Are you gearing up for the Chicago Marathon? This comprehensive guide has everything you need to know to make your race day a success.
The Chicago Marathon takes place on the Sunday of Columbus Weekend. In 2024, it’ll be on October 13. It’s part of the six World Marathon Majors, attracting over 40,000 runners every year.
So, whether you’re a seasoned marathoner or a first-time racer, this guide is here to ensure you have an unforgettable marathon experience.
Let’s get started…
How To Get Into The Chicago Marathon
Registration for the Chicago Marathon typically opens in October, with the lottery application process running from October to December the year before the race.
If you’ve participated in the race five or more times within the last decade, you are guaranteed entry.
To secure guaranteed entry, you must achieve specific time standards between January 1 and the closing of registration.
Below are the current time standards for the Chicago Marathon, categorized by age group and gender:
|16 – 29
|40 – 49
For more detailed information about the registration process, including charity running options, check out our article: How To Enter The Chicago Marathon: Cost, How, and Who Can. It’s got all the specifics you’ll need.
Who Is Allowed To Participate In The Chicago Marathon?
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is open to participants who fulfil these criteria:
- Age Requirement: You must be at least 16 years old on the day of the race.
- Parental Consent (If You’re 16-17): If you’re between the ages of 16 and 17, you need permission from your parent or legal guardian. This consent is required during the application process.
- Race Completion Time: You must be able to finish the full marathon, which is 26.2 miles (42.2 km), within the set time limit of six hours and 30 minutes (6:30:59).
- No Entry Transfer: Selling or giving away your race entry or bib number is not allowed.
- Nonrefundable Fees: Keep in mind that all registration fees and additional purchases are nonrefundable.
- Adherence to Event Rules: You are responsible for being familiar with and following all event rules.
- Packet Pickup: You need to pick up your participant packet, which includes your bib number and timing device, at the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo during its scheduled hours of operation.
If you meet all these requirements and don’t plan to sell or transfer your entry, you’re well on your way to participating in the Chicago Marathon!
What To Expect From The Chicago Marathon Course
The Chicago Marathon is famous for its flat terrain, which makes it a favourite for those seeking to set personal records. The course elevation is around 600 feet (182.9m) above sea level, with only a net gain of 243 feet (74.1m).
The race starts and ends in Grant Park, located along the shores of Lake Michigan. It’s a stunning setting that provides an ideal backdrop for the event.
It’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and go out too fast in the early miles, but that can lead to exhaustion later on.
A smart strategy is to start at a pace that feels comfortable and sustainable, even a bit slower than your goal pace, and gradually pick it up as the race progresses. This can help conserve your energy for the latter part of the race when fatigue tends to set in.
The first miles of the race take you through downtown Chicago, with its iconic skyscrapers.
However, please be aware that tall buildings can occasionally interfere with your GPS signal, so don’t rely solely on your device for pacing.
Over the years I have had so many people tell me a race was “too far” because the GPS shows they ran further than 42.2km, there are a few major flaws in that argument.
Firstly, these routes are measured and approved by governing bodies, for record purposes and are accurate.
Secondly, we seldom run the shortest line so you will run slightly further on race day, that’s guaranteed.
And finally, GPS is not the gold standard, it is not accurate and generally, you can expect an error rate of 7-11% even without interference from tall buildings.
Your official time will be the time it took you between the start mat and crossing the finish map, so stay on track using the route km/mi markers, and don’t be caught by surprise when your watch says you have run a marathon and you still have some running to do.
After the downtown segment, you’ll head north for approximately six miles (9.6 km). This portion of the course showcases various neighbourhoods, including Boystown, Lincoln Park, and Old Town.
At the 13.1-mile (21.1 km) mark, you’ll reach the halfway point of the race. At this juncture, you’ll change direction and start your journey eastward, facing the second half of the marathon.
Beyond mile 21 (33.6 km), you’ll pass through the vibrant Chinatown neighborhood before turning north again, heading toward the finish line in Grant Park.
Although the Chicago Marathon is renowned for its flatness, there’s one minor exception.
Just before the 26-mile (41.6 km) mark, you’ll encounter a gentle incline as you turn right from Michigan Avenue onto the Roosevelt Road bridge.
