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The Ultimate Chicago Marathon Overview

04 October


2011 Chicago Marathon Primer

Last year I wrote an epic post designed to include everything you needed to know to race the Chicago Marathon. That text is below, and I’d like so supplement it with a two additional pieces of information that I think will make your race that much more enjoyable. I hope this helps you out and encourage you to forward it on to your friends who are racing. If you have any feedback, please send it in to patrick [at] marathonnation [dot] us — your input makes us better!

Pre-Race Warm Up

Given the size of the race, it’s almost impossible to get any kind of a warm up in. I get a lot of friction for even suggesting a warm up before a 26.2 mile race, but I am a firm believer that just getting the muscles activated and your heart beating a bit is an important element of getting ready to race. Think of it as the physical equivalent of letting your car run a bit extra before you drive it to work on a cold morning.

Knowing that your goal is to have “all systems go” before the gun goes off should take some of the pressure off of you. A good 20′ walk will do wonders, and odds are you’ll have to do that just to get into the right starting place. Once you are in position you’ll ideally have about 10 to 15 minutes before you actually start running. Here is a short ritual you can do to get — and stay — ready.

Do each element of the progression for 20 seconds each and this will take you three minutes to get through. Then you can chill out for two minutes and repeat:

  • Calf Stretch: Standing up, just weight one leg and bend that at the knee, stretching the calf area.
  • Quad Stretch: Pull one leg up at a time, heel to butt, keeping the hips forward.
  • Hamstring Stretch: Alternate touching your toes.
  • Trunk Twists: Hands and elbows up, rotate side to side slowly and deliberately.
  • Neck Roll: Side to side or around in a circle.
  • Bounce On Your Toes: Light vertical movement, nothing too high.
  • Knee Raises: A slow motion version of running in place, hands and knees work in motion.
  • Pull Knee to Chest: Bring your knee up, then grab and pull it into your chest.
  • Stand & Squats: Alternate standing with squatting all the way down to touch the ground.

Early Pacing

So much of your overall marathon experience rests on how well you pace the early miles of your day. Click here to learn more about the ]best way to pace your marathon[. The downtown start in Chicago makes this extra hard; all the buildings interfere with the GPS satellites rendering the first few miles some kind of strange “blackout” mode. Instead of being surprised, be prepared.

Make sure your display has the lap mode set for each mile will ensure that you have that on the screen. Now you can manually hit the lap button and get instant feedback on your pacing.

Consider finding a pacing group/person to run next to as a means of benchmarking just how well you are (or aren’t!) running those early miles.

Know your “hard” number for the first six miles. If it’s 48:00, 54:00 or something more random, know the total. Your total time to this point–from when you crossed the start line–is a great indicator of your overall day. You should ideally be at or slightly slower than this number; too far ahead and you could be burning precious resources you’ll need later in your day.

Above all else, remember that being consistent with your pace in the first miles is the most important part of your pacing strategy. There are many ways to hit the six mile mark at exactly 54:00 — you can do 6 even 9:00 miles, you can drop 10 seconds per mile from 9:30s to 8:30s, or you can bounce around and overexert yourself.

Good luck and enjoy the rest of your reading!!!

This weekend marks the 2010 edition of the Chicago Marathon, the unofficial start of the fall marathon classics. Chicago is one of the more popular US events with close to 45,000 athletes participating each year. Whether you are looking to finish or have your hopes pinned on a qualifying time for Boston, getting the inside scoop on the course will ensure you are able to race to your potential. Let’s get started!

Race Weekend Logistics
You have to know where you are staying and where to go. Your best bet is the official marathon website here: Also don’t forget to download our Race Planner worksheet to make the most of your pre-race planning…it really helps!

Have someone racing? Then sign up for race day tracking here.

Don’t forget the expo, one of the high points of any major marathon. Information is here. If you do hit the expo, be sure to stop by the Marathon Nation table (Booth #248) for a pace tattoo and race day encouragement!

McCormick Place Convention Center, North Building, Hall B1
2301 S. Martin Luther King Dr.
Chicago, IL 60616

Friday, October 7, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 8, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Race Information
There’s a ton of information on the web about Chicago, but here are some of the best links you can use to get ready.

Running on Race Week
Due to the very flat nature of the course, your race week training can be very simple. Your goal is to enter every workout feeling rested and exit every session feeling invigorated. If you are feeling fatigue or have a nagging issue, then you had best spend your time resting and preparing for the rigors of race day. There is no extra speed to be had this week, only lost.

Here is a quick sample schedule:

Monday: Off / Yoga / Core

Tuesday: 45 minute run, including 4 to 6 repeats of 1 minute at 5k pace. Recovery as much as needed.

Wednesday: 6-mile run, with 2 x 10 minutes at goal marathon pace.

Thursday: 45 minute run, including 4 to 6 repeats of 1 minute at 5k pace. Recover as much as needed.

Friday: OFF

Saturday: Short jog of 20 to 30 minutes, include 3 x 1 minute fast with plenty of recovery.

Sunday: Race Day!

Pacing Your Race
While the course profile is about as exciting as watching grass grow, running a large urban marathon can present it’s own set of challenges. In other words, don’t mail in that entry fee to the BAA just yet…you have some work to do!

  • Dealing With the Crowds: Do your part by seeding yourself exactly at or slightly faster than your anticipated pace. Ask those around you what their goal times are so you can get a sense of where you are. Getting stuck behind some power walkers is not the way you want to start your day.
  • Start Smart: Run slower than your goal pace for up to six miles…goal is about 20 to 30 seconds slower per mile on average. Don’t start dashing around and freaking out; use the early miles to build up your speed and remain in control of your day. Starting to chase a time at mile one makes for an incredibly long day…it’s an effort that few can sustain.
  • Focus through Halfway: The after mile 6, you’ll want to dial the pace down to a sustained effort just faster than your goal avg pace (by about 5 to 10 seconds per mile). You are adding focus and diligence as much as effort; this should be comfortable for you until it eventually grows to be quite difficult.
  • Be Ready to Work: As easy as the early miles are, so too will the final miles be challenging. Know that your pace could slip here if you aren’t physically, mentally, and nutritionally ready. Every minute, every mile before the finishing line is a critical step in this process…don’t be distracted by the crowds, fans, and crazy runners.

Chicago Marathon Nuances
The following is based on my reading and understanding of the course, and drawn from several resources. Take what works for you and leave the rest for everyone else. If you have any final tips, please share them in the comments below!

  • The First Half is Deceptively Fast: The first 13 miles have you flying along with the crowds. You are tapered and rested, ready to conquer the world. It’s not suprising to see many folks on personal best pacing by the half way point of Chicago. Avoid this trap by following your marathon nation race guidance to take up to the first six miles much easier than your goal overall pace.
  • The Race Gets Empty by Halfway: Once you turn onto Adams Street and begin heading out to mile 13 and the halfway point, you are now heading directly out of the city. This is where the course gets quieter and the realities of the work left to do start to set in. Be ready for the mental half way to happen a bit earlier in Chicago than your other races.
  • Enter Chinatown Ready to Work: One you hit Chinatown, you are pace mile 21. You are not heading _away_ from the finish line and it’s easy to get discouraged here. Stay focused and on pace. Know that once you make it to White Sox Park that you turn left and then left again back to downtown. You’ll be able to see the Sears Tower and you’ll know that the finish line is within reach.

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