Posts Tagged ‘chicago marathon’

Chicago vs Boston marathon

I had the pleasure of running the Chicago Marathon in the fall 2018 and the Boston Marathon in the spring of 2019. In this post I’ll compare the two races. I hope one day you get to run them both but if you have to choose, maybe this will help you decide.

Chicago Marathon finisher medal

Getting a bib

Lottery

One of the reasons a Boston marathon bib is such a big deal is because you cannot get a bib through a lottery.

Chicago, like New York does provide the opportunity to get a bib through a lottery, though unlike New York, you have a decent chance of getting a bib through the Chicago lottery.

in 2015, 53% of those who entered the lottery received a bib. I have a number of friends who have successfully received a bib through the lottery in the past few years. Unfortunately, you cannot submit two runners together and request that you either both get bibs or both do not get bibs (i.e.if you want to be sure the two of you run the same year the lottery doesn’t provide that option). But! Chicago does provide the option of deferring your bib for one year. So if you get a bib and your friend does not, then you could defer your bib for one year (for a fee) and see if your friend gets in the lottery the next year.

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%

Time Qualifier

racetimerAlmost all the Boston marathon runners qualify through a time system

Chicago also has a guaranteed entry for those who meet qualifying time standards

Here are the 2020 qualifying standards for Chicago and Boston

Age group Boston Men* Chicago Men Boston Women* Chicago Women
18-29 3:00 3:10 3:30 3:30
30-34 3:00 3:15 3:30 3:45
35-39 3:05 3:15 3:35 3:45
40-44 3:10 3:25 3:40 3:55
45-49 3:20 3:25 3:50 3:55
50-54 3:25 3:40 3:55 4:10
55-59 3:35 3:40 4:05 4:10
60-64 3:50 4:00 4:20 4:35
65-69 4:05 4:00 4:35 4:35
70-74 4:20 4:30 4:50 5:10
75-79 4:35 4:30 5:05 5:10
80+ 4:50 5:00 5:20 5:45

*Unfortunately running your BQ (Boston Qualifier time) may not in fact guarantee you entry into Boston. Boston caps the number of bibs provided to time qualifiers. If too many runners register with a qualifying time, they reduce the qualifying times until they have the correct number of runners. For example in 2014, runners had to qualify with a time 1 minute and 2 seconds faster than their BQ times to get a bib in Boston and the cut off times are getting progressively harder.

2014 cutoff 1:38

2015 cutoff 1:02

2016 cutoff 2:28

2017 cutoff 2:09

2018 cutoff 3:23

2019 cutoff 4:52

Because the cutoff time was almost 5 minutes in 2019  they dropped all the qualifying times by 5 minutes for 2020.

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race, but Boston sets the bar high for charity entries.

Chicago 2019 fundraising targets start at $1250 if you claim a charity entry during the application window and $1750 USD if you claim a charity entry after the application window (i.e. if you decide to enter the lottery, and don’t make it then decide to do a charity entry because you didn’t get in through the lottery, you have to fundraise more $)

Boston 2019 fundraising targets started at $5000 USD.

Local races

shamrockChicago provide the option to help local runners get a guaranteed entry by participating in local races.

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Shamrock Shuffle 8k four or more times in the past 10 years and have signed up for the next Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee a spot in the Chicago marathon.

Boston does not provide any sort of run x races get a guaranteed bib for Boston.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race Chicago or Boston and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the official marathon tour partners. Check the race website for a current list of official tour partners. There are a small number of entries available through tour groups for Boston outside the US and Canada but they sell out fast.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into Chicago and are not going to run the race, you can cancel/defer your entry once. You lose the registration fee but it gives you a guaranteed entry the following year.

Boston does not provide the option of deferring. Which might account for the people you see on the start line walking or wearing crutches 🙂

In Summary

Are you noticing a pattern here? Suffice to say it is MUCH easier to get a bib for Chicago than a bib for Boston.

Weather

Fall races are typically more predictable weather than spring races, but, Chicago is generally hotter weather than Boston and had a few years where heat was a major factor for runners (80F+) including the very infamous 2007 Chicago marathon when they had to shut down the course.

Here’s a breakdown comparing the weather at the two races the past 10 years. Since Chicago is not a point to point race whatever the wind direction you will spend about half of it as a tailwind and half of it as a tailwind.

YEAR Boston weather Boston Wind Chicago weather Chicago Wind
2010 49-55F Partly Cloudy ENE 2-5 MPH (headwind) 59-84F Scattered Clouds No wind
2011 46-55F Cloudy WSW 16-20 MPH (tailwind) 57-80F Clear ESE 3 MPH
2012 65-87F Clear WSW 10-12 MPH (tailwind) 38-51F Mostly Cloudy WNW 6 MPH
2013 54-56F Clear E 3MPH (headwind) 46-65F Clear NW 4 MPH
2014 61-62F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 45-65F Partly Cloudy SE 8 MPH
46-46F Overcast and rain Calm 54-78F Clear SSW 11 MPH
2016 61-71F Clear WSW 2-3 MPH (tailwind) 50-63F Partly Cloudy ESE 8 MPH
2017 70-73F Clear WSW 1-3 MPH (tailwind) 56-73 Partly Cloudy SW 8 MPH
2018 35-50F Rain NE 14 MPH (headwind) 57-64F Drizzle ENE 5 MPH

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Boston and Chicago are well organized for packet pick up and both provide a shirt exchange if you discover the shirt size you ordered does not fit.

You must pick up your own race kit at both races. Don’t forget your government issued photo id!

Race swag

Official race gear at Chicago is sponsored by Nike. Nike focuses on running clothes for the official Chicago marathon gear. In 2018 they sold find t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops, visor, and jackets. If you want coffee mugs, laptop stickers, and cotton t-shirts you will have to explore other booths in the expo. You may also want to visit the Nike store on Michigan to purchase your official race merchandise, the lines were shorter, and they have a DJ and a fun atmosphere Friday and Saturday before the race. The Under Armour store just down the road from the Nike store on Michigan Ave also had some marathon branded running gear.

Official race gear at Boston is sponsored by Adidas. There is the traditional celebration jacket which is the most brilliant marketing scheme ever, since you feel like you have to buy one every year (and it isn’t even a good running jacket). There are often other jackets which are nicer than the celebration jacket (which might account why I have never run Boston without coming home with two jackets). There are also a good assortment of other official Boston marathon merchandise – a wide assortment of running gear but also baseball hats, visors, pint glasses, shot glasses, pins, stuffed unicorns, etc…Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the Boston expo. You will find even more merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

Boston had pace bands available at the booth just outside the race expo. They had the pace bands tailored to the Boston course. Boston has some tough hills in teh second half so it’s nice that they have the race specific pace bands.

In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. I prefer the tattoos because the font on the tattoos was nice and big (I need reading glasses and some pace bands use print too small for me to read :))

Race morning

Getting to the start

Boston

The Boston marathon is a point to point race, with a finish in downtown Boston. The race starts in Hopkington. To reach the start you can:

  • take a shuttle bus from Boston commons (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • drive to Hopkington parking lot and catch shuttle to athlete’s village

The race starts in waves. As of 2019, the male elites start separately from the rest of the runners, so the elites don’t have to worry about that one runner who really wants to be on TV trying to lead the elite pack for the first mile.