It’s a brief climb, and once you reach the crest, you’ll make a left onto Columbus Drive and enjoy a downhill stretch of about 300m (0.2 miles) to the finish line.
Throughout the race, you’ll be energized by the enthusiastic crowd support. The course takes you through 29 of Chicago’s dynamic neighbourhoods, including Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville, Old Town, The Loop, Greektown, Little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown, and Bronzeville.
You’ll also pass within a block of iconic landmarks like the Lincoln Park Zoo, Willis Tower, United Center, and Guaranteed Rate Field.
While most of the course is lined with cheering spectators, there may be quieter stretches between miles 22 and 25 (35.4 km – 40.2 km). These moments require mental resilience and self-motivation.
What You’ll Find At The Aid Stations Along The Chicago Marathon Route
You will find a total of 20 aid stations along the Chicago Marathon route, placed between one to two miles (1.6km – 3.2km) apart.
These aid stations provide much-needed support and refreshments during the race. Each station will include:
- A Medical Tent,
- Toilet facilities,
- Gatorade Endurance Formula (lemon-lime flavor),
- Public address announcer,
Medical Tent and Runner Transport:
Safety comes first, and each aid station has a dedicated Medical Tent staffed with professionals.
Additionally, there’s access to a Runner Transport vehicle for non-emergency situations, offering transportation back to Grant Park if needed.
Don’t worry about bathroom breaks during the race – there are plenty of toilets along the course to make sure you stay comfortable during your run.
It’s a small but important detail for a long race like the Chicago Marathon.
Gatorade Endurance Formula:
Staying hydrated is crucial, and the aid stations have you covered. They provide Gatorade Endurance Formula in a refreshing lemon-lime flavour to keep you energized and well-hydrated throughout the race.
Public Address Announcer:
Staying informed is important, and at every aid station, a public address announcer will keep you in the loop with important updates and race information.
Stay refreshed with fresh and cool water to quench your thirst and keep you going strong.
If you’re in need of an extra energy boost, look out for Gatorade Endurance Energy Gels at Aid Stations 10 between miles 13 – 14 (20.9-22.5km) and Station 14, right after mile 18 (29.0km).
These gels come in three flavours: Strawberry (caffeinated), Vanilla (non-caffeinated), and Mango (non-caffeinated).
Between Aid Stations 15 and 18, between miles 19 and 24 ( 30.6 -38.6 km), you’ll find Chiquita bananas to provide a natural burst of energy.
Don’t miss the Biofreeze Pain Relief Zone around Mile 21.2/34.1km (Cermak Road and Archer Avenue).
The Biofreeze Cooling Crew will be waiting with their magical spray to help you “Cool the Pain” and bring you one step closer to the glory of the finish line.
For more detailed information about clocks and mile markers along the route, check out this article: The Chicago Marathon Route: EVERYTHING You Need To Know.
What you do in the weeks leading up to the Chicago Marathon will either set you up for success or failure…
Ensure your success with 12 weeks of access to the Coach Parry Chicago Marathon Training Roadmap!
Now let’s take a look at the Chicago Marathon Expo, what you can expect, and who’s allowed to attend.
What Is The Abbott Health & Fitness Expo (Packet Pick-Up)
This is a three-day event before the marathon race day that hosts over 100 exhibitors showcasing the latest in running shoes, apparel, nutrition, running gear, and more.
The Abbott Health & Fitness Expo is located at the McCormick Place Convention Center. And it is the only place where you’ll pick up race packets for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
Who Is Allowed At The Abbott Health & Fitness Expo
The Chicago Marathon Expo isn’t just a place to grab your race packet; it’s an exciting event open to both registered participants and spectators.
It’s a vibrant destination where you can fully immerse yourself in the world of running and experience the race atmosphere.
Whether you’re a marathon runner getting ready for the big day or a spectator who wants to soak up the energy and enthusiasm of the event, the Expo has something special to offer everyone.
Why You Should Attend The Abbott Health & Fitness Expo
The Chicago Marathon Expo is the only place to get your race packet before the race.
Your race packet will contain the following items:
- Bib Number
- Timing device
- Safety pins
- Nike shirt
- Gear check tag
- A bag
Additionally, you’ll get a chance to:
- Gain valuable insights.
- Discover new products and technologies.
- Connect with a supportive community of fellow runners.
