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Palos’ 7th Big Run is done

Like a long-distance runner who lags early but finishes with a burst to win a race, the First Midwest Bank Half Marathon overcame challenges and hit the tape in triumph last Sunday.

The seventh annual event, which bills itself as the premier athletic event in the southwest suburbs, struggled in recent months with financial uncertainty, concerns about security, a slow start in attracting volunteers, and an unseasonably cold winter that severely limited training opportunities for runners throughout the Midwest.

Yet as predicted repeatedly by event co-founder and co-director Jeff Prestinario, of Palos Heights, all the right elements gelled by race day and resulted in success.

“I hope this race goes on and on for years to come,” said Palos Park resident Beth Ann Mayhugh, one of hundreds of people who lined College Drive to cheer on family, friends and neighbors competing. “It promotes the sport, it promotes physical activity, and it’s held in my back yard. I hope they expand it next year and add a fun run for kids.”

Palos Heights Mayor Robert Straz, who helped welcome runners and just over an hour later helped hold the tape hit by Half Marathon winner Ryan Giuliano, of Oakwood Hills, agreed with the upbeat assessment.

“This has been a great day and a successful event,” he said. “A lot of people who otherwise might not come out this way got to see the beauty of this area.”

Earlier, Straz told the gathering, “Many of you come from north or northwest. We want you to know that this is not the vast wasteland of Chicagoland like most of the time it’s portrayed as on the local news. We’ve got a lot of nice assets out here in the southwest suburbs, like Lake Katherine and the many nice restaurants and shops, and we encourage you to take advantage of that.”

While security was not as visible as it was last year (weeks after the terrorist attack at the 2013 Boston Marathon), it was obvious enough to provide a preventive presence. Law enforcement officials were in abundance, from boots on the ground to officers stationed on the rooftop of a nearby office building. Bomb-sniffing dogs and their handlers also walked the route.

The event had a tender moment, as a group of runners surprised event co-founder and co-director Mel Diab, owner of the Running for Kicks specialty running shop, 7158 W. 127th St., Palos Heights, with an award saluting his passion for the sport, his role as mentor and friend to many, and for his use of the event to raise about $165,000 for charity since its founding.

The charities that benefitted this year were the American Cancer Society, the South West Special Recreation Association (SWSRA), and the Lake Katherine Nature Center and Botanic Gardens.

“I’m just lucky to be a part of this running community,” said Diab, his voice wavering slightly. “It’s a two-way street. I get a lot of energy and good vibes from all the people I see out there that come into the store, and I’m just one of the luckiest guys in the world. This is a perfect day for running, and god speed.”

Giuliano’s time of 1:10:15 was tops among men. Amanda was the first woman to hit the tape, at 1:20:24. Some 1,023 runners completed the course, which wound through Palos Heights and Palos Park.

In the newly added 10K race, Adrian Campbell finished first with a time of 40:53. The first woman to finish was Pamela McLeod at the 44:10 mark.

Nearly 60 athletes with special needs participated in the event’s Run, Walk or Roll race, headed by the SWSRA, nearly doubling last year’s final total of 32 participants.

Results for the Half Marathon and 10K race are posted online at theracershub.com.

Prestinario and Diab repeatedly thanked everyone who made the event a success, including corporate sponsors, local units of government, volunteers, participants, spectators and others.

The 2014 First Midwest Half Marathon’s organizing committee will meet next week to share observations and discuss ways to improve the event for 2015. Those with feedback to offer may visit firstmidwesthalfmarathon.com and click on the “Contact” tab.

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