Every week, dozens of running groups host free (or inexpensive) fun runs. At some, participants stick around afterward to eat and drink; at others, they get wacky with theme nights and prizes. But whether you run a five-minute mile or chug along at a turtle's pace, these runs are an opportunity to keep exercising and maybe pick up a few running buddies. Be sure to call in advance to confirm run start times and meeting spots.
Chicago Area Runners Association
The big momma of local running, 30-year-old CARA is 9,000 members strong. The club’s just-launched Six Summer Nights Series—three- to six-mile loops that begin at a watering hole—draw up to 200 runners. Go to CARAruns.org for training programs and meeting spots.
Running Away Multisport
We are in love with the fashion-forward, technically sound collection of running clothing, accessories, shoes and gear at this Wicker Park shop (1634 W North Ave, 773-395-2929). The store also hosts Fun Runs every Tuesday at 6:30pm (no matter how hot or cold the temps), which vary in distance from three to seven miles. On Thursdays at 6:30pm, the shop hosts a Beginning To Run training group for newbies gearing up for their first 5K, which culminates with the Bucktown 5K on October 3. But seriously, just try to avoid shelling out for some awesome gear post-run, we dare you!
The lithe bodies that gather at the Universal Sole store in Lincoln Park on Monday nights set off for the lakefront at a speedy clip and typically knock off a seven-mile loop. While the friendly group warmly welcomes runners of all levels, folks shooting for a Boston-qualifying marathon finish time (or a similarly ambitious goal in a shorter race) will feel most at home. After a run like that, they keep it simple with a Join ’em Mondays at 6:15pm at the store (3052 N Lincoln Ave).
Chicago Endurance Sports
If you jog along the lakefront on Saturday mornings in the summertime and fall, you’ve undoubtedly seen these massive, smiling herds of runners making their way up and down the path. Many participants are athletic beginners looking for help and guidance in completing their first half or full-distance marathon. Check out chicagoendurancesports.com for training programs and upcoming races.
Hash House Harriers
There are no dues, but members plunk down $6 each run for postjog refreshments (true to the team’s motto, “a drinking club with a running problem”). The famous post-run ritual? “Hashes,” or postrun parties, happen at watering holes all over town. Runs typically take place on Monday and Thursday nights. Chicagohash.com lists upcoming meeting spots.
The three- to six-mile runs tend to attract suburbanites looking to squeeze in a run before hitting the highway, and neighborhood residents. Folks looking for coaching and an official uniform to wear in races should up the ante with a year membership with the Fleet Feet Racing Club ($75). After a sweat session, runners tend to gather for suds and grub at Corcoran’s Grill in Old Town or Daily Bar & Grill in Lincoln Square. Fun Runs and Racing Club practice meet at 6:30pm on Mondays, Tuesdays (ladies only) and Wednesdays at Piper’s Alley and Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays (8am) at Lincoln Square.
Lincoln Park Pacers
This crew is about 100 runners strong with members ranging from kids in their twenties to big kids in their seventies—and the ability levels are just as diverse, from newbies to ultramarathoners. The Pacers run a water stand at the Chicago Marathon each year to cheer on teammates and other runners. Five milers begin on Saturdays at 8am and Tuesdays at 6:30pm, rain or shine. Meet at the CARA notice board at Diversey Ave and the lakeside running path in Lincoln Park. Visit lincolnparkpacers.org for more info.
Momentum holds runs irregularly, but that's because they're usually elaborate events requiring a lot of planning and imagination (2001 N Clybourn Ave). The store's "Treasure Hunt Fun Run" sent 65 teams of two running around Lincoln Park scavenging for clues to their next destination. At each stop, teams were given prizes, such as Cold Stone ice cream and Goose Island beer. Runs are usually three to five miles long and draw an average of 80 participants between 25 and 35 years old. Dates and times vary. www.universalsole.com.
Most of the 250 members of this running club—the Chicago chapter of an organization with 65 groups in the U.S. and 30 overseas—are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. They get together twice weekly for a one- to two-mile walk or a three- to five-mile run. The group also has a full calendar of social events, like anniversary picnics, a volunteer-run water station at the Chicago Marathon and a Labor Day get-together with other Midwest chapters. Meet at the totem pole at Addison Street and the lakefront path (Saturdays 9am and Tuesdays 6:30pm).
NikeWalk across the river, stash your stuff at the Niketown gear check, find your pacer (the guy holding a stick with your average mile pace) and then set off on one of the three-, five- and seven-mile runs. Since Nike sponsors so many races during the year, there’s always a big event around the corner for participants to rev up for. Join ’em Thursday nights at Niketown (669 N Michigan Ave). Nike also periodically hosts free Chicago Marathon training runs on Mondays (Fleet Feet Piper’s Alley), Tuesdays (Running Away Multisport), Wednesdays (Starbucks, 1430 W Taylor St), Thursdays (Niketown) and Saturday at Foster Avenue Beach House at 6:30am (5200 N Lakeshore Dr).