Chicago Marathon – Professional Spectator Plan

Forget about a day off school.  Forget about Columbus Day sales.  When October rolls around in Chicagoland it means that the Chicago Marathon is near.  Don’t be fooled – I don’t even like driving 26.2 miles so you won’t find me running the streets of Chicago racking up those miles.  What you will find me doing, when family and friends make the marathon a personal goal to check off their bucket list, is turning into a professional spectator.  My goal: to cheer my runners on at the 2-mile, 8-mile, 13.5-mile, 17-mile, 22-mile, and 26-mile marks.  This is how you do it.

Marathon plans #beprepared

Marathon Extremes: Be Prepared

You really have no idea what to expect for a marathon.  Try and be prepared, but less isn’t more sometimes.  I usually have a backpack full of necessities – water, snack, handwipes, kleenex, extra clothing, and anything else your runner might need.  You really cannot have too much because if you need it, you are not going to find it.  Barely anything is open on a Sunday in Chicago.

For my sister’s first marathon, I was in a parka, scarf and had stocked up on hand warmers.  Great race, but I was freezing and it was miserable.  The next one, the 30th anniversary, I had to shop for maternity shorts IN OCTOBER because the weather was hitting record highs.  This was the year they stopped the marathon – nothing good can come of 40,000 people running in 89-degree weather.  My mom and sister had made it past the halfway mark, and then word got out they had shut the marathon down. The heat and humidity were brutal – believe the temperature was a record 89 degrees.  Thankfully, as we walked up Jackson the CFD had trucks trying to cool us all down.  It was a sight to see. 

Marathon Tracking: Find your runner

Even with all of the technology that surrounds our runners; GPS tracking and checkpoint notifications – nothing beats a notepad and a pencil.  The most important part of preparing to watch your runner is knowing their pace.  This will help you ballpark their arrival time at each location before the race to give you an idea if you can really make it to each location.  Of course, use your technology – the more information you have the better!

So far, all the marathons I have cheered on my runners they have had a higher pace, which gives me more time to travel from location to location.  Is your runner a 9 min mile runner? This might make your job a bit more difficult – you might have to skip a stop or two.  Maybe a 12 min mile runner? Gives you a bit more time – certainly can catch them if you don’t doddle.  How about a 15 min mile runner?  That’s more our speed.  You’ll have more time to grab a bite to eat and cheer on the other runners.  Knowing their pace is the first step to knowing how much time and when you expect your runner at each checkpoint.  Find out their start time block and you’ll have a better ballpark on when to expect them around the first 2-mile spot.

The easiest way to track is you HAVE to keep time on when you see your runner.  Otherwise, you do have to rely on technology to let you know if you missed them or not.  I have a simple tracking system – I figure out the last spot I saw them (Mile 2), how long it took me to see them at the next spot (Mile 8) and how fast they are running (divide the time (minutes) by the distance (6 miles for this example).  If they are running about a 12 min pace, multiply that by 6 because you hope to see them at Mile 14 (six miles away) and that is how long you have to get there!  Want this in an easier format – just sign up for Irish Monarchy and will easily email you the PDF so you can track your own runner!  

Blue shirt, Pink Arms – we caught a glimpse on State Street – 2009 Marathon

Where to Cheer: My favorite spots!

  • MILE 2 State Street:  Street: State Street  Hang out on the outside/east side of the runners on State Street.  It’s a short walk from the starting area, and you’ll pass a few coffee locations to stop at.  If you get there early you will see the wheelchair competitors plus the Elite runners before the waves of everyone else start rushing past!
  • MILE 8 Uptown/Wrigleyville:  Street: Broadway/Sheridan Sometimes there are small breaks where you can ‘jog’ to the other side, especially if your runner tends to hug the left side of the road.  Otherwise, find a good spot and cheer on those runners! 
  • MILE 14 Union Station:  Street: Monroe  I prefer to stand on Monroe and this is a bit before the 14-mile marker on Adams/Desplaines.  They moved the halfway point from years past, so if you want you can jog a bit up to try and see it, but it is a bit crowded.  Stay south of the runners, makes it easier to get to the next area.  There are even a few light posts you can stand on if you are vertically challenged, and it lets you capture some great photos.
  • MILE 17 Greektown: Jackson & Halsted  Personally this is my favorite spot, mainly because I grab lunch at Mr. Greek Gyros.  Girl needs to eat watching all these people run.  Just a warning, it is a tight squeeze along this route for spectators so the further south you head on Halsted the better. 
  • MILE 21 Chinatown:  Cermak & Wentworth  This area has so much energy, and after running twenty-one + miles with almost five to go the runners need it.  Keep cheering them on – they are almost to their goal!
  • MILE 26 Michigan Ave:  Roosevelt & Michigan Ave  They are SO close, and then they get to run slightly uphill on Roosevelt towards the finish line.  Seems pretty poor planning but that medal is worth it, right? Grab a cuppa coffee when you get off the Red Line if you think you have some time before your runner makes it to the final stretch! 
2018 Chicago Marathon Route.  

