By Talie Leeb
In the morning hours before the South Side Irish Parade’s official noon start it’s not much of a surprise to see spectators arriving to the parade route. Drawing 200,000+ visitors from the city and beyond each year, showing up early is the way to go if you want to scope out the best place to set up lawn chairs and coolers and settle in to wait for the festivities to begin.
But not everyone is there to sit back and relax. In recent years early comers have been greeted by the sight of 100-odd runners, sprinting down the street as they compete in the Emerald Isle Mile.
The one-mile race began in 2012, coinciding with the Parade’s return from a two-year hiatus. The run was half fundraiser, half experiment. It was James “Skinny” Sheahan, of “Skinny & Houli” South Side Irish radio fame, who suggested to Running Excel’s owner Beverly Lynch that a pre-parade run might be an exciting way to kick off parade festivities while raising a little money for charity. Parade organizers said it sounded like a great way to add a family-friendly activity to the parade, and an addition to the tradition was born.
For the last eight years spectators have cheered on the runners who are usually decked out in costumes or head to toe green, as they race down Western, taking off from 104th Street and running a half mile to 108th Street before turning and heading to the finish outside Running Excels.
Over the years the miler has registered about 100 to 120 participants each year. Lynch says it’s been difficult to attract more racers to an early morning sprint; active track athletes from local high schools aren’t allowed to run in extra-curricular races, and a lot of the 21+ crowd would rather start celebrating the holiday early instead of lacing up their running shoes. So, Lynch and the Parade organizers decided that 2020 will be the final Emerald Isle Mile.
It’s goodbye for now, but maybe not forever. Lynch says she’s open to the idea of bringing the race back if enough people miss it, “maybe in five years, or for a special anniversary, we’ll do it again and see how it goes”. After all, she says, one of her favorite things about the neighborhood is how active it is, and if there’s anywhere for a celebratory pre-St. Patrick’s event to make its home, it’s Beverly/Morgan Park.
The Emerald Isle Mile registrants receive a free tee-shirt. Sign up at Running Excels, 10328 S. Western, or online at www.runningexcels.com.