Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Chi Town Shuffle

Chicago is a city known for its incredible pizza, modern skyline, historic baseball teams, and Oprah. It's also the home of one of the biggest marathons in the world, The Bank of America Chicago Marathon. I've completed the race three times (2009, 2010, 2011), and have come up with  the following list of things runners can expect during the 2013 race in just over a week.

1) The Weather
Dealing with mid-October weather in Chicago is like playing Russian Roulette for a runner. Over the three consecutive years I ran the marathon, the weather ranged from freezing cold to flaming hot. The wind coming off Lake Michigan can be either an aide as it cools runners with a breeze, or a hindrance as the biting frost chills you to the core. At this point, runners should have an idea of what to expect come race-day; however, training and prepping to run in both warm weather and cold weather conditions is needed.

2) Foreign Runners
The Chicago Marathon is known for the large field of foreign runners that it draws. I recall seeing leagues of runners carrying flags representing their native countries, as well as spectators cheering on runners in every language imaginable. A statistic I saw just this week said that over 25% of the runners participating will come from over 100 countries around the world. That's a huge number of people who took advantage of travel packages and international registration options provided by the race. I'm also guessing you can't get a decent deep dish pizza in Peru.

3) Boystown / Wrigleyville
Miles 7-10 of the race run through Boystown / Wrigleyville. This portion of the course is home to the best support you will see at any marathon. People line the streets 5-10 deep cheering runners loudly as they pass through the neighborhood. This is the epicenter of Chicago's prominent LGBT community, and they embrace the race completely. There are cheerleading teams, riffle spinners, live music, and countless other sites to see along this part of the course. You're also in spitting distance of Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. It's one of my main complaints about this race, though. You never get the see either one of the city's baseball stadiums up-close.

4) Ethnic Flavor
I mentioned how much participation comes from outside the United States, but the Chicago Marathon gives runners a taste of what going to some of those foreign countries is like. After completing the first half of the race through downtown Chicago, participants are transported across the Atlantic Ocean to the area of Chicago known as Greek Town. The smells that I remember from this portion of the race always make me crave a Gyro (literally, that's what I want for lunch now). Soon after, runners encounter Little Italy and an endless number of pizza joints. Later in the race, a taste of the Far East makes for the perfect photo op as runners pass through the red arches of China Town. Be sure to smile as you exit the main street of China Town because race photographers are always there to snap a picture.

5) Southside of Chicago
The first time I ran the Chicago Marathon, I didn't realize that we ventured in to the famed South Side of Chicago. I wasn't sure what to expect, because the only time I had heard about this part of the city was from Jim Croce's 1973 hit "Bad, Bad Leroy Brown." Little did I know that this is the home of the Chicago White Sox, who's stadium you can spot in the distance soon before turning back on to Michigan Avenue. It's also home to very good friends of mine who live in the Hyde Park neighborhood (also the civilian home of President Obama). Each year I ran the race, I looked forward to seeing my friends at the same street corner between Miles 21 & 22. Knowing they were waiting made those first 20+ miles fly by. If the race wasn't as incredible as is, going back to see them cheering me on would be draw enough.

6) Michigan Avenue
The final stretch of the race is a straight shot up Michigan Avenue. Starting in residential neighborhoods, you're racing to the finish line in Grant Park near the Magnificent Mile. Be aware that there is little shade in this stretch, and the sun glares right in to your eyes. I never run with sunglasses, but I've considered it for these 3 miles. The closer you get to the finish, the thicker crowds get and cheering becomes intense. It's probably one of the best 5K stretches in all of marathoning.

7) The final .2
Once you've completed the first 26 miles of the Chicago Marathon course, the real intensity begins. Once you turn off of Michigan Avenue in to Grant Park, there's a pretty sharp incline to challenge your already worn out legs. I suggest taking it easy so you can sprint down the final stretch to the finish line. Also, notice the course marshals plucking bandit runners off the course. They spot anyone not wearing a race bib and escort them off the course to prevent them from crossing the finish line. I've seen marshals chase down and tackle people who are jumping barricades to cross the finish with official participants. Not only is it amusing, but, and as a runner, I appreciate the fact that they take the integrity of the finish seriously.

8) 2014 Registration
Being the only domestic Marathon Majors race with an open registration, those considering a Chicago Marathon run in 2014 should know that it sells out within hours of opening. This year there was a snafu with the registration process, and 15,000 runners had duplicate entries processed to fill up the 30,000 spots. Race organizers resolved that issue quickly with a lottery, and the field was set. Stay on top of when registration will open, and sit by your computer with credit card in hand on that day to commit early.

One thing I will say about the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is that it is one of most well run events in which I have participated. The expo is well executed with shuttle busses departing from multiple points throughout the city, race morning is super organized and easy to access by way of public transportation, and the course is heavily supplied with many volunteers catering to the needs of runners. Aside from (in my opinion) questionable medal designs, I couldn't think of anything that needs to be improved upon. I look forward to going back to Chicago to run the race again one day; however, in the meantime, know that I am jealous of all those competing on October 13, 2013!


  1. Great overview of some of the finer details of the race. Ever since I saw the original Spirit of the Marathon movie, I've been interested in possibly running Chicago one day. Maybe. This post has me further convinced that it's something special.

    1. I wouldn't have done the race three times if it wasn't indeed something special. The only thing that keeps me from going back a fourth time is budgeting. I want to be able to do other races that haven't been on my calendar before. However, should you decide to make this your first full, I'll go with you and we can split a deep dish from Giordano's.