The Chicago Marathon appeals to runners for many reasons. It offers a fast and flat course for those looking to run a Personal Record.

It’s one of the World Marathon Majors for those who want to run all six races. Chicago is a big city marathon with huge cheering crowds for those who seek positive environments. Here are my key tips on the world’s second biggest marathon.

Race Entry. The Chicago Marathon introduced a lottery in 2014. Roughly half those who enter the lottery are accepted, which is a high rate as compared to the less than 20% who win the lottery for the NYC Marathon. The marathon also has a number of charity fundraising entry options. Fortunately, my wife and I both gained entries through the lottery. Be sure to set a reminder note for the lottery date when planning your season.

Destination Race Logistics. If you aren’t a Chicago local, you’ll need a place to stay. We booked through the race’s partner hotel, which worked quite well and got us a great location. Make sure you budget for flights and accommodation to book your preferred locations and timings. Also set another alarm for booking. The sooner you make your reservations, the less likely you’ll hit the marathon rush.

Other Destination Race Logistics to Consider:

  • The event accommodation offers some great options in the Downtown area.
  • Chicago deep-dish pizza is a key attraction. Line-ups of 2 hours, not so much. Pre-plan for the crowds to maintain your race preparation.
  • The architecture boat tours provide an excellent tourist option with great history and sightseeing without too much walking activity.Navy Pier, Millennium Park and the waterfront have some great sightseeing close to the downtown area.

GPS. There is a tunnel in the first mile that will likely cause your device to lose satellite. Plan for this when you set your pacing strategy.

Aid stations. The Chicago Marathon has some of the longest aid stations I’ve ever seen. Aim for the last ⅓ of the stations for a smooth pick-up.

Bridges. The Chicago Marathon crosses a lot of bridges. Many of the bridges have open steel decking, which could cause issues for those in minimalist shoes. Aim for the red carpet across the bridge for a smoother surface.

Tangents. The Chicago Marathon has many turns and every course guide will tell you to run the tangents. 40,000 other people will also be trying to run the tangents, which can lead to a big squeeze in the narrower sections and lots of people in front of you on the tangent. Plan for this and include a few crowded events in your training.

Finish. The finish zone is one of the best I’ve ever seen. There is a long runner recovery area and you can move through without being rushed. The family and friends meeting zone is huge and the post-race party area is well serviced.Educated Running Chicago Marathon Tips

Start Corrals. The start village has porta-potties, but the start corrals don’t (unlike the NYC Marathon). Plan your pre-event hydration and amenity needs to allow for enough time to find your corral before the time cutoff.Educated Running Chicago Marathon Tips

Expo. The Chicago Marathon expo is huge! Another great feature is free shuttle buses to and from the expo. As always, arrive early in order to avoid the crowds.

Personal Record Planning. Getting a good start corral will be a key to running a Personal Record, especially given the tangents and the narrow points. The Chicago Marathon provides seeded corrals, based on previous times in a half or full marathon. Plan your season to include a qualifying event that will set you up for a good corral for a fast run in Chicago. 


Coach Stuart Munro

Coach Munro is a lifestyle-athlete and a running coach based in Brisbane, Australia. He is certified by the Athletics Australia as a Level 3 Middle and Long Distance Running Coach.

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