Despite the open course (meaning the streets weren’t blocked off to traffic) and the double loop (meaning participants ran the same 1.5 mile route twice rather than running a single five kilometer course), the lengthily titled Park Forest Running and Pancake Club (PFRPC) Midwinter Cruise 5K has a certain grassroots charm to it. Maybe it’s the group’s prominently displayed motto (“Start Slowly and Taper Off”) or the unlimited pancakes and sausages they offer inside the junior high after finishing or the volunteer at the mile two marker who yelled out runner’s times as they passed and then added some variation of “…approximately! It’s definitely close to that…” or maybe it’s just the feeling of running on a quiet neighborhood street with around 200 other people when it’s 15 degrees outside. Whatever it is, this $25 race has something going for it beyond simple race logistics.

Pancake club

Kicking off at 10:30am (a generous race time for a Sunday morning, thank you), the Midwinter Cruise 5K followed a basic (and well-marked) double loop through a Park Forest neighborhood, starting and finishing in front of Forest Trail Middle School. The school’s gym and basement were used as base camp, giving runners a warm place to register, pick up their bibs and custom race gloves (better than a race shirt, if you ask me), stretch and enjoy the post-race pancakes and sausages. The mostly facetious “cruise” theme of the race was not as prominent as it might have been, with a few runners wearing leis and other warm weather items, but the age group trophies (broken into five year groups instead of the more typical ten) featured sailboats instead of runners, which added a nice touch.

pancake club midwinterIf there’s anything to quibble with regarding the organization of the race and the course, it’s that though this was a chip-timed event, there was no electronic timing strip to cross at the starting line, meaning everyone’s time started at the same time regardless of where you started in the pack. In such a small pack this probably would result in a discrepancy of a few seconds at most, but in such a short distance run a few seconds can be a legitimate concern.

Though this is the 8th annual Midwinter Cruise 5K, the PFRPC has been around since 1978, making it a fairly well established running group. For those interested in shelling out $25 and traveling to the suburbs of Chicago for a cold weather 5K it’s a pretty ideal trip, but don’t expect a luxury cruise. This is old-school grassroots all the way.