Scott Bradbury was on his goal pace for his third Bank of America Chicago Marathon last year when he approached mile 5 through the Lincoln Park stretch. His wife, identical twin 5-year-old daughters, mother, sister and her family and cousin were on the sidelines cheering him on.
Bradbury looked for the inflated Scooby Doo helium balloon his mom had brought, expecting to see them on the left side of the street, but with the crowds, multitude of signs and excitement he missed seeing his family. No worries. He knew they’d move on to the next planned location between miles 12 and 13 near Greektown at Adams and Franklin, the halfway point. Soon after mile 12, Bradbury spotted his cheering crew, waving their homemade “Go Daddy Go!” signs and reached out to give high-fives to his twins.
With some knowledge of the course, a plan in place, and perhaps some fun cheer gear, spectators can easily enjoy the energetic atmosphere of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon and connect with their favorite runners.
Racecourse 101- the race scene
Race day will be busy. With an expected 1.7 million spectators spanning across 29 neighborhoods, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon offers a bit of adventure. “It’s the greatest tour of the city of Chicago,” says race director Carey Pinkoswki, who designed the racecourse to be convenient for participants and spectators. “On the course are magnificent landmarks that are accessible, showing the fabric and spirit of the city. In the morning there can be a lot of anxiety and the convenience of the race helps take the stress away.”
Finding your runner across 26.2 miles through Chicago can be overwhelming. “The key to seeing your runner is to be organized. Ahead of time, map out your expected pace and where you’ll be at certain times. I built an Excel chart for my family,” says Bradbury, director of e-learning at the American Academy of Pediatrics and coach with his wife, Mary, of Bradbury Fitness. He even planned on which sides of the road his family would wait. A Mount Prospect resident, Bradbury has run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon three times and spectated five.
The marathon’s website publishes estimated start times based on corrals. At 7:20 a.m. the wheelchair racers will begin and at 7:30 a.m. the elite runners will take their first steps onto the course, bolting at an impressive sub-5 minute mile pace throughout the entire 26.2-mile course and hitting the finish line a little more than 2 hours later. The iconic start will be buzzing with energy from 45,000 taper-run-ready people waiting for the horn to sound.
It may be challenging to see your runner start. Some roads are blocked and crowds limit vantage points, so map out some places en route to watch your runner in stride a few times in the middle of the race, just when they could use a personalized boost. The course is highly spectator friendly with the elevated train system available in strategic locations. Pinkowski says the ‘L’ allows you to see groups in as many as five locations on the course. Take the train up to Lakeview, the farthest point on the course at Addison Street, then board again to get to another three or four locations. The marathon’s website, www.chicagomarathon.com, offers many specific ‘L’ stops to view the race anywhere between mile 2 and the finish line.
Pinkowski says a perfect race viewing location is at North Avenue between LaSalle and Wells Street, which allows spectators to see runners going into mile 4 and then again as they head east on North Avenue near the 10 mile marker. Wheelchair racers will hit these markers around 7:26 and 7:54, while the elite runners will be around 7:48 and 8:08.
Troy Clemen, who lived in Bucktown three years before moving to Glenview, toted his two young children to the North Ave-LaSalle hot spot to see his wife, Jo Ann, whiz on by. After shouts of encouragement, they popped over to Starbucks just to the north to grab a morning cup of coffee, chocolate milk and a bagel before heading to their second stop to sneak a peak at her at mile 10. The Clemen’s jumped in their car and hit their next favorite stop, the 13.1 halfway mile at Adams and Halsted, where they grabbed another snack at Starbucks before moving on to the 16.5-mile marker at Jackson and Halsted for more cheering.
If you are keen on staying in one location Pinkowski says to hunker down between mile 17 and 18 on Taylor Street, a classic, traditional neighborhood or go a little further to Pilsen neighborhood or Chinatown at mile 22, a destination place.
For a less congested area, Bradbury suggests spectating from the west side of the course, near the University of Illinois at Chicago where parking is likely to be available.
“Ra Ra” run on!
Cheering, music and costumes are abundant throughout the 26.2 miles, an added attraction to the run scene. Some of the best cheer stations are the ones that take place organically along the course, such as the cheerleaders in Boystown, the dancing dragons in Chinatown and the Mariachi bands in Pilsen. Some of the organized cheer stations include the Charity Block Party (mile 14), Bank of America Cheer Zones (miles 12 and 26), U.S. Trust Cheer Zone (mile 12.5) and the Merrill Lynch Cheer Zones (miles 13.5 and 16.5).
While you’re catching a train, motoring or walking to a few different locations, your runner is still hoofing it. Track your athlete’s progress with text alerts (more information on signing up for alerts will be available closer to race day). Near real-time splits will be available online as runners cross every 5K, the halfway point and the finish line. Eight McDonald’s in the city are designated Runner Update Centers so you can look up your runner’s status online while you grab a coffee or a bite to eat. Participating McDonald’s are located at:
201 N. Clark St.
23 S. Clark St.
180 W. Adams St.
230 S. State St.
600 N. Clark St.
2635 N. Clark St.
1563 N. Wells St.
1664 S. Blue Island Ave.
Wheelchair racers will reach the finish around 8:49 a.m. and elites as early at 9:35 a.m. Time for celebration! When your runner crosses the finish line he or she will be with hundreds of others reaching for a drink and some fuel. Just beyond the finish line will be a medical tent, an enormous bag check area and a gate through to a reunion section. The reunion section is an ideal location to circle back with friends and family members or meet at a large landmark such as Buckingham Fountain, as the Bradbury’s did. If you miss each other at your designated location, plan on a back up meeting spot, perhaps a street corner or café or parking garage so you can stay warm. Of course, a few big hugs will be in order!
Participants should be on the look out for email blasts, participant and spectator information and tracking details on the marathon website as the race day gets closer. Spectator guides will be available at the Health & Fitness Expo and at various locations throughout the city, such as Bank of America retail branches.