Once upon a time -- when summer used to arrive in June, not March -- this month of madness was one of mostly cold days as we slowly broke free from winter's icy grip. Not this year.
Mother Nature is running a fever of record-breaking proportions. But this wacky warm weather has also brought more people outside, and sooner. For runners, that means longer -- and perhaps more frequent -- runs without the choking pain of frost-cold air penetrating your lungs.
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That tells me that many hot-to-trot runners are going to be ahead of pace next Saturday, March 31, when the fifth annual 5K Spring Gallop is run at Blackberry Farm.
Runners and walkers of all ages and abilities are welcome. It's one of the earliest races on the calendar, and for many, it marks the official beginning of the outdoor running season, run on one of the most beautiful, scenic courses of any race.
Unlike traditional road races, runners won't encounter any sewer grates or broken glass or potholes or any associated hazards. Instead, they'll enjoy smooth footing on paved asphalt and crushed limestone along the rustic setting of the Virgil Gilman Trail and the spruce tree-lined trails encircling Lake Gregory.
Now an officially CARA-certified race, the 5K Spring Gallop is kicking it up a notch and will be an even faster race this year -- in terms of timing, that is. For the first time, the race will use the Jaguar Chip Timing System that will assure speed and accuracy for each and every runner. The moment each runner crosses the finish line, their time will post on a nearby TV screen. Also, it will automatically determine the runner's place in the overall standings and in their specific age division.
Phillip Davis of Chicago was the overall winner a year ago with a time of 17:16.5, with Colleen Newhart of Oak Park taking top honors on the women's side in 19:09.7. The youngest runner was 5-year-old Kaelyn Nash of Aurora, whose running troupe included her parents (Brian and Jennie Nash) and brothers (Landon, 6, and Nate, 9). Aurora's Dick Lamermayer, 82, again took honors as the most experienced runner in the field in terms of years.
Race organizer and Blackberry Farm facility supervisor Sandy Smith is anticipating the Spring Gallop field to be anywhere between 500 and 700 runners, depending on the weather. Following its debut in 2008 with 312 runners participating, the 5K Spring Gallop has averaged about 500 runners each year. Smith said the race will be held -- rain, sun, snow or heat -- with the starter's gun firing at 8:30 a.m.
Preregistration, which included a T-shirt ended March 23. Race-day registration is $33 ($29 for CARA runners) from 7:15 to 8 a.m.
Awards -- stylishly designed, handcrafted medallions made in the Blackberry Farm pottery barn -- will be given to the top three male and female finishers in each of 14 different age groups.
Take your mark -- it's time to kick spring into gear.
• Jeff Long is the public relations manager for the Fox Valley Park District. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.