Fall Marathon Gems in the Midwest


Chicago Marathon registration has come and gone. If you are interested in running Chicago, 2020, you’ll need to secure a spot through a local charity, which can be found here.

However, if you’re looking for an alternate fall marathon, here are a few options that are close enough to drive to and you can sign up anytime, although the sooner, the better to avoid price increases.

Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon – Sunday, October 4, 2020
The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon is just an hour across the state border and an easy commute for Chicago area runners. The marathon is a USATF certified course and a Boston qualifier, which starts at a local high school and finishes along the shores of Lake Michigan.
A point-to-point course often wreaks havoc on race directors, but the staff and volunteers at the Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon have every detail figured out. Racers park in the Summerfest lots and are shuttled to the start line, where they are able to wait inside the local high school.

The marathon touts a flat, scenic, course that travels south through rural countryside, quiet neighborhoods and finishes along the lakefront in the city. The charm and relative logistical ease of this marathon brings runners of all abilities to the course. From first time marathoners to those with their eye on the prize money, the course is runnable by all skill levels.

“This will be our 40th year anniversary and after the success of our new finish line and party, we are poised to have our best year yet,” stated Race Director, Scott Stauske. “Last year we enjoyed hosting 532 athletes from Illinois!”

The Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon is truly a community event and opens with a kick-off party open to all. “Our registration opens on January 6 with a “kick-off party” at the Lakefront Brewery,” explained Stauske. “If participants cannot attend, we will still get them the discounted rate, prize and our thanks.”

Runner testimonials:
• Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon is the perfect first marathon, last marathon and every marathon in between. As a running coach in the Greater Milwaukee Area, I tell clients all the time that LFM can’t be beat for the time of year (summer training), the fast and friendly point to point course, logistics race morning and the BEST post-race party around.
• The new finish line on the SummerFest grounds just bumped Milwaukee Lakefront Marathon up another level. The indoor waiting area at the marathon start, the spectator friendly course and the fun post-race party were always bonuses for LFM but having a party staged on music festival grounds took this event up another notch.
• I just wanted to say how impressed I was with how your race was run today. I really liked having access to the high school prior to the race. I was able to keep warm and had no trouble using a restroom, removing anxiety that I feel at just about every other race I’ve run.
• The course was great and all the aid stations were very clearly marked and well organized. I love the shirt design and am so happy to not have the back loaded with various advertisements. I will wear it often.


Des Plaines River Trail Marathon – Saturday, October 10, 2020
2020 is the 11th running of the Des Plaines River Trail Races, which features three distances: half marathon, marathon, and a 50 miler. All three events are run along the spectacular Des Plaines River Trail in Vernon Hills and have sold out for the last three years.

“The DPR course is a flat, fast crushed limestone course that runs along the beautiful Des Plaines River about 35 miles north of Chicago,” stated Race Director Ed Kelly. “We know that our race date often conflicts with the Chicago Marathon. I have run Chicago 6 times – it’s a great race, however, I feel DPR is a great alternative. The scenery is spectacular. The aid stations are extremely well-stocked with many sweet and salty food options. The course is not on asphalt and it is a Boston Qualifier.”

The Des Plaines River Trail Races have received a ton of race recognition including: Chicago Athlete’s list of Top 74 Marathons and Half Marathons in the Midwest, a top rating on www.halfmarathons.net, and ranked #2 in the 2017 Best Things Illinois top races in the state.

Race Directors, Ed Kelly and Brian Gaines, are both experienced ultra marathoners and bring their race experience to the event. “Our 10 ½ hour cutoff is truly runner friendly,” stated Kelly. “Walkers are welcome!”

Runners are greeted with fire pits to mingle around while waiting for the race start and plentiful fuel options on the course. However, don’t let the laid-back atmosphere fool you, as a USATF sanctioned event and a Boston qualifier, this race brings out some serious competition.

Runner testimonials:
• It is the best supported race I’ve ever done.
• A race organized and put on by runners.. need I say more?! I just love this race. It’s a smaller race which caters to the athletes. I highly recommend this race of any distance!
• Thank you so much for another awesome year. This is the best, most pleasant and well-run race. I think this was my 6th DPRT and I will be back next fall. I sincerely thank you all for organizing it!!!
• Just a nice long run in the woods with 700+ friends.
• Super organized, well-marked course, great aid stations…will definitely be back next year!
• What I most enjoy, is the passion that your team brings, the down-home friendliness of the race and the sense of achievement we are all allowed to take away.


Detroit Free Press TCF Bank Marathon – October 18, 2020
2020 will mark the 43rd running of the Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon. Since 1978, runners and walkers have gathered in the streets of the Motor City to conquer miles together and enjoy the historic scenery that is Detroit.

There are several race events through the weekend include a 5K, Meijer Kids Fun Run and Competitive 1-Mile on Saturday and the Full Marathon, International Half-Marathon Marathon Relay, and U.S.-Only Half-Marathon on Sunday. The race also offers Motor City Challenge which allows runners to participate in multiple events and earn extra bling.