  • 9:32 AM Elite Women start
  • Elite Men 10:00 AM
  • Wave one start 10:02 AM
  • Wave two start 10:25 AM
  • Wave three start 10;50 AM
  • Wave four start 11:15 AM *

*in 2019 due to the weather forecast they chose to start Wave four immediately after Wave three so they would have less time exposed to the elements in the athletes village)

Shuttle bus times depend on your start wave

in 2019

  • Wave one runners shuttles ran from 6:00 – 6:45 AM
  • Wave two runner shuttles ran from 7:00 – 7:45 AM
  • Wave three runner shuttles ran from 8:00 – 8:45 AM
  • Wave four runner shuttles ran from 8:55 – 9:30 AM

I was in Wave 3, I set my alarm for 6:30. I met friends in the hotel lobby at 8 AM and we walked over to catch the buses, one of the friends was staying further out of town and had taken the train into downtown to catch the shuttle bus. i.e. you don’t have to pay the $350+ USD a night hotel and stay within walking distance of the start.

Chicago

The start is much earlier. Wave 1 starts at 7:30 AM. I was in wave 2, 8 AM start. I still set my alarm for 5 AM. My hotel, like many downtown Chicago hotels, was walking distance from the start line (I was at Ontario St and Michigan Ave).  All I had to do was walk. If you want to find a cheaper hotel, you can stay further from the start and take the Metro line to the start. Yes, the Metro will be packed with runners, the first train might even be too packed to get in, but once on that train, in 15-40 minutes you are at the start. Security is efficient and quick (just like New York).  You don’t have to worry about a bag check cut off time because the bag drop off and bag pick up are the same place. Since they don’t have to transport your gear anywhere, you can just drop it off 5 or 15 minutes before you walk over to your corral.  Getting to the start in Chicago is much less hassle and much less stress.

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapottyYou can’t compare marathons without mentioning access to port-a-potties at the start!

Boston

In Boston you will find a good selection of port-a-potties in the athlete’s village, expect a line of 20 or so runners. Depending on how you enter the village you may pass a smaller field before you reach the main athletes village, that smaller field appeared to have shorter lines.  There are additional port-a-potties on the way to the corrals as well (with much shorter lines), but you can’t use them until your wave is called to the corrals. Guys – if you get to the corral and realize you need a pee PLEASE don’t pee on the clothes by the fences, that is really disgusting. If you really have to go, since you start in the suburbs, not the city, you do go past a wooded area in the first km and many a gentlemen runner takes advantage of that first set of woods to find a convenient tree.

Chicago

In Chicago The start area is split in two by the corrals. I found the lines for the port-a-potties shorter on the city side of Grant Park than the lake side of Grant Park. The lines at their worst were maybe 10-15 minutes long. Which is why there is NO EXCUSE for the dudes who were peeing beside the fence in the start corrals!  Witnessed by at least two of my running friends. Seriously! I have no problems with guys running out to find a tree on races past wooded areas, but peeing on the discarded clothing in the corral is really gross. Not what I want to see when I am walking over to the fence to toss a shirt or stretch. Boston and New York both threaten disqualification if you are caught doing something like that (FYI I have yet to meet a runner who has witnessed the famous ‘yellow rain’ on the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in New York).

SIDE NOTE: Best solution I saw for this was the Vancouver marathon that had a fenced off set of troughs for guys who needed a quick pee before the start. This saved them a long wait at the port-a-potty and shortened the line for us ladies.

Corrals

Both Chicago and Boston divide up runners into waves, and corrals This helps spread out the runners and keep the start areas less crowded. Both Chicago and New York will check your bibs to make sure you are in the correct corral. Both races allow you to move to a slower corral but will not allow you to move to a faster corral. All runners have a common waiting area, so you can hang out with friends in Wave one before you start (as long as you get to the athletes village before they are called to the corrals).  FYI, it’s not encouraged, but I do know runners who boarded the buses for an earlier wave with friends.

Race course

Hills

Below are the hill profiles for Boston and Chicago. Note the difference between minimum and maximum elevation in each image.

BostonBoston Hill Profile

Boston is a net downhill, but that does not make it an easy course! There are two notoriously tough sections late in the race. The Newton hills around km 25 and Heartbreak Hill around km 32. You won’t find many flat stretches in Boston. This is considered a difficult marathon.  I have my marathon PR and I have my Boston PR. They are 10 minutes apart and I am proud of both of them. It is possible to set a marathon PR in Boston, but let’s just say you had better do your hill work or you are going to have a VERY rough day.

Chicago

The big climbs in Chicago are less than 10 meters. My friend Christopher said Chicago is “waffle flat”. I think that’s a perfect description. It is flat, with little bumps here and there. There is one “big’ hill in the last half mile of the course, but that hill is about as hard as one of the rolling hills in Central Park, it just messes with your head because it is so close to the finish line.  Chicago is a much easier course in terms of hills. Chicago is a good course to try for a personal best.

ChicagoElevation

Crowds and Energy

racesignsBoston has an estimated 500,000+ spectators. The Chicago marathon press release estimates they have 1,700,000 spectators.  That number will of course vary depending on the year and on the weather. Both races have great crowd support. In Boston, you have a couple of “scream tunnels”: the famous Wellesley college girls offering up kisses to runners, and dare I say it, Boston college may not be handing out kisses but matches or might even exceed the decibel level of Wellesley. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. Each race only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago.

Boston has the added element of “Boston Strong” ever since the bombing at the Boston marathon in 2013 there is a spirit of taking back the race shared by both the spectators and the runners. This adds to the overall intensity in Boston.  Personally I got more more energy from the crowds in Boston, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2010 there were 26,632 finishers in the Boston marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.

Boston

There may be a few patches at the start in Boston where you feel a bit trapped and have to move around to find your pace. It’s better than most races that size because just about every runner in Boston required a qualifying time. That means everyone else in your corral qualified with a similar marathon time to yours. You will all go out at a very similar pace. The only people you see going very slow or walking in the first few km will be runners who are injured but are determined to cross that start line because they worked hard for that Boston bib and they are going to do whatever they can! It’s not unusual to see at least one pair of crutches on the start line.

Chicago

In Chicago the wide roads reduce the congestion, and they do crowd management asking the spectators to move back off the road and leave room for the runners. As a result I found I was able to settle into my own pace within the first mile and only got stuck behind other runners very occasionally. I caught up to the 3:55 pace group and ended up following them for about 5 miles without any difficulty and I managed to pass them without a lot of dodging around runners as well (often pacers have a clump of runners around them making it hard to pass).

You can run your own race in Boston or Chicago.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and Boston are the runners from around the world!

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2019 Boston had runners from 99 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo, the best I have seen.

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both Boston and Chicago are likely to have presentations by well known runners on the main stage. Sponsors may have an autograph session with familiar names as well.  In Chicago 2018, Maui Jim sunglasses had Meb Keflezighi signing autographs at the expo and you could catch Meb, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Paula Radcliffe on the main stage. Boston 2019 had Deena Kastor, Sarah Crouch, and Meb was around as well (he was the grand marshall)

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and Boston offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women – Hey rest of the sporting world did you hear that! Same prize money for both genders 🙂 okay I’ll get off my soap box now.