How to Get There! To the L!

This really is the most important part, getting from location to location.  Your feet are part of the plan, so I hope you are wearing comfortable shoes.  The second part is public transportation.  The Blue Line and Red Line are going to be your friend so I hope you have your Ventra Card or App loaded and ready to go.  Expect crowds.  Expect to stand.  Expect everyone to have the marathon excitement at every location.  If you’re more of a visual learner, print this L Map and take it with you. Here is how to from location to location: 

  • MILE 2 State Street:  Street: State Street Here you use your feet, just walk west from the starting line towards State Street.  Just follow the crowd because most are going to the same spot you are!
  • MILE 8 Uptown/Wrigleyville: Street: Broadway/Sheridan  While waiting for your runner, look for the L entrances.  After you cheer them on at mile 2, head to the State St entrance and grab the Red Line north. Take this to the Sheridan stop. Walk four blocks east to Broadway.
  • MILE 14 Union Station: Street: Monroe After cheering at mile 8, return back to the same L Sheridan stop.  Hop back on the Red line heading south BUT YOU NEED TO TRANSFER TO THE BROWN LINE.  You can do this at Belmont or Fullerton.  Once on the Brown line, you will take this to the Quincy stop.  Get off, walk a block north to Adams then head west over the river.  Once over the river you can head a block north to Monroe and cheer on the runners. This location is roughly the 13.75 mile area.
  • MILE 17 Greektown: Jackson & Halsted  Now you get to walk again.  Your pace depends on your runner and if you want lunch.  Head south to Jackson and then head west (right) towards Halsted.  If you have time, grab lunch. 
  • MILE 21 Chinatown: Cermak & Wentworth  After you finish lunch and cheer on your runner (in that order, you don’t have time to reverse it).  While on Halsted, keep your eyes peeled for the Blue Line entrance.  You’ll take that Jackson.  HERE YOU NEED TO TRANSFER TO THE REDLINE.  Jump off at Jackson on to the Red Line south and off at the Cermak/Chinatown stop.  You can’t miss the runners – they are right there.  If your runner is picking up speed, be warned you might be cutting it close.  
  • MILE 26 Michigan Ave: Roosevelt & Michigan Ave   Jump back on the Red Line and take this north to the Roosevelt stop.  Once you hop off just head east to Michigan Ave.  If I remember correctly, there is a Starbucks close, you might need it if it’s cold or you’re running out of steam.  

You’re almost done for the day!  Ok, your runner had it a bit harder, but give yourself a pat on the back for all the work you did!  Being a spectator is not an easy task!  Once your runner has crossed the finish line, grabbed their medal and after race beverages, your day is complete! Now you just need to make it home.  Rest well, you’ve earned it! 

They did it!  Chicago Marathon 2009

33 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon – Professional Spectator Plan

  • April 13, 2019 at 19:10
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    Enjoyed reading your post. Very informative !

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  • September 30, 2019 at 10:44
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    Great post! Loaded with info about the Chicago marathon! Thanks for sharing 🙂

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  • September 30, 2019 at 10:45
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    I love that you are there to support your runners. I love that in the article you have a description about your favorite places to be.

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  • September 30, 2019 at 10:48
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    Years ago, when I was a runner this was on my bucket list! I wanted to run…But being a spectator can be amazing too! Thank you for sharing your plan..so many people will find this so useful as thousands of people go to this marathon every year!

