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A Spectator’s Guide to the Bank of America Chicago Marathon

On Oct. 8, 45,000 runners will fill the Windy City’s streets. Here’s how to catch a piece of the action.

The Bank of America Chicago Marathon brings thousands of runners from all over the world to the Windy City. It's also a spectator sport, drawing 1.7 million people who line the streets for a glimpse of the athletes’ journeys. We’ve gathered up the best places to cheer on the runners during the race and congratulate them for a job well done afterward, in addition to some of the best restaurants offering marathon-weekend specials.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon
The marathon course (Courtesy Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

The Basics

Each year, a group of elite athletes, top regional runners, marathon veterans, debut marathoners and charity runners hailing from all 50 states and over 100 countries turn out to run the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, all with a common goal of reaching the finish line in Grant Park. 2017 marks the marathon’s 40th year.

The marathon’s route crosses through 29 vibrant neighborhoods, from Magnificent Mile and River North to Little Italy and University Village. The race starts at 7:30 am in Grant Park, travels through downtown Chicago and passes near Wrigley Field to the North, United Center to the West and Guaranteed Rate Field to the South. All told, the route acts as a 26.2-mile architectural and cultural tour of Chicago.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon
At the starting line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Courtesy Bank of America Chicago Marathon)


Though the modern iteration of the Chicago Marathon is celebrating its 40th year, the very first Chicago Marathon, sponsored by the Illinois Athletic Club, took place way back in 1905—with only 15 runners, seven of whom finished. The event was sidelined in the 1920s.

The first modern-era Chicago Marathon took place in 1977 and was called the Mayor Daley Marathon because of the late Mayor Richard J. Daley’s role in bringing it to fruition.

Participation in the marathon quickly grew exponentially, and by the early 1980s, it began to attract world-class athletes and was considered one of America’s most important marathons. By 2001, both the men’s and women’s then-current world-record marathon times had been set at the Chicago Marathon. After a procession of sponsors, Bank of America took over backing the marathon in 2007.

Today, the marathon accepts 45,000 runners who either meet a time qualifying standard or are chosen through a general lottery, due to high demand. This year’s elite field of athletes includes former Olympic medalists, world record-holders and NYC marathon champions. The all-inclusive race also welcomes 24 decorated Paralympians from 12 countries.

With thousands of participants running on behalf of a charity, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon assists in raising millions of dollars for a variety of charitable causes each year. In 2016, over 10,000 charity runners raised money for more than 170 local, national and global causes.

The marathon is one of the six World Marathon Majors, a championship-style competition, and is a qualifying race for the Boston Marathon.

The Florentine
The Florentine's rigatoni Bolognese with spaghetti squash, zucchini and red onion (Courtesy The Florentine)

Where to Eat Like a Champion

In honor of the marathon, several restaurants are offering special carb-happy menus, and even a recovery smoothie, over the weekend, and, luckily for you, you don’t have to be a runner to indulge.

First up, Park Grill—the featured restaurant of the marathon—at the entrance of Millennium Park is offering a pasta dinner in the park for $40 on Oct. 7 at 6:30 pm. A ticket gets you access to a pasta buffet, a build-your-own pasta station, salad, dessert, a glass of beer or wine and live music, plus words of inspiration from Olympic medalist and American record-holder Deena Kastor.

From Oct. 6-8, Italian dining spot The Florentine in the JW Marriott will offer a marathon-inspired dinner menu of fresh tossed salads and handmade pastas perfect for carbo-loading. Feast on arugula salad, Caesar salad, spaghetti and meatballs, rigatoni Bolognese and rigatoni with seasonal vegetables. Two Brothers artisanal drafts are also available for just $5. Marathon runners are treated to a half-priced menu and a complimentary pint of Two Brothers beer.

At classic American grill Remington’s, located directly on the Magnificent Mile, rigatoni pasta with marinara, Italian sausage, broccolini, garlic, chili flakes and Parmesan will be available for $17 from Oct. 6-7. Reservations are recommended.

At the Chicago Marriott Downtown Magnificent Mile, Harvest will offer housemade pasta dishes—think: pappardelle and housemade duck ravioli with roasted carrots and sage beurre blanc—with complementary bread service on Oct. 7. For more information and reservations, call 312.836.6334. Also at the Marriott, Rush Street Pantry will offer a recovery smoothie the day after the marathon, Oct. 9.

The gnocchi at Bistronomic (©Kevin Hartmann)

Lastly, Bistronomic is offering multiple specials from Oct. 6-8 in honor of the marathon’s 40th anniversary. For brunch, enjoy brioche French toast and unlimited mimosas for just $26.20 per person—not including tax and gratuity. For dinner, pasta specials include the handmade ravioli du jour, fresh fettucine and hand-cut Yukon Gold gnocchi with fresh basil pistou, goat cheese and a confit of red and yellow peppers. After the marathon, runners who complete the race in less than 2:45:00 will be treated to free beer and dessert.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon
Spectators watching the marathon (©Jordan Fischer/Flickr, Creative Commons)

The Best Viewing Spots

Now that you’re filled up, it’s time to take in the action. Here are the best spots for you to catch a glimpse of the runners along every leg of the race.

To view the runners near the start of the marathon, head to Grand Avenue, between Columbus Drive and State Street, near Mile 1 or anywhere along State Street, between Grand Avenue and Jackson Boulevard.

To view the runners as they near the finish line, head to the Bank of America Mile 26 Cheer Zone at Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road. There’s also a Cheer Zone at the 13-mile halfway point on Monroe and Jefferson streets, two blocks from Union Station.  

Check the guide that estimates when each wave of runners will arrive at a particular mile on the route. There are also CTA rail stops all along the marathon’s course.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon
At the finish line of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon (Courtesy Bank of America Chicago Marathon)

Party Time

Near Mile 14, the marathon plays host to a Charity Block Party at Adams and Loomis streets near Whitney Young High School. Celebrate the impact of the participants running for charity as you cheer them on.

Whether you know one of the marathon runners or just want to help congratulate the masses of finishers, head to the runner reunite area in Butler Field—located north of Jackson Drive, between Columbus and Lake Shore drives—which opens to the public at 9:30 am. Alphabetical signs for runners' names from A-Z will be posted on Columbus, making it easy to find your runner.

Afterward, head to the adjacent 27th Mile Post-Race Party to celebrate with the runners and view the finisher results at the Race Day Runner Results Tent. The outdoor celebration will feature live music and food and drink available for purchase. Runners can enjoy a free beer and complimentary post-race massage treatments.