Chicago Marathon: Racing Advice, Pace Charts, Results Analysis, Comparisons, Photos and More

By Raymond Britt  - If you or someone you know plans to run Chicago, or has run it and wants to run better next time, you've come the the right place. Here's just about everything you want to know about running the Chicago Marathon.

I've raced in more than 100 marathons, triathlons and other endurance events around the world, and it all began in Chicago, 20 years ago. Over two decades, after all those miles and experience on courses from Boston to Kona to New Zealand, it comes down to this: the Chicago Marathon is one of the best endurance events in the world.

Chicago Marathon 2013 Images by Raymond Britt featured in Runner's World. [See our In-Depth 2013 Coverage here: Chicago Marathon 2013 Results Analysis]




Here's just about everything you need to know about the Chicago Marathon -- from detailed 2013 Results Analysis to historical comparisons, impact of weather on race performance, comparisons between Chicago, Boston and New York Marathons, by age group, along with a full archive of race photos and more. Links to all of this content are contained throughout this very long post.

Results Analysis
Race Advice
What to Expect on Race Day

Each year Chicago welcomes nearly 40,000 inspiring runners -- from the world's best to complete novices -- who will start, discover, battle, and ultimately finish something they once thought impossible, even ridiculous: the Chicago Marathon, all 26 miles, 385 yards.

At 7:30am (note new start time) on marathon Sunday, all will share one overall goal: run Chicago, finish Chicago, become a part of a 106 year-old tradition of the greatest race in the world. To make that goal a reality, here's what you need to know.



Your first starting gun, of sorts, begins with your alarm clock on race morning. With a record number of participants all headed toward Grant Park at about the same time, there will be traffic congestion. The last thing you want to do on race morning is panic about getting a  parking spot, or find yourself without enough time to get ready to run. I’d suggest trying to get downtown by 6am.



What to Wear

The weather on race day has varied widely in the last decade, from temperatures in the low 30s at the start to sunny 70 degree warmth. Dress for the conditions. Keep it simple; plan to run in clothes you would wear if it were a training day. But you can also dress with the option to make changes, so to speak, on the fly.

If it’s expected to be chilly at the start, consider wearing an old sweatshirt over your running clothes, with an expectation you’ll toss it a few miles into the run. If the cold is expected to hold all morning, consider running in a jacket or vest to keep your torso warm. Cotton gloves and a hat can make the course more comfortable, too.

Nutrition

At least two hours before the race, I like to eat about 600 calories, typically a bagel, banana, and energy bar. You coffee drinkers will also  want to load up with a little eye-opening caffeine. If you expect you might experience cramps during the race, consider taking a salt pill.

And, of course, begin sipping water or sports drink when you wake up. Then I try to limit fluids in the hour before the race, to minimize the need for, shall we say, pit stops on the course.

My rules of thumb for race nutrition and hydration on the course: drink something every two miles, and take in 100 calories (I use GU) every 4 miles. This approach can be a Wall Buster, it keeps me hydrated and relatively energized through those tough miles, to the finish.

Friends and Relatives

One of the fun aspects of the Chicago course is that there are so many places that friends and loved ones can watch all the runners and cheer for you. Knowing they are at certain spots on the course make it easier to get through the miles. But you need to pick smart meeting points, where there are likely to be few others, in order to find each other and enjoy those moments together.

For example, I can tell many runners plan to meet at obvious spots, such as Addison and Broadway in Wrigleyville, or Franklin and Adams in the loop. The problem is, several thousand people make similar plans with their friends and relatives, and when they get there, it’s completely impossible to find anyone they’re looking for. The crowds at those spots are huge and inspiring, it’s just not the best place to meet.

Instead, pick meeting locations a few blocks in either direction away from those popular spots. Be clear about the meeting spot, such as southwest corner, in front of the ABC building. It also helps to try to provide a time range when you think you’ll be there.

Getting to the Start

When 40,000 runners begin to move toward the starting line on Grant Park, things will slow down fast. Marathon organizers do a nice job of directing traffic and getting runners in the right starting areas (designated by bib color and number), but the process may take much  longer than you think. Assuming you’re waiting within a half mile of the starting area, move toward the starting line no later than 6:30am.

