Chicago Marathon Course Guide
Tackling your first Chicago Marathon? Been a few years since you last ran the 26.2 miles through the Windy City? Or are you curious what your crazy marathoner friends are about to go through? Well, you’re in luck. Read on for the Bad Angel Guide to the Chicago Marathon. (You can follow along with the course map!)
Pre-race/starting line: It’s here! Can you believe it?! Word to the wise: Arrive earlier than you think you’ll need to. ‘Tis a far, far better thing to be waiting around in the corral for an extra 10 minutes than it is to be sprinting to the chute at the last second because the port-o-john line took waaaaay longer than expected (that happened to me last year, and it SUCKED). After the gun goes off, it’s still a long trip to the starting line, so be patient. When you finally do get started and go under the bridge on Columbus, you’ll be amazed at how many men peel off to pee against the wall like true Chicago hobos. Stay classy, guys.
Miles 1-4: It’s like sightseeing in downtown Chicago with 45,000 fellow runners and a couple hundred thousand spectators. You’re wide-eyed and trying to absorb everything around you, every sign, every cute kid on dad’s shoulders. But you must remember: go out slow. Like, really slow. It’s easy to bust out of the gate at full force, but don’t do it. In fact, aim to run your first two miles 20-30 seconds slower than race pace and then settle into your groove. You’ll thank me later.
Miles 4-8: At about 4.5 miles, the course turns through Lincoln Park near the zoo, and you’ll notice a lot of people veering off the course … to pee in the bushes (this time, men AND women). It’s also the first time you’ll experience a significant bottleneck during a water stop. It’s early enough in the race that you’re not super spread out, and the path through the park is far narrower than the downtown streets. I actually skipped this water stop last year because it’s such a pain. Then, you’re heading north up Sheridan toward the turnaround at Addison — and that’s where the party really starts.
Miles 8-9: BOYSTOWN! Holy smokes, you guys. You’ve come to one of the most magical places on the course. Spectators four or five deep, music blaring, people dancing and partying. It’s not quite Pride Weekend, but it’s still pretty darn awesome. You’ll breeze through here with a smile on your face, guaranteed.
Miles 10-11: Old Town is a beautiful, historic neighborhood packed with fans, followed by another spectator-heavy area in River North. The best part about this stretch? When it’s hot, they have baby pools filled with ice water and sponges. Grab one of those babies, wipe the salty sweat off your brow and wring it out on your head or down your back. I’ve even seen people put them under their hats to help cool them. We’ve really needed it the last two years in the heat.
Miles 12-13: You’re halfway there! The bridge on Adams Street immediately before the halfway point is another popular spectating spot. If you’re like me, you’re floating on air after that Shot Blok and jamming to Soulja Boy as you cross the bridge (oh wait, just me?).
Miles 14-16: Ugh. The dreaded United Center loop. Other than the chute of fans in the “charity cheer zone,” the crowd is mighty thin, there’s no shade and really nothing pretty to look at, especially the Van Buren Street/Jackson Street jaunt next to the freeway. During my first marathon, I recall that this spot was the first time in the entire race that I could actually hear footsteps and heavy breathing because there was zero crowd noise. The good news is, you’re almost to Teamster City at the 25K mark. My Teamster co-workers have camped out here the last two years, giving me a huge lift when I really needed it. Give them a wave as you go by.
Miles 17-20: It’s starting to hurt, BAD. Here is when I thought to myself, “I am on my own. Crowd support will only take me so far, this is all on me now. And I can do this. Right?????” Blissfully sandwiched in this somewhat desolate (albeit pretty) stretch is Pilsen, the heart of Chicago’s Mexican community. It’s a party while it lasts, so soak it up.
Miles 21-23: In the distance, you’ll hear the blaring music and people going nuts. Then you see the dancing pink dragons, and you know you made it to Chinatown. Woohoo! Find a race photographer and flash your horns because you’ll be smiling anyway. Don’t worry, though: waiting for you on the other side of this amazing place is a shadeless, fan-less industrial wasteland. And you’re running AWAY from the finish line. In other words, you’re gonna need some ass-kicking music on your playlist and some real mental toughness to make it through here. Hey, at least there won’t be a ton of witnesses to see you hit the wall.
Miles 24-25: OH DEAR GOD WHY AREN’T THE BUILDINGS GETTING SMALLER YET!!!!!!! Once you cross the interstate by the White Sox ballpark, you’ll make the turn up Michigan Avenue back toward Grant Park. You’ll see the Chicago skyline, and that can eff with your head. Instead of concentrating on how tiny the Sears, er, Willis Tower still looks, concentrate on what’s right in front of you and start picking off people to pass.
Mile 26: Remember how this is the flattest, fastest marathon, like, ever? Well, guess what? You’re about to encounter the only significant hill on the entire course! Right at the 26th mile marker! How convenient! The bridge on Roosevelt Road separates the men from the boys. It is a cruel joke, a kick in the stomach when you are so. damn. close. to the finish. So, now that you know about it, you won’t be surprised. You know what’s coming. And you know that once you get over that mother, you’re on the home stretch into Grant Park with 500,000 spectators there to help you to the finish. The noise is unbelievable. All of those runners who a minute earlier looked like they wanted to die right there on the bridge have suddenly found a new gear — and you’re one of them. Cross the finish line in triumph, horns held high. You made it.
There you have it, Angels. There’s no better way to see the city, so cherish each mile and take it all in. It’s gonna be amazing. — Mags
P.S. Just in case you aren’t feeling queasy enough at the thought of running the full hog, check out the video below. You’ve been warned.