Street Smart Chicago

Race Review: WIPEOUTRUN (July 25, 2015)

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Participants finish the WIPEOUTRUN on the Happy Endings slide/Photo: Zach Freeman

Participants finish the WIPEOUTRUN on the Happy Endings slide/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: Since 2008, the reality series “Wipeout” has been a mainstay for ABC, with the network airing 148 episodes of the obstacle-course-challenge show over seven seasons. Despite recent rumblings that season eight has been cancelled due to low viewership (neither confirmed nor denied by ABC), the brand, pairing with what was formerly ROC (Ridiculous Obstacle Challenge) Race, has taken to the streets with a nationwide race series called WIPEOUTRUN.

Setting up shop in the parking lots surrounding U.S. Cellular Field for the Chicago leg of this tour, thousands of participants paraded through a course consisting of giant inflatable obstacles with names like “Big Balls,” “Sweeper” and “Foam of Fury.” And though many of these certainly have the right to be called obstacles, there are also a number that are just entertaining water park rides—from the inner-tube-driven Tumble Tubes to the epic finale slide christened Happy Endings.

Though billed as a 5K, the course, which wound its way around a series of cones and fences, registered as only slightly longer than two miles by my measure. Still, lines at various obstacles extended completion time to at least a forty-five minute experience. Individual costumes and team themes provided an extra level of entertainment on the course, along with pounding music and the fun of watching other participants… wipe out. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: BTN Big 10K (July 25, 2015)

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Big Ten fans at the starting line/Photo: Zach Freeman

Breakdown: For six hours Saturday morning, the area between Soldier Field and McCormick Place was swarming with more than 13,000 Big Ten fans—alumni, students, parents and supporters—all with a common purpose, despite their varying school allegiances: to run 6.2 miles (or at least 3.1). This is the fourth year for the BTN Big 10K (which also features a 5K distance) and, back in its original location near Soldier Field, it continues to draw large crowds and put on a large post-race party (christened the “Fan Fest” and featuring bags, games and food).

This is a large race by any measure and race organizers have dealt with this by breaking the field out into waves and releasing packs of runners every three minutes, allowing for a more open course. Having the course follow the far less scenic route west of Lake Shore Drive allowed for comfortable running despite the large numbers. The familiar slip ‘n’ slide of years past appeared around mile five and though it didn’t have many takers, its appeal on a hot, humid July morning can’t be overstated. Read the rest of this entry »

Capping It Off: Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa Walk Into A Bar…

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Brad Richards - Chicago Blackhawks" by Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA - IMG_7583. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Brad Richards – Chicago Blackhawks” by Lisa Gansky from New York, NY, USA – IMG_7583. Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons

By Don De Grazia

Like many adults self-consciously seeking intellectual justification for their maniacal attachment to a sports team, I maintain that my obsession with the Blackhawks quest to regain the Stanley Cup was largely cerebral, spiritual even—as edifying and inspirational as any philosophical text, and chock full of practical-yet-profound life lessons: Hustle and flow, grind and glide. Never give up, never lose confidence, every new contest is a clean slate. Adversity is the greatest motivator, and it’s never too late—but don’t cut things too close, or you might get smacked down by a random roll of the dice in the form of a floppy puck bouncing off your own player into the net to hand the 2014 LA Kings the golden ticket.

During the last NHL pre-season, I was having a nightcap at a mostly empty West Loop bar when I realized that the three men sitting stiffly at a table across the room were none other than Marian Hossa (my all-time favorite Hawk), Patrick Kane (the greatest stick wizard in hockey) and… some other dude. I realized that this was The New Guy—Brad Richards—who had just been brought in to center for Kane. Richards was a star in his own right, and had sacrificed an awful lot of money (and ego) to sign a one-year deal with the Hawks.

I’m no expert on body language, but the situation at their table seemed crystal clear—Richards and Kane were on an awkward first date, in anticipation of their arranged marriage, and Hossa was there as a sort of… well, wingman. But Hossa soon departed, and left the two Conn Smythe winners staring silently into space. My impulse was to go buy them a round of drinks and see if I could get an inside scoop on the upcoming season, but I am far too respectful a person to ever do something so intrusive. So, I encouraged an attractive young woman sitting next to me to do it instead. Read the rest of this entry »

The Parking Game: There’s Lots of Competition in Wrigleyville. Lots and Lots.

