Champaign-Urbana isn’t the only central Illinois community experiencing a running boom these days.
The number of runners in Decatur, and participation in training programs and races, has been increasing in the last several years.
The interest in running, the local races and the city’s walking/running and biking trails helped earn it recognition by the Road Runners Club of America as a Runner Friendly Community. The designation put it in the company of cities such as Lawrence, Kan., Knoxville, Tenn., Missoula, Mont., and Salem, Mass.
The RRCA named 16 cities as runner friendly communities for 2011. The program recognizes communities that promote running as a healthy exercise while keeping runners safe. The applicants are judged on infrastructure, community support and local government support.
“I think we’re growing consistently, and in the last couple of years, we’ve made some leaps and bounds. We’re seeing things happening that are just fantastic,” said John Pranschke, president of the Decatur Running Club. “Everybody wants to be involved.”
One of the signature races of the running club is the Shoreline Classic, a 15K and 5K race around Lake Decatur in mid-September. Shoreline draws elite athletes from around the country for the 15K race.
Pranschke said one of the biggest accomplishments of the running club is the training program for Shoreline.
“That is out of sight now. We have 200 people out there on a Thursday night,” he said.
The club hosts runs around town on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, with Facebook postings on the locations of the runs.
For an 8-week period during the summer, the Staley Striders hosts the Tuesday night runs, which include a longer and a shorter run, a quarter-mile sprint for kids, awards and snacks. The Staley Strides aims to help young runners develop.
Another popular race, drawing about 450 last year, is the Penguin in the Park 5K in March. Author and running columnist John Bingham, who graduated from Millikin University, participates every year and speaks after the race.
The club’s Whitmore Park race in May expanded last year from 10-mile and 5-mile races to a half marathon and 5-miler. Pranschke is race director of the two-year-old Sand Creek Trail Run, a 7.5-mile run through the Sand Creek Conservation Area in October.
This year, the club is instituting a Grand Slam medal for runners who complete four of five local races: Shoreline Classic, Whitmore Park, Sand Creek Trail Run, Penguin in the Park, and the American Heart Association’s 5K run in April.
Pranschke noted several Decatur Running Club races benefit good causes. Shoreline donates money to high school running programs. The Sand Creek Trail Run benefits the Special Operations Warrior Fund, which provides college scholarships and financial assistance to the families of fallen or wounded special operations personnel. Penguin in the Park raises money for the Decatur Indoor Sports Center youth programs and the John Bingham Scholarship at Millikin University.
The running club also sent a group of volunteers to help at the Illinois Marathon last year, Pranschke said.
The Decatur Indoor Sports Center includes a competition-grade indoor track. Decatur also has a series of biking and walking paths throughout the community and plans for a pedestrian path around the lake.