The Bank of America Chicago Marathon course covers 29 neighborhoods over 26.2 miles, giving the 1.7 million spectators numerous options for viewing the event. Looking for the inside scoop on where to catch the race? Check out these tips from aid station captains along the course.
Lakeview showcases its diversity and energy each year for the Bank of America Chicago Marathon with three stages of entertainment featuring the R.O.T.C—the Righteously Outrageous Twirling Corps—drag dancers and (mostly) male cheerleaders coordinated by Frontrunners/Frontwalkers Chicago, an LGBT running/walking club.
“The runners love it, as do the spectators,” David Reithoffer, Aid Station 5 captain from Chicago Frontrunners/Frontwalkers, says. “Some of the runners even stop to take photos and jump on stage. The whole area is energized.”
“We refer to Old Town as the Fleet Feet neighborhood,” Mark Colpoys of Fleet Feet Sports Chicago and Aid Station 7 captain says. “Old Town is one of the louder spots on the course because of the spectators.” The Elvis impersonator, who sings, gives high fives, pumps up the crowd and encourages runners on North Avenue, makes an impression on runners and spectators in Old Town.
In Old Town, spectators can see their runner twice on the course without having to walk more than a block. After cheering on participants as they run north on, walk one block west and see them again around Mile 10.5 on Wells Street.
Pilsen offers another classic Chicago neighborhood to watch the Bank of America Chicago Marathon. Some spectators come to Pilsen year after year for the mariachis, clowns, jugglers, Mexican Ballet or high school dance groups that participate every year.
“The camaraderie and energy of passing through the Mexican-American community is infectious Alicia Gonzalez of Chicago Run and Aid Station 15 captain says. “The majority of our volunteers are Mexican and we are so family-oriented that it is contagious. We really encourage all the runners and want them all to make it through; and that translates into how we support our runners and our volunteers.”
Chinatown’s beautiful architecture makes it one of the most memorable locations on the course for many runners.
“By the time the runners pass through the Gateway to Chinatown, two or three lions are dancing to celebrate and cheer,” Ricky Lam of the Chinese American Service League and Aid Station 17 captain says. Volunteers from the aid station play music, display signs and cheer on the runners. The atmosphere and excitement from the spectators, plus the runners knowing they are only a few miles from the finish line contribute to Chinatown’s unique marathon spectacle.
Many spectators have their own special routes that they take each year. John Vance, a Chicagoan and longtime Bank of America Chicago Marathon participant and spectator chooses his route carefully.
“I find watching the Marathon a very emotional and very motivating event and the spectators are really an important part,” Vance says. “Dreams are realized and broken on that wonderful event called the Marathon.” He recommends three particular viewing locations:
– Mile 3, close to the Former Michael Jordan’s Restaurant (now Gino’s East) on the west side of LaSalle. “This area is not too crowded with spectators so you have a clear view of the action,” Vance says. “You get a good view of the elites and, because it is early in the race, there is not that long of a delay between the elites and the specific person for whom you are cheering. It is also a good landmark for your runner to look for you.”
– Mile 12 on the east side of Orleans Street, south of Hubbard and north of the Merchandise Mart. “Because of its proximity to LaSalle, it is a short walk from your last viewing area so you can see the elites at Mile 12 without needing to cross the line of runners,” Vance says. “This is one of the key parts of the race because your runner is starting to feel a little tired and you need to pump him or her up before they make that long run west on Adams and even longer run back east along Jackson.”
– Mile 23, north of US Cellular Field, east of the highway under the Metra tracks bridge. “Most people go to Chinatown because it is one “L” stop earlier, but I find Chinatown just too crowded and your runner can’t find you,” Vance says. “At this Mile 23 mark, your runner is tired and for some, this is the critical part of the race to achieving his or her time. While it’s fairly crowded, your runner can still find you and really needs your support for that last push.”