14 Insider Tips for Chicago Marathon Race Day


Whether you are running in the race yourself or are cheering on an athlete who can benefit from this advice, navigate Chicago Marathon race morning and the first few miles of one of the world’s largest and most exciting marathons with these insider race day tips. FFC’s Chicago RunMonster Coaches have compiled their years of experience into 14 secrets for navigating race day at the Chicago Marathon like a pro!

Arrive At Least 45-60 Minutes Early To Start Gates!

With 40,000 athletes and 2 million spectators, just getting to the starting line can be a challenge… everything involves long lines!  Read the athlete guide and know the race venue map by heart.  Identify which entry gate you’ll use, what gear check area to go to, where the porta potties are, and when certain parts of the race site close down. Most start corrals close 15 minutes early – which means 20 minutes before the start there will be a mad rush to get into the corrals.  Don’t get caught in the melee!  Arrive to the race site at least 45-60 minutes early at a minimum, and even consider arriving earlier if you plan to gear check, warm up, or use the restrooms because you may have to stand in line for 10-15 minutes EACH for passing through security, gear check, and bathroom lines… not to mention the 15+ minutes of walking around just to get to the start line!

Enter With A Coach Or Friend!
Enter the race site with a coach or friend who has run the race before and knows where to go for everything… or simply make friends with strangers and ask around if you get lost!  Standing in the start corrals alone can also be lonely and nerve-wracking, so identify other friends or teammates who share the same start corral and keep each other company… maybe you’ll find someone who is running your same pace too!

Security Line “Fast Pass”& FFC Athlete Village For “Gear Check”
Gear check at FFC South Loop’s Athlete Village (free locker rooms, towels, and showers for all marathoners and friends/family… and watch the FFC “keyless locker” video online so you know how to lock up your stuff!) or your charity athlete village area to avoid having to get in the longer security bag check line at the entry gates!

Stay Warm At Start!
It can be cool, cold, or even freezing in the morning… especially with wind chills.  Check for the morning “low” temperature forecast and plan accordingly.  Use disposable shirts, garbage bags as ponchos, latex gloves, etc. as ways to shelter yourself from the wind and stay warm.  Disposed shirts at the start are donated to charity… just don’t throw them in another runner’s way!

Start Slow Across The Chicago River Bridges!
Even though Chicago is regarded as a flat and fast course, the race starts with a gradual uphill and then a long steep downhill as you run over the Chicago River… and you’ll do this again 2 more times in just the first 3 miles.  Focus on your heart rate or breathing rate to ensure you don’t go out too fast!

Metal Bridge Grating – Watch Your Step!
Be careful & watch for potholes and metal grating across the bridges.  The center of each bridge will typically have carpeting over the metal grating, but when wet this can be slippery so just be careful and watch your footing!  Some bridges have partial concrete bike lanes or sidewalks on the sides, so look for this!

Don’t Rely On GPS For Pace In First Three Miles! 
The first three miles go underground and through the downtown loop which shelters you from wind but causes GPS watches to lose signal… so don’t plan on relying on your GPS watch for pace!  Focus on your watch total time and look for pace clocks and mile markers to keep track of splits through mile 3.  Check the course map ahead of time so you know where the first three mile markers are and consider turning off any “auto pause” settings on any watches that pause when they lose signal!

Run The Tangents – But Identify Spectator Side Too!
Know the course map and look for the tangent line on the street – follow this line for the shortest path so that you “run the tangents” from street corner turn to turn!  But also pay attention and tell spectators what side to be on! FFC cheering stations are on the right at mile 4 (near FFC Old Town) and 7.5 (near FFC East Lakeview).

Good Running Form 

Remind yourself with good running form tips to stay focused from the start with high cadence / short strides, midfoot striking, good posture, and a slight forward lean.  Use mental tips & drills you may have practiced during the season (reset drill, hips to nips, etc.) so that your running form stays perfect from start to finish!

Vaseline & Body Glide!
Don’t forget to apply body glide to all the areas that may chafe and look for Vaseline at aid stations / medic tents along the way if you start to chafe!  Feet/toes, thighs, inner arms, nipples, and waistlines are all common places to chafe, so lube up well in the morning to ensure a smooth run!  Nip Guards or Aquaphor work great too!

Sun Protection!
Don’t forget to apply sunscreen and wear sunglasses and hats/visors to protect yourself from the sun!

Run In The Shade
Across most of the course, you should be able to find a shady side and sunny side of the street which could be as much as 10-15 degrees cooler!  If hot, run in the shade and if cold run in the sun!  Be smart and stay focused on this from start to finish… too often there are runners suffering in the last few miles who are dehydrated and lightheaded, not paying attention that they are running in the sun on a hot day… don’t be that person!

Early Exit – Harrison & Michigan Ave
Check the race site map and make note of the ENTRY/EXIT gate near the “grey” gear check as this is also the best “early exit” spot if you want to do the least amount of walking after the finish line.  While you won’t get to the “27th mile” post-race party area, it’ll allow you to meet family or get back to hotels or meet ups spots off Michigan Ave the quickest without having to walk all the way back past Buckingham Fountain!

Spectator Plan / Finish Area Meetup
Give friends & family a map of the finish area to designate a meet up spot.  The official “27th mile” post-race festival has “runner reunite” signs by alphabet letters or consider meeting at the HARRISON & MICHIGAN AVE exit gate or simply your “Athlete Village”.  Share online tracking info and use prediction/tracking tools including our own team roster, Course Connector, Phone Apps, and of course the Chicago Marathon website!