Ranking Boston Chicago
1st place $150,000 $100,000
2nd place $75,000 $75,000
3rd place $40,000 $50,000

There are also a variety of bonuses as well for running under a particular time, being fastest American, etc…

Boston elites in 2019 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston Winner
Geoffrey Kirui Male 2017 Boston Winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2018 NYC winner & 2x Boston winner
Lemi Berhanu Male 2016 Boston winner
Wesley Korir Male 2012 Boston winner
Desiree Linden Female 2018 Boston winner
Edna Kiplagat Female 2017 Boston winner
Caroline Rotich Female 2015 Boston winner
Aselefech Mergia Female London winner
Mare Dibaba Female 2016 Olympic Bronze

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Galen Rupp Male 2017 Chicago winner
Mo Farah Male 4X Olympic Gold
Abel Kirui Male 2016 Chicago winner
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston winner
Dickson Chumba Male 2015 Chicago winner
Brigid Kosgei Female 2017 Chicago 2nd
Birhane Dibaba Female 2018 Tokyo winner

Boston attracts a few more of the top elite. BUT! you are more likely to see a record setting run in Chicago

Four world records were set in Chicago

  • 2:08:05 Steve Jones 1984
  • 2:05:42 Khalid Khannouchi 1999
  • 2:18:47 Catherine Ndereba 2001
  • 2:17:18 Paula Radcliffe 2002

in 2018 Mo Farah set a new European record 2:05:11

Finish Area

Boston

When you finish in Boston you move into a finish chute to collect the usual medals, blanket, water, banana, etc… I have never checked a bag, but pick up is just past the turn off to the family meeting area.  Copley station is closed on race day since it is inside the secure finish area, but Arlington station is a short (though it feels long) stumble from the finish area if your hotel is too far waay to walk. I admit my hotel was only on the other side of the commons but I decided to take the transit rather than walk across the Commons even if that meant navigating a set of stairs to do it.

Chicago

In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is similar to Boston. Bag pick up was quick and efficient and it was only a short walk to meet friends and family (although there was a short set of stairs, I think I felt all 6 of them 🙂

Both races insist you keep moving after your cross the finish line. If you sit down, a medic will be by quickly to either take you to the med tent or get you moving again. There are volunteers in the finish chute in Boston with wheelchairs ready to grab runners who need help.

Both races had the usual food and drink at the finish. I think Chicago had a slightly better selection than Boston, and the finish area and family meeting area definitely felt more celebratory in Chicago.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island. Runners could also get a free beer at the tent in the next to the family meeting area. I don’t drink beer, so sadly wasted on me. As drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 Sadly neither Boston or Chicago offered chocolate milk, there was a chocolate protein shake in the kit I got at the race expo but that was all the way back at my hotel, so I had to settle for water and Gatorade.

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorBoston

After the race in Boston, everyone wears their celebration jacket for that race year. It’s kind of cool seeing the same jackets all over the place when you go out for dinner and being able to offer a smile and congratulations to each jacket you pass. Some hotels and restaurants will cheer you when you walk in wearing your jacket after the race.

Chicago

When I hobbled into a pub in Chicago with my thermal blanket, there was no cheering, but the staff took amazing care of me. In no time I had sugar, caffeine and salt in the form of a coke and some pretzel bites. When I asked for a couple of wet naps to wipe my face they even brought me a clean rag soaked in warm water. If you want cheering head to the Nike store post-race for the cheering staff on every floor as you proceed to the 4th floor for free medal engraving.  The next morning there was no shortage of runners walking around with their medals and/or race shirts. The local pancake house had quite the waiting list for breakfast but was worth the wait.

The Chicago Tribune lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.  I don’t think the Boston paper publishes the results of all the runners, but they will have race coverage.

Volunteers

Volunteers rock at both races. THANK YOU to all the volunteers at both races!

thank-you

Summary

It is harder to get a bib for Boston and the course is tougher, but that’s what makes it memorable. There was a lady with me at the start line who was running her first Boston and I remember her saying with determination “Whatever it takes, I am going to enjoy this race, if I have to walk, if my leg hurts, I don’t care, I am going to enjoy this, I am running the Boston marathon!” There’s a lot of that in Boston. If you don’t want to be there, there are many, many, others who would happily take your place.  But it’s unlikely you will set a personal best on this tough course.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start,its MUCH flatter. its in fall so weather is less likely to be a factor, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade more easily than Boston. You are much more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in Boston or Chicago depending on your start wave and the weather.  But there is a reason these races are so popular. If you get a chance to run either race, do it!

If you are curious how these races compare to New York, I have compared New York and Chicago in another post  and I have also compared New York vs Boston.  If you are interested, I also have other race reports and running related posts

Chicago Marathon vs New York Marathon

I had the pleasure of running the New York City Marathon in 2017 and the Chicago Marathon in 2018. In this post I’ll compare the two races. I hope one day you get to run them both but if you have to choose, maybe this will help you decide. I also have posts comparing Chicago to Boston and New York to Boston

Getting a bib

Lottery

RegisterForNYCOne does not simply register for the New York City or Chicago marathon.  Because so many runners want to complete these races, they use a lottery to award bibs.

The odds are much better for getting into Chicago through the lottery

Race # Entries received # Entries selected % selected
Chicago 2015 54,800 29,044 53%
New York 2018 105,184 15,640 15%

New York actually does three separate lotteries from all the entries received.

  • NYC-metro area applicants (residents in and within 60 miles of New York City)
  • National applications (US residents)
  • International applicants (Non-US residents)

New York selects the same % of runners from each group. i.e. if 15% of applicants were accepted, then 15% of international runners who applied were accepted, 15% of applicants from within the US were selected and 15% of runners within NYC metro area were accepted.

Time Qualifier

racetimerBoth New York & Chicago offer guaranteed entry for those who run fast enough.

Time standards are harder to meet for New York and New York limits the number of time qualifier spots for those who qualify at non-NYRR races. They are awarded first come first served. So it’s important to claim your time qualifier spot as soon as registration opens for New York. Those who apply with a non-NYRR race qualifying time after the qualifying spots available is reached are placed in the general drawing.

Age group New York Men Chicago Men New York Women Chicago Women
18-29 2:53 3:10 3:13 3:30
30-34 2:53 3:15 3:13 3:45
35-39 2:55 3:15 3:15 3:45
40-44 2:58 3:25 3:26 3:55
45-49 3:05 3:25 3:38 3:55
50-54 3:14 3:40 3:51 4:10
55-59 3:23 3:40 4:10 4:10
60-64 3:34 4:00 4:27 4:35
65-69 3:45 4:00 4:50 4:35
70-74 4:10 4:30 5:30 5:10
75-79 4:30 4:30 6:00 5:10
80+ 4:55 5:00 6:35 5:45

New York is quite unique because it also has a half marathon time qualifier

Age group Men Women
18-34 1:21 1:32
35-39 1:23 1:34
40-44 1:25 1:37
45-49 1:28 1:42
50-54 1:32 1:49
55-59 1:36 1:54
60-64 1:41 2:02
65-69 1:46 2:12
70-74 1:57 2:27
75-79 2:07 2:40
80+ 2:15 2:50

Charity Entry

charityBoth races provide the opportunity to fundraise for an official race charity. to get a guaranteed entry to the race.

