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Shamrock Shuffle: Eclectic life of Alexi Pappas hits Chicago

Alexi Pappas may be running her first 8K Sunday, but don’t write her off in the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K.

Pappas, who will turn 25 Saturday while in Chicago, returns to the city with an impressive resume on the track and road; and an eclectic resume in life.

Oh, as an added incentive, this is the 10th anniversary of her mentor Deena Kastor setting the women’s record for the Shamrock Shuffle of 24:35.6 on April 3, 2005.

Pappas, a three-time All-American in track, is finishing her masters in interdisciplinary studies at Oregon.

(This is an extended online version of the Shamrock Shuffle preview focused on Pappas with a fact box at bottom.)

There is a racing side to the Shamrock Shuffle–witness the seventh annual elite club 8K competition drawing a record 56 teams this year and the race attracting some of the world’s best runners over the years–but it really is a run into and celebration of spring for Chicago runners more than anything.

“Lots of participants are running in the Boston Marathon and will stretch their legs; and a lot of people have not done anything all winter and this is their chance,’’ executive race director Carey Pinkowski said. “It is just a great tradition.’’

Part of that tradition is drawing elite runners at the front end of the race.

Pinkowski noticed Pappas on the track. In October, she made her Chicago debut as a pacer (a runner who sets a pace in the early miles) for women trying to make Olympic Trail time (2:37) in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. She did such a good job that Pinkowski brought the Nike runner back for the Shamrock Shuffle.

“She is somebody you cultivate and hopefully I have her in the Marathon,’’ Pinkowski said. “It was a great way for her to see the course. She got to see it firsthand. I will be working on her a little bit.’’

Pappas said runners know when it is time to stretch out to the marathon distance. For now, her stretches are shorter. She has never run an 8K before, but she sounds more than ready.

“It is a mixed race, so you will never be alone as a woman,’’ Pappas said. “I will keep looking at whatever body is in front of me. When I need a boost, I will look to the side for positive reinforcement. Goal is to get up there and compete.’’

There the impact of running in the Chicago Marathon shows.

“I love the course,’’ Pappas said. “The crowds are unbeatable. The energy in Chicago is supportive and also driven.’’

Chicago holds its own place for other things for her, too. Last fall, Pappas, a former improv performer, hit the improv scene in town. This week, she plans to take in Greektown.

The extra incentive on Sunday will be the anniversary of Kastor’s record. Pappas also figures it will be good training for her first 10K in a few weeks.

“I am a late bloomer in distances,’’ Pappas said. “I am excited and want it. I am curious about 10K and longer distances.’’

Curiosity and variety have served her well.

Pappas’ life is divided between running and writing. She co-wrote two films. “Tall as the Baobab Tree’’ made the international film fests. “Tracktown: The Movie,” which includes SNL’s Rachel Dratch and Andy Buckley from “The Office,’’ is in post-production. (photo at the top)

There is a five-minute trailer at https://vimeo.com/116505891

Pappas is also a good follow on Twitter (@AlexiPappas) with candid moments, image-stuffed poetry or haiku; and coachy positive-thinking sayings.

She observed that people say some are gifted writers or runners, “but both are learned crafts.’’

“Day to day, it is a very nice lifestyle,’’ Pappas said. “It is taxing physically (training), then I come home and work just as hard at writing. One balances the other out.’’

One thing she has learned is that “running a meet is simpler than navigating the ins and outs of the film world.’’

Asked if she had somebody in writing who serves as a model in the way Kastor does in running, Pappas said Sarah Ruhl, a playwright and essayist who grew up in Wilmette.

Ruhl’s “100 Essays I Don’t Have Time to Write,’’ a collection of short to long essays, is an apt connection to running and somebody Pappas said, “I would meet her if I could.’’

“It is enjoying what you are doing, but it hurts too,’’ Pappas said. “Objectively it hurts, but subjectively there’s some pleasure there.’’

* * * *

Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K

When: Sunday, March 29; first wave starts at 8:30 a.m.

Course: Starts at Columbus and Monroe and ends south of Balbo on Columbus, as far north as Grand, west as Franklin, south as Roosevelt

Course records: Men: 22:35, Kenyan James Kariuki, 1998; women: 24:36, Deena Kastor, 2005

8K Health & Fitness Expo: 10 a.m-8 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, McCormick Place Lakeside Center

Team competitions: Record 56 teams in seventh annual elite club 8K competition

Info: shamrockshuffle.com