Anxious Moments

Soon enough you’ll be standing side-by-side with runners from all over the world, in at atmosphere made up of excitement, anticipation, anxiousness, a little fear, and a lot of natural adrenaline.

As the clock ticks closer to the 8am start time, look around you. Smile and greet the runners near you. Ask where they’re from. Ask what kind of day they are expecting on the course. Pat them on the back and wish them luck. It’s good karma and part of sharing the experience with the running community. You may be running by yourself out there, but those near you will be carrying you, a little.

And You’re Off

Before you know it, the starting gun will fire, and the race will begin. Though that may be more literally true for you if you are near the end of the pack of 40,000 runners. For those at the back, the clock will pass 8am and you might not move for awhile. That’s the nature of pushing tens of thousands of people down a 6-lane road all at once.

Even for those at the front, the congestion will resemble the Kennedy Expressway at rush hour on a holiday weekend.

For nearly everyone except the elites and the really competitive runners at the front, starting this marathon really means walking a few steps, then trotting until things spread out a little, transitioning to a jog as you learn to navigate in the small box you occupy within surrounding runners.

The First Mile

Within one-third of a mile, the pack of runners will spread out ever-so-slightly, at least enough so that you can begin to run freely. Then the fun begins.

With Millenium Park on your left, you’ll run under the Randolph Street Overpass, which will be lined with screaming spectators and a few TV cameras. Look up, smile and wave.

Then you’ll disappear on lower Columbus Ave for about ¼ mile heading toward the Chicago River. You’ll know what to do when you get to this tunnel-like area: whoop it up! Everyone around you will be doing it, and it’s just one of the early part of a race experience you’ll never forget.

The Fun Miles

Get into a steady groove, and enjoy, for lack of a better word, the first 13 miles that will take you through Lincoln Park, Wrigleyville, Old Town, River North and The Loop. You will feel good, and if you’ve been training, it will feel relatively easy. Remember to drink water or Gatorade every two miles or so, and try to get 100 calories every 4 miles.

When you enter The Loop on your 13th mile, you’ll feel like you’re in the middle of a parade. Thousands of spectators will be cheering for you and everyone around you. It’s a great spectacle; soak it in, enjoy it. Because the course may begin to push back on you soon.



Tough Miles
Leaving the noise and excitement of The Loop and disappearing west onto relatively quiet roads brings a stark reality: you’re only halfway there, and the finish is still a long way away.
That’s when your legs are wearing down, and when you let your mental training take over. Those long runs weren’t just for your body; they also prepared you to have the will and the spirit to take you the extra mile and then some. On your race day, draw on those training experiences, keep moving, keep steady, keep yourself in the game.

Break things up by looking forward to passing more of Chicago’s distinctive neighborhoods: Little Italy at mile 17; Pilsen at mile 19; Chinatown after mile 21.



The Turning Point

Then look forward to reaching White Sox Park after mile 22. The ballpark has always been a positive landmark for me. It’s deep into the race, but it also represents the turning point, in more ways then one.

Literally, once you see the ballpark, you’ll take a left turn on 33rd to begin the approach to the finish line. And figuratively, that turn can signal a turn inside, toward the excitement of a pending finish. Those long miles are behind you. The finish line gets closer with each step. So does your dream.



The Finish

The elites will cross the finish line starting at about 10:06am. The rest of us will reach the finish line, with outstretched arms and pride, for the next several hours. 40,000 finishers. 40,000 experiences. 40,000 reasons to be proud we live in a city that hosts this world class event.

And a specific reason for you to be proud: you did it. Running a marathon was once one of those things you though was impossible. Remember? Well, it’s possible. You did it.

Concert Review: Boston's Exceptional Greatest Hits on 40th Anniversary Tour in Chicago

By Raymond Britt, Published by Chicago Tribune


This year represents Boston's 40th Anniversary Tour, but the band sounded much younger, fresher, with tighter musicianship, and ultimately, the most impressive performance of the five times I've seen them live more impressive than ever.

Memorial Day approaching, the concert fittingly began with Tom Scholz, the band's founder and creative genius, playing The Star Spangled Banner in front of a huge American Flag.


