I Ran the Chicago Marathon Last Year. Here’s What I Wish I Knew

(Kevin Morris / 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon)(Kevin Morris / 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

It’s race week for more than 47,000 participants in the 2023 Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Last year, I was one of those runners at the start line, shivering with nerves and excitement while waiting for our corral to begin the race.

I was just about to run my first marathon and it was one of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors.

What comes with that distinction is an “Eras” concert-sized gathering of Swifties — but replace the girls in cowboy boots, pink rompers and glitter with all genders of all ages holding water bottles and wearing arm warmers, neon running shoes and shirts stuffed with gels.

In the days leading up to last year’s race, I remember my neck and back stiffened with fear; it wasn’t the magnitude of the Chicago Marathon that was daunting, but the thought of whether I’d be able to run 26.2 miles.

But reflecting on the 18 weeks of early morning runs, canceled weekend plans and the physical and mental exhaustion of balancing a training plan with a full-time job reminded me, I’ve earned this.

And if you’re running this year’s marathon, so have you.

But in case those same thoughts creep up, I’ve compiled a list of what you might expect at the Chicago Marathon to help ease the fear of the unknown.

I’ve traded my running shoes for a poster at the sidelines of this year’s race (planning my wedding has turned into its own form of marathon training), but I will never forget how Chicago showed up for its marathoners to celebrate their hard work, and there’s no doubt the city will do the same thing this year.

In the days leading up to the race:

• When it comes to attending the Chicago Marathon Expo and Packet Pick-Up, the earlier the better. Lines to enter the expo grow long as the day goes on.

• Don’t plan for any physically extensive activities this week, especially on the day of your expo visit. You will be walking a lot at McCormick Place, even if you decide to forgo the booths of merchandise and free gel samples.

• Plan your race-day travel and parking ahead of time. Road closures, parking rates or the Metra schedule aren’t things you want to figure out the day before, as you’ll be busy exploring the expo or gathering your essentials for race day.

• Plan how you and family/friends want to meet after the race. Physical exhaustion, mental fatigue and spotty cell reception could make it difficult to get hold of people after the race.

• Try to get eight or more hours of sleep each night in the days leading up to the race. You most likely won’t be able to get much sleep the night before the marathon.

• Plan out your carb load and execute it two to three days before the marathon. A single pasta dinner the night before will not suffice. Some of my favorite registered dieticians who specialize in running nutrition and offer free advice and tools include Featherstone Nutrition and Holley Fueled Nutrition.

• Think of a race day mantra you can repeat to yourself when running gets difficult.

• Pack comfortable sandals and a fresh T-shirt or sweater in your gear check bag to wear after the race. There is nothing more refreshing than changing out of sweaty clothes and letting your feet breathe in open-toe shoes.

(Kevin Morris / 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon)(Kevin Morris / 2022 Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

On race day, before the race starts:

• Start race day with a carb-heavy breakfast. (See note above about favorite registered dietitian accounts.)

• Come to the race dressed in throwaway layers. These clothes will keep you warm as you go through security and wait for the wave start. It’s easiest to choose items you don’t mind donating; as the name suggests, you will remove and throw away these items after the first few miles after you’ve warmed up. You can also plan to have a friend or family member take them from you during the race, but that requires extra energy that might be hard to give during a long race.

• Pay close attention to the list of prohibited items on race day. Though you can bring your fuel belts and hand-held water bottles, you might be asked to empty them while going through security. If you’re worried about not having water or your electrolyte beverage, don’t be! Organizers put out an abundant supply of water and electrolytes in each start corral.

• Once you’re past security and you’ve entered your start corral, go straight to the bathroom. Lines get long the closer you are to the wave start. Going to the bathroom right away gives you some time to fit in another bathroom break before the wave start.

• If you want to rest your legs and sit while you’re waiting for the wave start, bring a trash bag or a seat pad you don’t mind discarding. There aren’t any chairs, and sometimes the grass is a little muddy.

• Take a moment to apply sunscreen. You’ll be surprised by the amount of sunburn you can get after running for several hours under overcast skies.

• Have a carb-rich snack within the hour leading up to the race.

During the race:

• Don’t go out too fast. This will be even harder for those using GPS watches, as limited reception will affect pace accuracy. Go slow, keep it easy and go by feel for the first few miles. If using a GPS watch, try manually lapping your watch at every mile to get an accurate reading of your pace.

• If you can hold off using the restroom until after the first five to seven miles, great! Facilities are less busy the deeper you are into the race.

• If you are planning to use your own fuel during the race, pack a variety of flavors and textures (for example, a mix of gels and chews). Flavor and texture fatigue intensifies as the race goes on.

• Don’t do anything new on race day. Stick to the brands of fuel you practiced taking during your training. Don’t wear new clothing or shoes. Stick with what you know.

• Optional but recommended: Don’t wear ear buds or headphones during the race. The course is one long scream tunnel, which will be far more entertaining than your race day playlist.

• When running gets tough, smile! The fastest marathoner in the world, Eliud Kipchoge, is often seen smiling during his races. I can say from first-hand experience that it helps.

• Have fun! Take in the sights and sounds of the day and see what each Chicago neighborhood on the course has to offer. The best of humanity is on display. Strangers cheer for you. The city shows up for you. It’s one of the most heartwarming experiences you might ever have.

After the race:

• If you’re 21 or older, you will be handed a beer (most likely a special edition brew by Goose Island). Celebrate and enjoy it, but not until after you’ve had some water, electrolytes, protein and carbs to help jumpstart your recovery.

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors