The turn of the year is a time for both reflection and celebration, and this past year has been a stellar one for the CARA community.
Over the past twelve months, I have had the privilege to spend time with CARA members all over Chicagoland. From training program runs to Circuit races, track workouts, trail clean-ups and social runs; everywhere I have visited I can feel your growing pride for CARA.
There are over 1,300 dates of programs and events within CARA. And there is no shortage of non-CARA events for runners to take part in around Chicagoland as well. The difference with CARA is, you are not just participating in an event, you are running with an organization you belong to and that is working for you. That ownership in CARA, and our unique mission within the running community, is reflected in how so many of you give your time as volunteers.
Today, just like we have been for over 40 years, we are mission-driven, not-for-profit, and most uniquely, member-driven. This organization belongs to its members, and all of our successes this year are a reflection of your support.
As I complete my second full year as your Executive Director, I am pleased to share with you that CARA is growing in its membership, in its programs and events, and most importantly in its impact. Here are some of my points of pride from 2019:
Power of the Group
The “Power of the Group” is stronger than ever as CARA training programs saw marked growth in 2019. Our training programs continue to be the leader in providing local runners with the resources and the community they need to reach their goals.
CARA remains the largest provider of group training for runners in the nation. With over 2,000 runners taking part, CARA’s Summer Marathon Training Program reached its five-year high for runners trained in 2019. Every CARA training program, from winter to spring, saw an increase in participation from the previous year; with a total program growth exceeding 9%. Our 2019 Boston Performance Program saw the largest increase, more than doubling in size. And our 2020 Boston Performance Program registrations have already exceeded those numbers.
CARA’s commitment to supporting charity running remains strong. CARA provided subsidized training program fees for over 50 local and national charities in 2019. That subsidy, totaling over $65,000 fees, supported our charity partners' efforts to raise an estimated more than $1-Million for their causes. This effort is a testament to our belief that running is more than sport.
Making Running Accessible
While CARA remains known for its contribution to the marathon, we continue to grow in our mission to make running more accessible at all levels. CARA’s ‘Go Run program surpassed 4,000 finishers (4,182) for the first time in 2019, an increase of 18% from our previous high.
Through our 41 free timed 5K and 1-Mile events in neighborhood parks around Chicago this year we are making running more accessible by removing barriers to entry.
Cost is certainly one of those barriers, and ‘Go Runs remain 100% free to everyone which has especially been impactful on families who want to run together. We are able to provide this free running program through the support of your membership, donations, and CARA participation.
Cost is not the only barrier to entry for many. An often less considered barrier is geography. CARA, along with our partner the Chicago Park District, are working to activate running in neighborhood parks, so that no matter where one lives, everyone can enjoy an active lifestyle and the community found through running close to home.
In 2019, ‘Go Run took place in 11 different Chicago parks. From the Southside’s Big Marsh Park (Stoney Island Ave. & 103rd St.), to the Westside’s Columbus Park (Austin Blvd. and Jackson Blvd.), to the Northside’s Warren Park (Pratt Blvd. and Western Ave.), and many parks in between, we are reaching runners new and old all over Chicago.
We are looking ahead to 2020 where the program will expand to 14 different Chicago parks, along with at least two suburban communities. New partnerships with the Arlington Heights Park District and the Palos Heights Park District will begin our goals to bring ‘Go Run to all of Chicagoland.
The CARA Runners’ Choice Circuit saw a repeat winner on the men’s side in Steffen Uhrich, and a first time winner on the women’s side in Erika Edmonson. Erika also captured the 35-39 age group title, while Steffen did the same for the men’s 20-24 division. Both epitomize the CARA community as they also gave back as volunteer members of the CARA Race Committee this year, working alongside CARA staff to organize a meaningful racing program.
The CARA Circuit is not only focused on providing opportunity for CARA members to race for individual goals. The Circuit also promotes club competition to support camaraderie and engagement for all local clubs. Eleven local clubs participated in 2019, with five earning club team honors (Elmhurst Running Club, Evanston Running Club, Fast Track, Fleet Feet, and Oak Park Runners Club).
