The Chicago Marathon Race Guide: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Chicago Marathon Race Guide: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly


Chicago Marathon Race Review

This past October (2015), I ran the Chicago Marathon. It was my first BIG marathon, after 4 mid-sized marathons (Oklahoma City Marathon, Champaign Marathon, Madison Marathon, and Grandma’s Marathon). Now let me tell you, big marathons like Chicago have some amazing perks…and some pretty major downsides. It’s definitely a race I’m glad I experienced, and I still have hopes of racing the other world marathon majors. But at the end of the day, I left the Chicago Marathon feeling a bit underwhelmed. I decided to split my race review up into 3 sections: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.

The Good

1.) A huge race means tons of spectators. It was absolutely surreal! Pretty much the entire race the streets were lined 2 or 3 people deep, cheering and yelling for us. Not to mention the hilarious signs! The course weaves you through tons of differing neighborhoods, from Boystown to Pilsen, each with a completely different vibe. Running for hours on end can get boring at times, but the Chicago Marathon keeps the excitement coming.

A Nike poster of the Chicago Marathon course at the expo
The marathon really does run you all over town!

2.) The race is unbelievably well organized. Packet pick-up was done in a flash and getting into the corrals was easy peasy. Besides what I mention in The Ugly section below, the marathon never felt overly crowded or chaotic. From start to finish, Chicago was a well run race.

3.) The Expo. I love walking around a big expo and ogling at all the new, fancy gear. Plus, there’s often great discount deals on older clothes and shoes. Because the Chicago Marathon is so big, it’s expo is huge. Additionally, the race is sponsored by Nike, and Nike has several big displays for pictures along with a store with tons of gear. You could spend hours at this expo.

Just one of the amazing signs Nike puts up at the Chicago Marathon Expo
Just one of the amazing signs Nike puts up at the Chicago Marathon Expo
A reflective running hat that I bought at the Chicago Marathon expo
My favorite purchase from the expo. The hat is reflective, perfect for running in the dark. Apparently I was pretty excited.

The Bad

1.) The weather. This is Chicago, in October. The day can range from bitterly cold and rainy to hot and steamy. It’s particularly tough, because most likely you aren’t acclimatized to heat or cold at this point. It’s been too long since you’ve slogged through the dog days of summer, and you’ve probably only ran through a few days of cold. But, part of the joy of endurance running is that it is open to the elements. We’re best off to embrace the tough conditions that come our way, because there is nothing we can do about it anyways.

2.) It’s pricey! $185 just for the race. Then you add in parking for the Expo, race day, and potentially the entire weekend (if you’re staying in downtown Chicago). Hotels are even more expensive than normal, so add that in too. The Chicago Marathon is definitely not a cheap weekend!

The Ugly

1.) There’s really only one ugly part of the Chicago Marathon, and it lies just beyond the finish line. You finally finish the marathon, you are oh so happy. It doesn’t get much better than this, until you realize you have to walk forever to get out of the finishing corrals. I’m not exaggerating one bit when I say it took me about 20 minutes to make it to the family reunion area after the marathon. The family reunion area is also extremely crowded and overwhelming, especially when you’re worn out from a marathon.  {Important Side Note: This issue is a result of running a mega marathon like Chicago, and not a result of poor organization. I’d assume the New York Marathon and other big marathons have the same problem.}

A runner with her medal just after the finish of the Chicago Marathon
I’m done! Now the long walk to find Kyle.

Not to end on a negative note, let’s focus on one more great thing about the Chicago Marathon…it’s in Chicago (duh!), home of Chicago-style deep dish pizza. All that’s left to do once you escape the finish line is to decide between Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s. Let me make it easy on you…it’s Giordano’s every time. Now picking your toppings, on the other hand, is a very difficult decision. Sausage…olives…onion…pepperoni…spinach…garlic…green peppers…….

Your Turn: What are your thoughts on the Chicago Marathon? What size of race do you prefer?   

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