Are you getting ready for your first Chicago Marathon? Awesome! This guide has all the info you need to prepare for and rock your first marathon.
Running your first Chicago Marathon is a big deal, and in this guide, I’ll take you step by step through everything you need to know to get ready and set you up for success in Chicago.
From the training guide to what to do on race day, I’ve got you covered. I’ll keep everything straightforward and crystal clear, so you can get pumped up and fully prepared for your grand race day.
One of the most important things to do is secure your spot, and you’ve got several options to choose from. Once your application has been approved and you’ve been notified, you’ll be charged an entry fee.
For U.S. residents (living in any of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or other U.S. territories), the fee is $230 (USD), while non-U.S. residents will pay $240 (USD).
Are you ready for more?
Let’s jump right in…
How To Enter The Chicago Marathon
There are two ways to enter the Chicago Marathon: guaranteed entry or non-guaranteed entry.
This method of entry gives you peace of mind because you’ll be certain that you will have a place on race day.
The best part is there are several options associated with this entry to secure a guaranteed spot:
- International Tour Group
- Charity Program
- Time Qualifier
- Canceled Previous Entry
- Legacy Finisher
- Bank Of America Shamrock Shuffle Legacy
- American Development Program
International Tour Group
If you’re looking to mix travel with your love for running, consider joining an international tour group to secure your spot in the Chicago Marathon.
Each tour partner offers its unique tour package. These packages can include entry fees, airfare, hotel stays, and more, but the specifics can vary greatly between tour operators.
So, if you’ve got the travel bug and want to experience the Chicago Marathon in a whole new way, this could be the perfect option for you.
Here are some of the tour partners that can offer you guaranteed entries:
- Ali Schneider Marathonreisen
- Albis Reisen Marathon & Ferien
- Active Holiday Company
- 209 Events Ltd
The charity program is a fantastic way to combine your love for running with a passion for a cause.
However, it’s essential to be quick because these entries are limited and granted on a first-come, first-served basis.
Each charity has its own team, benefits, and fundraising requirements. Typically, if you claim your entry during the application window, you’ll need to raise at least $1,250 (USD).
But if you apply after the window closes, the fundraising minimum might increase to $1,750 (USD).
Keep an eye on the Chicago Marathon website for application window details. It’s an excellent opportunity to run for a cause close to your heart and secure your spot in this iconic race.
Here are some of the charity partners that offer guaranteed entries for the Chicago Marathon:
For a full list, please visit the official Chicago Marathon website.
If you meet the following qualifying standards, you can earn a guaranteed spot in the Chicago Marathon as a time qualifier:
|16 – 29||3:05:00||3:35:00||3:35:00|
|40 – 49||3:20:00||3:50:00||3:50:00|
|60 – 69||4:00:00||5:00:00||5:00:00|
|70 – 79||4:30:00||5:55:00||5:55:00|
|80 and Over||5:25:00||6:10:00||6:10:00|
To secure a spot in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon as a time qualifier, you need to meet these basic requirements:
Submission of Results Records:
You must provide records of your race results from a marathon completed within the specified qualifying window. Check the marathon’s website for the specific dates.
Qualifying Time Standards:
Your submitted finish time must match the qualifying time standards set for your division, which could be men, women, or non-binary.
Marathon Results Only:
Finish times from races other than a marathon, like half marathons or 50K races, won’t be taken into consideration.
Your time must be achieved on a certified course that’s approved by organizations like USA Track & Field (USATF), World Athletics, or a similar governing association. Times from non-certified races or results affected by weather or course conditions won’t be considered.
Inclusive Standards for Non-Binary Applicants:
The qualifying times for non-binary applicants are designed to be inclusive and are aligned with the standards for the existing divisions.
There are ongoing efforts to make the event more inclusive, and future qualifying times may be adjusted based on discussions and data from non-binary athletes.
Canceled Previous Entry
If you’ve canceled your entry for the Chicago Marathon in accordance with their standard event policy, you can still secure a spot in the upcoming marathon.
Here’s what you need to know:
Submit A New Application:
To guarantee your place, you must submit a fresh application.
Entry Fee Payment:
Be prepared to pay the entry fee again when submitting your new application.
