I’ve lived in Oak Park over 10 years, and in that time, I’ve gotten married, had kids, bought a house, and discovered myself as a runner. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been running since high school (although, admittedly, I did mostly field events because I was a horrible runner) and I’d run two marathons, but I never really thought about myself strongly as a runner. I’m sure there is some feminist reasoning for my self-doubt, but that’s a whole other post.
Moving to Oak Park from the Wicker Park neighborhood of Chicago, I reveled in the relatively open streets, the gorgeous houses, the cleaner air, and the mostly harassment-free running experience (although I have had a couple). In the city, I didn’t feel comfortable running in the dark unless it was on busy streets, and I braced myself for the catcalls and random comments during day-time runs. I also totally bit it one day catching my toe on a massive sidewalk crack in Humboldt Park. Running the quiet, tree-lined streets of Oak Park was a virtual running paradise. Granted, it wasn’t the lakefront path, but constantly dodging bikers also gets old.
I did train for one more marathon with the Chicago Area Runners Association, driving in on Saturday mornings to meet the group at Montrose Harbor. I decided, though, that I needed to find more local running support. I knew of the Oak Park Runners Club and their runs out of the old Competitive Foot store, but as a graduate student (and then professor) of education, all my classes were at night so none of their fun runs worked for my schedule. Through the wonderful virtues of the Mom Mail listserv, I found running partners on and off over the next couple of years but nothing long-term or consistent.
It wasn’t until 2013, when I decided to do another marathon (after a 7 year hiatus) and I saw a Mom Mail post from Anne Pezalla (now co-owner of Lively Athletics on Oak Park Ave) looking for other mom runners that my identity as a runner really solidified. I am NOT a joiner, and I was a bit hesitant at first, but I decided I was tired of running alone in the cold. All of a sudden, I had access to lots of women who could/would run all hours of the day, from early morning to during preschool hours to later at night. I found another Korean-American, liberal, woman! And other like-minded, fitness-oriented, strong, funny women.
Since then, Best Foot Forward has become a Road Runners Club of America-certified running club, I have become an executive board member, and we have grown to almost 200 members. I also realized the power of others to motivate you to do more—to push harder, go longer, and really push yourself. You see, when you run by yourself, you generally don’t think to push yourself. I had a subscription to Runner’s World and knew you were supposed to do speedwork and such, but I lacked any motivation to do such things. Running with other women, though, I’ve run 5 marathons within a year, gotten within spitting distance of qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and made some amazing friends.
I’ve also discovered/explored the great running nearby outside of Oak Park—like the natural scenery of the Salt Creek Trail, the hilly challenging loop of Waterfall Glen, and the natural diversity of the Prairie Path. In fact, one of my all-time favorite runs was a 20 miler we did straight west on the Path from Villa Park. It ended in Geneva with amazing smoothies, coffee, and a very mellow ride back to our car on the Metra (I definitely recommend a point-to-point long run if you can manage it). It’s also fun to say you ran through 4 towns before noon.
One of the best things about Oak Park is its community. I love that I know where I can stop for emergency pit stops, identify friends’ cars by their running stickers, throw up running injury questions or resources on our group page, or just meet up other moms for a play date with our friends (or, in one case, trap our children in the middle of the OPRF track while we ran around it). And I can proudly say that I AM a runner, and a pretty decent one at that.
When not running, chasing her children, or digging her way out of paperwork from teaching, you can find Jung at her blog runnerdier.wordpress.com