However, I want you to keep in mind one golden rule: “NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY.”
I know the Expo is a tempting place to try new gear or nutrition products, but this is not the right time to experiment, especially on race day.
Why You Should Avoid Trying New Gear or Products At The Expo
- When it comes to race day, you want predictability. You want to know how your body will react to everything, from your shoes and clothing to your nutrition and hydration. Trying something new on race day introduces an element of uncertainty, and that can lead to unwanted surprises.
- Imagine running in a brand-new pair of shoes you’ve never worn before. While they might look perfect on you, they could cause blisters or discomfort during a marathon. Similarly, trying a new energy gel or drink on race day could upset your stomach. Stick with what you’ve trained with to minimize discomfort.
- Knowing that you’ve successfully used all your gear, nutrition, and hydration strategies in training builds mental confidence. This confidence is essential for staying focused and calm during the race. When everything feels familiar, you’re less likely to become anxious or distracted.
- Your marathon training plan will include long runs where you fine-tune your gear, nutrition, and hydration. These training sessions help you identify what works best for you. By replicating your training conditions on race day, you maximize your chances of peak performance.
So, whether it’s your running shoes, clothing, energy gels, hydration plan, or even your pre-race meal, stick with what you know has worked during your training.
Save any experimentation or changes for your future training cycles, not for the big race day. This way, you’ll set yourself up for a successful and enjoyable marathon experience.
What Do You Need To Pick Up Your Packet?
To ensure a hassle-free pickup of your race packet, here are some essential details to keep in mind:
- Have your identification (ID) and the email confirmation for pickup readily accessible. These are essential for collecting your packet.
- It’s crucial to understand that you must personally go the Expo event to collect your packet. Race packets will not be available on the day of the race, and they will not be mailed to you.
- Keep in mind that no one else is allowed to pick up your packet on your behalf. You must be present to collect it.
How To Get To The Start Line Of The Chicago Marathon
Depending on where you’re staying, public transportation offers the easiest and most convenient way to get to the start line on race day:
- Chicago Transit Authority
- South Shore Line
Chicago Transit Authority:
The CTA offers an affordable and convenient way to reach the start line. Here’s what you need to know about CTA fares:
- Cash Fare: This fare option is acceptable on CTA buses only, and you’ll need to have the exact fare. The full fare is $2.50, while the reduced fare (for children ages 7 to 11 and customers with a valid RTA Reduced Fare Permit) is $1.25.
- Ventra Ticket: You can purchase single-ride ($3) and 1-day ($10) Ventra tickets at CTA station vending machines. These disposable tickets include one full fare and two transfers.
- Ventra Card: Invest in a Ventra Card for $5, available at CTA stations, participating Ventra retail locations, or online at ventrachicago.com. Once registered, the $5 charge becomes transit value for rides. Full fares vary depending on bus, rail, or O’Hare travel, and reduced fares and transfers are also available.
- Ventra App: Manage your Ventra account, add transit value or passes, and buy and use Metra mobile tickets with the Ventra app.
- Bankcard or NFC-Enabled Mobile Phone: For a contactless option, you can use bankcards or NFC-enabled phones with Apple Pay, Android Pay, or Samsung Pay to tap and travel on CTA.
It’s recommended to purchase CTA fares in advance at ventrachicago.com to avoid long lines on race day.
For the most up-to-date travel information and to learn how to use the bus and rail systems, click here.
South Shore Line:
This train service operates from South Bend, Indiana, with multiple stops along the way.
You can board the South Shore Line at various stations, and it provides a comfortable and efficient way to reach Grant Park.
To streamline your trip, you can park your car at one of the convenient South Shore Line stations.
For specific details about South Shore Line stations, schedules, tickets, and any ongoing bus services for stations between Carroll Ave. and Gary, please visit mysouthshoreline.com.
Metra Electric Line:
The Metra Electric Line offers cost-effective passes for the marathon weekend:
- $10 Weekend Pass: Allows for unlimited rides on both Saturday and Sunday, perfect for runners like you.
- $7 Saturday or Sunday Day Pass: Provides unlimited rides on either Saturday or Sunday for your friends or family attending the Expo or marathon on a single day.
These passes will eliminate the need for you to purchase individual tickets for each ride, offering convenience and a cost-saving way to ride on race weekend.