Once your entry is accepted, you’ll receive an email with instructions on how to access and confirm your spot in the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.
Before you cancel your entry, take the time to thoroughly review and understand the event’s terms and conditions.
This way, you can make an informed decision and ensure a smooth process when securing your spot in the marathon.
If you’ve completed the Bank of America Chicago Marathon five or more times in the last 10 years, you can secure a guaranteed spot as a legacy finisher.
Here are some important points to note:
- Chicago Marathon finishes prior to 2012 won’t be counted towards your legacy status.
- If you were registered for the 2020 Bank of America Chicago Marathon, you’ll be considered a 2020 finisher for the legacy application.
- If you signed up for the Chicago Marathon between 2012 and 2019, as well as in 2021 and 2022 but didn’t complete the race, those years won’t be counted for the legacy application.
- Finishes at marathons other than the Chicago Marathon won’t be considered for the legacy application.
If you’ve completed the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K four or more times since 2008 and are also signed up for the Shamrock Shuffle, you can secure a guaranteed spot in the Chicago Marathon.
Here are the eligibility criteria:
- You need to have finished the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K four or more times since 2008.
- If you were all set to run the 2020 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K (even if it went virtual), you’d count as a 2020 finisher for this special application.
- If you took part in the 2021 Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle virtual 8K, you’ll also be considered a 2021 finisher for this unique opportunity.
- To qualify for a guaranteed entry into the Chicago Marathon, you must be signed up for the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K.
American Development Program
If you meet the standards detailed below, you’re eligible for a guaranteed spot in the Chicago Marathon via the American Development Program.
|Men||sub 1:11:00||sub 2:35:00|
|Women||sub 1:22:00||sub 3:00:00|
|Non-binary||sub 1:22:00||sub 3:00:00|
|Master-Men||sub 1:15:00||sub 2:43:00|
|MastersWomen||sub 1:26:00||sub 3:08:00|
|Masters-Non-binary||sub 1:26:00||sub 3:08:00|
American Development Program High-Performance Application
This option is available to those runners who meet the qualifying standards mentioned below:
|Men||sub 1:07:00||sub 2:23:00|
|Women||sub 1:16:00||sub 2:43:00|
|Non-binary||sub 1:16:00||sub 2:43:00|
|Master-Men||sub 1:11:00||sub 2:32:00|
|MastersWomen||sub 1:21:00||sub 2:52:00|
|Masters-Non-binary||sub 1:21:00||sub 2:52:00|
Here’s What You Need To Know About The Two American Development Programs
To be eligible for consideration in the American Development Programs, please note the following important details:
- Only finish times that meet the specified qualifying standards will be taken into consideration.
- Times achieved before January 1, 2021, are ineligible for the American Development Program, and those achieved before October 1, 2021, are ineligible for the High-Performance Program.
- Only times from half marathons or marathons will be considered.
- The times must be from certified courses approved by relevant governing bodies.
- You have to provide proof of your qualifying time within specified timeframes and include your division (men, women, or non-binary).
- Non-U.S. citizens can also apply if they meet the standards.
- Athletes aged 40 and over on October 8, 2023, are welcome to participate as masters athletes.
Application For A Non-Guaranteed Entry (Drawing)
If you don’t qualify for a guaranteed entry to the Chicago Marathon, there’s still a chance to participate through the non-guaranteed entry drawing application.
Here’s how it works:
You submit your application for drawing during the application window.
It’s important to remember that sending multiple applications won’t improve your chances. All duplicate entries will be removed before the drawing.
After the application window closes, names are randomly selected from the pool of non-guaranteed entry applications.
Before mid-December, you will receive an email notifying you of your entry status.
If you’re selected and receive an entry through the non-guaranteed entry drawing application, the entry fee will be processed automatically.
Now that you know what options are on the table for you to secure your spot in this race, let’s look at the Chicago Marathon training
How Long Does It Take To Train For The Chicago Marathon?
The starting date for your training plan depends on a number of factors. These include your current fitness level, your running experience, and the time goal you’ve set for yourself.
For the best chance of success, I advise you to start your training 16-20 weeks before the marathon date. This timeline will allow you to gradually build your endurance and reach your peak performance.