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  • September 30, 2019 at 11:09
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    This is awesome! We could never run 26.2 miles either but enjoy watching. We’ve never been to the Chicago Marathon, these tips are outstanding! Thank you for sharing.

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    • September 30, 2019 at 19:02
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      I don’t even like driving 26.2 miles! But I will totally cheer anyone on!

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  • September 30, 2019 at 11:29
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    Great tips. A co worker of mine sometimes runs the marathon so now I have all the tips on where to watcher her!

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    • October 1, 2019 at 02:05
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      Cool, I didn’t realize you could track a specific runner

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  • September 30, 2019 at 12:38
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    Great post! My husband runs marathons and I have done this in many cities! Great tips for tracking your runner. Very helpful!!

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  • September 30, 2019 at 12:46
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    Wow! Really looks like you have to plan big time just to be a spectator too. A marathon in any capacity seems to take work on all fronts.

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  • September 30, 2019 at 13:22
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    I’ve never thought to go to “watch” a marathon! This made it sound like something really cool to do! I’ll have to keep an eye out for our local marathon and get my ‘watchin’ and ‘cheerin’ on! 🙂

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    • September 30, 2019 at 19:01
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      It’s amazing – so many positive people cheering on the runners – many run for a great charity so I love giving them a bit of encouragement along the way!

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  • September 30, 2019 at 13:46
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    Incredible it takes a lot of work to train for a marathon! I am aiming for a half!

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    • September 30, 2019 at 20:00
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      Awesome article this line fun but I would be a spectator.

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  • September 30, 2019 at 14:23
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    Good to know where the cheer spots are – I would be the cheerer vs the runner! 🙂

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  • September 30, 2019 at 15:42
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    Wow! What an amazing friend/family member you are to support people at so many points! I sloooooooooooooooooooooooooowly ran the LA Marathon a lifetime ago and will never forget the feeling of seeing/hearing my support system along the way. It meant so much to me!

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    • September 30, 2019 at 19:00
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      I love cheering on EVERYONE! It’s so fun to encourage people to keep on running!

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  • September 30, 2019 at 16:27
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    This sounds like fun! We love Chicago.

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  • September 30, 2019 at 16:51
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    Great information to know! Thank you for the tips.

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  • September 30, 2019 at 22:02
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    If I ever plan to run in the Chicago marathon, your post will be very helpful.

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  • September 30, 2019 at 22:29
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    I’ve never seen a post like this… for people to actually cheer rather than run. OUTSTANDING!

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  • October 1, 2019 at 10:46
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    Wonderful tips for spectators…that would be me 🙂

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  • October 1, 2019 at 12:21
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    Good call on the old school pencil and paper to keep track of times and locations! I can totally see me forgetting those and then my phone running out of batteries and being completely lost. Here’s hoping for good weather this year!

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  • October 1, 2019 at 17:00
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    Very detailed post! Although I don’t know if I will be doing a marathon anytime soon, I give props to people that do!

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  • October 1, 2019 at 19:51
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    Thank you for this information – now if I can only find information for the Boston Marathon! I am a runner, but not a long-distance runner. My friend qualified for Boston this year and we are going there in April to cheer her on! I also have a couple of friends that ran in Chicago this past weekend so sometime in the future, I will most likely be headed there to cheer as well! Thanks for sharing!

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  • October 2, 2019 at 07:47
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    I actually did not realize that so much went into spectating! I thought that you simply parked at a spot and that you got to see your person once when they went by. This seems like a real job!

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    • October 3, 2019 at 21:34
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      It is! If I am heading down there to watch I want to see the runner more than once!

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  • October 2, 2019 at 11:42
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    I love this post! I’ve run 4 marathons, but I’ve never been the spectator! My husband gets that hard duty!

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  • October 3, 2019 at 21:25
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    What an amazing post! This is a great guide for anyone who wants to be a spectator at the Chicago marathon. I never thought there’s “work” involved 🙂 I always thought that as a spectator the best part is watching them at the finish line.

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  • October 7, 2019 at 10:30
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    Now THAT is an awesome post! I love that you have this complete plan on how to make the most of an event like this WITHOUT being a runner! LOL. Oh, how I miss Chicago some days!

    Reply

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