Speaking of the CARA Circuit, the 2019 Wintrust Lakefront 10 Miler & 5K was a success. The Lakefront 10 Miler and 5K is CARA’s signature racing event. As a CARA member this is your club’s race, and we were thrilled to have over 2,000 runners take part for the fourth straight year. The event is the largest running club organized race in Chicagoland, but we want to see more of our members taking part. The funds raised support our mission based work, the event brings together our members for one of Chicago’s oldest running events.
We are especially excited for the 2020 edition of the Wintrust Lakefront 10 Miler, as it has been selected as the 2020 Road Runners Club of America 10 Mile National Championship. This is a great opportunity for local runners to shine and show the nation just how strong our running community is.
We are also excited for the launch of two new events at CARA in 2020, the Honda Miles Per Hour Run and Chi-Town Miles. Miles Per Hour (February 16) is a unique new indoor run held in collaboration with the Chicago Auto Show at McCormick Place. Runners will enjoy a 2.4-mile indoor loop and will be challenged to run as many laps as they can in one-hour as they pass through the Auto Show floor.
Chi-Town Miles is part of our effort to introduce more runners to the fun of track racing. This track meet will feature a schedule of one-mile races, along with a kids dash series. This Saturday evening event (July 25) will go into the night, with races held under the lights, along with music and beer along the homestretch. Chi-Town Miles will debut as part of the CARA Runners’ Choice Circuit.
Through strategic changes in our membership structure and benefits, the CARA community saw significant overall growth in 2019. Already the nation’s third-largest running club, CARA membership topped 10,000 for the first time in the organization's history. As we close out 2019, active membership is at an all-time high of 11,304. CARA’s membership remains only behind the New York Road Runners Club and the Atlanta Track Club nationally.
The CARA community became more inclusive of all of those who participate with CARA this year with the implementation of CARA Friend membership. CARA Friend members are all of those who participate in our programs and events. This free level of membership, provided to non-members within program and event registrations, provides CARA the opportunity to communicate news, resources, and points of impact with all members of our community. CARA Friend members receive the CARA Connection, access to online and mobile tools, and access to CARA weekday group runs that are part of the Group Run Network.
With the launch of the CARA Friend membership, our traditional paid membership level was rebranded as CARA Supporter Level. A name reflecting our appreciation for how these members annual membership dues support our mission-based work. Supporter Level membership (individual, family and student packages) saw a slight increase in numbers from this time last year, our first such increase in more than five years.
Supporter Level members experienced increased benefits in 2019. The launch of the Member Speedwork program provided members access to coach-led track workouts on Tuesday nights at two locations with training focused on 5K to 10 Mile racing, perfect for those pursuing the CARA Circuit. We will be working to expand this benefit to more locations in 2020.
Supporter Level members also saw an increase in available race discounts. In addition to Supporter Level members receiving 10-15% off all CARA programs and events. CARA worked to secure discounts for over 120 local and regional races for CARA Supporter Level members. Supporter Level members can find these discounts on the CARA website and mobile app with login.
We thank our CARA Supporter Level members for how their act of membership ($35 per year) helps us do all that we do for the running community. Being a member of CARA is not just about what you get, it's about what you give. And here are some of the highlights:
As we move into 2020, your CARA staff and member leaders are committed to serving and advocating for the local running community, and providing accessible opportunities for all runners to train, race, learn, be social and volunteer.
As I close out this year in review, I want to sincerely thank all of our member leaders, especially volunteer Chris Hennessy who is completing his volunteer term as Board of Directors President. Chris has worked to strengthen our board with a focus on increasing volunteer engagement. Chris will continue on the board in 2020 as Past-President. Current Vice-President Kerl LaJeune has been elected as our incoming President. We welcome his vast experience and passion for the running community as he will work as the member leader of CARA alongside incoming Vice-President Jill Cimminillo and the rest of the board.