The first phase of your training will focus on building a solid foundation and setting up a consistent running routine for the first 4-8 weeks.
Then, as you approach the 12-week mark before the race, you can start your personalized Chicago Marathon training plan.
I understand that this training timeline might not work for everyone, but the good thing is that there are options available for you.
Depending on the time you’re willing to put into your training and your running experience, you can choose a 48, 36, or 12-week training plan.
If you’ve run a couple of marathons before and you’re aiming for a specific finish time goal, I’d recommend that you start your training around 12 weeks before the marathon.
How To Train For The Chicago Marathon
The demands of training for a marathon are more than just running.
There are certain key elements you need in your training plan that serve as building blocks.
These elements include:
- Easy Runs
- Long Runs
- Cross Training
- Strength Training
- Recovery And Nutrition
Having easy runs added to your training plan is crucial for overall fitness improvement and building your weekly running volume.
The key to mastering easy runs is maintaining a relaxed, conversational pace.
You should be moving at a speed that doesn’t leave you breathless, allowing you to comfortably hold a conversation with a running partner.
So, Why Should You Include Easy Runs In Your Training Plan?
Easy runs serve several essential purposes:
After demanding or intense workouts, easy runs play a vital role in facilitating recovery.
They help your body cool down, allowing your muscles to recover and flushing out any waste buildup from strenuous sessions.
Build Aerobic Base:
Easy runs are pivotal for building your aerobic base, enhancing cardiovascular fitness, and increasing endurance.
They achieve this through:
- Capillary Growth: Easy runs stimulate the growth of capillaries, tiny blood vessels that deliver oxygen-rich blood to your muscles. More capillaries mean improved oxygen supply to your working muscles.
- Mitochondrial Growth: These runs increase the number of mitochondria in your cells. Mitochondria act as energy factories, enhancing your muscles’ energy production efficiency.
- Improved Use Of Oxygen: Easy runs help your body become more efficient at using available oxygen. This is crucial for endurance activities, as better oxygen delivery and use allow you to go longer and stronger.
Mentally, easy runs provide a welcome break from the stresses of high-intensity training.
They offer a chance to enjoy your time on the road or trails without the pressure of meeting specific pace or performance goals.
So, while easy runs might appear, well, easy, they are doing a lot of essential work behind the scenes to enhance your overall running performance.
Long runs are the heart of your training plan because they involve covering a significantly greater distance than your regular runs.
While they might seem daunting, long runs bring several important benefits, with the primary goal being to boost your endurance and teach your muscles how to efficiently access energy for distances ranging from 5k to marathons.
Here’s why you should do long runs:
- Build Endurance
- Improve Efficiency
- Offer A Chance To Try Different Nutrition and Fueling Strategies
Long runs are the cornerstone of endurance training.
They gradually extend your time on your feet, enabling your body to maintain a consistent pace over extended distances efficiently.
Essentially, they prepare you for the marathon grind.
Spending more time on your feet during long runs helps your body become more efficient at maintaining a steady pace over long distances.
It’s all about getting your body accustomed to the demands of marathon running.
Offer A Chance To Try Different Nutrition and Fueling Strategies
Long runs provide an invaluable opportunity to experiment with your nutrition and fueling strategies for race day.
You can fine-tune your approach to ensure you have the energy and hydration needed to perform at your best.
The longest run, usually scheduled 3 to 4 weeks before the marathon, is a pivotal moment in your training.
It’s a mental and physical milestone that measures your readiness for the marathon distance. This run will boost your confidence and solidify your race-day game plan.
However, there are common mistakes that I see many amateurs making, and I want you to avoid them at all costs.
Common Mistakes To Avoid When Doing Long Runs:
Running Too Hard
Running too hard when doing long runs is a big mistake. Long runs should generally be done at an easy, manageable pace.
Rapidly Increasing Weekly Mileage
Increasing long run distances too rapidly week after week can lead to overtraining and injuries. It’s essential to follow a gradual progression.
Taking Too Many Breaks
Taking too many or overly extended breaks during long runs can distort your average pace and underestimate the actual effort required.
This is a training approach that mixes up your training routine by incorporating sporting activities that are not your primary sport.
