Jeff Prestinario probably wanted to turn a couple of cartwheels and execute a backflip or two but he’s not as spry as he used to be.
The co-founder of the annual half marathon that runs mainly through Palos Heights and features runners from all over the area, was trying to keep a happy face last Friday when the race’s committee members got together for their first meeting at the Recreation Center in Palos Heights.
But there was a lot to be glum about.
Before the meeting, he admitted that for the second year in a row, there existed a possibility that the race would be shut down.
During the meeting, he told the committee heads that last year’s race lost money and drew less than 1,500 runners despite hosting two races – the half marathon and a 10K race – for the first time. At its peak, Prestinario said, the half marathon on its own drew 2,100. In 2014, he said the half marathon portion drew about 1,100 runners, which was the lowest in the history of the event.
Oh, and to make life a little tougher for Prestinario and co-founder Mel Diab, the town of Frankfort decided to get into the half marathon game.
The first half-marathon in that community will take place April 25 and run through the historic downtown area and Old Plank Trail – eight days before the eighth running of the First Midwest Bank event in Palos in May 3.
That news was bound to take away a chunk of runners from Frankfort, New Lenox and Mokena from the Palos event. It was also going to threaten to grab away runners from Orland Park and Tinley Park as well.
On paper, things were not looking all that great.
But he had 922 reasons to brighten his day.
Jennifer Griffin, a member of the Chicago Special Events Management group that runs the half marathon on race day, gave the committee the report that 922 people had already signed up for the 2015 races – many taking advantage of an online early bird sign-up special.
It was met with applause and a few hoots.
“I was excited to hear that!” an obviously excited Prestinario after the meeting. “When I heard that number, I was extremely excited. Last year, we had less than 1,500 for both races. Now we’re at ? And it’s January? That’s amazing.’’
And 23 of the early entrants are from Frankfort.
There are also runners who signed up from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, Indiana, Iowa and New Jersey.
A few months ago, Diab, who was in Florida running in a race and not at Friday’s meeting, and Prestinario mulled shutting down the race because of the setbacks. But all is well, now.
“There’s always that question mark but when you get everyone on board, things can work out and things fall into place,” Prestinario said. “Everybody is excited about the race. Good things are happening and we need more good things. There are a lot of bad things going on in the world and we need more good things.’’
Interestingly, people like Prestinario and Diab are goodwill ambassadors for running and the previous success of the half marathon in Palos has had other communities – including Frankfort – trying to take runners away for their own races.
While I would suggest something outlandish and goofy as having people run in Santa suits in the spring or even their birthday suits to drum up interest as a novelty, that’s not going to happen. Prestinario said he is hoping that the open roads on the course and thousands of fans who come out and cheer the runners will make athletes want to come back to the Palos race.
“More and more races are popping up all the time,” Prestinario said. “You have to do something to promote and market the race. We will have to work a little harder to bring the runners to our race. I think we’re going to be all right. We’re back to shooting for 2,000 again.’’