City Life, Sports, Wrigleyville 2 Comments »
Photo: John Moss

Photo: John Moss

By John Moss

To check the pulse of the Chicago Cubs during any given season, you can take in a game at Wrigley Field or follow the team on television, through the box scores, or in the standings. You can glance up at the flag flying above the center field scoreboard as you pass by on the train, white for a victory that day, blue for a loss. Or, a less obvious yet still effective method, you can simply go by what the lots around the stadium, most of which are owned independently of the team, are charging for a place to park during a game.

Unlike at U.S. Cellular Field, the United Center and Toyota Park, where Chicago’s other professional sports teams play, no great sea of parking space exists outside Wrigley Field; instead, it is more like a cluster of small ponds. One-hundred years old last April, Wrigley is famously situated in the middle of a residential neighborhood. One moment you are walking north on tree-lined Sheffield Avenue past a row of three-flats, then all of a sudden there it is—an overwhelming burst of concrete and steel dwarfing you and everything in its shadow: a 40,000-plus-capacity baseball stadium.

At the time Wrigley was built, its location, a few steps from the El and within bustling turn-of-the-century Lakeview, made it ideal, Margaret Gripshover notes  in her essay, “Lake View, Baseball, and Wrigleyville: The History of a Chicago Neighborhood.” Most fans back then would have traveled to the game on foot or by train.

Wrigley Field is so old that only after automobiles became prevalent did its location become problematic. To say nothing of today, back in the early fifties the ward’s alderman cited parking and congestion as the main problems in the area, with the area around Wrigley, later to be known as Wrigleyville, being the worst. Any chunk of space could help ease the parking burden. A convent that once stood on the 1100 block of West Grace, a few blocks north of the stadium, allowed Cubs fans to park there on game days for a donation (though the operation later came under investigation, the Sisters having since contracted out to a private firm, for parking without a license). Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Santa Hustle 5K (December 6, 2014)

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Runners cross the finish line at the Santa Hustle 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners eye finish line candy at the Santa Hustle 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown: Six years in and the Adrenaline Sports Management (ASM) Santa Hustle 5K is now officially in eight locations across the country. When I last ran this race two years ago, Chicago was the first and largest of the series, and while Chicago may still boast the largest turnout (with around 5,500 hustling Santas participating this year), the South Portland, Maine race kicked off last month and today’s starting time was shared with around 2,000 Milwaukee Santa Hustlers.

These days, there is no shortage of gimmicky races in the Chicago area, each providing varying degrees of cheesy fun. With cookies and milk on the course and at the finish line (along with candy and, yes, even water), a mascot-like Rudolph on hand for photos and a Santa hat and beard provided for dressing up on race day, the Santa Hustle easily succeeds in the “healthy holiday fun” category but, crucially, it also manages to provide a well-supported starting line, course and basecamp for runners who enjoy race legitimacy with their fun runs.

Best of all, the weather (almost) cooperated, with temperatures in the mid-thirties allowing for plenty of warmth while wearing the kitschy-comfy red Santa Hustle sweatshirt. This year several other Santa Hustles included a half-marathon option. Here’s hoping Chicago expands to include a longer distance in the future—ASM is ready to coordinate it. As the saying goes, “If you build it, the Santas will hustle it.” Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Strike Out ALS 5K (July 15, 2014)

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Runners finishing strong at the Strike Out ALS 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman

Runners finishing strong at the Strike Out ALS 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown:  What a difference a year makes. Last summer the temperature during the Strike Out ALS 5K hovered in the high nineties with nary a cloud to be seen. Last night, runners experienced comfortable fall weather with temperatures in the low sixties and some light rain. And any runner will tell you that the latter is much preferred.

And organizers are lucky the weather was so forgiving as they switched up the course for this fifth annual event to include more time outside; rather than ending the race at home plate after a journey through the bowels of U.S. Cellular Field, the new course spent a bit more time in the parking lot and worked in a full loop around the warning track, cutting out the lengthy tour of the stadium’s tunnel system.

