Every year a bunch of people I know take to the streets of Chicago to run 26.2 miles. And while this is an activity in which I would never wish to partake, I do my very best to support them. I cheer, I shout, I urge them along. And it’s a lot of fun.After spectating my first marathon, I learned something: properly spectating a marathon is hard work. I’m not saying it’s hard work like running the marathon, but it’s a tough gig. When spectating a marathon you’re balancing competing priorities of seeing your runners as much as you can and easily getting from one point to the next as quickly and as efficiently as possible.
Location, Location, Location
The first thing you want to do is decide where you’re going to be and when you’re going to be. Find out which corral your runners are in as there are two start waves this year, 7:30 and 8:00. From there you’ll be able to determine about where you’ll find your runners based on their pace. An often overlooked, but important, piece of information is what side of the street you’ll be standing on. Your runners are concentrating on running 26.2 miles, they don’t need to be searching through the crowds to find you. Make sure you communicate with your runners where you’ll be.
Properly spectating a marathon is hard work.
For Chicago, you can comfortably see your runners 3 to 4 times during the race depending on their pace. The faster your runners, the fewer times you’ll see them before the finish. Miles 3 through 12 are basically a big loop through the north side so you can easily see your runners twice while only walking about a block. Miles 3 & 11.5 or Miles 4 & 11 are going to be good places to catch your runners. The annotated map below shows where I plan to be on Sunday during the race. I’ll be moving around a lot, but you can safely visit 3 spots and see your runners 4 times. Mile 16.5-ish is a great place to see runners as it’s right off the Blue Line, so you can hop right back on to head to the Finish near Roosevelt and Columbus. The Roosevelt Road bridge is a great place to cheer finishers, but get there early as it gets crowded.
There are additional security precautions in place this year, so be aware that spectators are not allowed in the Start or Finish area during the race.
Tracking Your Runners
An easy way to keep track of your runners for the Chicago Marathon are text messages from the marathon. You’ll get a text message when your runners cross the 10k, Half, 30k, and Finish. If you and your runners have iPhones you can install the Find My Friends app and track them in real time. The Chicago Marathon also has an official app this year with maps and spectator information.
Post-race, have a designated place for a post-race meet up away from the finish line, as the finish area is a sea of sweaty near-incoherent runners. Don’t rely on your phone as 60,000 people trying to use their phones within a few blocks of each other tends to crash the network.
Have fun, take pictures, and enjoy! And to all you runners: have a great race!
Printable Race Map