Running the Chicago Marathon: What You Want to Know

Chicago Marathon 2019 starting line

Why Run Chicago

Running the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on October 13th, 2019 was an amazing experience. Chicago is a “fast and flat” course that begins and ends in Grant Park, and takes you through 29 vibrant neighborhoods in the city. I can’t think of a better way to see the city of Chicago. Between the great crowd support, organization and amenities, It was a perfect choice for my first marathon. Whether you are thinking of taking the plunge and running your first full marathon like me, or have many marathons under your belt, the Chicago marathon is an excellent choice. Read on for everything you want to know about running the Chicago Marathon.

The Expo

Bank of America Chicago Marathon Expo 2019
Bank of America Chicago Marathon Expo

The expo was held at McCormick Place the Friday and Saturday prior to the race. There was a complimentary shuttle bus that picked up and dropped off at the Hilton on Michigan Avenue. It was really efficient, and easy and I recommend using if it’s convenient to where you are staying.

At the expo you will pick up your race bib and packet, so it’s essential that you arrive in time to attend. They will also provide you with a bag to check personal items prior to the race. Your bag check ticket will be attached to your bib, along with instructions. It’s a great expo with many popular brands represented and lots of little freebies. I was so excited to purchase everything with Chicago and 26.2 on it!

Don’t miss the booth giving out the free posters. It’s a really nice keepsake in itself. Although not an original idea, after the race I saw posts from other runners who had framed the poster with their medal and bib and I thought it was just perfect. Of course I had to try it and pass on the idea!

Where to Stay

I recommend finding a hotel close to Grant Park. It will just make it easier for you to get where you need to be on race morning. The Hilton on Michigan Avenue is the official race headquarters hotel, and is very close to the gates that lead to the corral entrances. This is where I stayed and it was very convenient. My walk was less than 5 minutes. The Congress hotel, also on Michigan Avenue, is even closer to the gate entrances. If you are from out of town, not having to worry about finding your way early in the morning is a definite bonus. If you are comfortable navigating the city, or are familiar with Chicago you may want to find less expensive options farther away.

Race Morning

Chicago Marathon 2019 morning in Grant Park
Sun rising over Grant Park, marathon morning

I was really torn on how early I should arrive in Grant Park on race morning. The race website recommended arriving two hours prior to my start time, which was 6 AM. This seemed like a lot of time to be standing around and waiting. Plus, it was really chilly! I hated the thought of shivering in the cold waiting to start running. I read conflicting advice online and finally just decided to follow the official instructions. This turned out to be the right decision.

When you enter your designated gate, you will go through a security checkpoint. Don’t try to bring in any bags with you other than the clear plastic bag provided to you at the expo for the bag check. There was a person ahead of me in line that was turned away for having a back pack. You are allowed to have a running belt. I brought one and had everything I needed for the race in it. I had family meeting me after the race with warm clothes, so I had decided not to check a bag.

The line moved through security very quickly. Unfortunately, the later you come, the longer the line will be to get through security. And you will still have to wait in a long line for the port a potties. That’s always a concern on race morning! Once you get through security, you can head to bag check if you need to, and then find your corral. There were no lines at the port a potties this early, but that changed very quickly! It was still quite a while before race time so I sat on the steps and watched the city wake up. It was nice to not feel rushed.

Trying to stay warm in Corral G before the race

Make sure you bring warm “throw away” clothes to wear before the race starts. Once you start running, and you warm up, you can throw your clothes off to the side of the road, where they will be collected for charity. I was so glad that I brought a warm jacket, and gloves. It was positively freezing that early in the morning. I saw people wearing pajamas, bath robes, ponchos, you name it, over their running clothes.

The Course

Chicago Marathon 2019 course
  • There are 20 aid stations along the course. Water and gatorade endurance were provided. I had a water bottle in my running belt and really didn’t need it. Later in the race bananas and energy gels are provided. It gets very slippery in front of the gatorade tables so be careful!
  • There are plenty of port a potties throughout the course, and once you get into the race the lines are not long. I think they were at every aid station so don’t stress about this detail. Look for the signs to point you in the right direction.
  • The crowd support in Chicago is amazing! The energy will keep you going! Even if you usually listen to music when you run, consider ditching the earbuds. I ran the entire race without because I really wanted to immerse myself in the experience, and I’m so glad I did!
  • Put your name on your shirt! I didn’t do this and I regret it. All along the course spectators will yell out your name, cheering you on! The announcer at the finish line was calling out names as well. It would have been great to hear my name as I crossed the finish line, so don’t miss out on that.
  • Some of the neighborhoods hand out bananas, cookies, and other snacks. Someone was handing out donut holes and in that moment it was seriously the most delicious thing I had ever eaten! I found these little snacks provided a mental reset, and helped me through some of the toughest parts of the race.
  • View the course map here

Tips for Spectators

If you have friends and family cheering you on, you will want to figure out ways for them to find you. There are a lot of people in the race, so don’t depend on spotting each other. I suggest having predetermined spots where they will be waiting so you can look for them. I saw some spectators holding a balloon so it would be easier for the runner to spot them. That is a great idea. You wouldn’t believe how all the people lining the streets blur together. It’s nearly impossible for a runner to scan both sides of the street, and avoid colliding with another runner at the same time. Anything a spectator can do to make themselves more visible the better.

Be sure to wear something bright as well, and make sure your family knows what you are wearing. It’s easy to get lost in the sea of runners. The Chicago Marathon app is a great way for your friends and family to know where you are at on the course, and get an idea of when to expect your arrival at different locations. They can even see your average pace.

After the race you will be able to catch up with your family at the runner reunite area. It’s alphabetized, so decide which letter you will meet at in advance. Due to security, no spectators can be at the start or finish line. There is a hospitality tent that spectators can purchase tickets for, which includes finish line seating. It was kind of pricey, and my family was able to see me at mile 26, which was fine with us.

The Finish Line

Chicago Marathon 2019 finish line

The most beautiful view on the course is the finish line, and everything it represents. No matter how your race goes, when you reach the finish line be proud of yourself. Finishing a marathon is a huge accomplishment! In that moment the hundreds of miles you have run training for the marathon are all worth it. Despite the exhaustion and pain, there is no better feeling than knowing you accomplished what you set out to do!

I hope that answered a lot of your questions about running the Chicago Marathon! Now if you’re feeling inspired, go sign up for the 2020 Chicago Marathon! The application is open until December 3, 2019. Good Luck!

Keep Roaming! – Tina


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