The Ultimate Guide to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Race Weekend

Racers start the 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

In early October, approximately 47,000 runners and 1.7 million spectators will descend on the Windy City for the 45th running of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. It’s a whirlwind of a weekend, one that can easily feel overwhelming—especially if you’re not from the area or you’re running your first marathon.

How well the race goes can depend as much on how you approach the logistics of the weekend as your race day strategy. We polled local experts on how to navigate the weekend’s events, where to book your pre- and post-race meal reservations, and, of course, what to expect on the race course itself. Here’s everything you need to know about running the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

How to Get to the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo

A station on the L Train in Chicago.

First things first: As soon as you’re able to, head to the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo to pick up your bib. Expos tend to get more and more crowded as race day gets closer, so checking this off the to-do list ASAP can save you time on your feet and stress from the crowds.

The Expo opens on Thursday, October 5 at 11 a.m., and is also open Friday and Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. It’s at McCormick Place, Lakeside Center, 2301 S. Martin Luther King Dr., and—like most places on marathon weekend—public transportation is the most affordable and convenient way to get there. In addition to the L’s red and green lines, you can also take the METRA Electric commuter railroad direct from downtown Chicago. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) advises runners to purchase CTA fares in advance at ventrachicago.com; while single rides will cost you $2.50 each, you can buy a day pass for $7 or a weekend pass for $10.

Due to the influx of marathon runners and spectators, Chicago locals recommend avoiding driving and rideshares. “You’ll be able to take trains and buses without having to worry about street closures or traffic, and the Ventra app [for the CTA] has a tracking feature to help with planning,” says Jamie Waters, a two-time Chicago finisher, volunteer, and longtime Fleet Feet Racing Team member.

Plus, “the nice thing about public transit is that all buses and trains accept Apple Pay or other contactless credit cards,” says Austin Hendrix, a six-time Chicago finisher and longtime Fleet Feet Racing Team member.

What to Expect at the Expo

Marathon expos can be wild. With so many runners coming in to grab their bibs, expect lines and wait times. To streamline the process, make sure you have your Packet Pick-up Ticket email and one form of photo ID ready.

This year, the Abbott Health & Fitness Expo will feature more than 180 health and fitness industry exhibitors offering Bank of America Chicago Marathon merchandise and the latest in running footwear, apparel, nutrition and technology. The Expo is a great spot to pick up any last-minute items you may have forgotten, and pick up tons of swag to celebrate the race.

Fleet Feet’s booth will have exciting gear from a number of brands. Snag Rabbit’s Chicago Race Kit, made from the brand’s lightest and most technical materials, or pick up a piece from Saucony’s Chicago Collection, like the Stopwatch Singlet in Chicago's signature colors or the marathon edition of the brand’s newest plated shoe, the Kinvara Pro. There will be limited-edition hats and visors from Sprints, as well as Chicago-themed shades from goodr, which will not be sold online.

How to Get to the Starting Line

The Chicago Marathon begins.

With around 47,000 runners heading to the starting line in Grant Park—and roads along the route closing early—public transit is again the way to go. “Rideshare has become a nightmare for most and the cost creates havoc in the planning process,” says 22-time Bank of America Chicago Marathon finisher and Chicago Endurance Sports Coach Kerl Lejune. “The bus and L train are best.”

The blue, green, orange, and red L lines all stop near Grant Park, and the closest station is Van Buren St. Runners enter the park off Michigan Avenue, which is about an eight-minute walk away. That distance would be the same with a rideshare, says Cynthia Kmak, another Fleet Feet Racing team coach, so you’ll have to budget that time either way! Your arrival time and entrance gate will be determined by your start corral assignment.

Chicago is a major city, so there likely will be coffee and food options en route to Grant Park. But the park opens to runners at 5:30 a.m., which means options may be limited and very crowded. “Starbucks are generally open at 5 a.m. in most areas, and there are a few 24/7 chains that are open early, like Dunkin Donuts and McDonalds, but please check times in advance,” says Lejune.

“I like to give myself 90 minutes to get there and settle in,” says Mike Moreau, a Fleet Feet Racing team coach. “And I think the best strategy is to bring your fuel with you—at this point, you should know what works best for you and your stomach pre-race.”