Chicago 2019 fundraising targets start at $1250 if you claim a charity entry during the application window and $1750 USD if you claim a charity entry after the application window (i.e. if you decide to enter the lottery, and don’t make it then decide to do a charity entry because you didn’t get in through the lottery, you have to fundraise more $)

New York 2019 fundraising targets start at $2500 USD.

Local races

shamrockBoth races provide options to help local runners get a guaranteed entry by participating in local races.

Chicago has the Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Shamrock Shuffle 8k four or more times in the past 10 years and have signed up for the next Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee a spot in the Chicago marathon.

New York has the 9+1 or the 9+ $1K program.

If you join the NYRR who either complete 9 score, qualifying races in the year and either volunteer at one NYRR event in the same year or donate $1000 USD to NYRR your and community services program within the year can also get a guaranteed race entry.

Also, if you run the time qualifier at one of the NYRR qualifying races you are guaranteed an entry.

Tour Entry

If you really want to race either New York or Chicago and you have the financial means to do so you can purchase a tour package that includes a bib from one of the marathon tour partners.

Cancelled Entry

If you get into either New York or Chicago and are not going to run the race, you can cancel/defer your entry once. You lose the registration fee but it gives you a guaranteed entry the following year.runner

Pre-Race Experience

Packet pick up

Both Chicago and New York are well organized for packet pick up and both provide a shirt exchange if you discover the shirt size you ordered does not fit.

You must pick up your own race kit at both races. Don’t forget your government issued photo id!

Race swag

Official race gear at Chicago is sponsored by Nike. Nike focuses on running clothes for the official Chicago marathon gear. In 2018 they sold find t-shirts, long sleeved shirts, tank tops, visor, and jackets. If you want coffee mugs, laptop stickers, and cotton t-shirts you will have to explore other booths in the expo. You may also want to visit the Nike store on Michigan to purchase your official race merchandise, the lines were shorter, and they have a DJ and a fun atmosphere Friday and Saturday before the race. The Under Armour store just down the road from the Nike store on Michigan Ave also had some marathon branded running gear.

Official race gear at New York is sponsored by New Balance. There is an incredible assortment of official New York marathon merchandise. You can find the usual running gear, but also hoodies, backpacks, gloves, hats, mugs, and more. Chances are you will spend more money on official merchandise at the New York expo. You will find additional merchandise at other booths in the expo as well.

Pace bands

I picked up a pace band at the race expo in New York and ran into an interesting problem. My arms were not long enough :). Apparently I am now sufficiently old enough and sufficiently near sighted that it is difficult for me to read a pace band during the race. In Chicago, they had arm tattoos instead of pace bands. The font on the tattoos was nice and big so I was able to keep an eye on my target pace during the race.

Race morning

Getting to the start

New York

LadyLibertyThe New York marathon starts at Staten Island. To reach the start you can:

  • take the ferry and a shuttle bus (estimated travel time 90 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from New Jersey (estimated travel time 60 minutes)
  • take a shuttle bus from Manhattan (estimated travel time 90 minutes)

Of course you need to add time to get to the bus or ferry and to get on the bus or ferry. Plus the time to get through security (quite efficient did not take long), bag check, find your Dunkin Donuts hat and line up once or twice for the port-a-potty. Luckily the time change is usually the night before the race so your 5 AM alarm will feel like a 6 AM alarm!

If was in Wave 2, which had a 10:15 AM start and the cut-off to drop off bags was at 9:05 AM. I woke up at 5:30 AM, and was out the hotel door by about 6 AM to catch the 6:30 AM ferry. It’s so cool to see pass the Statue of Liberty on your way to the start, it really sets the mood “You are running New York!” But, walking to the ferry, waiting for the ferry, getting off the ferry,a long line for the shuttle bus, riding the shuttle bus, is a lot to deal with pre-race.  I only had about 10 minutes to spare before my bag check cut-off at 9:05 AM.

Chicago

The start is much earlier. Wave 1 starts at 7:30 AM. I was in wave 2, 8 AM start. I still set my alarm for 5 AM. My hotel, like many downtown Chicago hotels, was walking distance from the start line (I was at Ontario St and Michigan Ave).  All I had to do was walk. If you want to find a cheaper hotel, you can stay further from the start and take the Metro line to the start. Yes, the Metro will be packed with runners, the first train might even be too packed to get in, but once on that train, in 15-40 minutes you are at the start. Security is efficient and quick (just like New York).  You don’t have to worry about a bag check cut off time because the bag drop off and bag pick up are the same place. Since they don’t have to transport your gear anywhere, you can just drop it off 5 or 15 minutes before you walk over to your corral.  Getting to the start in Chicago is much less hassle and much less stress.

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapottyYou can’t compare marathons without mentioning access to port-a-potties at the start!

In New York the majority of the port-a-potties are in the Open Zone along New York Avenue. The line ups are shorter further away from the shuttle drop off. There are additional port-a-potties in each of orange, green, and blue zones. There are port-a-potties in each of the corrals as well.

In Chicago The start area is split in two by the corrals. I found the lines for the port-a-potties shorter on the city side of Grant Park than the lake side of Grant Park. The lines at their worst were maybe 10-15 minutes long. Which is why there is NO EXCUSE for the dudes who were peeing beside the fence in the start corrals!  Witnessed by at least two of my running friends. Seriously! I have no problems with guys running out to find a tree on races past wooded areas, but peeing on the discarded clothing in the corral is really gross. Not what I want to see when I am walking over to the fence to toss a shirt or stretch. Boston and New York both threaten disqualification if you are caught doing something like that (FYI I have yet to meet a runner who has witnessed the famous ‘yellow rain’ on the Verrazzano-Narrows bridge in New York).

SIDE NOTE: Best solution I saw for this was the Vancouver marathon that had a fenced off set of troughs for guys who needed a quick pee before the start. This saved them a long wait at the port-a-potty and shortened the line for us ladies.

Corrals

Both Chicago and New York divide up runners into waves, corrals, and colors. This helps spread out the runners and keep the start areas less crowded. Both Chicago and New York will check your bibs to make sure you are in the correct corral. Both races allow you to move to a slower corral but will not allow you to move to a faster corral.

New York has port-a-potties in the corrals which is nice. Chicago does not and as I mentioned above there were some people peeing beside the wire fences.  But aside from that both races had well organized corrals.

Race course

Hills

Below are the hill profiles for New York and Chicago. Note the difference between minimum and maximum elevation in each image.

New York

The big climbs in New York are about 20-40 meters in elevation. New York has three particularly tough climbs: the Queensboro bridge at km 25, the Willis bridge at km 33 and the climb to Central Park from km 37 to km 39. It also has rolling hills through Central Park and a steady climb in the last km to the finish. New York is considered a difficult marathon.

NYCHillProfile

Chicago

The big climbs in Chicago are less than 10 meters. My friend Christopher said Chicago is “waffle flat”. I think that’s a perfect description. It is flat, with little bumps here and there. There is one “big’ hill in the last half mile of the course, but that hill is about as hard as one of the rolling hills in Central Park, it just messes with your head because it is so close to the finish line.  Chicago is a much easier course in terms of hills. Chicago is a good course to try for a personal best.

ChicagoElevation

Crowds and Energy

racesignsNew York has an estimated 1,000,000+ spectators. The Chicago marathon press release estimates they have 1,700,000 spectators.  That number will of course vary depending on the year and on the weather. Both races have great crowd support. I loved the dancing rabbis in New York. I loved the dancing drag queens in Chicago. I had less than ideal spectator weather in both cities, but each only had short stretches with thin crowds except in locations where they cannot cheer such as the tunnel at the start of Chicago or on the Queensboro bridge in New York.

