Pumpkins in the Park

Pumpkins in the Park 5k celebrates 20th Anniversary

By Junie Burns and Zachary Fishman
Medill Reports

More than 1,300 people took their Halloween costumes for a test run at the 20th annual Pumpkins in the Park 5K on Oct. 19.

Runners enjoyed unusually warm temperatures as they looped through Lincoln Park for the race. Real estate agent Joel Bendtsen was the first across the finish line in 16:51, completing the 5K nearly 20 seconds ahead of the next runner.

“When it’s 70 degrees in the middle of October, you can’t beat it,” said Bendtsen, 34. 

The women’s top spot belonged to 26-year-old fitness clinic manager Emily Paull, who finished with a time of 18:56. Other notable runners included Captain Jack Sparrow, Pac-Man and Forrest Gump.

The family-friendly event also featured pumpkin carving, costume contests and free pumpkin pie for race finishers. 

The race made its debut in 1999 to raise money for the Chicago Park District and was organized by park district employee Krista Bryski-Richard. Today, the 5K supports Night Out in the Parks, a Chicago Park District program overseen by Bryski-Richard that plans over 2,000 events each year.

Hundreds of children, some as young as 2, ran (and crawled) alongside their peers in the “Spooky Sprints” held earlier in the day. The youngest racers toddled across 10 yards while the 10-year-olds covered nearly 400 yards. Superheroes, princesses and animals dominated their costume choices.

Five-year-old Sofia Villarreal, who dressed as Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen,” said she “ran as fast as a cheetah” during her sprint. Businessman Gabe Villarreal, her father and a longtime runner, attested to her first time at the event.

“It’s great seeing her be a part of the running community,” said Gabe, 41. “She loves the bling, getting the medals.”

The VIllarreals participated in Pumpkins in the Park as a family: He and his wife, Sandra, ran their 5K with Sofia in a stroller.

“It really brings out the community and brings out the families,” Gabe said.

The event also attracted hundreds of costume-wearing adults like Corey Fast, 30, who ran her fourth “P in the P” dressed in green and wearing an alligator hat. She didn’t have time to complete the “Chance the Snapper” costume she was planning, Fast said, but the evening was still a success.

Fast attended the race with seven-time participant Doug Baker, 33, who dressed as a pumpkin and was the first costumed runner to finish.

“It’s a great way to get outside in the fall,” Baker said. “It’s just nice to come out and use our parks.”

Photo at top: Kids line up at the start line for the “Spooky Sprints” fun run at the Pumpkins in the Park 20th Anniversary.