Using these train services allows you to focus on enjoying the marathon experience without worrying about parking or traffic.
Can I Find Parking Near The Start Line
Bank of America Chicago Marathon participants and guests have several parking options at Millennium Garages. There are four convenient underground garages right under Millennium Park, Grant Park, and Maggie Daley Park.
You can save time and ensure your parking spot for race weekend by purchasing it in advance online.
I strongly advise taking public transportation during race weekend. If you decide to drive, please plan ahead of time to account for potential heavy traffic and road closures caused by the race.
What Happens After I Cross The Chicago Marathon Finish Line
Once you cross the finish line at the Chicago Marathon, you’ll meet volunteers distributing heat sheets and finisher medals.
Please avoid lingering, sitting, or lying down in the finish area unless you require medical attention. If you need medical assistance, you’ll be transferred to the medical tent and won’t be released until cleared by medical staff.
For the convenience and safety of all participants, continue moving through the finish area.
Beyond the finish line, you can also access the runner’s refreshment area.
Refreshments available include Gatorade Endurance Formula (lemon-lime), bottled water, Chiquita Bananas, and various snacks.
If you’re aged 21 and over, you can enjoy Goose Island beer served in 16 oz (473,1 ml) commemorative aluminium cans. These cans are keepsakes and recyclable. Volunteers will open the cans for you.
Meet Your Friends & Family At The Runner Reunite Area
To connect with friends and family after the race, head to Runner Reunite in Butler Field within the 27th-mile Post-Race Party area.
Alphabetical signs (A-Z) will help you locate meeting points by name.
Plan your reunion carefully, considering the time it takes to navigate the finish area and retrieve your bag from gear check. It may take 30 minutes or more to get from the finish line to the Post-Race Party.
Have a backup plan in case you can’t find your party within Grant Park.
Attend The 27th Mile Post-Race Celebration Party
Celebrate your achievement at the 27th Mile Post-Race Party in Butler Field, near the start line at Columbus Drive and Jackson Drive.
The outdoor celebration features music from a Chicago-based DJ and offers food and beverages for purchase.
If you’re aged 21 and over (photo ID required), you can redeem the tear-off portion of your bib number to get a complimentary Goose Island beer or Michelob ULTRA Superior Light Beer.
The 27th Mile Post-Race Party is open to the public from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., with beer ticket redemption and sales available from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
Enjoy the festivities and celebrate your remarkable accomplishment at the Chicago Marathon’s finish line and post-race events!
Now let’s look at some of the best hotels to stay in Chicago for the marathon weekend.
What Are The Best Hotels Near Chicago Marathon Finish & Start Line in Grant Park?
This affordable hotel is ideally situated right across from Grant Park, offering picturesque views of the lake. Located in the heart of Chicago’s loop, it provides convenient access to restaurants, attractions, and shops.
Each room is equipped with cable TV, a desk, and a coffee maker for your comfort. The hotel also features its own restaurant, ensuring you have dining options on-site.
Additionally, you’ll find a fitness centre and a business centre for your convenience.
Getting to the expo is a breeze – the fastest option is to hop on a train, which is just a short 13-minute ride away.
The Millennium Station is conveniently located a mere 4-minute walk from the hotel. Once you arrive at the McCormick Place stop, you’ll find the expo within easy walking distance.
This 4-star hotel boasts a prime location, situated right across the street from Grant Park and close to the scenic Lakefront bike path along Lake Michigan. You’ll find Millennium Park within a leisurely 15-minute walk.
The Hilton Chicago offers excellent amenities, including a fitness room, an indoor pool, and a business centre for any work-related tasks. The spacious rooms are equipped with air conditioning and a fridge for added comfort.
The hotel couldn’t be more convenient – it’s just 0.7 miles (1.1 km) from both the start and finish lines, a 5-minute walk away.
When it comes to breakfast, you have options right on-site, and additional restaurants are within 5 minutes.
Remember, race day isn’t the time to experiment with new things. Stick to what you’ve practiced during your training – consistency is key.
To reach the Expo, simply catch a southbound #3 King Drive bus from Michigan Avenue to King Drive/23rd, conveniently located right across from McCormick Place.
