Paying it Forward at the United Run for the Zoo

Paying it Forward at the United Run for the Zoo

Back in 2009 I was a newer member of the Oak Park Runners Club and I joined a small group for trail run one Sunday morning. Still on the slower side compared to many of the other runners I was by myself for a bit but was enjoying my first single track trail run. Towards the end, though, I began running with another club member who asked what races I had coming up.

“Running the PAWS 8K,” I said.

“Do you have any goals?”

“Well, I’d like to beat my time from 2008.”

“Do you want help?”

And my first pacer was born.  And I ran a PR that wouldn’t have happened if it hadn’t been for that person.

Since then, I’ve been doing my best to give back. Enter Carrie. She’s a newer member of OPRC and she started a blog to chronicle her path to the Chicago Marathon. I was reading it a few weeks ago when she mentioned she’d like to PR at her next 5K: the United Run for the Zoo. I checked my calendar and realized I had the day free.

“Do you want help?” I asked.

And that’s how we found ourselves standing in the cold rain on Sunday morning waiting for the gun to go off so we could get moving and get warm.

The United Run for the Zoo starts and ends at Lincoln Park Zoo with one mile in the middle of

the 5K winding past, to name a few, the tigers, the seals, and (my favorite) the polar bear. Most of the rest of the race is on the paths throughout Lincoln Park which made for some fun puddle-dodging!

Some small (slippery) hills and a few congested areas weren’t going to deter us, though. Nope, I was going to make sure Carrie got a new personal record.

Mile one? Right on target. Admittedly, this whole actually pacing someone for time was a bit new to me (sorry, Carrie, I didn’t disclose that in advance) so I was really pleased to see that.

Mile two? We slowed down a bit too much due to puddle dodging and that congested course. Time to strun_for_the_zoo_5K_06022013_1ep it back up!

Mile three? Fastest of the three! And it got us right back where I wanted to be. Crossing the finish line with a new, shiny PR for Carrie!


If the weather had been nicer I would have taken the morning to explore the zoo since I was already there. Although, if the weather had been nicer it probably wouldn’t have been a day for a PR. Carrie ran a strong race and I was thrilled to help her out. Also, it was nice to run a race that’s been on my radar for awhile but I kept forgetting to run.

tshirts_stacked_largerIf you want an excuse to visit the Lincoln Park Zoo, the United Run for the Zoo is a good one. It’s relatively cheap, the shirt is a nice tech shirt (this year’s was super cute) and you get to choose between a 5K and a 10K distance, not to mention the kids’ events.  There were a lot of families out at the event and it always makes me smile to see parents running with their kids. Get ’em hooked young!

The only downside I noticed is that you still have to pay to park. I rode my bike so I didn’t have that issue but if you drive try to carpool so you can split the cost. I believe it was $14 to park at the zoo.

Still, I recommend this race as a great way to see one of Chicago’s iconic spots! Or, you know, help out a friend who wants to run their fastest race.



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    Erin Vandenberg

    I'm a 30-something who decided to get off the elliptical and expand my fitness horizons. Since moving to Chicago in 2008 I've run marathons and biked miles. I've done group fitness classes and lifted weights on my own. And now I want to share my fitness finds with you!

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