Organizers of the Annual Southwest Half Marathon and 10K race are already looking forward to the 11th, following the virtually problem-free 10th, held on May 7.
“I think it was a great success. One of the better races that we have had,” said co-founder Jeff Prestinario, during a “wrap-up” meeting held May 19 for the organizers, all volunteers, could share their thoughts on how the event went.
The half-marathon and more recently added 10K race have now become an annual tradition, bringing thousands of people to Palos Heights and Palos Park on the first Sunday in May, and closing down Route 83 between Harlem Avenue and Archer Avenue for eight hours.
Everyone agreed that having blue skies and perfect spring weather helped draw the crowds, and keep the racers there to enjoy the live music and festival atmosphere long after their races were over.
“We sold all our beer. That is a good thing,” said Bridget Provost, of Lake Katherine.
“The weather was perfect and we didn’t have any major issues with runners (getting hurt),” said Prestinario, who was a Palos Heights alderman when he founded the race with Mel Diab, owner of Running for Kicks shoe store.
“I can’t believe that this has been 12 years in the making. Twelve years planning and 10 years running,” said Diab. “I always say it, but it is true. We could never put in on without all the help from volunteers, and the sponsors.”
For the past two years, Palos Health and CNB Bank & Trust have been the major sponsors. And everyone involved said they expect to continue the arrangement in 2018.
Prestinario said that on race days, he doesn’t even mind having to get up at 4 a.m. “When you are at the race, and you see everyone celebrating, it is an exhilarating experience. It is tough to get that adrenaline going as you get older, but this does it,” he said.
“I like to add something new each year, to keep it fresh,” said Prestinario. This year, the free Kids’ Dash for children from 2 to 11 was held. More than 100 children participated in several races, from the 50-yard dash to a half-mile, depending on their age group. And everyone got a medal.
It was designed to draw more families to the race, and it seemed to have worked. In fact, one of the few problems voiced at the meeting was about how families crowded onto the track to cheer on their children while the last of the half-marathon runners were still coming to the finish line.
Lori Mazeika-Myre, of Palos Health, as well as several others at the meeting, said the crowds on the track posed problems for volunteers wanting to present the runners with medals as they finished their race.
She suggested that only the runners be allowed on the track, with family members restricted to the grassy area beside it. Listening to another suggestion, Prestinario and Diab said they may also consider running the children’s races in the opposite direction on the track, so they would not interfere with runners in the major races.
In any case, the Kids’ Dash is here to stay.
Lori Chesna, executive director of Southwest Special Recreation Association, said the Walk, Run or Roll race for people with disabilities was successful again, too. She said six charity runners of the half-marathon or 10K raised more than $1,700 for SWSRA.
Bob Grossart, in charge of organizing the volunteers, said he had plenty to work with.
“More signed up last year, but we had less no-shows this year, so we actually had more people here,” he said.
“It’s very difficult to say how much exactly it helps the community (monetarily). But it does help the community in many, many ways,” said Prestinario.
He said that so many race participants went out to eat after their races that due to the crowds, his group couldn’t find seats in three local restaurants, Harvest Room, Royalberry and Lumes.
He said the owners of Harvest Room thanked him for bringing in all the racers who came for breakfast.
“It is always said that people often overlook this area, but it really is the gem of the southwest suburbs,” said Prestinario.