CARA – 40th Anniversary: Running Through Time

The Chicago Area Runners Association (CARA), a non-profit organization, started in 1978 as a protest movement and running club. Rooted in seeing the world from a runner’s perspective, the founders of CARA emerged as the voice of a grassroots project that demanded high quality race standards, more opportunities for women to run and top notch training programs. Since then, CARA has championed the running movement across Chicagoland, functioning as an organization dedicated to running advocacy, runner education, youth running, training programs, a competitive race circuit and free park runs so that everyone can simply “Go Run.”

(Beginning in late-August 2018, as CARA celebrates its 40th year, come back each Thursday for highlights of CARA's storied history)

1977 - Inaugural Mayor Daley Marathon (now the Bank of America Chicago Marathon).  More than 4,200 runners pay the $5.00 registration fee to run, making it the largest “mega” marathon in the world at the time

1978 – CARA is incorporated. Sensing an advocacy void in the running community and outraged by the Chicago Marathon’s proposed noon start*, Bill Robinson, Sharon Mier, Erma Tranter and Noel Nequin gathered on Mier’s front porch and formed the Chicago Area Runner’s Association (CARA). They had three goals: organize more races, increase women’s participation and offer more support to existing races

*Between 500-2000 runners (depending on the sources) wear black armbands to protest the Chicago Marathon’s later start time (moved from noon to 10:30 a.m.) and the increase in the entry fee from $5 to $10. The slogan for the event becomes “10 o’clock too late, $10 too much.”

CARA founds and produces its first race: the Lakefront 10

CARA is responsible for development of the cinder jogging path in Lincoln Park (the 10 Mile path is extended to 17.5 by 1988)

CARA and Friends of the Park sponsor Fun Runs on alternate Sundays through the summer at seven historic parks (followed by a tour of the park)

  • Running Scene Perspective: the Chicago Marathon was 85 degrees (technical fabrics with “wicking” abilities did not exist); many road races did not start on time; courses were not always measured correctly; water was considered by some to be unnecessary; there was no race Circuit; there were few well-structured training programs; in spite of the running boom, runners were largely considered misanthropes and loners; marathons were unpopular, male-dominated and geared toward the serious runner; college athletes “retired” after college; prize money was frowned upon for amateur athletics; and women were mostly absent from the sport altogether

1979 - CARA starts its popular Runners’ Choice Race Circuit (results tracked from 1981-present) and publishes “CARA Tips on Road Racing” (the booklet discusses putting on a safe, high-quality road race and it is circulated nationally and internationally in Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, South Africa, Philippines, Singapore and Malaysia).

1980 – CARA founds and produces the first Shamrock Shuffle (now the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K); CARA puts on a Road Race seminar that attracts 136 attendees.

1981 - CARA buys a Chronomix clock that it rents to races; annual membership costs $5.00; Bill Robinson starts a “Computer Task Force” to teach volunteers how to use a computer; CARA members receive CARA’s popular newsletter: Finish Line; CARA starts its first race certification program.

1982 – CARA membership increases to $10.00; CARA served as part of a seminar held in conjunction with the Women’s Sports Foundation on Women’s Fitness and Sports Medicine.

1983 – CARA membership reaches 1,960; CARA distributes a questionnaire to circuit participants: 85% vote “no” for prize money at races; CARA stages a running clinic for disadvantaged youth; CARA works with the Chicago Police Department to develop a training bulletin for police officers; CARA works with the Illinois Governor’s Council on Physical Fitness to develop a Road Race Recognition Program to ensure safety in road racing.

1984 – CARA creates the first annual calendar of running events in Chicago; CARA starts a Community Service Committee and a Running Club Service Committee; CARA creates its first press kit and celebrates its first Open House for running clubs at the CARA office.

1985 – CARA puts on a Race Walking clinic; 3000 runners register for the Shamrock Shuffle; CARA involved with making the sport more accessible to athletes with disabilities; in spite of a growing membership, CARA starts to experience financial hardships.