The concert featured Boston's greatest hits, including Rock and Roll Band, More than a Feeling, Don't Look Back, Amanda, Cool The Engines, and others the audience seemed to know by heart. New to the show was the sing 'Higher Power' taken from the Boston Greatest Hits album.


The Touring Band, the same personnel as last year's Chicago concert, had significantly inproved, preforming as a tight unit, with effortless and more confidence.

  • 1. Tom Scholz, on guitar, keyboards, inventions, patents; genius and almost everything musical
  • 2. Gary Pihl, guitar, grew up in Chicago, for decades has done just about everything else as Tom's musical and business partner; 
  • 3. Tommy Decarlo on vocals, showed new talent interacting with the enthusiastic audience;
  • 4. Tracie Ferrie on bass the last three tours, really enjoyed himself, spinning in circles on one song, flat on his back during another; 
  • 5. Beth Cohen, on her second Boston tour, is a fiery addition on keyboards, lead guitar and vocals, nailed her parts every time.
  • 6. Curly Smith, a veteran Boston tour drummer, played this show, and alternated with Jeff Neal



The short recap and forecast: Boston sounded better than ever in this 2016 Chicago 40th anniversary tour, and I project the band is going to be thrilling audiences for many more years to come.

Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

Boston Marathon 2016 Complete Race Coverage and Historical Results Analysis, Racing Advice, Statistics, Qualifting Tiips and More

Boston Marathon: Results Analysis, Racing Advice, Statistics, Photos and More

By Raymond Britt -- We've run Boston 13 consecutive times and, we can assure you: there is nothing like it in the world. You'll know what I mean when you get there. (read about the complete 26.2 mile racing experience, after all the links below).

2016 Boston Marathon Analysis

Boston Marathon Race Day is approaching; and it gets all that more exciting when bib numbers are assigned. BAA has just assigned numbers to 30,630 athletes (24,000+ qualifiers), roughly the same number as in 2015.

Here's our breakdown of the field, by wave and gender. 54% overall are male, with most up front, 92% of the first wave, 58% of wave 2. Women dominate wave 3. Wave 4 tends to be for charity runners, mostly women.



Detailed Boston Marathon 2015 Results

Boston Marathon 2014 Results Analysis

Boston Marathon 2014, rebounding from the tragedy of 2013,  proved to be a spectacular success, setting or nearly matching many historical records.


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Boston Marathon Finish Line by Raymond Britt
Based on our experience, results, and complete immersion in all things Boston, here's just about everything you need to know to have a great race, from advice, analysis, race pace tips, photos, videos and more. (for everything else, baa.org)

Participant Information
    Starting Times
    Boston Marathon 2014 Exclusive Coverage
    Boston Marathon 2013

      Qualifying for Boston 2015
      Boston Marathon 2012 Results Analysis
      Boston Marathon 2011 Results Analysis
      What to Expect on Race Day: The Boston Experience

      [Excerpts from the book Boston Marathon: The Legendary Course Guide; proceeds go to charity.]

      The excitement of race day begins with a dawn's early light procession of thousands of runners heading toward buses that will transport them to the race start.

      Boston Marathon 2009 Start  by Raymond Britt
      I prefer to get on one of the earlier buses to get settled in Hopkinton, but there's no real advantage to an early or a late boarding time. With two staging areas at Hopkinton High School for runners to relax before the race, there's plenty of space for everyone.

      The bus ride from downtown Boston to Hopkinton always seems long, long enough to make you realize that 26 miles is quite a distance to run. As if you didn't know that already. But it is a little intimidating, still.

      There can also be a small delay between the time your bus enters Hopkinton and arrives at the high school, as it takes time to empty each bus in order. I only mention this because it happens every year: a long bumpy bus ride with dozens of runners constantly hydrating inevitably leads to one or more who beg the bus driver to make an unscheduled stop for emergency bladder relief. Lesson: everyone, as we tell our kids before long trips -- go before you leave.

      Once in the Athlete Village, find a spot, and relax. People bring all sorts of things, from blow-up chairs, to blankets, to plastic bags to newspapers. Bring what you like, just expect it to be disposable. If it's a rainy morning, you may want to wear an old pair of shoes in the potentially muddy village, and change to your dry race shoes later.