These could include swimming, yoga, cycling, hiking, and pilates.
Cross-training is key to achieving a well-rounded training plan.
Why Is Cross-Training Important?
Cross-training allows you to engage in activities that provide cardiovascular benefits. These activities boost your overall cardiovascular fitness, enhancing your endurance and stamina.
Unlike running, which involves repetitive, high-impact movements, cross-training works your muscles differently.
This variation helps prevent overuse injuries that can result from the constant pounding of running.
Cross-training is an effective tool for minimizing the risk of injuries, especially in the context of preparing for a demanding event like the Chicago Marathon.
It diversifies your training routines, reducing the strain on specific muscle groups and joints.
For most amateur runners, a training schedule that includes running 4-5 days a week is usually sufficient.
However, if you have more time to dedicate to training, incorporating strength training and cross-training can provide substantial benefits while lowering the risk of injury compared to increasing your running frequency.
Let’s find out how strength training can be beneficial.
Strength training is not just an optional addition to your training plan; it’s a vital component that can significantly enhance your running performance while reducing the risk of injuries.
Strength training focuses on smaller muscle groups responsible for balance and support, which are critical for maintaining proper form and technique during your runs.
This reduces the risk of injuries, making it particularly valuable for those prone to injuries and older athletes.
Strength training can improve your running economy by 4%–6%, meaning you can run more efficiently and with reduced fatigue.
This is beneficial for your overall performance.
To maximize the benefits of strength training, it’s crucial to integrate it into your training plan using a concept called “periodization.”
Periodization involves breaking down your training plan into distinct phases, each with specific goals.
For instance, you might have phases focused on building a strong foundation, improving speed, or tapering for a race.
This ensures that your strength training aligns with the goals of each training phase.
So, How Do You Plan Your Strength Training
First, consider your race schedule and other important events throughout the year. Divide your training year into phases, each with its own goals.
Then break down each phase into weekly plans, determining the frequency of your strength training sessions (e.g., 2-3 times per week).
Gradually increase the intensity and volume of your strength training as you progress through the phases. This may involve adding weights, increasing repetitions, or altering exercises.
The next thing is to adapt your strength training to complement your running training during each phase.
Finally, ensure your strength training plan includes adequate rest and recovery days.
This is crucial in preventing overtraining, promoting muscle recovery, and keeping you on track for a successful running season.
Exercises like toe raise and forward & lateral band walks, for example, are perfect. Our free strength training plan is a great place to start and you can download it by clicking here.
Have a look at our Runner’s Guide To Chicago Marathon Training: A MUST Have … to find out how to do strength training during your taper.
Recovery And Nutrition
Recovery and nutrition are just as important as your running sessions, and they play critical roles in ensuring your success in marathon training.
Your diet directly impacts your performance.
To reap the full benefits of your marathon training, maintain a well-balanced diet that includes a variety of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats, carbohydrates, and essential micro and macronutrients.
If you often feel fatigued and drowsy after your morning training sessions, it may indicate a need for improvement in both post-training and in-training nutrition.
While some fatigue is normal during training, optimizing your nutrition can help reduce it significantly.
Rest days are often underestimated but are crucial for realizing the full benefits of your training.
These days allow your body to adapt and progress based on your training efforts. Failing to prioritize rest and recovery puts your training gains at risk.
During exercise, your body undergoes minor stress and damage. Recovery is the vital process that enables repair and improvement.
This repair leads to increased fitness, speed, and strength, preparing you for future workouts and challenges.
Neglecting recovery can increase the risk of injuries and illnesses. It’s essential to give your body the time it needs to fully recover and compensate for the physical demands of training.
Additionally, Nutrition is equally important for recovery as it provides the necessary nutrients for repairing and rebuilding damaged muscles and tissues.
A balanced diet that includes carbohydrates, proteins, and healthy fats is essential for replenishing glycogen stores, repairing muscle fibers, and reducing inflammation.
Now you know what it takes to make a stand at the start line of the Chicago Marathon. So, let’s take a look at the most important event you should personally attend after securing your spot.
