Chicago Marathon Course Strategy

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The Chicago Marathon is one of the greatest marathons you can possibly run. It’s great for experienced runners as well as first-timers. And the course itself is stunning.

You can expect over 45,000 runners and hundreds of thousands of spectators cheering you on. The course is also pretty flat, making the Chicago Marathon one of the fastest marathons in the world--close behind the Berlin Marathon for the fastest course actually! If you don’t know what to expect from the Chicago Marathon course, you may need information about the Chicago Marathon course map as well as some course guidance in general. All of that and more can be found within this article. I’m going to break down the Chicago Marathon course for you, help with a Chicago Marathon course strategy, and provide general tips for running a flat course like the one you will find in Chicago.

Chicago Marathon Course Strategy

When running every marathon, it is absolutely crucial that you focus on your early pace and don’t start out too fast. Trust me on this one! It has happened to me before where I got caught up in the crowds and started at too quick a pace. The spectators in Chicago are great and they are massive for the first 13 miles of the race, which is why a lot of runners have way faster first halves than their second halves. It’s definitely difficult not to feed off of such an energetic crowd though. If at possible, make sure you save your energy and take it slow. Remember it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Also, generally speaking, the Chicago weather is very unpredictable. Make sure you check the weather days ahead to be prepared. It can be warm. It can be cold. In Chicago, you really never know. But now let’s break down the Chicago Marathon course in a few pieces and see what kind of Chicago Marathon course tips you can take with you.

The Start – Mile 4

The race starts in the scenic Grant Park, which is one of the main sights in the windy city of Chicago. The first miles of the Chicago Marathon course will guide you through the loop on State Street and LaSalle Drive, which is the Urban Center and also Financial District of Chicago. Marathon Tip: Remember to pace yourself by running slower as a warm-up. This will help you get in your zone. And also, don’t get too excited because of the crowds. Yes, you are a superhero running this marathon, but save the fun for later in the city. You will need the energy. By reaching the Chicago Zoo you should have found your rhythm and feel comfortable running your current pace. Also, watch the setting of the aid stations and plan your ways to approach them: this is where you’ll see the next 18 aid stations on the Chicago Marathon course.

Miles Five to 10: From Lincoln Park to Lakeview

You will be running north to Addison, where you will see Wrigley Field. This is the northernmost part of the Chicago Marathon course. Again, the spectators are insane for the first 13 miles. There will come quieter parts of the race for sure. Soak it all up and save your marathon batteries for later. A conservative pace is still needed here. You will still be in a holding-things-back kind of situation even though it is so tempting to just run faster than you should. Making your way south on Sedgwick and Clack Street is a great part of the Chicago Marathon course. Just totally focus again and enjoy the straight shot of beautiful houses around you. It’s a pretty neighborhood and a place that might help you get your excitement under control if things are going a little crazy right now. Inhale and focus on your goal – you’re almost halfway through.

Miles 11 to 17: Old Town, River North, West Loop, Greek Town, and Little Italy

Welcome to the second half of the course. Now it’s time to get things going. The second half of the Chicago Marathon course doesn’t have as many turns as the first one, which is great! You will pass Old Town, Greek Town, and the West Loop where the crowd support is amazing. You’re going to see some of the most stunning landmarks of the city of Chicago as well. By reaching the halfway mark you will cross the river to go back. The Chicago Marathon course will take you until mile 15 before going east, south and west again. Make sure you know a few Italian words because in Little Italy you might see some Italian spectators. Take in the energy here again. After running 15 + miles you will need it for sure.

Mile 18 to 20: How Are You Feeling?

Around mile 18 to 20, you should ask yourself how this race is going for you and how much you have left in the tank. You will have a lot of Hispanic spectators around you because Pilsen is the city’s largest Hispanic neighborhood. If you have paced yourself correctly and you’re having a good day, this is the time when you should speed up. Mile 20 marks a common point of time where many racers hit “the wall” and crash. This is your time to shine! Only 6 miles left – find your faster grove and take this marathon home. Keep your mind engaged. Don’t forget: you’re almost there.

Chicago Marathon Course: Miles 21 to The Finish Line

The last few miles of a marathon is when you should start racing when there is energy left. If you’re mentally exhausted, break the last miles down in smaller portions. Try to dedicate those final miles to special people in your life. People that have supported you on this journey to the Chicago Marathon. People who can’t run, or family members who are ill. I do that a lot and it helps me when things get rough--as they will be by the end of a marathon. Around mile 23 you will turn on Michigan Avenue. And do you know what’s great about the Chicago Marathon course in the end? It’s literally a straight shot to the finish! You will see that the closer you get to the finish line, the crowds get louder and louder. Also, Willis Tower will be getting closer and closer. Almost at the finish line, you’ll make a right turn, another left, and there she is The Finish Line. Don’t forget to smile and enjoy the moment. This is all yours. You have worked so hard to come this far, and you have conquered the course of the Chicago Marathon.

