'Boom, boom, boom...go, go, go'

  • Written by TIm Hadac




Photo by Jeff Vorva

More than a thousand runners started last year's race.


As the 2015 First Midwest Bank Half Marathon heads to the starting line Sunday for the eighth time, the long months of planning will result in a frantic morning.

“When we get to race day, it’s boom boom boom and then go go go, and then it’s all over,” race co-founder Jeff Prestinario said. “That’s how quickly it goes, so we need to be on our toes.”

Organizers are happy the numbers are looking better this year.

“It looks like we are headed towards yet another successful run,” said race director and co-founder Mel Diab, owner of the popular Running for Kicks athletic shoe store in Palos Heights. “Registration is up over last year, and things seem to be on track.”

Diab made his observations at an event organizing committee meeting held last Friday at the Palos Heights Recreation Center.

According to committee chairman and race co-founder Jeff Prestinario, about 1,400 runners are signed up for the 13.1-mile race, with another 330 runners set to compete in a 10K race at the same time—numbers that are better than last year’s tally, but still below 2013, when 1,800-plus runners competed in the half marathon.

Numbers are down for the Walk, Run or Roll race, according to Lori Chesna, executive director of the South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA). About three dozen athletes with disabilities are registered, down from 52 in 2014.

All numbers may rise slightly between now and Sunday, as late registrants are expected.

The course that starts and ends near Palos Heights City Hall, 7607 W. College Drive, and runs west along Route 83. The half marathon starts at 7:30 a.m., the event’s second running of the 10K race begins at 7:40, and the “Walk, Run or Roll” half-mile race (for people with disabilities) is set to start at 7:45.

The race officially ends at 10:30 a.m., and an awards ceremony is set for 11 a.m.

As always, parking is at a premium at the event, and spectators driving to the site are advised to arrive early and use local parking lots along the north side of Route 83.

Both Diab and Prestinario thanked their corporate sponsors and volunteers in advance for handling the inevitably hectic pace of race day with aplomb.

 “Things can get a little confusing, so have patience and keep a smile on your face,” Prestanario said.

Mother Nature has been kind to the event every year, although the forecast for Sunday morning is warm and possibly wet, with a daytime high of 76 degrees and a 50 percent chance of thunderstorms.

“God has blessed us with good weather over the years, except one year when it rained before the race, but sun came out by start time,” Prestinario recalled. “We’re hoping for the same this year.”

Sunday’s race will feature a festival-like atmosphere, with local businesses exhibiting in the parking lot of City Hall, popular music provided by a radio station party van, and a handful of high school mascots working the crowd and mugging for photographs.

Adding to the buzz is a health and community expo set for 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at Moraine Valley Church, 6300 W. 127th St., Palos Heights.

Sponsored by the Palos Area Chamber of Commerce, the annual event typically attracts several thousand people and offers information and free services from 50 local health care providers and other businesses, as well as government agencies.

Maintaining the success of past expositions, this year’s business-related event is “not a whole lot different” than last year, said Mary Kay Spindler executive director of the chamber.

If there is a weak link in the chain, it is a lack of volunteers to staff the race on Sunday. Organizers had hoped for about 200 men and women to step forward, but appear to have fallen short of the goal thus far.

Those interested in volunteering are encouraged to visit and click on “event details.”

Proceeds from the event benefit the American Cancer Society, and the South West Special Recreation Association. In its first seven years, the event has raised nearly $170,000 for charitable causes.