Just a Matter of Time – RNR Chicago 2017

We turned right onto Michigan Avenue right about the 10K mark. My early estimate was that he’d be coming up to pass us between mile 6 and 9. Sure enough, not 100 meters past the turn, there was Greg, passing us on the right. He slowed down just enough that we could hand him our beer tickets.

Rock n Roll Chicago 2017 was another milestone for the RNR loyalists. Greg Heilers became the 7th person to finish 100 Rock n Roll Heavy Medal events (101 if you count the 10K in Brooklyn, which he didn’t). He’s the third one to reach that mark in 2017.  He’s been racing on the RNR circuit since 2008, and after ramping up to do 55 in the last three years, it was just a matter of time.


I say that last sentence lightly, but it belies the magnitude of the work required to keep going that long. There’s the physical toll to doing 34 marathons and 66 half marathons and dozens of 5K’s and 10K’s – and that’s just in the Rock n Roll series. Then there’s the financial aspect. The races are in 30+ different locations, and now five different countries and three continents. Greg has raced in all locations except Lisbon. Reportedly, that’s on the list for 2018.

100 races seems to be frighteningly common though. Before we started racing, we didn’t know many people who did more than a couple of races a year. Now it seems we know more people who’ve done 100 races than people who have NOT.

Chicago in July can be a bit muggy, but this year was surprisingly nice with temperatures for the 5K and Half starting in the mid-60’s. There were some apps we had that were forecasting thunderstorms on Sunday morning, but they never materialized.

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This year we had the honor of celebrating another milestone – the 50th anniversary year of Katherine Switzer’s historic run of the Boston Marathon. She was the first woman to run Boston, back when race directors were worried that running 26.2 miles would make a woman’s uterus fall out. She had to register as “K. V. Switzer”, like she always signs her name. But the initials masked her gender.


We spent a few hours at the Expo as usual. The redesigned Hall of Fame medal was finally revealed at the Rock n Roll booth. The first chance to pick one up will be in Virginia Beach.


We also picked up a few items for Drew. He couldn’t make the trip, but he was on our minds. In addition to the special edition racks for the Chicago locals, Pete and Marcey at SportHooks had something that crossed the miles with the just the right sentiment.


Saturday July 15th – 5K
The new course was a double out and back with some time in the park and some on the water. Katherine kicked off the weekend with a word about 261 Fearless, her organization that promotes women’s empowerment through fitness. She’s 70 years old and can still clock in the low 2 hours for a half marathon.


One at the start. One at the finish. We’ve done this so many times, it’s a lot more fun taking pictures of my friends than of the course. We were just a few dozen meters behind Katherine and her 261 Fearless group as she added yet another chapter to her inspiring career.


On the way home, we took a quick detour. Tamara and Al still hadn’t added the tyranitaur to their Pokemon Go inventory and there just so happened to be a raid a block off the path back to the hotel. Mission accomplished! Also, Beth and Jim in classic gypsy fashion, just happened upon us on the way back to their hotel, just in time for a group selfie.


After lunch, we caught the opening weekend showing of Spiderman Homecoming. 2017 has been a great year to take some time off our feet for race weekend movies! We had a good light dinner at Filini’s. I’m definitely marking that place down for a return trip!


The cool evening weather was a rare treat. Tawni, Al, Susan and I took a late night stroll out to the Navy Pier fireworks display. The place was packed. Note to tourists. Be careful if you sit on the grass. The sprinklers went on in two different patches.


Here’s the abbreviated version, in case you went to bed early and missed it. Tawni was live streaming it and SOME people who should have been asleep started a comment war :).


Sunday, July 16th – Half Marathon
The pre-race meeting at gear check was a well orchestrated surprise for Greg. Champagne shots flowed. Ainsley and Amy produced a few dozen custom shirts in Greg’s signature neon yellow color. The big reveal went over well.


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Quick pre-race pic for our missing gypsy. Kamika went off to his usual start line position.


Greg usually starts in corral 3 and finishes in the 1:30 – 1:40 range for the half. Since he wanted to see people on the course, he decided to start with his brother in dead last and see people as he passed them during the race. This way a few of his friends could make it to the finish line to hold the tape and take pictures. Starting that far back must have been driving him crazy.

Photo Credit: Kamika Smith

The course hasn’t changed much in the 8 years we’ve done it. We cross a few tricky bridges, pass the Chicago theater sign, pass 7 streets named after presidents take that right on Michigan for the three-mile straightaway, take the cheer tunnel hairpin on Martin Luther King Jr. and head back under the McCormick Center. Support was pretty good this year. The water stations were fully stocked, the sponges and cooling station between mile 10.5 and 11 probably didn’t have as many customers as they might have if it were hotter. I was working on some technique tips I picked up at the USATF outdoor championships and came within a few minutes of my Chicago PR. Susan has been running more consistently with a goal of putting up a sub-2:30 to let her move up one more corral for Disney Superheroes in November. She beat that mark with time to spare.

And Greg? He got his 100th Rock n Roll finish line. Apparently, he was going so fast that they missed him the first time around but Amy and Ann did a reenactment. After that many races and thousands of miles, what’s another dozen meters to get it right?

Photo Credit Almi Del Villar Instagram almin8dv

It’s been 50 years since that milestone at Boston. It’s been nearly 10 years since Greg’s first Rock n Roll to his 100th. The more I keep coming back to these events, the more I know that it’s all a matter of passion.

Keep working. Keep showing up. Keep finding something that inspires and motivates you and you’ll reach your next goal.

It’s just a matter of time.


Rock n Roll Chicago is in its 8th year. There were 14,985 finishers in 2017 (9.834 in the half, 2,207 in the 10K and 2,944 in the Remix 5K), down from last year’s total of 16,531. This is the 8th year in a row we’ve done the race, most of any RNR. Missing that inaugural year is really bumming me out now.

The course remains one of my favorite urban half marathons, even with the Midwest summer weather. It winds through a mix of classic old downtown, and is well supported. Short of 2016’s thunderstorms, we haven’t had any issues with weather for this location.

Greg Heilers has at least 250 lifetime races at all distances. Including the Remix distances, 137 of those are under the Rock n Roll brand, putting him third in that category. He also sits at 1888 total Rock n Roll miles (3rd) and has the most miles run in a single year (550.5 in 2016). 

He is also raising money for the Chicago Marathon as part of the team representing the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicago. In some races, Transamerica sponsors a “Tomorrow Chaser” that starts last and the company donates a dollar for every person the chaser passes during the race. Transamerica doesn’t sponser this location and while Greg didn’t actually ask for donations, I decided to pledge a penny per pass based on his finish position. If you’re interested in helping him reach his $1000 goal, be sure to visit his website here.

Year 10 for RNR Chicago is next year. Once the 2018 Tour Pass goes on sale, we’ll be signed up for sure.


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