Make sure to check the participant guide for what you can and cannot bring into the starting areas (you’ll have to go through security at Michigan Avenue). There are tons of portable bathrooms and toilet paper at the starting area, but “plan to be waiting in line for a port-a-potty for about 20 to 30 minutes,” says Justin Samaniego, a Fleet Feet Racing team member.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon Events to Participate In

There’s a lot going on marathon weekend, so if you’re racing, choose where you spend your energy wisely! You don’t want to show up to the starting line already drained from pre-race activities.

On October 5, Fleet Feet will host a live taping of ‘Nobody Asked Us’ with Kara Goucher and Des Linden Podcast at 6:30 at 1150 S Delano Ct W., directly across the street from Fleet Feet South Loop. The event is currently sold out, but hopeful participants can join the wait list.

On October 6 at 6:30 p.m., shake things out with rabbit at a group run at the Fleet Feet South Loop. Plus, meet and greet YouTuber and Chicago native Mike Ko, also known as kofuzi. Admission is five dollars and you can sign up here.

If you’ve already logged your final miles, you can head to 1150 S Delano Ct. W. to join Alison Désir, Lauren Ridloff and Brooks at 6:30 for an enlightening conversation.

The 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon Course

Emily Sisson on her way to a new American Record at the 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is known for being fast and flat—last year, Emily Sisson set the American women’s marathon record there, running 2:18:29. The looped course starts and finishes in Grant Park along Lake Michigan, taking runners through 29 different neighborhoods along the way.

Miles 1 to 6: Relax, and prepare for GPS Malfunction

Even if you’ve never run Chicago before, you’ve likely been warned about limited GPS connectivity at the start of the race: “The race begins with a long section underneath Wacker Drive in the first mile, which will absolutely wreak havoc with GPS readings, and several miles after that in the canyons of skyscrapers in the Loop will do that, too,” says Chris Willis, a Fleet Feet Racing team coach and multiple-time finisher.

“I’ve seen runners get really flustered early because their watches aren’t accurately displaying their paces, but there’s no need to be flustered—every mile is very clearly marked: switch auto-lap off on your watch, lap each mile manually, and know what splits you’re trying to run (I write them on my arm in Sharpie).”

It’s also pretty crowded at the start, warns Moreau, “so do your best to relax because it will be five to six miles before it opens up.” The course will narrow a bit for about a mile and a half on Stockton Drive, so wait until it widens again before attempting to pass runners.

Miles 6 to 12: Dance Your Way Through Old Town

“The energy between miles 8 and 9 is like no other neighborhood,” says Samaniego. “There’s tons of music, dancing, and cheering.”

There will also be a huge cheer section when you go from Sedgwick to North Avenue at mile 11 and turn on Wells.

“You’ll be in the heart of Old Town and Fleet Feet has a huge cheer section/hydration spot,” says Kmak. “The owner of the Chicago-area Fleet Feets, Dave Zimmer, will be on the microphone and give updates on the elites as well as shoutouts to local folks the entire race, which is a real treat and keeps the energy going as you head back towards downtown.”

Miles 12 to 17: Bottle Up Energy for the Back Half

Runners cross a bridge during the Chicago Marathon.

Right before the halfway point, you’ll cross the first of a number of bridges with large grates covered by carpet, says Samaniego.

“I think they will have two to three lines of carpet and everything else is exposed,” he says—the carpets are mostly for the athletes in the wheelchair and hand cycle divisions, but you’ll want to watch your footing here, especially if it’s wet (and if it’s wet, make sure to avoid painted crosswalks, road striping, and manhole covers, too, says Willis).

Something to keep in mind: “The course is very ‘front-loaded’ in terms of the energy,” says Willis. “The sections in the first 5K downtown are electric, and the section from mile 8 heading back down south into the Loop and to the halfway split are both just packed with spectators. The problem with this is that people get too excited by that, start reeling off too-fast splits, and pay for it on the back end. My advice is to take that energy in, but to visualize bottling it up when you need it. And you will need it!”

Miles 17 to 21: Remember Your Why and Watch the Streets

Around mile 17 is where the race gets real, between a lack in spectator support, being close to the interstate, and nearing the “wall.”