These buses run frequently, with waiting times ranging from 4 to 12 minutes, and the Michigan & 8th Street stop is just a minute’s walk from the hotel.
The Congress Plaza Hotel, a historic and renowned establishment, is situated directly across from Millennium Park on Michigan Avenue. This elegant hotel stands as a true symbol of downtown Chicago, boasting stunning views of the city and Lake Michigan.
You can take advantage of the hotel’s on-site dining options, along with amenities such as a fitness center, barbershop, and shoeshine services.
The Congress Plaza Hotel also offers modern event spaces, including the Gold Room, which has a rich history dating back to the 1920s.
The hotel’s rooms seamlessly blend modern comforts with classic touches, featuring high ceilings and luxurious bathrooms.
This truly spectacular hotel is conveniently located just 0.3 miles (0.5 km) from both the starting and finishing points of the Chicago Marathon, making it a popular choice among runners.
To get to the expo, the quickest and most convenient route is to take a train, which is just an 18-minute ride away. The Van Buren Street Station is conveniently located a mere 4-minute walk from the hotel.
Once you arrive at the McCormick Place stop, the expo is just a short 7-minute walk away.
The Le Meridien Hotel Essex is a stylish and highly-rated 4-star hotel conveniently located in the heart of the city. It boasts impressive views of Grant Park and Lake Michigan, providing you with a captivating backdrop.
This hotel offers a range of amenities, including a fitness center, an on-site restaurant, and a bar for relaxation. It’s also in close proximity to DePaul University, making it a convenient choice for visitors.
If you’re flying in, the hotel is situated approximately 16 miles from Chicago O’Hare Airport.
It has earned a reputation as one of the best-value hotels for those participating in the Chicago Marathon, and its restaurants offer a variety of breakfast options to fuel your day.
One of the standout features of this hotel is its excellent location, with both the marathon’s starting and finishing lines just a short and easy 0.3-mile (0.5 km) walk away. It will take you roughly 6 minutes on foot to reach either point.
The fastest and most convenient mode of transportation to get to the expo is by train, which is a brief 15-minute ride. From the hotel, you can walk just 6 minutes to reach the Museum Campus/11th St. train stop.
After arriving at the McCormick Place stop, it’s a straightforward 7-minute walk to access the expo.
The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel offers guests breathtaking views of the renowned Millennium Park. Inside, you’ll discover elegant and well-appointed rooms, each exuding a spacious boutique-style ambience.
As part of the Hyatt family, this 4-star hotel boasts a magnificent ballroom adorned with stunning 19th-century stained glass windows.
It provides modern amenities such as a well-equipped fitness center, a business center to cater to professional needs, and even offers bike rentals for those eager to explore the city on two wheels.
This hotel’s prime location places it just a stone’s throw away from some of Chicago’s most iconic attractions, including the Art Institute of Chicago and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, both within 300 meters (0.2 miles) of the hotel.
Chicago O’Hare International Airport is conveniently situated roughly 25 km (15.5 miles) from this location.
This hotel is a 5-minute walk to the start line.
To get to the expo, the quickest and most convenient route is to take a train, which is just an 18-minute ride away. The Millennium Station is conveniently located a short 4-minute walk from the hotel. Upon reaching the McCormick Place stop, it’s a straightforward 7-minute walk to access the expo.
The Virgin Hotel Chicago is a chic 4-star boutique hotel nestled in close proximity to the lively restaurants and shops of Michigan Avenue.
This contemporary and lavish hotel offers various amenities including a rooftop bar, a fitness center, on-site dining options, and even a nightclub.
Moreover, it offers the added convenience of being within easy reach of both the starting and finishing points of the marathon, with just a 12-minute stroll to the marathon’s starting line.
The hotel also offers on-site restaurants for your dining convenience.
To access the expo efficiently, the quickest route is via train, which offers an 18-minute commute. The Millennium Station is conveniently located within a walking distance of 4 minutes from the hotel.
Upon reaching the McCormick Place stop, it’s a straightforward 7-minute walk to reach the expo.
The Chicago Marathon is more than just a race; it’s an adventure that takes you through the vibrant heart of the city.
Our guide has covered everything from registration details to race day logistics, helping you prepare for a fantastic Chicago Marathon experience. Now, it’s time to train hard, stay focused, and enjoy every moment of this incredible race.
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