The Abbott Health & Fitness Expo
The Bank of America Chicago Marathon hosts a fantastic three-day event that brings together over 100 exhibitors. At this event, you can explore and discover a wide range of offerings, including running gear, nutrition, apparel, and tech.
This is also where you will collect your race packet for the marathon. Your Chicago Marathon packet will contain the following items:
- Bib Number
- Safety pins
- Timing device
- Gear check tag
- Nike shirt
- A bag
Please ensure that you have any required identification documents (ID) and your pickup email readily available as you will need to present them before receiving your packet.
It’s essential to note that packet pickup must be done in person at the Expo event. Packets will not be available on race day, and they will not be mailed to you.
Additionally, no one else is permitted to collect your packet on your behalf. So, be prepared to attend the Expo to pick up your packet personally.
Find out how you can get to the Expo: Chicago Marathon Hotels: The BEST Places To Stay For Runners.
The Chicago Marathon Course Overview
The Chicago Marathon is famous for its flat and fast course. It starts and finishes in the beautiful Grant Park, showing off some incredible views of the fantastic city of Chicago.
This course has seen four world records, loads of national records, and tons of personal bests for runners.
At the beginning of the race, you’ll trot through downtown Chicago, passing under Frank Gehry’s cool BP Bridge and cruising along State Street, which locals know as a big road in the loop.
Around the 5-mile mark (8km), you’ll hit Lincoln Park, and Beatles fans might get a kick out of a Fab Four cover band here.
After going through Lakeview, you’ll take a turn south, heading back to the Willis Tower. Next up is Wrigleyville, where lively fans, who are pros at cheering for the Cubs, will give you a big boost.
Around miles 8 (12.8 km) and 9 (14.5 km), you’ll find yourself in Boystown, a neighborhood famous for its nightlife. On race day, it becomes a high-energy cheer zone to pump you up in the morning.
As you keep going, you’ll head south through Old Town and River North. When you hit the middle point of the race, you’ll cross the Chicago River while going west.
Not too far away, you might catch a sweet smell of chocolate in the air near mile 15 (24km) – a tasty distraction.
After passing the Illinois Institute of Technology, designed by Mies van der Rohe, you’ll feel like the finish line is getting closer as you head east.
Remember to glance up and spot the Willis Tower in the distance; the next time you see it, you’ll be heading into the final stretch.
As you go through Chicago’s Greek and Chinese neighborhoods, you’ll arrive in Pilsen, known for its lively Latino community.
The last part of the course takes you through the South Side. You’ll know you’re on the right track when you hit Chinatown.
You might get a burst of energy from the lively drum group just past mile 23 (37 km). If it’s sunny, this part can be tough, so dig deep.
Keep your eye out for the Willis Tower! Sometimes the wind can be tough here, and the tall buildings along Michigan Avenue (starting around mile 24/39 km) might mess with your GPS watch.
Beyond mile 26 (42 km), you’ll make a right turn, and here’s the only hill on the course—a railroad overpass.
Normally, you wouldn’t even notice it, but after 26 miles (42 km), it might bug you for a bit.
But hang in there, you’re very close to the finish line now.
Expert Tips For Your First Chicago Marathon
Before the Race:
- Figure out how you’ll get to the race and aim to arrive early at the starting area. Being early reduces stress.
- Get familiar with where the race begins and check out the course map ahead of time. This helps avoid confusion on race day.
- Read The Chicago Marathon Route: EVERYTHING You Need To Know for a detailed mile-to-mile breakdown.
- Make sure you have time for a bathroom break and to change clothes before heading to the starting line.
On Race Day:
Use the same gear and nutrition during the race that you’ve practiced during your training. DON’T TRY NEW STUFF ON RACE DAY.
During the Race:
- Go at your own pace: Don’t rush. Keep a steady pace and drink enough water to stay hydrated.
- Fuel during the race to keep your energy up. It helps you stay strong.
- Start the race at a comfortable pace, and maintain it throughout. Don’t push too hard in the beginning.
- Pay attention to how you feel. If you need to, adjust your pace.
- The tall buildings play havoc with your GPS so you will need to use the km/mi markers to keep you on track.
By following these simple tips, you can have a great time at the Chicago Marathon. Just plan and stick to what works best for you during the race.