After a layoff of nearly a decade, Marla Polley wasn’t sure she was ready to take up running again. But spurred by the recent pandemic and the need to get outside, last spring she laced up her running shoes and joined the Evanston Running Club 0-5K Training Program, which prepares new and returning runners to run the annual Ricky Byrdsong Race Against Hate. 

Samantha Chan (from left), Marla Polley and Karin Sconzert are “graduates” of last year’s Evanston Running Club 0-5K Training Program. Credit: Dan Broughton

“My running journey is long, but it’s had a lot of pauses,” Polley said. “During the pandemic I wanted to start running again, and I wanted to get in better shape, so I signed up for the 0-5K program. Now I’m back to running regularly and enjoying it.” 

Polley, her friend Karin Sconzert and Samantha Chan, all Evanston residents, are “graduates” of last year’s 0-5K program. This year’s running club program began in late March and now has more than 50 runners and walkers.

The group gathers on the lakefront every Sunday morning to train for this year’s Race Against Hate, a major fundraiser for the Evanston/North Shore YWCA, which will be held Sunday, June 18. While some people train just to participate in that event, others are interested in starting or returning to running generally, said Kathy Henke, a running club board member who volunteers as a trainer for the program. 

“Our passion is to get more people involved and into the community of runners, whether they’ve never been runners or are getting back into it,” Henke said. “By providing support and the training, we can encourage people who might not do it on their own.”

That was the case for Chan. “I ran many years ago but hadn’t been doing it recently. So I signed up for the program and that really helped in making a commitment. The team who trained us was very encouraging – really a super supportive group.” 

Chan not only participated in the Race Against Hate last year, but now runs three mornings a week, including joining several of her fellow class members from last year every Sunday. “I made some attempts before to start running by myself, but it was really being part of a group that got me back into it,” she said.

Now in its sixth year, the ERC’s 0-5K program lasts for 12 weeks with separate tracks for those who want to run the race’s full 5 kilometers (3.1 miles), those who plan a mixture of running and walking and those who plan to walk the distance. Each track provides a training plan with running/walking distances and times that increase gradually, instructions on a series of strengthening exercises and a “homework” schedule for participants. Each training plan is anchored by the weekly group runs/walks.

“I like going on Sunday morning. It gives you a purpose and the lakefront is a lovely place to run. If the weather is awful and I’m just running by myself, I wouldn’t go, but if I’m meeting someone or I’m part of group, I’ll go,” Sconzert said. 

Participants in this year’s 0-5K Training Program line up in March. Credit: Dan Broughton

In addition to the 0-5K program, the club, which is celebrating its 50th year in 2023, offers group runs every day starting at various times and locations in Evanston, said Rebecca Devine, club president. Some of the approximately 500 club members also run shorter distance events, so the club also provides training in that type of running at the Evanston Township High School track.

The club is very active in the Chicago Area Runners Association. CARA is a consortium of running clubs that holds competitive events throughout the Chicago area. In 2022, the Evanston club’s teams finished the year in first place in three divisions, second in four other categories, fourth in one and fifth in another. Evanston club members also won the following individual awards:

  • Top 10 Overall Male: Chris Wolf (sixth) Scott Mangum (eighth), Daniel Lennington (10th).
  • Top 10 Age Graded: Nancy Rollins (second), Chris Wolf (fifth), Keith Holzmueller (sixth).
  • First In Age Group: Scott Mangum, Keith Holzmueller, Nancy Rollins, Ed Packel.
  • Second In Age Group: Chris Wolf, Bill Leiner, Valerie Mackin.
  • Third In Age Group: Daniel Lennington, Carle Rollins, Catherine Saccany.
  • Female Super Senior Runner of the Year: Nancy Rollins.
  • CARA Racing Award: Bill Leiner, Carle Rollins, Catherine Saccany, Catherine Way, Chris Wolf, Daniel Lennington, Ed Packel, Fritz Gareis, Keith Burns, Keith Holzmueller, Leann Larrey, Nancy Rollins, Scott Mangum, Tom Dubin, Valerie Mackin.

Two club members, Scott Mangum and Jeff Giffin, were inducted into the CARA Hall of Fame in honor of their years of success in running. 

Devine, the Evanston club president, noted that while the club includes runners who are very successful in competition, it also has many members who run simply for health, enjoyment or companionship with other runners. 

“We have all different types of running and all ages of runners,” Devine said. “We just had a member who celebrated their 90th birthday, so that was super fun. We have people who bring their teenagers to participate in the ERC runs.”

For Sconzert, last year’s 0-5K program has proved to be her pathway to returning to the sport, something she encourages others to try. “You might think that you can’t run, but you can. If you can walk, you can run. And I can’t think of an easier and more supportive way to learn than the 0-5K program.”

More information on the Evanston Running Club and its 0-5K Training Program is available here.

Alan K. Cubbage is a freelance writer who lives in Evanston. He is president of the Evanston Bicycle Club. 

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