Running through history: Read and Run Chicago fosters curiosity in community members

Allison Yates, founder of Read and Run Chicago, aims to learn about the neighborhoods of Chicago one run at a time.

Of all the running groups in the city, Read and Run Chicago is a bit less focused on pace and more focused on literary and historical exploration.

“Running … makes you feel connected to a place,” Yates said. “But also having the background of a book and the added context, helps click the two things together and really helps [a story] make sense.”

Since moving to Chicago in 2017, the Indianapolis native strived to learn more about her new city. Yates’ work schedule kept her from pursuing her curiosity up until the pandemic, she said she was too busy to read or incorporate frequent runs. However, as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, Yates now has more time to read and run.

“I got to know all the roads around me,” Yates said. “I didn’t know much about the city and running had helped me so much.”

She read “The Battle of Lincoln Park” by Daniel Kay Hertz and was especially moved by the history of post-war building developments in the area. Yates’ experience with this book sparked the idea for Read and Run Chicago.

“The policy that the book talks about, you can see it in real life in these different spots,” Yates said. “That’s when I was like: This makes sense. I would love to run through this book, and I would love to run through other books.”

Yates, 30, of West Town, founded Read and Run Chicago in May 2021. It is part book club, part running club and fully a unique way to see the city.

For over a year, Yates has been reading and running her way through Chicago. She chooses a book that provides historical information about or takes place in the city. She also focuses on supporting local authors, bookstores and businesses. She then plans a running route for the day according to the areas mentioned in the book. Interested runners sign up for each event through Eventbrite, and Yates sends location information two days prior. Her fellow reader-runners meet at a destination relevant to the book. Train stops and historical visitor centers have served as starting points.

When the group meets, they discuss the assigned reading. Then, Yates previews the route and snaps a group photo. As they run, she stops at landmarks along the way to explain their significance and answer any questions.

Kelsea Offner, Yates’ partner, does her best to attend the Read and Run Chicago events. She has trained for half-marathons and Half Ironmans with other running groups, but appreciates the knowledge gained from running with Yates’ group.

“Allison has this really amazing gift of being able to pull out so much information and take it further,” Offner said. “Read and Run creates the ability to move from imagination to reality and allows you to truly step into the story,”

Once the run is completed, Yates continues the conversation by going to a local restaurant or small business. Often, the author or an expert in the subject of the book joins Yates and the group to answer questions and provide more insight.

Read and Run Chicago has created a community for runners seeking more than mileage. The group has recently explored neighborhoods including Pullman, Old Town and Gold Coast. Yates has a steady group of regulars who have been with her since the beginning.

Niki Southern discovered Read and Run through Yates’ Instagram page @readandrunchicago. She is from Arkansas and moved to Chicago in December 2020.

“It [is] so neighborhood focused,” Southern said. “I was coming in [as] a very excited newcomer who wanted to just take it all in and hear other people’s point of view,” Southern said.

The first event she attended was in the South Loop in September, and she has been to at least one event each month. Her favorite run was through Little Italy when the group ran a route based on Jennifer Billock’s “Historic Chicago Bakeries.” They stopped at Alliance Bakery and the restaurant, Pompei.

“I love tacking running on to this experience, but for me it was always about the stories told by Chicagoans about their hometowns,” Southern said. “I think it’s interesting the way Read and Run has connected me to many other things… which is a nice, homey way to feel when you’re new and you don’t know your way around.”

Read and Run Chicago provides a social and historical space for runners. Yates continues to introduce more people to the stories of the city through reading and running.

“All I hoped for was that there were a few people that wanted to do this with me, too,” Yates said. “I’m really happy that it turned out to be true.”