Check These Guides and FAQs Out!

To get an overview of the Chicago Marathon course map, please follow this link. Are you running the TCS NYC Marathon as well? Here’s the course strategy for the NYC Marathon. Also, also, if you are traveling overseas for the Berlin Marathon, make sure you check this FAQ out.

Frequently Asked Questions for the Chicago Marathon

Remember, it doesn’t matter if this is your first, 5th, or 100th marathon, it’s always great to have answers at your fingertips. Here are some commonly posed questions about the Chicago Marathon. Also, be sure to check out my marathon running Q&A for a refresher on the best tips for running marathons in general.

When is the Chicago Marathon 2019?

The race itself starts on October 13, 2019, which is a Sunday. There’s a countdown timer on the Chicago Marathon website if you want a running count on how much longer you have left to train for the big day! The events for Friday the 11th are the Abbot Health & Fitness Expo, as well as the race packet pick-up. On Saturday the 12th, the program organizers are having the Advocate Healthcare International 5k.

Can You Walk the Chicago Marathon?

Yes, you can walk the Chicago Marathon! In fact, according to Marathon Guide, the race is in the top 8 walker-friendly marathons. According to that same reference, they rate it one of the highest fall races for walkers. IMPORTANT: If you choose to walk, make sure you can finish within the 6 hours and 30-minute time limit they set for the course. Other than that though, you are more than welcome to walk for a charity or just for the general experience. Just remember that walking 26 miles is no easy feat, so train accordingly.

How do I Enter 2019 Chicago Marathon? (Guaranteed and Non-Guaranteed Entries)

There are rules and regulations to follow on their website for entering the marathon, but overall, it’s relatively painless. The race itself is the painful part! For a general idea of the kind of entries in the 2018 marathon, The Chicago Tribune says that in 2018, “the field was 68.9 percent non-guaranteed and 31.1 percent guaranteed.” This means that a lot of people entered the race through the lottery system. So yes, the Chicago marathon does have a ballot entry like most large marathons. You can qualify for guaranteed entry into the Chicago marathon by qualification times, but more generally, running for a charity will be your most viable option for obtaining a guaranteed entry.

Can You Defer Entry in the Race (AKA Transfer Bib)?

You are allowed to defer entry in the Chicago Marathon. If you didn’t know, many races allow you the option of deferring your place in the race for the next year. Say you got injured or something else came up, deferral guarantees that you will at least have a spot in the next race, even though many entry fees and other services are non-refundable. IMPORTANT: Make sure you read the entry cancellation policy so that you are guaranteeing a spot in the next Chicago marathon.

How Do You Avoid Stomach Issues During the Marathon?

You might suffer from some butterflies and nerves before the big race: that’s completely normal! But to safeguard yourself from the “runner’s trots”, make sure you are properly hydrated and avoid sugary foods a day before running. And also, consider taking a prebiotic or probiotic supplement as they have been proven to reduce leaky gut, and by extension, stomach issues while running. In addition, there are many other supplements, like Acetyl L-Carnitine, that can improve your performance as a runner overall.

How Many Start Corrals Are There?

The Chicago Marathon organizers have a handy chart that shows you everything you need to know about the qualifying times for each start corral. Generally though, the slower your average pace and times, the farther back you are during the start times. Each wave is usually staggered in 30-minute intervals. The first wave of the faster runners starts at 7:30 am, 2nd wave at 8:00, and 3rd at 8:35.

What Do You Get For Finishing the Chicago Marathon?

Apart from the immense, satisfying, rush of accomplishment, you’ll get from finishing the marathon, there are cash prizes for the top finishers. The first finisher gets $100,000 and the second gets $50,000 and so forth until fifth place who gets $10,000. There are other prizes as well for course records and other time bonuses, as well as finisher’s certificates and age group awards.

Is the Chicago Marathon Course Flat?

And the last answer to these questions is yes. The course is extremely flat, just like the Berlin Marathon!
Why you can trust Sabrina Wieser
Runningbrina is committed to bringing you unbiased ratings and information. Her editorial content is not influenced by advertisers. Sabrina uses data-driven methodologies to evaluate all products, so all brands are measured equally.
  • Most featured running blog, past 6 years
  • USATF certified running coach
  • Experienced endurance athlete
  • 7 marathons

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