Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago

7 Tips for Watching the Chicago Marathon

One of the most exciting things to do in Chicago is watching the Chicago Marathon.

One day a year the streets of Chicago are taken over by thousands of runners as they compete against each other – and themselves.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon weaves its way through 29 neighborhoods the second Sunday of October.

Whether you know someone running in the race or not, watching these dedicated athletes is invigorating, inspiring, maybe a little intimidating, and just plain ol’ fun. The sense of camaraderie is infectious! 

Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago
Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago

History of the Chicago Marathon

There are actually two stretches of the Chicago Marathon. The first one began in 1905 and ran until the early 1920’s.

The course originally began in Evanston, a suburb north of the city, and finished at Washington Park on the south side. After that initial race the course changed to take advantage of Chicago’s many neighborhoods.

Due to financial difficulties the Chicago Marathon was on hiatus for five decades. Because the Marathon was resumed largely through the support of Mayor Richard J. Daley, the 1977 race was christened the Mayor Daley Marathon.

Chicago Marathon

Who Can Run the Chicago Marathon?

The Chicago Marathon is open to both amateurs and professional runners. Large purses for the fastest racers ensure that world class runners compete in the race, but with open registration you don’t have to be competing to run.

If you’re looking to run the Boston Marathon the Chicago race is a qualifier.

Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago
Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago

When Does Registration Open?

Registration for the Chicago Marathon generally opens if February. The race is capped and because it is popular with both amateurs and professionals it fills up quickly.

Many people run for various charities, so if registration has already closed you may still be able to find a slot by pledging to raise money for non-profits.

Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago
Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago

What is the Course for the Chicago Marathon?

The course is one of the reasons the Chicago Marathon is so popular.

For one thing it’s mainly a flat course and any hills are slight.

The race begins and ends in Grant Park in the heart of downtown Chicago. From there it takes runners through 29 Chicago neighborhoods, which is one of the favorite aspects of the course.

From Boystown to Chinatown, each one is unique, featuring entertainment and spectators that reflect that neighborhood’s characteristics.

Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago
Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago

Watching the Chicago Marathon

Here are some tips for watching the Chicago Marathon and making the most out of the experience.

1) Stand Out!

If you know a runner, wear something distinctive and bring props to help you stand out. When you tell your athlete what prop you’ll be using, be specific: instead of “balloons”, get giant fish balloons

Watching the Chicago Marathon

2) Map it

Map out your route ahead of time, and plot specific points.

Because several streets are closed during the Chicago Marathon, using Chicago’s public transportation system is the easiest way to get from one spectator location to the next.

If you plan on switching locations during the race, figure out if you’re going to take a bus, a train, go by foot, etc., and plot what side of the street you’ll need to be on so you won’t have to cross in front of the runners.

The Chicago Marathon website features a list of stops and their corresponding miles.

3) Track your runners

If you want to see how your friends and family are faring in the race you can visit one of eight McDonald’s Runner Update Centers.

Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago
Chicago Marathon, photo courtesy Choose Chicago

4) Get the app

Download the Bank of America Chicago Marathon app (Apple store and Google Play) and you’ll be able to track your favorite runners, see real time weather, and have a schedule of events at your fingerprints.

5) Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate

You’re going to be standing in the sun, so bring lots of water. Stores are open but with 1.5 million people there are bound to be lines.

Also bring sunblock, an extra phone charger, and snacks. Band-aids are a good idea, too. One year I witnessed someone fall and get a little scraped up, and it would have been nice to hand her a band-aid.

Chicago Marathon fans

6) Be Loud & Proud!

Cheer! Shout! Encourage everyone! See a name? Scream it out! Have fun! This is no time to be shy.

As a spectator, the best thing you can do for people running the Chicago Marathon is to cheer them on. If you see a name on someone’s clothing encourage them as they run by.

7) Make Reservations

If you don’t already have dinner reservations after the race, make them ASAP! After running a marathon, these people are a little hungry. Tired, maybe, but hungry – definitely. 

The Chicago Marathon is one of the biggest and most well-respected races in the world. Its flat course makes it easier for the runners to get fast race times, the various neighborhoods keep the course entertaining, and the warmth of the Chicago spectators provides the encouragement needed to keep motivation high.

That being said, this is more than just a race. It’s thousands and thousands of people challenging themselves physically and mentally in front of a massive audience.

It’s fun, boisterous, and emotionally uplifting, and we hope these tips help you get the most out of watching the Chicago Marathon!

Do you have tips? Leave a comment!






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