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Sur's Guide To The 2023 Chicago Marathon

The first Chicago Marathon was in 1905, only nine years after the very first modern marathon race and first Olympics. Only seven runners finished on that first course, but there was a standing room-only crowd of 100,000 spectators waiting at the finish. These races continued every year, but the Chicago Marathon as we picture it today didn’t truly start until 1977 as a way to compete with the New York City Marathon.

The race was immediately one of the biggest in the country, and this year will be no exception. On Sunday, October 8th, over 45,000 participants will hit the streets seeking to challenge themselves or compete in a global event.

Race Day

The Chicago Marathon course is a large loop that takes runners through 29 different neighborhoods. Even more than the landmarks and tourist attraction along the route, these neighborhoods are the real draw of the race. Each one contributes to what makes Chicago such a unique and vibrant city, and as runners cover the 26.2 miles, they get a chance to celebrate what makes each one so special.

Grant Park

The marathon starts and ends in Grant Park, right off Lakeshore Drive. Spectators aren’t allowed in this area, but energy is still high, with 35,000 participants getting ready to start their race. Grant Park is home to some of Chicago’s most recognizable landmarks, like Millennium Park and the Bean. This first mile of the race also takes runners near The Magnificent Mile and Navy Pier.

The Loop & Lincoln Park

Next, runners enter The Loop, one of Chicago’s most popular shopping areas. This stretch of the race crosses the Chicago River twice, passing the Chicago Theater on the corner of State and Lake Streets before heading north towards Lincoln Park. As runners trade the skyscrapers, restaurants, and shops of the first few miles for the greenery and early fall colors of the park, they pass the Lincoln Park Zoo and Diversey Harbor. At this point, the sun should definitely be up over Lake Michigan, and for a second you just might forget that you’re in one of the biggest cities in the United States.

Wrigleyville & Chicago’s Proudest Neighborhood

At its most northern point, the marathon course runs just a few blocks from Wrigley Field before heading back south. Beyond just game days, Wrigleyville is full of sports bars and shops that are fun for both casual and serious fans, and there are tons of phot ops for spectators or runners after the race. The Wrigley Field marquee is always a favorite, but if you’re looking for something more unique, head to the Harry Caray statue near the center field bleachers. If you’ve ever sung “Take Me Out to The Ballgame” during the seventh inning stretch, you can thank Harry for that tradition. Now, he sings it to everyone who passes by from his permanent spot at the stadium.  

After Wrigleyville, runners pass into boisterous Boystown. Earlier this year, the neighborhood changed its name from Boystown to Northalsted to be more inclusive to the vibrant and wide-ranging identities of the people who live there. Northalsted is home to one of the largest LGBTQ+ communities in the Midwest and has hosted Chicago’s Pride Parade since 1971. It’s safe to say this neighborhood knows how to throw a party – it’s extremely upbeat, full of small businesses, boutiques, theaters, and coffee shops. This area draws huge crowds for the marathon, complete with music, dancing, and costumes. One of the most popular aid stations is located here, and it feels like the entire neighborhood shows up for marathon morning.

Greektown & The Charity Block Party

After doubling back through the Lincoln Park and West Loop neighborhoods, runners are approaching the halfway mark and heading into Greektown. Supporters will be at the corner of Gladys and Halsted Streets from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. along with free pastries and coffee and a DJ playing Greek music. The course loops through Greektown twice, which is pretty fitting considering the first modern marathon was held in Greece at the 1896 Summer Olympics.

Between the two loops of Greektown, runners will find the Charity Block Party. Most of the World Marathon Majors have a huge charity component – a crucial part of the spirit of community that running fosters across the world. So the Chicago Marathon sponsors this party to celebrate those efforts. Spectators, supporters, and members of the different charities that benefit from the marathon will be there cheering on the runners and giving them the energy they need for the back half of the race.

Little Italy, Pilsen, Chinatown, and Bronzeville

As runners start pushing their pace in an effort to hit their race plans, they move through some of the most unique and diverse neighborhoods in the city. For the residents here, marathon Sunday isn’t just a day to celebrate the runners, it’s a day to showcase their neighborhoods’ histories and cultures. So, runners and spectators can expect live music, authentic food, bright and colorful murals, live performers, and even parades. This is the stretch when the race really starts to hurt, and these celebrations are just what runners need to power through to the finish back at Grant Park.

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