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Guide To The Chicago Marathon

Bank of America Chicago Marathon
(credit: Jim Prisching/Getty Images)

Bank of America's Chicago Marathon

Sunday October 9, 2011
Grant Park Chicago
7:20 a.m. Wheelchair start
7:30 a.m. Runner start

There's nothing like the excitement of a race. 45,000 runners will hit the streets of Chicago to fulfill their dream of completing a 26.2 mile marathon this weekend. Many years ago, I was one of these happy runners, and now I am an even happier spectator. It's true that running the race is like nothing else, but you can also get an adrenaline rush from watching the race. For some pre-race fun, head down to the completely free Health & Fitness Expo on Friday or Saturday, or try to catch a group of the Chicago Area Runners Association as they carbo load the night before the race, or stop in at Fleet Feet where there will be a buzz all day long.

The Chicago Marathon course is one of the fastest and flattest in the world, which is why we often break World Records each year. So get up early on Sunday, hope for great weather and get inspired by 45,000 super-fit people. Do make some advance plans though, and don't even try to pick someone out of the runner crowd, as it is next to impossible. Instead, wear a distinctive shirt so your runner friends can find you at designated points along the course. And please remember that all of the runners benefit greatly from the masses cheering them on, so don't be shy and make as much noise as you can.

Health & Fitness Expo

McCormick Place Convention Center
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.

The Chicago Marathon Health & Fitness Expo annually hosts more than 175 exhibitors featuring the newest designs in running gear and shoes, as well as the latest developments in sports, fitness and nutrition. In addition, the Expo is the home of Participant Packet Pick-Up for all 45,000 marathon runners. Held at Chicago's McCormick Place, the two-day Expo is free and open to the public.

10.8.11 -  Travel & Outdoors – Insider's Guide to the Chicago Marathon – Fleet Feet - Heather Earnhart
(credit: Heather Earnhart)

In the mood for some marathon style shopping?

Fleet Feet
1620 N. Wells
Chicago, IL 60614

Is the marathon getting to your head, or maybe your feet? Then stop by Fleet Feet in Old Town where you will feel the Marathon vibe as runners load up on last minute supplies like Gu, Power Gel and the much needed Body Glide. While you're there, why not take a short running evaluation to see what shoes work best for you? Maybe you will be inspired to train for next year's race.

Runner compete in Chicago Marathon
(credit: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Marathon Eve

Hilton Chicago Pasta Dinner Buffet
Saturday, October 8, 2010, 4:30 p.m. to 9:00 p.m.
Hilton Chicago, 720 S. Michigan Ave.
Adults: $35.00 (USD) per person
Children (12 and under): $15.00 (USD) per person
Price per person includes taxes and gratuity, please purchase tickets in advance here

Maggiano's Little Italy
516 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60654

2301 N. Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614

'Twas the night before the Marathon… and all the runners were carbo-loading. The official Bank of America Chicago Marathon Eve dinner at the Hilton Chicago will be attended by many race participants. There will also be a Marathon carbo loading dinner at Maggianos downtown, and there are usually a lot of runners dining at Ranalli's in Old Town too. If you show up for an 8
o'clock dinner though, most runners will be gone or headed out the door to get a good night's rest before the race. So make sure you plan for an early dinner if you want to dine with the runners.

Spectator Spots

For your "start" experience, avoid the crowd in Grant Park and stand on the overpass at Randolph where the runners will pass beneath you on Columbus Drive. For Stop #2, head north on the Redline to Belmont where you can walk over to Broadway and see the lively Boystown section of the Marathon. Stop #3, down in the loop you can catch the runners at the South branch of the Chicago River. And even if you've completed the Hal Higdon 18-week training program like I did, once you pass mile 22 you really need some support. So consider heading out to this spectator barren part of the course, and give the runners a final cheer before they hit the home-stretch.

Start: Randolph overpass (Runners below on Columbus Drive)
Mile 8: Belmont and Broadway for the neighborhood experience in Boystown
Mile 13: Stand at Adams and Wacker on the River walk and watch the runners cross the bridge
Mile 23: At State Street and 33rd—the runners will love you for this
Finish: Roosevelt and Michigan Avenue is just shy of the official finish line so it isn't too crowded

Post Race party

With free beer flowing, most runners will hang around the finish area for quite awhile. Post race parties tend to be planned haphazardly, or often turn into a nap instead. Join your friends around the finish meet-up area and find out where everyone is heading later.

Heather Earnhart is a freelance musician living with her husband and two kids in the Uptown neighborhood of Chicago. Read more of her work on the ChiTown Parent Blog.
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