Like a long-distance runner returning to a course after a long layoff, the first meeting of the 2015 First Midwest Bank Half Marathon organizing committee sputtered and wheezed at first.
The meeting room at the Palos Heights Recreation Center was about half empty.
Co-organizer Jeff Prestinario announced that the race lost money in 2014, despite the addition of a 10K race that was designed to put it in the black.
He acknowledged that just 1,100 runners competed in the half marathon last year, about half of the event’s peak participation—2,100 runners—several years ago. The drop was mostly chalked up to an extremely harsh winter that hampered runners’ training efforts, as well as a proliferation of new races in the Chicago area.
He announced that the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens has been dropped from the roster of charities that benefit from the event, due to lack of funds to go around—leaving the American Cancer Society and the South West Special Recreation Association as this year’s designated charity beneficiaries.
He noted that a new half marathon in Frankfort, eight days before the First Midwest Half Marathon, may possibly cut into participation in Palos Heights.
Prestinario also complained about what he said was a lack of downtown news media interest in the race.
“I’m tired of looking at the news and seeing all this crap about killings and this and that,” he told committee members. “They need to start putting good things on the news…for example, our event, I don’t know if it’s ever been on TV. It was maybe mentioned one time or whatever.”
He even admitted that for the second year in a row, he and co-founder Mel Diab, owner of the Running For Kicks store in Palos Heights, had toyed with idea of letting the race die a quiet death.
But as the meeting hit its stride, good news came forward to overtake the bad regarding this year’s half marathon, set for Sunday, May 3 on a course that starts and ends at Palos Heights City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive, running west along and through the scenic forest preserves of the Palos area.
Prestinario announced that the event has received a $5,000 grant from the Chicago Southland Convention & Visitors Bureau, a needed shot in the arm for an event that last year struggled financially. He credited communications executive Tom Barcelona, who serves as race sponsorship co-coordinator, for obtaining the grant.
Prestinario also hailed the news that 922 runners have already registered for this year’s half marathon, the successful result of an aggressive, discount-driven push for runners last month. He beamed when discussing the numbers, calling them an “amazing” start.
He also announced that the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce will again host a community and business exposition at Moraine Valley Church, a popular event designed to encourage runners and their families and friends—who typically come from throughout the Chicago area and even beyond--and to discover and enjoy the shopping, dining and other pleasures of the Palos area.
In addition to the half marathon, the event will again include a 10K race and a Walk, Run or Roll race for people with disabilities. Registration details and more information on the event may be obtained at firstmidwesthalfmarathon.com.
Despite the bumps in the road, Prestinario predicted that this year’s event—the eighth annual—will in the end gel and be successful.
“It’s just absolutely amazing that this is our eighth year, he said, noting that he and Diab had worked on getting the race up and running two years before that. “To me, it’s one of the exciting things that I do in my life, although my life’s not that exciting to begin with,” he said, drawing laughs from the dozen or so committee members in attendance. “But I do enjoy this. It’s a positive event, a good thing for the community, but it’s also a pleasure meeting and working with so many good people.
“All things considered, we should all be very proud because we put on a great race, year after year. Most of the people who have worked for the race have stayed on with the race, and we have heard great feedback from the runners, volunteers and others.”