The years that I ran the race the crowds were louder in New York. There were a couple of “scream tunnels” in New York. A “scream tunnel” is a stretch where the crowds yell so loud you cannot hear your name if your best friend is yelling it at the top of their lungs. I did not encounter any sections that loud in Chicago. To be fair, that may be due to the width of the roads as much as to the size and volume of the crowds. Overall, I felt slightly more energy from the crowds in New York, but both races were amazing crowd support!

Running your own race

In 2017 there were 50,766 finishers in the New York City marathon. In 2018 44, 571 runners finished the Chicago marathon. At no point in either race are you going to be running alone.

In an attempt to keep runners moving smoothly, New York divides up the start into blue, orange, and green corrals. Each follows a slightly different path and is kept separate from the other colors for the first 8 miles.  But with 50,000+ runners that road is going to be crowded no matter what you do. I found the road more crowded with runners in New York vs Chicago. I tried to follow a pacer in New York and for some reason my pacer was two corrals back from where I was assigned based on my predicted (target) pace. As a result we had to zig zag and pass a LOT of slower runners which was stressful given the lack of space and took up a lot of extra energy. I didn’t really feel like I had space to run my own race until after 9 miles or so in New York.

In Chicago the roads are wider, they have a few less runners, and they also did crowd management asking the spectators to move back off the road and leave room for the runners. As a result I found I was able to settle into my own pace within the first mile and only got stuck behind other runners very occasionally. I caught up to the 3:55 pace group and ended up following them for about 5 miles without any difficulty and I managed to pass them without a lot of dodging around runners as well (often pacers have a clump of runners around them making it hard to pass). I found Chicago less stressful when trying to maintain my pace.

International spirit

World_map-3One of the things I love about Chicago and New York are the runners from around the world! Specatators from Mexico are among my favorites for their passion and cheering.

In 2018 Chicago had runners from 105 countries

In 2017 New York had runners from 139 countries

Spectator Experience

Getting around

Chicago has a fantastic spectator guide  you can pick up at the race expo

Elites at the race

20171103_153854Both New York and Chicago are likely to have presentations by well known runners on the main stage. Sponsors may have an autograph session with familiar names as well.  In Chicago 2018, Maui Jim sunglasses had Meb Keflezighi signing autographs at the expo and you could catch Meb, Joan Benoit Samuelsson and Paula Radcliffe on the main stage.

Prize money draws big names. Both Chicago and New York offer big prize money

The prize money is the same for the men and women.

Ranking New York Chicago
1st place $100,000 $100,000
2nd place $60,000 $75,000
3rd place $40,000 $50,000

There are also a variety of bonuses as well for running under a particular time, being fastest American, etc…

New York elites in 2018 include:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Geoffrey Kamworor Male 2017 NYC Winner
Shadrak Biwott Male 2018 Boston 3rd
Shura Kitata Male 2018 London 2nd
Daniel Wanjiru Male 2017 London winner
Lelisa Desisa Male 2x Boston winner
Mark Keitany Female 3x NYC winner
Vivian Cheruiyot Female 2018 London winner
Molly Huddle Female 2016 NYC Podium finish
Shalane Flanagan Female 2017 NYC winner
Des Linder Female 2018 Boston winner

Chicago Elite in 2018 included:

Athlete Gender Top Finishes
Galen Rupp Male 2017 Chicago winner
Mo Farah Male 4X Olympic Gold
Abel Kirui Male 2016 Chicago winner
Yuki Kawauchi Male 2018 Boston winner
Dickson Chumba Male 2015 Chicago winner
Brigid Kosgei Female 2017 Chicago 2nd
Birhane Dibaba Female 2018 Tokyo winner

It seems that despite the similar amounts of prize money, New York seems to attract a few more of the top elite. BUT! you are more likely to see a record setting run in Chicago

Four world records were set in Chicago

  • 2:08:05 Steve Jones 1984
  • 2:05:42 Khalid Khannouchi 1999
  • 2:18:47 Catherine Ndereba 2001
  • 2:17:18 Paula Radcliffe 2002

in 2018 Mo Farah set a new European record 2:05:11

Finish Area

finish-ponchosIn New York when you finish you have to sign up for the option of getting the blue poncho a month or so before the actual race. If you choose a blue poncho you get to exit the park at the close exit, but you cannot do bag check. There are a limited number of blue ponchos, so if you do not request it soon enough you will have to exit the park at the far exit regardless of whether or not you actually check a bag.

I did not have anyone meeting me at the finish line in New York, so I checked a bag. That meant I got the standard mylar blanket and had to walk to the far end of Central Park to pick up my gear and exit the park.  That was a long walk after running 26.2 miles and I felt every step, but bag pick up was quick and efficient when I got there. After bag pick up you still have a decent walk to get out of the park to meet friends and family. I was highly amused by the pedicabs offering to give tired runners a ride (for a fee of course :))

In Chicago the walk from the finish line to the exit is not short, but it is shorter than New York. Bag pick up was quick and efficient and it was only a short walk to meet friends and family (although there was a short set of stairs, I think I felt all 6 of them 🙂

Both races insist you keep moving after your cross the finish line. If you sit down, a medic will be by quickly to either take you to the med tent or get you moving again. When I sat down on the curb en route to bag check in New York, a medic came over to encourage me to get back on my feet and also offered to open my chocolate milk for me.

Both races had food and drink at the finish.  I got a kick out of the beer in souvenir beer cans in Chicago provided by Goose Island, though as drinks go I prefer a chocolate milk post-race 🙂 My only complaint about New York is that they give you an apple instead of a banana because of course New York is “the big apple”

Post-race atmosphere

ChicagoSpectatorWhen I hobbled into a restaurant in New York with my thermal blanket still wrapped around my shoulders the entire restaurant clapped and cheered. The next day lots of runners walk around with their medals and strangers congratulate you on the race. I regret taking an early flight out the next day as it would have been fun to soak of the post-race atmosphere and get my medal engraved.

The New York Times lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.

When I hobbled into a pub in Chicago with my thermal blanket, there was no cheering, but the staff took amazing care of me. In no time I had sugar, caffeine and salt in the form of a coke and some pretzel bites. When I asked for a couple of wet naps to wipe my face they even brought me a clean rag soaked in warm water. If you want cheering head to the Nike store post-race for the cheering staff on every floor as you proceed to the 4th floor for free medal engraving.  The next morning there was no shortage of runners walking around with their medals and/or race shirts. The local pancake house had quite the waiting list for breakfast but was worth the wait.

The Chicago Tribune lists the names of the runners and their times in the Monday edition.

Volunteers

Volunteers rock at both races. THANK YOU to all the volunteers at both races!

thank-you

Summary

New York is a tougher course than Chicago and the road felt more crowded, but I found the crowd and atmosphere had more energy. So if the cheering of the crowds is what keeps you going, I think you will prefer New York.

Chicago is a lower stress race. It’s easier to get to the start, you have a more room to run on the course, and I found the water stops had enough tables that I could get water and Gatorade quite easily. You are more likely to set a personal best in Chicago.