“There aren’t many dead spots in this race, but if I had to call out a couple of miles, it would be between 18 and 20,” says Moreau. “This is a great time to check in with yourself to see how you’re feeling, and start using whatever mantras you have to tell yourself to get ready for that final 10K.”

Keep an ear out for the mariachi music when you turn on to 18th Street right after mile 19, and watch the streets; “there are a bit more pot holes and uneven footing in this neighborhood,” says Kmak.

Miles 21 to 23: Party Through Chinatown

A runner in Chinatown

But keep your head up or you’ll miss Chinatown and its drums, dancing dragons, streamers, and massive crowds.

“Let that energy take you through miles 21.5 to 23, because they can be a bit rough for folks,” says Kmak. “I would say if you can have folks at those miles, it's the quietest part of the race. Be prepared for some mental strength during those miles.”

Miles 23 to 26.2: Dig Deep and Scale Mount Roosevelt

Once you hit 24, it can feel like forever until the end because there are no turns until Roosevelt Avenue at mile 26, and that’s the hilliest part of the course, says Moreau—it’s nicknamed Mount Roosevelt.

It’s hardly a mountain, but “an incline such as Mount Roosevelt can be debilitating after 26 miles,” says Lejune. “Remind yourself that it’s short, and focus on your running form. Don’t hunch over, that will just constrict your breathing,” says Willis. “Keep your eyes on the apex of the hill and it will help you stay upright and focused.” And take advantage of the extremely loud crowd at the street perimeter as an added motivation to propel your body forward to the finish just over the other side.

Runners run down the final stretch during the Chicago Marathon.

Where to Eat Before the Marathon

What’s more important during a marathon weekend than properly carb-loading? To avoid stress the day before the race (and especially if you’re traveling with a bigger group), Lejune recommends making reservations at least a full week ahead of time, especially within a mile radius. If you forgot, that’s OK!

“If you're getting an early bite, say 5:30, you're probably only competing with fellow runners for a table and finding one a few days out is possible—or even as a walk-in the day of,” says multiple-time Chicago finisher and longtime Fleet Feet Racing team member Peter Coffey.

“You can also venture out to neighborhoods slightly away from the central corridor, like Wicker Park, Humboldt Park, Pilsen, West Town, and many others, where reservations or even walk-ins are more feasible,” Lejune adds.

Pasta is generally a go-to on the eve of a marathon. “For folks staying downtown and looking for pasta, you can get reliably good Italian at Piccolo Sogno in West Loop, The Village in the Loop, Quartino or RPM Italian in River North, among many others,” says Waters. “And if you’re willing to go further north, my personal favorite pasta place is Bar Roma in Andersonville. The pasta is handmade and everything on the short menu is delicious, from the classic Cacio e Pepe, salads, and meatballs, to the more adventurous octopus and oxtail. And, for those with dietary restrictions, they offer good gluten free options as well.”

For those who prefer pizza, “Lou Malnati’s or Jet’s Pizza are usually my go-tos, because they have good salad and non-pizza options for others who are looking to join your meal,” says Samaniego. “Otherwise, I love Pizano’s, Gino’s East, and Bartoli’s Pizza (West Town, Roscoe Village).”

Piece Brewery and Pizzeria is a favorite in Wicker Park, Spacca Napoli in Ravenswood has inventive combinations and a good wine list, and if you want a deep dish experience, my favorite is Pequod’s,” says Waters.

The Best Places to Spectate the Bank of America Chicago Marathon

The elite field runs through the streets during the Chicago Marathon.

With 1.7 million extra tourists in town to cheer on all the marathon runners, getting around can be its own sort of race. Skip the rideshares for public transportation, which will help you better navigate around road closures.

“I’d also recommend using Divvy Bikes, which you can rent with the Divvy app or Lyft, for those one- to three-mile journeys,” says Waters. “Divvy is especially good for spectators to whip between key points and see your runners six or more times—a strategy recommended by Emma Coburn herself!”

If you start at mile 1.5 around Randolph and State Streets, “you can get great photos with the Chicago Theatre in the background,” says Waters; there are always big crowds here, too. “Then jog west a couple blocks to mile 2.5 to see your runner again as they turn north.”

