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Chicago Marathon: History, Course & How to Get Into

Along with Tokyo, London, Berlin, Boston and New York, the Chicago Marathon belongs to the World Marathon Majors group, the Top 6 most prestigious marathons in the world. Launched in 1977, the Chicago Marathon is considered to be the best supported and flat track run. 

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

History of Chicago Marathon

The first modern marathon at the 1896 Games of the Olympiad in Greece generated interest in the sport which led to similar races throughout most western countries and across the United States. While marathons sporadically occurred in New York City and St. Louis, the Boston Marathon had established an annual marathon in 1897, soon to be followed by a Chicago annual race. Beginning in 1905, the Chicago Marathon was held annually, with significant community and spectator support, until the early 1920s.

The first Chicago Marathon was run on September 23, 1905. That first race began at the Evanston Golf Club and finished in front of a standing-room-only paying crowd at Washington Park Race Track. Beginning with a little over a dozen runners, only seven completed the course.

With that first race, the Chicago Marathon began an annual run of epic races that continued until the early 1920s, eventually on a revised course that largely resembles today’s marathon route.

It was not until the health consciousness of the 1960s that marathon growth gained traction in the public’s eyes. Since the New York Marathon grew rapidly in the 1970s, they developed Chicago Marathon as a competitor to the New York City Marathon. The Chicago Marathon had established itself as one of the big four marathons by the mid-1980s. In the mid-1980s, people renamed it America’s Marathon Chicago.


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The marathon course is a loop course, starting and ending at Grant Park. From here, the current course winds through 29 of the city’s neighborhoods. Generally, they divided the course loop into three sections: North, West, and South. In each of these sections, three of the city’s main stadiums are near the course’s turning points: Wrigley Field to the north; the United Center to the west; and Guaranteed Rate Field to the south. The city’s fourth professional stadium, Soldier Field, is located near the start/finish area.

For the first three miles, runners wind through Chicago’s downtown area. Eventually, they head north along LaSalle Street.

In fact, over 12,000 volunteers assist runners along the route, including 20 aid stations spaced every 1–3 miles. Help stations with medical personnel and ambulatory facilities are dispersed around the course for runners in distress.

Every 5 kilometers, as well as the halfway mark, are digital timers.

Chicago Marathon 2018 course in a view
2018 Chicago Marathon racetrack from an overhead view


Chicago Marathon’s runner statistics

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon has grown significantly from its beginnings. 

  • In 1905, 20 runners registered for the first Chicago Marathon, 15 actually started the race, and 7 finished. 
  • For the first “modern” marathon race in 1977, 4,200 people took part. 
  • In 1995, 9,000 people registered, and in 1999, over 29,000 people registered. 
  • The 2001 marathon run on October 7 reached its cap of 37,500. 
  • In 2003, 2004, 2005, and 2006 it reached its cap of 40,000. 
  • On April 18, 2007, the 2007 race run on October 7 reached its cap of 45,000 entrants. There was a late registration exemption whereby elite runners (marathon times of less than 2:31/3:01 or half marathon times of 1:11/1:21 for (men/women)) could register until September 1 even though the race had reached its registration cap in the spring. 

The Chicago Marathon attracts mostly Caucasian runners from lower- and upper-middle-class backgrounds, with a diverse variety of ages and gender equality. It has never excluded women. Historically, however, the women’s field has been smaller than the men’s. This seems to be the result of older age categories having large multiples of men to women, but the women are beginning to outnumber the men in the 20s age group of the field.


In fact, people broke the world records at Chicago five times.

  • In 1984, Steve Jones broke the world record with 2:08:05.
  • Khalid Khannouchi was the first to surpass 2:06:00 with 2:05:42 (in 1999).
  • The women’s record was broken in two consecutive years:
    • In 2001, Catherine Ndereba broke the record in 2:18:47.
    • Paula Radcliffe surpassed that mark with 2:17:18 the year after.
    • In 2019, Brigid Kosgei won in a world record time of 2:14:04 – the women’s course record now.
  • The men’s record is 2:03:45, set in the 2013 race by Dennis Kimetto.
Chicago Marathon — World Record For Brigid Kosgei
Brigid Kosgei won the 2019 Chicago Marathon on 13 October 2019 in a world record time of 2:14:04


How to get into Chicago Marathon

You can register at the window of a guaranteed or unsecured registry.

With the guaranteed registration window, individuals interested in participating in the Chicago Marathon can secure an entry through one of the limited guaranteed participation opportunities that are still available. To get access to an available guaranteed entry, the applicant must agree to the terms of entry or to be eligible for the entry.

Entrants can not guarantee the Marathon of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon because window registration is not guaranteed. Candidates will be chosen from the unsecured application form in its entirety. Before the drawing takes place, the event removes all duplicate applications.

Thus, candidates will be notified by email of their contest status. If a candidate receives an entry via the drawing, the entry fee will automatically be processed.

Individuals who have signed up, but have not received an entry via a drawing, can still apply by opting to join the officially selected charity or tour group.

Registration fee

  • US Residents (people who live in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or other US territories): $ 205 (USD) 
  • Not the United States. residents: $ 230 (USD)

Applicants must provide credit card information as part of the application process. After that, attendance fees are processed automatically once the application is approved or selected via the drawing.


In conclusion, the Chicago Marathon is the pinnacle event for novice to elite runners. Wanna become one of the best runners in the world? Give it a try right now!


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