You may have a different experience from mine in New York or Chicago depending on your start wave and the weather.  But there is a reason these races are so popular. If you get a chance to run either race, do it!

If you are curious how these races compare to Boston, I have compared New York and Boston in another post   If you are interested, I also have other race reports and running related posts marathoncomic

Chicago Marathon Race report

ChicagoWithJudyThis past weekend I ran the 2018 Chicago marathon, one of the six Abbott Marathon Majors and a very popular marathon. In this post I’ll share my thoughts on the race experience so you know what to expect if you decide to run.

  • Getting a bib: Lottery; Qualifying Time; Charity Entry; Shamrock Shuffle; Tour entry; Cancelled Entry; Get the app
  • The Race expo: Where is it? How do I get there? Bib & Packet pick up; Photo ops and things to do; Race goodies
  • Start Area: Getting to the start; Port-a-Potties
  • The race: Room to run; water stops; Crowd support; Hills; Route; Garmin == Timex; The weather
  • Spectator experience
  • The finish: Finish line freebies; bag check and changing area; meeting area
  • The post-race atmosphere
  • Summary

Chicago has been on my marathon bucket list ever since my friend Christopher introduced me to the documentary Spirit of the Marathon. I hope you have the opportunity to run it for yourself!

Getting a bib

There are multiple ways to get a bib for the Chicago marathon.

Race bib Chicago MarathonLottery

More people want to register for the Chicago marathon than the number of bibs available. Bibs are awarded by a lottery system. You apply for the bib during the application window. At the end of the application window you receive an email informing you if your name was selected. If your name is selected you are automatically charged the registration fee. In 2019 you can register after October 30th and the drawing takes place November 29th.

In 2015 53% of those who entered the lottery were accepted.

Qualifying Time

you can run a qualifying time in the qualifying period (for 2019 you would have to run the qualifying time after January 2017). They dropped the qualifying times a little bit for the 2018 marathon allowing me to earn a bib with a qualifying time.

If you can prove you ran the qualifying time below you can get a bib for the 2019 marathon.

Age group Men Women
16 – 29 3:10:00 3:30:00
30 – 39 3:15:00 3:45:00
40 – 49 3:25:00 3:55:00
50 – 59 3:40:00 4:10:00
60 – 69 4:00:00 4:35:00
70 – 79 4:30:00 5:10:00
80 and over 5:00:00 5:45:00

Charity Entry

You can join one of the official Chicago marathon fundraising teams. You must fundraise between $1250 and $1750 USD.

Shamrock Shuffle

If you have run the Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K four or more times since 2000 and have signed up for the 2019 Shamrock Shuffle you can guarantee your spot in the 2019 marathon. A great option for local runners.

Tour entry

You can purchase a tour package. This is typically a more expensive option but will usually include a hotel and or travel. This option is frequently used by international runners or groups of runners. I used a tour entry for the NYC marathon when my running buddy got in through lottery and I did not so we could run together.

Cancelled Entry

One of the really nice things about Chicago is you do have the ability to cancel your entry and defer it to the next year. You lose the cost of registration and have to pay again the following year, but when you have a lottery spot and an injury messes you up, it’s nice to know you have a guaranteed spot the next year – right Christopher, James, Julia, Brian?

Get the app

Once you have your bib, keep an eye out for the link to the official Chicago marathon phone app. It’s very helpful for spectators and runners alike.

The Race Expo

Where is it?

ChicagoStepsThe Chicago marathon has a great race expo. it’s located at McCormick place, a conference centre just outside the downtown core.

How do I get there?

Chicago has a good metro system and there are a number of buses that will get you to McCormick place. You can purchase metro passes at the race expo (they even have souvenir marathon fare cards!) If you are staying downtown, the race also has a number of shuttle stops. We took the shuttle from the Nike store, there was a long line up but they had a good number of school buses and were well organized. It did not take long to get on a bus. The bus also seemed to take some sort of public transit only road most of the way, so it was faster than a taxi, or Lyft/Uber.  Some of our friends tried to get the shuttle from the Hilton Friday morning and said the buses never showed up, which is odd (they ended sharing an Uber with 2 other runners). That was first thing Friday morning, so perhaps there was some confusion about when the first bus left. We took the Hilton bus back later Friday so we know that shuttle bus system was working.

Bib & packet pick up

You have to go through security to pick up your bib, but they have a dozen people to do security screening so it moves quickly. It was quite busy first thing Friday morning, but completely empy at 2 PM Friday afternoon. To pick up your bib you must present government issued photo id and your packet pick up ticket. If you do not have your pick up ticket with you there is a booth which can print it for you.  However if you forget your ID, you have to go back and get it (That’s how I found out the line ups at 2 PM were shorter than the lines first thing in the morning… I forgot my ID and was unable to get my bib…Whoops!) You pick up your bib packet first. Your rake kit & T shirt pick up is in the back of the expo.

They had lots of volunteers and were very efficient!  Leaving us lots of time to explore the expo

Photo Ops & things to do

The race expo was great, lots of cool photo ops from the moment you walk in. My sister and I have a tradition of taking pictures with a bear at every major race we do together, but all we found in Chicago was a Trex and a turtle. This year they also had a treadmill so you could try to run the world record pace Eliud Kipchoge ran at the Berlin marathon. No I didn’t try it, I figured that was the perfect way to pull a hamstring two days before the race 🙂

Race goodies

chicagoswagNike has a booth set up with all the official race wear. They focused completely on running apparel: running shirts, long sleeved running shirts, jacket, tank tops, visor. I think they missed an opportunity. The other US majors (New York & Boston) sell mugs, glasses, backpacks, hoodies, and all sorts of extra branded goodies you can spend money on. There was a very long line to purchase your official race wear.  All the official race wear can also be purchased at the Nike Shop on Michigan Ave.  So you might want to go there after the expo to make your purchase. The lines at the Nike store were shorter and the DJs in the store make for a fun atmosphere.

We still found lots of ways to spend our money. Goose Island IPA had cool shirts and pint glasses (which you can get engraved for free with your finish time on Monday at select locations). The Chicago Tribune had coffee mugs. All the big vendors were there. Garmin had 10% off GPS devices. You could buy souvenir marathon Oofos (great splurge, recovery sandals are amazing post-race). Brooks had some nice race shirts. I even picked up a fun pair of Chicago running socks (also available as running sleeves, compression sleeves, or compression socks).

I was particularly amused by the “Dude” products in the race bag. If you didn’t read the instructions on the back of the packages, it’s worth the read 🙂

Start Area

Getting to the start

Of all the marathon majors Chicago is the most low stress on race day! There are a lot of options to get to the start area in Grant Park. You can take the metro line, and there are lots of hotels within walking distance. Security and bag check were efficient. Your bib has a gate number on it indicating where you should enter, although one of the volunteers told us at the last minute we could have entered at any gate. We still chose to enter at our assigned gate.

ChicagoPreRaceSelfieI left my hotel at 5:45 AM, met a friend at another hotel at 6 AM, and we had time to stop at the port-a-potties, explore the start area, sit on a bench for a bit, take a picture at Buckingham fountain, check our bags, one more stop at the port-a-potty and get to our corral before our wave two start at 8 AM.

Kudos to the Chicago marathon for working hard to be green! They had green stations with volunteers to sort the garbage, and even had a recycling station for the mylar blankets at the finish which apparently they recycle into park benches!

