Review: Chicago Marathon Training with CARA

Chicago Marathon Training GroupThis summer, I trained with the Chicago Area Runners Association, aka CARA, Chicago Marathon Training Group at Yankee Woods in Oak Forest.

Because I ran the marathon on behalf of the American Cancer Society’s DetermiNation program, I was able to sign up for the CARA summer marathon training program for free. (I could have also signed up with Chicago Endurance Sports [CES] instead, but they did not have any south suburban locations.) I ran at the CARA training site in Oak Forest – this group is also known locally as the Yankee Runners, because they train in Yankee Woods. I’ve actually met many of them at the Monday night group runs at Running For Kicks. The Yankee Runners also do a free (non-CARA) winter marathon training program (just group long runs) in preparation for the Illinois Marathon.

Perks of Summer Marathon Training with CARA

  • CARA Summer Marathon Training tech shirt and some other swag (I think a Clif Shot and pack of Clif Shot Bloks and other typical race swag)
  • CARA Summer Marathon Training booklet, with suggested training plans and other training advice
  • Access to the CARA indoor area before and after the Chicago Marathon. (I did not utilize this because I had access to the ACS tent, but I believe the CARA area included private gear check and bathrooms, and a place to stay warm before the race. I think this was also open to all CARA members.)
  • Weekly group long runs on Saturday mornings following Hal Higdon’s beginner, intermediate and advanced marathon plans. The long runs included:
    • Pace leaders
    • Gatorade and water stations every 2-3 miles
    • Snacks post-run, usually watermelon, pretzels, peanut butter, M&Ms, cookies, etc
    • Post-run massages on-site for $1/minute after some of the long runs
    • Access to lots of other veteran marathoners for advice
    • Motivation from the site leader and other runners
  • Supported run during our second-to-last longest run (the usual Gatorade/Water stations had additional snacks like pretzels, oranges, Swedish fish, GU, etc)
  • Free registration for the Newton Ready-to-Run 20 miler (I did not do this because I had a wedding the night before, so I did my 20 miler with my running club, but I  still got the shirt because I gave my bib to a friend and he picked it up for me)
  • Social events – we had one on-site post-run breakfast early in the summer, and I think there was a dinner on a weekday evening later in the summer [I did not attend] and there is a post-marathon banquet [but I will be out of town]
  • A Super Clinic the Saturday before our first group run (I did not attend because I ran the Sunburst Half Marathon that day)
  • One-year subscription to Running Times magazine
  • Weekly emails with advice and other updates

Cost: $144-219. (Depending on if you are a CARA member and have ever done a training program with them before.)

What was a part of summer marathon training but open to anyone:

I do not know if all CARA training sites are like what I listed above, or if this is just how the Oak Forest group operates. Also, I could have bounced around and run at a different CARA site each weekend if I wanted to. (All participants at all the sites received a reflective shoe tag to identify them as part of the program.)

The rest of our training runs were not part of the training program. We only met on Saturdays (and Wednesdays if you could make it to the track workouts). Although many of these runners did run on Mondays at Running For Kicks, but those are free group runs open to anyone.

Who Should Sign up for Chicago Marathon Training Groups?

Overall, I think the training program is good for runners who like running with other people or need the support of other runners, but don’t already belong to an organized running club. The CARA program divides up runners by pace, so it’s also good if you like to run at a consistent pace every week.

The water stations along the way (I brought my handheld and would refill) and the food afterward were extremely beneficial. But, this could be replicated if your running club is organized enough to assign people to drop water along a pre-planned route, and someone (or just you) brings snacks for afterward. Or, if you run solo, you can just plan your run to loop back home a few times, and get your fill of water/snacks there. But that requires a lot of pre-planning, so it was nice that someone else took care of it.

Also, I always appreciate the camaraderie of runners, and the willingness of veteran runners to share their advice. My club has a lot of “newer” runners, and not a lot of veteran runners (people who have been running for 5-10 years or more). I did find that the CARA group did have a lot of veteran runners (and not just the pace leaders). And it was a boost to see “normal” looking people who were training for their 5th or 10th marathon or whatever. If they can do it (and keep coming back), I can finish a marathon, too.

So, to sum up, I think a CARA training program might be good for you if:

  • You don’t like running alone and don’t already belong to a club (or, no one else in your club is training for a marathon and therefore doing super-long runs)
  • You want supported long runs and don’t have an organized group or other runners with which to plan for water drops, post-run snacks, etc
  • You like running with pace groups
  • You’re a newbie and looking for the advice/support of veteran runners

I’m not sure if I would do another CARA training program because I already belong to a running club. I will, however, continue to renew my CARA membership ($35/year) for the race discounts, other local discounts, events, subscription to Runners’ World, and occasional race-day perks.

Have you ever trained with CARA or another training program? What did you think of it?


Share this post

11 Comments on “Review: Chicago Marathon Training with CARA”

  1. Just to throw in my two cents, i probably wont do the summer training again. I would like to think that i know enough runners that i could beg someone to do a long run with me every now and then. I am a huge fan of the winter training though. Its like half the price, and the groups are MUCH smaller and more personal. Super nice when it’s 10 degrees out and you would rather die then get out of your bed 🙂

    Actually no – winter training is awful – everyone stay away! IT’S MINE!

    1. Haha! My club had a pretty consistent group that came out all winter, I hoping they will continue to do so this winter. I just pray that they stop with the whole 7am start thing. Come on! It’s winter! Let’s start at 10am.

      1. Maggie – We will never start at 10am because we have kids and hubby’s who freak out when we leave the house. We have to sneak out of the house while they are still sleeping or they don’t let us leave. It sucks.

        You could probably start a 2nd SAT morn group at a later time for the non-mom’s. I think we have a big enough mix that it would work!

  2. When I signed up to do their training program last year, the local running groups were much smaller and I didn’t really know anyone else. The CARA program forced me to go out there and join a running group.

    With my pace leader, I felt I did get a lot of training and really good advice but it is my understanding that other groups and other pace leaders didn’t have that type of camaraderie or guidance (my pace leader was voted pace leader of the year for 2 years in a row).

    With how much the FN Runners have grown, I don’t know if I’d do the CARA training group again. I guess I’ll make that decision when I sign up for another Chicago Marathon… 😉

  3. I signed up for the CARA program last year because we didn’t have many local people training for the marathon. However, since hubby works most Saturday mornings, I had to take the SUN option at Montrose Harbor. I think I made the drive 2x before calling it quits. First, they didn’t start until 7am and I normally start my long runs between 4:30 and 5am. Second, it was a solid hour drive each way. Add in the fact that I’m not a consistent runner in regards to pace (too hot, I slow down. nice & cool – I speed up.) it was hard to find a spot where I fit in. The F’N Runners are way better for my personality and whacky pace. 🙂

    1. I feel the same way. I don’t really have one pace … I have a range of paces depending on weather, distance, how I’m feeling, etc. I would often fall behind the pace group during the CARA groups, which was fine with me, but then I think the pace group leader would feel like she couldn’t leave anyone behind. Which was nice, but by all means, leave me behind if I fall off pace. We ran the same route every week. I’ll find my way back. Also, sometimes I like to keep to myself during a long run, which is another reason I fall back during runs.

  4. I trained with CARA last year and I loved it. But I wasn’t part of a running club and I had no one to run with so it was a life saver.. I did hear from people that have gone to multiple sites that the Darien site had a lot more camaraderie than others. What has kept me from doing it again is the price…since I barely have any income it makes it hard for me to pay to train with them every season. But through it, I did make some really good friends.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.