Then, Divvy or walk to West Loop where you can see your runners around mile 13.5 just across the Adams St. Bridge and at mile 17.7 at the corner of Halstead and Taylor Streets, says Coffey.

“From there, grab a Divvy to see your runner at mile 20 in Pilsen and then ride east on 18th Street to Michigan Avenue to see them at mile 25 for that last push to the finish,” says Waters.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon is actually one of the most spectator-friendly World Marathon Majors, says Hendrix. “It takes some pre-planning and some jogging or biking, but there are really great options for seeing three-plus spots, especially on the north end, where the course loops back and, in most parts, the route is only one to three blocks apart!” he says. “Some good options are targeting miles 6 and 10, 5 and 10.5, 4 and 12, or 1.5, 3, and 13.1. Most, if not all, of those options give you plenty of time to still get down to watch the finish!”

Where to Celebrate After the Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Runners smile with their medals after the Chicago Marathon.

You just ran 26.2 miles, of course you’re going to go back out and celebrate! “Whatever you’re craving post-race, Chicago has it,” says Coffey.

“My personal preference is to get out of the downtown area to celebrate as there will be less crowds and more relaxing options,” says Hendrix. “October can still be patio weather—Parsons (which has multiple locations in a few neighborhoods) and Off Color Brewing (they don't serve food, but allow you to order food in!) both have great patios. If you're looking for a great place to hang at your own pace, District Brew Yards—a pour your own beer spot with delicious BBQ food—is fun.”

If food is your priority, “get a Chicago dog. Try giardiniera at J.P. Graziano’s. Get a treat at Pretty Cool Ice Cream. Indulge meat-free at the Chicago Diner. Brunch at a South Side institution like Peach’s, Valois, or Daley’s,” says Waters.

Hendrix also recommends heading to the West Loop, where the food hall Timeout Market has plenty of options, and there are dozens of the city's best bars and restaurants all within a few blocks.

To toast your victory, “find local startup brewers like Funkytown at Pilot Project; visit big Chicago breweries at Goose Island and Revolution and Lagunitas; or hop up the Ravenswood corridor with Begyle, Dovetail, Koval Distillery, Half Acre, and Spiteful,” Waters adds. If you want to splurge, “Skip the Willis (Sears) Tower and instead go to the Signature Lounge in the Hancock building where you get views from the 96th floor with your cocktail or go to Cindy’s in the Chicago Athletic Association for views over Millenium Park.”

Tourist Things to Do After the Marathon

A runner walks through Chicago after the marathon.

It can be hard to make time for sightseeing pre-race, when your priority is spending time off your feet. If you’re not immediately booking it out of town after you cross the finish line, there are a few can’t-miss options in Chicago for after the race.

“I highly recommend booking a Chicago Architecture Tour!” says Hendrix. “This boat tour along the Chicago River is, in my opinion, the best way to see and learn about the city. I've been on multiple tours and learned something new each time.”

And, since you’re sitting, “it's actually perfect to kill time the day before the race,” says Coffey. “I did it the day before Chicago 2019 and PRed by 12 minutes. So that architecture can be really inspiring.”

If you have the time, check out some local shows: “Second City, Laugh Factory, or Zanies are some of Chicago's best options for comedy, and where a lot of celebrities got their starts,” says Hendrix.

The iconic Bean is currently under construction, but don’t let that stop you from experiencing other worthy spots like “Upper Michigan Avenue, which is known as the Magnificent Mile, for its shops and particular flavor on the fashion scene; West Loop & Fulton Market, for its last decade of trending restaurants and warehouse conversions to boutique retail; or Wicker Park, for the transformed residential artistic district that has been converted to an eclectic offering of culture and the arts,” says Lejune.

“Navy Pier is great, especially if you have kids,” adds Samaniego, “and the Chicago Riverwalk has some great food/drinks options as well as city views.”

If you’re staying downtown, you’ll be near world-class museums, like The Chicago Art Museum, Planetarium, and Shedd Aquarium,” says Hendrix. “You'll need tickets to any of those, but they are worth it—and the Lincoln Park Zoo is one of the only free admission zoos in North America.”

And if recovery is all you can think about, take a well-deserved nap then hit up a spa—Waters suggests Aire, Kohler, or the Peninsula.

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