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Area runners prepare for Chicago Marathon to benefit a good cause

Updated: October 11, 2013 11:10PM



A focus on personal athletic preparation and support for local charities are hallmarks of many local runners’ days and hours leading up to the Chicago Marathon.

Sunday morning’s running of the 36th annual Chicago Marathon will feature hundreds of Northwest Indiana participants. Among them will be 355 runners who will take to the 26.2-mile city course to benefit the region-based Opportunity Enterprises.

More than 150 Calumet Region Striders have also prepared for the endurance event through months of cross training and securing donations for OE, which assists with the educational, vocational and residential needs of people with disabilities.

Cal Striders president Frank Johnson said the group that promotes every aspect of competitive and fun running is ready for the most prominent race since the Boston Marathon in April.

“During the last couple weeks I tried to be low-key (online) and not let it get hyped-up, but then as the last couple days have come I said, ‘now it’s time to let the beast out,’” said Johnson.

David Stupay, the new president of Opportunity Enterprises of Valparaiso, said the Striders and numerous other Northwest Indiana runners have been stepping up for 15 years to support the organization. In that time, the non-profit has benefited from nearly $1.5 million in pledges.

“To see the community back our runners and see the runners want to support our programs and the people we serve by dedicating their time, (which is) a large commitment, is absolutely astonishing,” said Stupay, who took the OE post in August.

About 2,500 separate pledges were solicited by participating runners this year. More than $187,000 was paid to OE. The donations have been earmarked to fund living quarters for the disabled at Lake Eliza in Porter County.

Cal Striders’ preparations for the Windy City event — from trudging through the sand at the dunes to jogging along rural roads — start early. Many participate in the group’s Gold Cup races that function as a series of stepping stones before October. Training programs are in full stride by June.

Johnson, 50, first ran the Chicago Marathon in 1988. A year earlier he had watched his brother complete the event. After a decade-long break from the competition, and with his “once-a-runner-always-a-runner attitude,” he earned his best time of 3:11 in 2005.

With a start and finish in Grant Park and traversing Chicago’s neighborhoods from Wrigley Field to U.S. Cellular Field, the marathon is ultimately a test of willpower — and perhaps a case of mind over matter, according to Johnson.

“I recently saw a quote that read that the marathon is 80 percent mental and 20 percent physical,” Johnson said. “You just have to know that the last five or six miles is gut-check time… I’m constantly watching my pace.”

Johnson said the Striders would man a tent at Mile 5, having practiced for the all-important water cup hand-off to runners. OE fans will gather at Mile 14 to cheer participants.



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