      It can be chilly in the early morning, and my preference is to wear fleece to stay warm. In the past, a noon start meant the rising sun would warm the area late in the morning. With a 10am start, and runners moving to the start area soon after 9am, it's probably a good idea to wear a plastic cover or old clothes to stay warm until the start.

      The Race

      Standing on Main Street in your race corral just minutes before the starting gun, take it all in: helicopters whirring above, TV cameras panning the runners, spectators lined up deep along the narrow roadway, the singing of the Star-Spangled Banner complete with an Air Force flyover, and of course, the natural buzz of excitement from all the runners around you. Prepare to experience the greatest marathon there is.

      Congratulations to Sheri Piers, Top American Finisher
      Hopkinton. Unless you are right behind the elite runners, do not expect to begin running swiftly immediately after the starting gun. Main Street is very narrow, and there's little room to move. You will likely walk across the start line before you start shuffling, then slowly running on a steep descent. The good news is that you can't run too fast on the downhill because you are so close to other runners, so you won't beat your legs early on. Instead, enjoy what I think is one of the most amazing images in marathons: looking downhill to see thousands of heads bobbing up and down Main Street for as far as you can see.

      Let yourself settle into a groove through the first 5k of net downhill road. Not that you won't experience some small rolling hills; you will. That's actually a good thing. It lets your legs stretch out and work a variety of muscles.

      Ashland. You will briefly pass through Ashland for a couple of miles. Mile 3 is nearly all slightly downhill; just make sure not to overdo it in your early race excitement. You'll pay later if you run too fast here. Mile 4 actually takes you slightly uphill, and it's a good chance to even out your running pace. It's at this point that I usually lock in to a pace/mile that sticks for the next several miles.
      Boston Marathon Course Map www.baa.org

      Framingham. The main landmark in Framingham is the train station and large crowds greeting runners at about the 10k point. Miles 5 and 6 approaching this destination have continued to roll gently downhill with some brief inclines. but by now you're under control. Enjoy the crowd in Framingham -- wave, high five and smile. You won't see many people for three more miles.

      Natick. Some peace on the road at this point is not a bad thing. After all the excitement from early morning through the first few miles, now it's time to do what you do best: run. The course is calm, gently rolling, but not difficult. Near the 15k mark, you will pass the Natick landmark: the clock tower and Natick Town Common. Crowds will be waiting, waving you on your way to Wellesley.

      Wellesley. After Natick, the next two miles are again largely without spectators. Again, time to stay in control and appreciate your surroundings. Because when you get to Mile 12, the real race really starts.

      There is nothing like the Screaming Women of Wellesley College. Sure, you've read about them, but you have to be there to experience it. The screaming is so overpowering, in a fun way, that I steered clear left away from all the fuss in my first few Bostons. But in recent years, I've decided to join the fun, running close to the crowd, taking it all in. You should too. Because after that, it's all uphill. Sort of.

      Shortly after Wellesley College, you will reach the 13.1 mile point in downtown Wellesley. It will be gut-check time: how do you feel? Did you hold enough in reserve to handle the hills that will soon greet you? You will have miles 14 and 15 that roll ever so gently and slightly uphill through tree-lined neighborhoods to sort that all out. Then it's one steep roller coaster ride downhill approaching mile 16, and then it all begins.

      Newton. The famous hills of the Boston Marathon really begin just before the 16 mile mark. There's a solid incline as the road approaches and crosses the 93/128 freeway. The spectators will begin narrowing to see runners, until there's a small gap to run through as you cross the bridge. They will be telling you 'you look great!' and you will begin wondering if you can handle the rest of the hills. Be confident: sure you can.

      Because, surprisingly, the next hill doesn't come at you for another mile and a half. Not bad at all, really. You just keep running under control, and when you see the crowds getting thicker, prepare for a solid right hand turn at the Newton Fire Station to begin a steady climb. The crowds will cheer, you will smile as you put your head down and chug up this hill. It's about 3/8 of a mile long, not too terrible. I just run at the side of the road, keeping my eyes on the white stripe on the road, not looking for the top. When I get there, I get there.