“The marathon and international half marathon, which runs throughout the streets of Detroit and Windsor, Canada, is the largest running race of its kind in the State of Michigan and is the only race in the world to cross international borders twice via the Ambassador Bridge and the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel,” explained Executive Race Director, Barbara Bennage. “From the new runner to the more seasoned marathoner, there is a race for everyone.”

As a past participant myself, the real pinnacle of race weekend is the Marathon, which crosses the Ambassador Bridge into Canada and returns runners to the US through the Windsor tunnel. You can read my full race weekend experience here.

“There are many things that make running Detroit unique: Crossing international borders two times, seeing the sunrise while atop the Ambassador Bridge, experiencing the historic neighborhoods of Corktown, Mexicantown and Indian Village, viewing the river fronts in Windsor and Detroit, and enjoying the rich history and natural beauty of Belle Isle”, said Bennage. “If you haven’t visited Detroit lately, Lonely Planet, one of the largest travel book publishers in the world, named Detroit the second-best city to visit in the world (top spot went to Seville, Spain). You will see why as you make your way around the city and see the new restaurants, retail shops, hotels and all that Detroit has to offer.”

Runner testimonials:
• Best race, best staff, amazing course & heavy-duty medals!
• I enjoyed the course, as it was mostly flat except for the incline up to the Ambassador Bridge and out of the Windsor Tunnel. The crowds were supportive and many people came up to offer their own water and snack stations during the second half. The marathon sponsored hydration stations were well staffed with friendly encouraging people. Also, the number of water stations was great!
• Was amazing no regrets was challenging but a joy. Everyone was so fun welcoming empowering inspiring and amazing. Do this race!
• Most amazing race I’ve ever run. Super awesome support along the course. The Canadian side was so fun. So many volunteers and so well organized from the expo to the finish line. Didn’t expect all of the support. I’m not a race repeater and I think I will be back for this one again.


CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon – Saturday, November 7, 2020
The CNO Financial Indianapolis Monumental Marathon is one of the 15 largest marathons in the US and is ideal for first time marathon runners and those looking to BQ. With the fast and flat course, the course is scenic, full of crowds, and provides intense course support.

“This is a pancake flat course that starts and ends in front of the Indiana State Capitol,” explained Rhiannon Johns, Race Marketing & Communications Manager. “The course takes runners on a tour of downtown Indianapolis passing landmarks like Lucas Oil Stadium, the Indiana War Memorial and Monument Circle, and then heads north through the city’s historic neighborhoods. The race receives incredible support through these neighborhoods and many residents line the route, cheering runners on.”

A 2019 runner of the marathon described her experience and the unique aspects of the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon course.

“It was genius to have trivia facts lining mile 19. This was a deserted stretch, and the trivia questions kept me occupied the entire mile. I really enjoyed the arches at both 13.1 miles and 20 miles. A local radio DJ, I believe, announced runner’s names as they passed just after mile 21. That kind of morale boost late in the race is invaluable. I also loved how the last mile was lined with signs designating 0.75 miles, 0.5 miles, etc.”

It is easy to see why this race gets high ratings. Between the little to no elevation, fall weather in the Midwest, and course distractions located throughout the route, most runners find this marathon to be very enjoyable. Many runners will do this race in addition to the Chicago Marathon as a way to close out their fall racing.

Another component that makes this race exceptional is the abundant swag. “Runner’s receive a finisher beanie in addition to medal when they finish,” stated Johns. “Medals and awards feature a different Monument every here.”

Runner testimonials:
• It’s a great race for everyone and anyone! I’ve only participated in a few half marathons but this one is at the top of my list. Between the communication before the race about events packet pick up, parking, etc. to post race it’s well thought out!
• Fantastic event. 51 marathons in 55 weeks and IMM ranks near, if not at, the top. With a very large amount of exposure I have running marathons I will be recommending this marathon to everyone I come in contact with.
• Outstanding event overall; ranks in my favorites out of 47. Exceptional pre and post-race communication. App was way better than average. Exceptional use of social media
• I forgot my bib the morning of the race. The race administrators did a fantastic job getting me a replacement bib. They turned a stressful bad situation into a wonderful race. Thank you!
• The event was great. I’ve run Boston and Chicago marathons and this one was better organized. I liked being able to be in a building before the race to stay warm with a short walk to the coral for the start. I expect this race to grow as big as the organizers want it to grow. Very well done! Thank you!

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Mandi has been running for over 25 years and has participated in the Chicago, Detroit, and Boston Marathons. Mandi regularly competes in regional events and enjoys being a part of several running groups including CARA and the Badgerland Striders. She is a co-host on the Ten Junk Miles podcast and looks forward to hosting the Chicago Athlete Podcast. An RRCA certified coach and Les Mills certified instructor, Mandi is also a coach with Chicago Athlete Coaching. Mandi is a local government attorney by weekday and race warrior by weekend.


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