5K Takes Flight

By Steve Lund

Just the thought of an airport may give planners anxiety—flight delays, long lines through security, lost luggage. But then consider planning a sports event that is located at an airport? That may be enough to push an event owner over the edge! However, for Indiana-based Vision Event Management, it has proven to be very manageable.

Vision Event Management produces some unusual running events—more than a dozen throughout the Midwest—including some that go through sports stadiums, but none is quite like the O’Hare 5K on the Runway.

The race course is on an operating runway, temporarily closed to air traffic. Planes take off and land on nearby runways, which makes the scenery at this event spectacular.

“It’s as close as you’re going to get to an active runway,” says Chad Antcliff, vice president of events for Vision Event Management. “It’s a unique experience for participants and the staff as well.”

Managing a running event on an airport runway has some unusual challenges, but it also has advantages for event planners. “From a logistics standpoint, it’s probably one of the easier events we do,” Antcliff says. “The route is pretty simple. We don’t have road closures or permits. We don’t have to have corners covered by volunteers or police. We don’t have issues with neighbors or with disrupting businesses. There are a lot fewer moving pieces than you would have with a normal race.”

The big issue—closing a runway at one of the world’s busiest airports—is handled by the race sponsors, United Airlines and the Chicago Department of Aviation.

“It’s nice having good partners to help make that happen,” Antcliff explains. “It would be very difficult if they were not involved for us to pull it off.”

Among the other unusual challenges of this race is parking. Participants are instructed to park in remote lots and are shuttled to the start/finish line.


From a planning perspective, there is one other unusual obstacle: The event managers say they don’t know until two weeks before the run exactly when they will have access to the runway to set up the course.

“That’s our biggest challenge,” says Antcliff. “Two weeks out we find out when they are going to close down the runway. It might be 2 p.m. the day before or it might be 6 p.m. the day before.

“As long as we have the staff and an organizational plan, we can set things up fairly quickly,” Antcliff says. “It’s mostly Vision Event Management staff, but airport personnel are there, too. United is bringing things out. The Department of Aviation is bringing things out. There’s a lot of hustle and bustle at that point.”

Last year, Antcliff says staff members were able to access the runway at about 4 p.m. It took until about 8 p.m. for three teams to set up the start/ finish area, mark the course with cones and set up the post-race area.

The race started at 8 a.m. the next day. There were children’s races starting at 9 a.m. Participants and spectators stayed around for a while, sampling food and looking at airport equipment, but the racing event was cleared off the runway by 10:30 a.m., Antcliff says, and planes were landing there again by noon.


The airport equipment on display is another distinguishing feature of this event. Participants run under the wings of a plane parked on the course. Other pieces of equipment are at the start/finish area.

“The Department of Aviation and United will bring out pieces of equipment that help the airport function,” Antcliff says. “We call it ‘Touch a Truck.’ They can get up, climb in there and check it out, see what it’s all about. They can see not just the enormity of the planes but the snowplows, how huge they are.”


Despite not needing to staff any street corners to stop traffic, the O’Hare 5K on the Runway requires a lot of volunteers. Antcliff estimates there are 200 volunteers helping with shuttle transportation, water stations, passing out food at the finish line, acting as course marshals, handing out race packets and operating a gear-check station, which is necessary because the parking is so far away.

Most of the volunteers are provided by the event’s charity partner, which this year is Cal’s Angels, a pediatric cancer foundation based in St. Charles, Ill.

The event is extremely popular. It draws 4,000 participants, and last year it sold out four weeks before the run.

With that many participants, Antcliff says it takes about 10 minutes for the ones at the back of the pack to get to the starting line.

“It’s quite a sight to see them all streaming down the runway.”

Although there is a lot of involvement in the event from United Airlines employees, Antcliff estimates that less than 10 percent of the participants are airport personnel. Most, he says, are air travel enthusiasts or people who just appreciate the uniqueness of the event.

Antcliff says that there are other running events conducted on airport runways, but he is not aware of any others at a major airport like O’Hare.

Could an event like this be done elsewhere? Antcliff says that has been discussed.

“The big thing is they would need to have the support of the airport authority. That would obviously be a huge component. Also, having one of the major carriers involved helps. They can make a lot of things happen.”



8 a.m., Sunday, September 24, 2017

Race is conducted on a temporarily closed airport runway.