Port-a-potties

ChicagoPortapotty The corrals cut the start area in two. This is relevant because there are more port-a-potties on the city side of the park when you first enter than on the lake side. Bag check and Buckingham fountain (great for that last pre-race selfie) are on the lake side. When the race starts at 7:30 AM the crosswalk across the corrals is closed. It might be possible to enter and exit a corral to cross, but if you can it will be a bit of a hassle.  We took advantage of the port-a-potties on the city side when we first entered and were only in line for a couple of minutes. When we did our final pre-start port-a-potty run after bag check on the lake side the line ups took more like 10-15 minutes.

The race

I was in corral F, the first corral of wave two. The 3:55 and 4:00 pacers were in my corral. No-one checked my bib when I went into the corral, but I did not have any trouble getting into the corral (i.e. it wasn’t overly crowded) and I was able to move up in front of the 4:00 pacer without difficulty.  I was planning to run sub 4, and expected the 4 hour pacer would have a big pack of runners around them.

It took a couple of minutes to get across the start line and we were off.

Room to run

The first thing I appreciated in this race was how wide the roads were. There were 44,571 finishers in this years marathon. That is a lot of runners!  In many big races it can be difficult to run your own pace because you get stuck behind other runners and it is difficult to pass.  I rarely had that problem in Chicago.  There were a few spots where the road narrowed, but 90% of the race I was able to run my own pace without the need to constantly zig zag trying to find a space between runners.  The organizers even managed spectators to keep them from encroaching on the running space asking them to step back when they started to move onto the road. I tried following a pacer in New York and it was extremely difficult because the pacer had to zig zag into small gaps between runners to maintain the target pace. Whereas in Chicago, I ended up behind the 3:55 pacers for several miles quite by chance and could easily have followed them through to the finish line.

Water stops

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAll the water stations had medical aid, Gatorade Endurance. Each stop was Gatorade first, water second (except for one stop where the volunteers clearly got a bit confused and had water in the Gatorade cups at the first couple of tables…but to their credit the volunteers were doing such a great job of yelling out whether they had water or Gatorade it wasn’t really a problem). Each stop had plenty of tables on both sides of the road and the tables were well spread out. I was able to get water and Gatorade at each stop without stopping or walking. Of course the occasional runner would stop in front of me at a water stop, but that is beyond the control of the race organizers. The volunteers were also trying very had to keep the discarded cups out of the way as much as possible without disrupting the runners.

There were lots of toilets along the route as well, but they are often on side streets, so you have to look for the signs around the water stations with the arrows indicating where to find the toilets.

The water stops at 19, 22 and 24 miles had bananas

There were either Gatorade Chews at mile 13 and Gatorade Gels at mile 18

Biofreeze was at mile 21 . If you are not familiar with Biofreeze. It’s a topical analgesic. In English that means you put it on your sore joint or muscle and it will reduce some of the pain. I have not tried it, but there are other marathons where I might have tried that at mile 21.

I had no trouble finding medical aid when my body glide was insufficient for race conditions and I wanted a little Vaseline to get me through the last 8 miles.

Crowd support

ChicagoSignThe press release says there are an estimated 1,7 million spectators at the Chicago marathon. We had clouds and drizzle on race day. That is a bit cold and wet for spectators so I doubt we had quite that many. But, there were solid crowds for probably 70% of the course. The remaining 30% of the course there were always spectators just not as many. There was a wonderful variety of signs “If it was easy, I would do it”, “Hurry up I want to go watch football”, “This seems like a lot of work for a free banana”, etc… I saw costumes, I heard bands, I think the loudest crowds were in Chinatown a great boost late in the race.

I had bonus cheers from friends and family who posted pictures of themselves holding signs they shared with me on Facebook as well which was awesome 🙂

The Chicago race bibs do not have your name on them (unless you are an elite like Sir Mo)  so if you want the crowds to cheer you on personally you will need to find a way to label yourself. The crowds enjoy having a name or a country to cheer.  You could

  • Spell your name with tape on the front of your shirt  (though my friend Christopher had to rip his off part way through the race because the tape was chafing)
  • Write your name in Sharpie on your arm (though then they can only see your name as you run by, it works better if your name is on your front, and if you go straight to your hotel to nap afterwards you may discover your sweaty arm has transferred your name onto the hotel bedsheet)
  • Attach a sticker to the bottom of your bib with your name on it (when I tried that mine fell off part way through the race in the rain)

Hills

ChicagoElevationChicago does not have any big hills. It is flat, but it is not Las Vegas flat. I had it described to me as “waffle flat”. I think that is the perfect description. It’s flat with a number of short little bumps when you have an overpass to cross. It’s considered a great race for trying to run a personal best. Four world records were set at this race. In 2018, when I ran, Mo Farah set a new European record.

You can see my Strava profile from the marathon on the right. There are a lot of little spikes and drops where my GPS was confused but you can see over the entire race the elevation range only varies from 175 meters to under 185 meters, and the total elevation gain was 80 meters.

The biggest hill is at the finish and honestly it’s not a very big hill, but if you are struggling, having your biggest climb in the last 800 meters will suck.  So now you know when you see that 800m sign that you are about to hit “the” hill. I appreciate the sign at the top of that last hill to let you know you only have 300m to go from the top of the hill to the finish line. Once you climb that hill and turn left you can see the finish chute. Make sure you smile for the camera for that finish line photo. But don’t throw yourarms out too wide (I got smacked in the face by a happy runner throwing their arms out in celebration in the final 100 meters, it’s okay no bruises, no harm done :))

The route

The route is basically made up of three big out and backs, which makes it easier for a spectator to cheer you on at multiple points on the route. There are also a number of little turns as you switch from one road to another. This does break up what might otherwise be really long straight stretches, but it also means you can easily add mileage if you are on the outside of all the turns. Follow the blue line if you want to stick as close to 26.2 miles as possible.

I know very little about the city of Chicago, so I can’t tell you if we passed any specific famous buildings or neighborhoods. But I did enjoy the variety of the neighborhoods and scenery along the way.

Garmin == Timex

ChicagoStravaMapThe big buildings downtown combined with a couple of tunnels mean you cannot rely on your Garmin to tell you your pace or your distance. According to Garmin I ran 43.8 km!  When you look at the map on my Strava account on the right you can see odd little zig zags where my Garmin got confused. I was VERY glad I grabbed a pace band tattoo at the race expo. The only way I could tell if I was on track was to compare the elapsed time at each mile marker to the target time on my pace band to keep myself on track. If you usually rely on your Garmin to monitor your speed, you may want to follow a pacer to hit your goal time.

The weather

What sort of weather should expect for the race? It depends. Here are the conditions from the past ten years

  • 2018 57-64F Drizzle Winds ENE 5 MPH
  • 2017 56-73F Partly Cloudy Winds SW 8 MPH
  • 2016 50-63F Partly Cloudy Winds ESE 8 MPH
  • 2015 54-78F Clear Winds SSW 11 MPH
  • 2014 45-64F Partly Cloudy Winds SE 8 MPH
  • 2013 46-65F Clear Winds NW 4MPH
  • 2012 38-51F Mostly Cloudy Winds WNW 6 MPH
  • 2011 57-80F Clear Winds ESE 3 MPH
  • 2010 59-84F Scattered Clouds No Wind
  • 2009 28-45F Mostly Cloudy Winds NW 7 MPH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Spectator Experience

ChicagoSpectatorMy friend Christopher was injured and had to defer his entry to next year, but he did come out to cheer us on. It is always a treat to have someone on the course cheering you on. I started anticipating his posters two to three miles out. Thank you Christopher!