Timed to coincide with the All-Star Game, the post-race party includes a viewing of the game on multiple screens with beer and baseball food for purchase. It’s a race with a moving mission—many of the participants have a direct connection to ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) and are there more for the fundraising than the running—but organizers manage to target both audiences. And it never hurts to have a course that lets the average Joe (or Josephine) experience a baseball field from the perspective of a professional player. Read the rest of this entry »

Gentlemen’s Club: When Football Came (Back) to the University of Chicago

Hyde Park, Sports No Comments »
Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

Martin Northway (right) in a 1968 or 1969 drill with teammate Jerry Culp.

By Martin Northway, X’70

“Isn’t that where all the Reds are?” was a common reaction among my high-school classmates when I told them I was enrolling at the University of Chicago. Even in the sixties, what attracted me to Chicago was its abundance of libertarian scholars—led by Milton Friedman—and the prospect of a liberal arts education anchored by the Common Core. I originally fancied myself an economics major but later abandoned it for less-depressing American history. Mainly, I wanted to write.

The last thing I thought I would do at U of C was play football. But I found myself drawn to the purity it preserved in the sport, unlike the tainted and excessive adulation given by my high school, a national power running up a string of consecutive victories that would stand for a decade. What U of C had was a football club, a stew of undergraduates and grad students of diverse abilities.

U of C had been a power in the Big Ten (originally the Western Conference) under legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, but ultimately its small undergraduate talent pool could not compete against Midwest behemoths. A last flash of greatness was back Jay Berwanger’s selection as the first Heisman winner in 1935. (I joined his Psi Upsilon fraternity, again an athletes’ sanctuary.) U of C left big-time football in its rear-view mirror in 1939. To some—especially President Robert M. Hutchins—it was good riddance. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Revew: North Shore Triathlon

Bicycling, News etc., Running, Sports No Comments »
North Shore Triathlon transition area/Photo by Zach Freeman

North Shore Triathlon transition area/Photo: Zach Freeman



The triathlon is its own special animal—a hybrid that combines swimming, biking and running into one elaborate event. Mastery of one aspect of the sport does not necessarily translate into competence in the sport as a whole. That being said, this writer may be an experienced runner, but is a complete triathlon novice and this review should be read through that lens, as experienced triathletes may have different takeaways.

The first annual North Shore Triathlon by Precision Multisport started and finished in Gillson Park in Wilmette on Sunday morning. The weather wasn’t particularly cooperative, with a steady rain falling for most of the morning, but the sold-out field of 700 participants (584 finishers) didn’t seem particularly fazed by it, setting up their transition stations between five and six-thirty in the morning using a combination of pale dawn light and event lighting. Transition space was ample with bike racks clearly labeled by wave group. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Firefly Run (September 7, 2013)

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Firefly Run/Photo by Zach Freeman

Firefly Run/Photo by Zach Freeman


“Who’s going to Bar Louie after this and getting wasted?!?” demanded the race announcer before the Firefly Run last night. Yes. It’s that kind of run.

With a planned tour through eighteen cities across the country (last night’s race in Chicago was number five), the Firefly Run has expanded quite a bit from last year (when Chicago was also on the agenda). With runners grouped into two available distances (a rather sparsely attended 10K and a much more popular 5K), Arvey Field was blinkingly lit up before and after the running events as participants wearing bright colors, flashing lights (including arm/leg bands that were passed out as part of registration) and colorful costumes celebrated their planned (and then achieved) runs. A dance group on a large stage helped with the celebration. Read the rest of this entry »

Race Review: Terrapin 5K and Music Festival (August 8, 2013)

Events, News etc., Running, Sports No Comments »

Pre-race Terrapin 5K/Photo: Zach Freeman


Breakdown: Moving from pre-Lollapalooza to post-Lollapalooza may have brought down registrations a bit (from 3,543 last year to around 2,500 this year) but last night’s Terrapin 5K and Music Festival still felt like an appropriately large running event. The word “event” here is especially important to take note of, as the 5K is just the opening act to a whole night of festivities. But I guess if we’re being technical, the 5K isn’t even the opening act. By the time the race kicked off at 7pm, three bands had already performed on two separate stages. It’s definitely an event.

Pace groups were released a lot quicker than expected at the starting line along Waldron Drive, with a dual-release (A&B, C&D, etc.) speeding things up. The course, unchanged from last year, allows for plenty of runners without too much crowding, even when it converges on the open Lakefront Trail. But while the race is smoothly run and well-coordinated, it’s the post-race party that people really show up for. Read the rest of this entry »