      And when you reach the top of that hill, again a surprise awaits. It's more than a mile to the next hill, and most of that is downhill, to boot. In fact, by this time, you will begin wondering what all this talk about the Hills of Boston was all about. Your main challenge at this point will be similar to your other marathons: handling getting through mile 19 with enough left in your tank to finish.

      The third Newton Hill arrives at about mile 19.25, and is a little deceptive. Not particularly steep, it just keeps going longer than you expect. At 19.5, you will think you've crested the climb, but it's a brief respite. There's more to go. Stay with it.

      And soon, you're at mile 20. 10k to go, the fun part. The real challenge awaits: the final Newton Hill, your path to mile 21. You will hear the climb before you actually get there. The roar of the crowd, combined with a pounding of drums, tells you that It's Almost Here.

      You will see the gentle turn ahead, you will veer in that direction, then you will see an incline that simply disappears into the trees above. You will not see the top. That's not a bad thing, necessarily; it's a signal to keep you head down, stay focused on the road. Again, I get to the side of the pavement, and keep my eyes on the road's white stripe, and just keep moving. Just tell yourself that in a few very short minutes it will be over, and you'll be on your way to the finish.

      Average Boston Marathon Finish Times by Age Group
      When you get near the top, you will know it. Literally, a clearing seems to open up, and you can begin to see daylight. After a small dip, which you'll hope signal the end, there's another small incline then the hard part is over. You're on top of the backside of the course, and you'll be able to see downtown Boston in the distance, just before you fly (or not) downhill towards Boston College.

      Brookline. Miles 22, 23 and 24 on their way though Brookline towards Boston are each net downhill, but that doesn't mean the course won't toss you a slight curveball here and there in the form of gentle inclines that frustrate the mind and body ever so irritatingly. As my body is wearing down in those final miles, I start thinking that the finish line can't come soon enough. And these little jabs by the course inclines seem much more potent than they should be.

      Boston. But by mile 25, all is forgiven, and you can begin to feel the finish line. The course flattens out once you cross the bridge by Fenway Park and the Citgo sign, and you know it's over soon. Take the last mile to savor where you are -- on hallowed ground, following the footsteps of 111 years of marathoners.

      The most special part of the course, for me, is the right turn onto Hereford Street, followed by the left turn shortly afterwards onto Boylston, with the finish banner in the distance. There's a calm before the elation on quiet Hereford Street, shaded from the sun, isolated from the intense spectator cheers that await just seconds away.

      The turn onto Boylston Street puts you in full view of what I believe is the greatest final stretch that you can experience in a marathon. Nearly a half mile of smiles waves and cheers from spectators on both sides of the street.

      Boston Marathon Finish Line by Raymond Britt
      The finish banner, an unparalleled sight, comes into view. Take a deep breath, appreciate every stride that takes you closer to the Boston Marathon Finish banner. You worked hard to get to this point. You're there. Enjoy it.

      Featured by Competitor, Runner's World and Outside Magazines
      As you run those final strides to the finish line, begin celebrating your own personal independence. You trained for months or even years to get to this point. And there you will be. Completing something that you once considered impossible, even ridiculous. A

      marathon, 26.2 miles. But not just any marathon. The legendary Boston Marathon.

      Then it's your moment. See the time, cross the line, smile for the cameras. Congratulate yourself, be proud. You've done it. Go ahead, admit it to yourself: you Really Rock. You're a Boston Finisher. Yes, you are.
      You've done something extraordinary, celebrate it. Celebrate your independence, celebrate your spirit and attitude that earned that trip to Hopkinton and drove you the next 26.2 miles to the most coveted finisher's medal in long-distance running.

      In the Long Run, life is a collection of Moments That Matter. The ones you will remember for the rest of your life. In April, your moment is in Boston, on Boylston Street, under the Finish Banner.

      That moment is yours. Celebrate it. From that moment on, you are a little more special. You are Boston finisher. Congratulations. Welcome to the Club.

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      Qualifying Notes -- On 9/25/13, BAA determined that potential entrants submitting a marathon finish time 0:01:38 faster than the Boston Qualifying Standard would be awarded entry into Boston Marathon 2014. For more, see our analysis: 
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