Since 1977, the participants of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon have been running strong through the streets and neighborhoods of Chicago. In the last 36 years of racing, the Chicago Marathon has become one of the largest marathons in the world in terms of both runners and spectators.
The marathon course was originally located along the riverfront, but it moved farther west and into the heart of the city in an attempt to get the neighborhood communities more involved with the race. Now, the neighborhood communities play a significant role in the marathon in a multitude of ways, from cheering on the tired runners to volunteering before and during race day.
As the marathon has grown, it has become more than just a race. It is also an extremely successful fundraiser. Last year more than 10 million dollars were raised for charity. As one of the greatest marathons in the country, many elite athletes register to run in the race, leading to the impressive four world records broken during the last 36 years of Chicago Marathon history.
It’s safe to say that this year’s marathon, which will happen Oct. 13, is not one to miss. You can watch the Chicago Marathon from almost anywhere along the course, but for the experienced spectator there are some places along the way that stand out among all the others.
“It all depends on what you are looking for,” Casey Bowles, professor of DePaul’s Discover Chicago Mara- thon class, said. According to Bowles, if you are looking for a place with lots of pep and energy, you might enjoy the Lakeview neighborhood, near the intersection of Addison Street and Broadway Street, or Chinatown, near Cermak Road and Wentworth Avenue. Lakeview is between miles 7 and 8 on the course and offers lots of entertainment, David Reithoffer, who runs the aid station at Lakeview, said.
“(Lakeview puts on) quite a show,” Reithoffer said. “It is definitely a focal point along the course.”
The entertainment in Lakeview includes cheerleaders, dancers, music and people in costumes. Last year, a troupe of cheerleaders in drag cheered on the runners as they ran through Boystown along Broadway Street between Belmont Avenue and Addison Street. Several miles later, the party continues in Chinatown.
According to marathon runner and author of “The Chicago Marathon” Andrew Suozzo, Chinatown is “a great place to see entertainment, such as the popular Chinese dragon dancers, and take a break from cheering to get some food at one of the many inviting Chinatown restaurants.”
On the opposite end of the spectator spectrum, there are some quieter and more nondescript places to watch the runners if you want to ensure that your runner sees you and hears you cheering. Just south of Chinatown on Wentworth Avenue before the White Sox U.S. Cellular Field tends to be sparse in terms of spectators.
Runners are also struggling with fatigue at this point as they pass mile 22, and as a spectator you can lend your support and encouragement to help them finish. If you want to experience the marathon but do not want to deal with the crowded CTA and masses of people in transit, there are spots for that too.
If you’re coming from Lincoln Park, you can simply walk right down Fullerton Avenue and see runners going both north at Stockton Drive and south at Clark Street. Although you cannot watch runners directly at the start or end of the race, you can still get pretty close.
To catch runners near the start of the race, head over to Grand Avenue between Columbus Drive and State Street. Grand Avenue is as close to the starting line as you can get, but if it is too busy for you, you can simply move right around the corner to State Street between Grand Avenue and Jackson Boulevard.
To catch runners near the end of the race, you can join the crowd at the Bank of America Cheer Zone at the intersection of Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road as you watch the exhausted runners take their final strides towards the finish line.
These areas are just a sampling of the many neighborhoods and streets along the course, all of which provide a unique and entertaining way to cheer on the marathon runners.
Each station uses their space and volunteers to display the culture and community of their neighborhood, making the Chicago Marathon a cultural experience rather than just a race. The entertainment is mostly run by the area aid stations, which are located every one to two miles and provide amenities and for runners.
These stations, which include food, entertainment and crowds of cheering fans, gather hundreds of volunteers that help to make the marathon a success because even the greatest runners benefit from a cheer section. That said, there’s no way to completely avoid the crowds.
Every year, the residents of Chicago prepare for one of the city’s most populous events. According to Bowles, the 45,000-runner limit for the race has been filled once again.
Combined with the fact that more than 1.7 million people are expected to be swarming the streets of Chicago cheering those runners on, this is going to make for an enormous crowd in an already crowded city. Despite the huge crowds, the Chicago Marathon is an event not to be missed. Whether it is through fundraising, volunteering, cheering on runners or actually running the race, everyone is encouraged to play a role in one of the world’s greatest races.
But although the runners are the players to be admired and the volunteers deserve the praise for putting on such a huge event, the participation of the spectators should not be underestimated.
“It’s an inspiring experience because of how many spectators come to support the thousands of runners,” Rebecca Murphy, a freshman biology student at DePaul and a marathon runner, said. “They really help you keep going.”