1986 – CARA gets a new logo and starts its first Running 101 clinic; CARA manages the course and volunteers for the Chicago Marathon.


1987 – CARA celebrates its 10 year anniversary! CARA considers putting on a marathon after the Chicago Marathon fails to find a sponsor, but CARA also struggles to secure a sponsor so no marathon is held in Chicago that fall; CARA and The Athlete’s Congress (TAC) meet to discuss the “poor state of running in Chicago”; CARA outlines a youth running program to launch in 1988 and starts a recurring column in Windy City Sports.


1988 – CARA works with the Chicago Park District, Friends of the Park and the Chicagoland Bicycle Federation to measure the Lakefront Trail and produce maps; Running 101 and 201 programs held; CARA launches a Youth Running Clinic; CARA increases member discount at races from $1 to $2; CARA’s only office computer dies.


1989 – The Great CARA office fire (CARA loses all of its records); CARA starts first marathon training program (Brian Piper starts it – 35 people register; Piper and Hal Higdon later develop the program further); CARA focuses its energy on race management and race production.


1990 – By 1990, CARA has served more than 20,000 runners and 90 running clubs; more than 125,000 runners have run CARA races; CARA’s biggest focus is race operations; David Patt starts his tenure as the longest acting Executive Director in CARA history; CARA uses the word “advocacy” for the first time when describing part of its mission; CARA owns nine events; 65 runners sign up for the marathon training program.


1991CARA has 26 Circuit races; 100 people sign up for the marathon training program; David Patt becomes the sole employee of CARA to save overhead costs, and CARA moves its office to a member’s rent-free space.


1992 – CARA adds the Chicago Marathon to its new “Marathon Warm Up Circuit”; CARA adds a Participation Circuit; The Shamrock Shuffle is the biggest ever with 7000 runners, 500 walkers and 200 kids; Patt takes CARA out of the race management business while the four pillars of CARA become recognition, information, education and advocacy.


1993 – CARA disbands the Lakefront 10; CARA adds a Clydesdale (and later Athena) division to its Circuit Awards.


1994 – CARA expands its marathon training program to the suburbs; 284 people enroll in the marathon training program.


1995 – CARA helps the Chicago Park District with improvements to the Lakefront Trail; CARA experiences the first steady increase in membership since the 1980s; CARA gets its first email address: cararuns@aol.com.

2000 – CARA sells the Shamrock Shuffle to LaSalle Bank and Carey Pinkowski, Executive Race Director of the Chicago Marathon, comes to the helm of the celebratory 8K race that kicks off the racing season in Chicago.


2003 – CARA pays for a water trough on the Lakefront Trail at Diversey.


2005 – CARA debuts its Winter Marathon Training Program; CARA organizes its first Circuit Hall of Fame and inducts 31 runners.


2006 – CARA buys back the Lakefront 10; CARA starts its popular Six Series Social Runs; CARA hosts first annual Marathon Super Clinic.

2007 – CARA stages its inaugural Ready to Run 20 Miler, the idea of former Executive Director Betsy Armstrong, a fully supported point-to-point 20 miler on Chicago’s LFT.

2008 – CARA introduces its Road Scholars Program, a mentoring and training program for at-risk high school students. The program seeks to use running as a vehicle to build confidence and self-esteem.


2011 – CARA starts its Green Race Certification Program.


2012 – CARA launches its Youth Circuit presented by Mathnasium and Youth running programs.


2015 – CARA introduces the Ribbon Mile, and announces its first Lifetime Achievement Award winner – the late Warren Utes.

2016 – CARA ends its Road Scholars Program; CARA introduces the Go Runs. Go Run is produced in partnership between CARA and the Chicago Park District. Go Runs are FREE and open to anyone in an effort to make running enjoyable and accessible to all, both newcomers and long-time runners alike. Through Go Run, CARA and the Chicago Park District have an objective to activate neighborhood parks, build communities and encourage an active lifestyle through running and volunteerism.