He was really impressed by the spectator guide which you definitely want to pick up at the race expo. Inside you will find a metro map, fare explanations, map of the finish area and a schedule.

It also lists the metro stops for different spots along the course complete with instructions on how to get from the metro station to the course.

18th Pink Line Station  – Mile 19. Board a Pink Line train and exit at 18th st. Walk four blocks east to Loomis St.

They also provide estimated arrival times for each section of the race

Mile 8 to Mile 10 
Wheelchair participants: 7:40 AM; Runners 8:08 AM to 11:30 AM

His only complaint was an interesting one, everything in the spectator guide provides distances and locations in miles. But, the timing mats on the course are located at 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, and 40 km. So if you are sitting at Mile 14 waiting for a runner, you track them online and determine they crossed the 15 km marker at 9:05 AM, running an average 9:03 /mile pace they should reach you at um…..  oh wait.. this requires math!  So when you sit down the day before and plan where to watch on the course, break out the calculator and calculate how many miles it is from your planned spectator spot from the last timing mat in MILES! Or make yourself a little conversion chart listing the timing mats 5km = 3.1 miles, 10 km = 6.2 miles, etc…

There are a lot of people on the course, so plan ahead! Christopher told me what coloru sign he would have, where he would be and what side of the road he would be on. I did see a few brave spectators crossing the road between runners, but not something you want to try with a bike or stroller!

The Finish

That wonderful moment where you cross the finish line. You did it! Don’t forget to smile for the photographers as you approach that final timing mat.

Finish line freebies

ChicagoBeerCanVolunteers are waiting to give you your medal, a bottle of water (I asked the volunteer to open my bottle of water as well because sometimes I am so tired even that is a challenge).

Next up of course it the official Chicago Marathon mylar blanket. Volunteers also had tape for the blankets so you don’t have to hold the blanket closed with your hands.

There were cups of Gatorade and bananas. This year (2018) They also had cans of Goose Island IPA 312 in a Chicago Marathon souvenir can. That’s the first time I got a beer post-race (I don’t drink beer).  The beer cans were open so I had to pour my beer out. I did try to find a spot where it would not make too much mess since you cannot exit the runner area with the open beer.  There were a lot of runners doing the ame, I guess I was not the only one who wanted the souvenir can but was not up for drinking the beer.  Though of course many runners thoroughly enjoyed the beer as well! There is even a spot to write in your finish time on the can (no that was NOT my finish time shown on the can in the above photo, I am not that fast)

After all that you are handed a plastic bag with potato chips and various other food stuffs. (My sister was wondering why we get the bag at the end of all this, apparently its to stop runners stuffing their loot bags with multiple bananas, water bottles, etc.. thank you Christopher for that little tidbit of information).

Once your hands are completely full you reach the official finish photo area. They have a dozen backgrounds and photographers to capture you and your medal!

Bag check and changing area

It’s a bit of a walk from the finish line to bag check. Your walk won’t be much shorter if you skip bag check because you have to walk past the bag check area to reach the runners exit. They had enough volunteers and bag check stalls. A volunteer was reading my bib number and fetching my bag within 30 seconds of my arriving at the booth.

They had port-a-potty like stalls set up as changing rooms. But there were not many of them and they had pretty long line-ups (10-15 runners in line at each). I wish they just set up a big Women’ change tent and Men’s change tent like they do at Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth instead.

Standing and waiting is pretty painful for me post race. So I just sat down on the ground. Off with the running shoes. Then with no small difficulty and many threatening calf cramps removed my compression socks. On with the sweatpants, swap sweaty shirt for dry shirt (leaving running bra in place, but there were female runners who decided taking off a wet running bra could be done in runner company (if it was colder, I would probably have wrapped my thermal blanket around me and done the same). With some difficulty I managed to get myself from the seated position on the ground back to standing and hobbled towards the exit. Pausing briefly at Buckingham Fountain for a “I did it!” selfie

ChicagoFinished

Meeting Area

Volunteers directed me to the runner reunion area, a short walk from the bag check under normal circumstances, but post-marathon a little slow, and HEY you have to walk down stairs to get out? That’s just mean.  Okay there were only about 8 stairs… but still 🙂

The runner reunion area has giant inflatable tubes with letters on them.  The advantage to having a last name that starts with I is my reunion area is usually pretty quiet.  I found Christopher quickly and we made our way out of the park and back towards the hotel. With me leaning on him for a little help whenever I had to step off the curb.

There is a post-race party area you can visit with your friends and family. Runners get a free beer from Goose Island as well. I cannot provide any more information than that, because I am one of those runners who is pretty wrecked after a marathon and as I mentioned previously I don’t drink beer anyway.

The post race atmosphere

You can get your medal engraved with your finish time at the Nike store after the race Sunday or on Monday. Sunday they had staff lined up at the entrance and at the top of each escalator (engraving is on the 4th floor) clapping and cheering!  I kind of wish I had checked it out just for the cheers!

If you bought the Goose Island Chicago marathon pint glass, there were official places you could get your glass engraved with your finisher time Monday. Sadly I did not have time to do so before my flight.

ChicagoTribuneThe Chicago Tribune prints a special section in Sunday’s paper, and prints the names and finishing times for all runners who finish in under 6 hours 30 minutes in the Monday edition. I had trouble finding a copy of the Tribune at the airport, so maybe I should have paid the small fee at the race expo and signed up to have them mail it to me.

Monday, the streets and breakfast spots have lots of runners wearing their race shirts. Many runners wear their finisher medals as well.  We smile and nod to each other. Of course waiters and airport staff quickly figure out these are the marathoners and congratulate you on your race.

I stopped at the Elephant and Castle on my way back to the hotel after the race because I really needed salt, sugar & caffeine.  We sat down in the pub and I asked the hostess for a Coke.  The waitress appeared moments later with a coke and thrilled that she could help me recover from the race with such a simple act. She then asked if I needed anything else. So I asked for some wet naps to wash off my face (walking to the bathroom to wash up seemed like a huge effort at this point). She brought me not only wet naps but a clean cloth soaked in warm water. Heaven! Add some pretzel bites and I was almost feeling human again.

I share this story to help you understand that after the race, staff and strangers will absolutely congratulate you on your race, but you don’t get loud cheering the moment you walk into a building  (which happened at the restaurant I went to in New York, and at the hotel I was staying at in Boston).

Summary

Personally, I had a great race in Chicago 2018. The temperature was about perfect. The drizzle caused some chafing but kept me from overheating. The wide roads and flat course allowed me to maintain a steady pace throughout the race. Of course it probably also helps that I didn’t try to set a personal best, I was a little conservative with my pace since I had missed a fair number of training runs.

The Chicago marathon is a very well organized race. It’s a fantastic place to try and set a personal best. They have an amazing team of volunteers and the city will come out to cheer you along the course. There is a reason this race became so popular they had to switch to a lottery system!

Thank you Chicago for a fantastic race weekend!

Thinking of running Boston or New York? Check out my other race reports and running related posts.