Association, and Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens.
Registration details and more information on the event may be obtained at firstmidwesthalfmarathon.com.
Diab, competing in races at the 2014 Walt Disney World Marathon Weekend, was not at Friday’s committee meeting.
Prestinario did not speculate on how much revenue the newly added 10K race will bring in, but expressed confidence that it will be sufficient to ensure the popular event’s survival for at least the near future.
Another change over the 2013 event is security. Last year’s race saw an unprecedented level of security that included bomb-sniffing dogs, a surveillance helicopter, marksmen on rooftops, police carrying machine guns and more.
“Terrorism was an issue last year, because our event here in Palos Heights was just two weeks after [the terrorist attack at the Boston Marathon], so everybody was on high alert,” he said. Exactly how much and what kind of security will be provided at this year’s event “is something that the police and fire departments and the city will be discussing. It won’t be at the level of last year, because, knock on wood, [an attack] isn’t an issue.”
“The amount of security that was given to this race [last year] was unbelievable,” he added. “We had more security than probably any race you’ve seen.”
Began with an idea
“Mel and I started the race about nine years ago,” Prestinario recalled. “I was a runner at that time. I used to meet with Mel on Monday nights, and we’d go out for a run. One night, he just said, ‘Jeff, you know my dream is to have a large race, like a half marathon race.’ I had been involved with [organizing] some special events in the city [as a Palos Heights alderman], so I said, ‘That’s a good idea. Let’s do it.’”
“So we went to the mayor, and he said, ‘Are you crazy?’” Prestinario added with a smile, “and I said, ‘No, no, no, we really want to do it. We can do it.’ He said OK, but I don’t think he ever thought it would happen, because a half marathon, of course, is 13.1 miles, which means you have to go outside of Palos Heights and get the cooperation of other jurisdictions, like Palos Park, Palos Hills, Alsip, unincorporated Cook County, the Forest Preserve [District of Cook County]. You have to get permits for everything. You have to close off Route 83. We’ve got two fire districts involved. We have multiple police departments involved, including the county, the forest preserves and the state. There’s, like, one thing after another.”
“When we started, we actually thought we’d have this race up and running within a year,” he continued. “Well, we weren’t even close. It took two years to get everybody on board, and thanks to the cooperation we received from all the government agencies and everyone else, we were able to pull it off — and here we are years later, going on our seventh race.
Prestinario praised First Midwest Bank and all other organizations and individuals that contribute to the annual event’s success.
“Everything has to work, it’s like one big chain, and every link has to be strong and can’t break,” Prestinario concluded. “Everyone involved has to sacrifice a little bit, and say ‘OK, this is a great event.’ We’re at the point where we’ve raised over $150,000 for charity over the years, and we plan on adding to that this year. We’ve gotten approximately 300 volunteers out for the event. We have spectators and runners coming from all over. So it’s been kind of a win-win situation. It’s been amazing, a good ride so far, and we’d like to continue doing it.”