What better way to encourage exercising than an open, noncompetitive dessert-oriented running club? Credit: Matthew Gilson

I prefer to call myself a runner rather than actually engage in the act of running. I’m a latecomer to the sport, and not always an agreeable participant. For most of the past four years, I’ve run five kilometers outdoors every other day, though that’s not accounting for those frigid months when there’s a good chance I could slip on a hard patch of ice. I put my body through this unpleasant routine partly for the alleged health benefits, and more specifically to counteract my ridiculous sweet tooth. In my 20s, I realized every day can be Halloween if you really want it; in my 30s, I’ve learned my body doesn’t always want it. I still have mixed feelings about running, but at least I’m a little less guilty indulging in an extra scoop of ice cream afterward.

In the spring, my friends Matt Walsh and Geoff Hing decided to “run the runoff.” The Sunday before April’s mayoral election, they took off on a route that started at Lori Lightfoot’s Logan Square residence and ended at Toni Preckwinkle’s Hyde Park home. That 12.5-mile trek inspired them to plot more themed ventures that would allow them (and anyone else) to engage with the city differently. In retrospect, it seems so obvious to pair running and ice cream; what better way to encourage exercising in the heat than a cool treat? By mid-April, seven of us began the first in a series of “Freeze runs.”

Credit: Matthew Gilson

Our basic premise is outlined in a public Google doc—we’re an open, noncompetitive dessert-oriented running club—that also includes a list of different establishments we’ve selected as endpoints. Each run begins at the Freeze, the Logan Square fast-food and soft-serve spot formerly part of the Tastee Freez chain (participants don’t have to eat ice cream at the Freeze before we take off; I definitely don’t have the constitution for it). As I’ve previously written in the Reader, my love for the Freeze borders on unhealthy (I sometimes picture a medium pistachio soft-serve cone to motivate me during a grueling run).

The end destination changes every run, which means we get to try all sorts of frozen treats; with every new route we also extend the distance we travel, which means I get increasingly exhausted after every outing. At the end of the summer, we plan to go from the Freeze to the Original Rainbow Cone in Beverly, a 13.7-mile excursion. (Unless I begin training for a half marathon, like, yesterday, I don’t foresee being able to do the full Rainbow Cone run.)

We frequently shared the Google doc on Twitter before each run, inviting anyone to join us; that’s how we recruited a couple of our regulars, Sarah Joyce and Zach Long, both of whom are friends (our other regulars, Julia Heney and Yana Kunichoff, helped plan the Freeze runs from day one). We don’t time our runs, since it’s not a race, and we want to encourage people of all levels of experience to join in—our feat isn’t complete till everyone finishes. So far, we’ve gone on seven treks that have taken us through Humboldt Park, Ukrainian Village, Wicker Park, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Avondale, Irving Park, Albany Park, and the West Loop. Our longest journey was roughly five miles, which happened by accident; Susie’s Drive Thru in Albany Park was closed the night we arrived, so we recalibrated and sped off to Alaska Paleteria y Neveria, about a mile away.

Credit: Matthew Gilson

Whenever we finish and order ice cream, I’m usually covered in a thin veneer of sweat, though I can’t recall any scoopers asking about our small crew; a few times, fellow Freeze fiends have asked if we’re in a running club, usually after noticing one of us stretching.

My attitude toward running hasn’t completely changed. It can still feel like a chore, though one that requires more time and attention than taking out the garbage. But the Freeze runs have allowed me to be more considerate with the time I spend exercising. I haven’t stopped my routine circles around my neighborhood park’s dirt track, but if running affords me some quality time with friends and lets me experience the city in an entirely new way, I’m all for it. And on those humid summer evenings I’ve spent running up long, barren stretches of concrete, at least I’ve been able to reward myself with ice cream at the end.

A couple weeks ago, we traveled to Rakki Cafe, a newish Wicker Park establishment that specializes in Asian desserts. We went around part of the Humboldt Park Lagoon, then eventually across a stretch of Augusta I knew decently well. Near Damen, we passed two Muslims praying on the sidewalk; when we turned north on Wolcott, we stopped to pose next to the “Shit Fountain,” an infamous site I’d seen online but had previously managed to miss in person. At Rakki Cafe, I ordered the matcha-and-black-sesame soft-serve. I wish all my exercise experiences contained so many unexpected delights.   v

Credit: Matthew Gilson