Marathon FAQs: Chicago

 

By Train

If you're staying downtown or anywhere south of Irving Park Road, we recommend taking the train, also known as the "L." Traffic on I-90 into the city is congested more hours a day than it's not, and it can easily take an hour to get downtown by car. The train takes a similar amount of time but costs $5 vs. $35 - $55.

As you leave the terminal, look for signs that show an image of a train or that say, "Trains to City / CTA" or "Blue Line Trains to City." Depending on which terminal you flew into, you may need to take the monorail or a shuttle bus to Terminal 2. Even if you don't have to change terminals, it is generally a bit of a walk down long corridors. But that's nothing compared to the 26.2 miles you're about to run, right?

Once you reach the entry to the "L," stop at the vending machines to purchase a $5 Ventra card, the reloadable fare card used for all of the city's trains and buses. (Get your $5 refunded immediately in the form of fare credit by going online and registering your card with Ventra.)

Wondering how much in to add to cover your train fare? The CTA charges a flat-fee per ride regardless of how far you're going. The fare to leave O'Hare is $5. But after that, the cost is $2.50 per train ride and $2.25 per bus ride with 25-cent transfers between trains and buses for 2 hours.

Once you have your Ventra card, head to the turnstile and down the escalator to the train. It's not possible to get on the wrong train: The Blue Line is the only train in and out of O'Hare, and the airport is the first and last stop. (You can also tuck your Ventra card away because you won't need it to exit the station.) From here, we recommend using Google Maps to advise you on where you need to exit the train or transfer to another train or bus. A couple of tips:

  • If you're staying in Lakeview or near Wrigley Field, you can exit at Addison and take the Addison 152 bus east to within walking distance of your destination. There's only one bus on Addison, so you only need to worry about getting on in the right direction. (The same applies if you want to exit at Irving Park and take the #80 Irving Park bus or exit at Belmont and take the #77 Belmont bus.) You could also hail a cab from this point to finish your journey.
  • If you're staying downtown but north of the river (River North or Streeterville), you can exit at Grand and take the #65 Grand Avenue bus east or at Chicago and take the #66 Chicago bus east. Here's a map that may be helpful: CTA Map Showing River. You could also hail a cab from this point to finish your journey.
  • If you're staying in the Loop (south of the river), you can most likely take the Blue Line to within walking distance of your hotel.
  • If you're staying farther south, you may need to transfer trains or grab a cab to your destination.

If you're not sure where to go, feel free to ask a fellow train passenger. Chicagoans are generally friendly and helpful!

By Lyft/Uber

Lyft/Uber service both Chicago airports, but they both have designated locations where they can pick up passengers and the signage can be lacking. We recommend getting to baggage claim or the airport exit doors before requesting your driver. Once you do, it takes 10-12 minutes for them to get to you. This should give you enough time to reach the pick-up spot.

As you approach the airport exit doors, look for signs that say "Ride Share Pickup" or "Lyft/Uber." Don't spot any? Once you request a driver, your phone app should give you more specific directions on where to meet. It can be a little confusing to find your way to "Door H3," for example, but the drivers are good about calling if they get to the pick-up spot before you do.

By Taxi

If you prefer to take a cab, you may want to know that all taxis in Chicago are required to accept credit card payments, and most (if not all) have a credit card terminal mounted in the backseat for your convenience. As you're leaving the terminal, look for signs to "Ground Transport" and/or "Taxis." Once outside, you'll need to look up and down the sidewalk for the central spot where all the cabs are picking up passengers. There is usually at least a little bit of a line, although it can move quickly. This should be fairly easy to spot.

By Train

If you're staying downtown or on the north side of the city, we recommend taking the train, also known as the "L." Traffic on I-55 into the city is congested throughout the day, and it can easily take 40 minutes or more to get downtown. The train takes a similar amount of time but costs $2.50 vs. $35-55.

As you leave the terminal, look for signs that show an image of a train or that say, "Trains to City / CTA" or "Trains to Downtown." As with O'Hare, it's a bit of a walk down long corridors, but it will feel good to stretch your legs after your flight.

Once you reach the entry to the "L," stop at the vending machines to purchase a $5 Ventra card, the reloadable fare card used for all of the city's trains and buses. (Get your $5 refunded immediately in the form of fare credit by going online and registering your card with Ventra.)

Wondering how much fare to add to the card? The CTA charges a flat-fee per ride regardless of how far you're going: $2.50 per train ride and $2.25 per bus ride with 25-cent transfers between trains and buses for 2 hours. (Although the train fare to leave O'Hare is $5, it's still only $2.50 to leave Midway.)

Once you have your Ventra card, head to the turnstile and down the stairs to the train. It's not possible to get on the wrong train: The Orange Line is the only train in and out of Midway, and the airport is the first and last stop. (You can also tuck your Ventra card away because you won't need it to exit the station.)

From here, we recommend using Google Maps to advise you on where you need to exit the train or transfer to another train or bus. A couple of tips:

  • If you're staying in the Loop, there's a good chance you won't need to transfer because the Orange Line goes all the way around the Loop.
  • If you're staying north of the Loop, you'll likely need to transfer to the Red Line at Roosevelt or to the Brown Line or Red Line at Harold Washington Library.
  • If you're staying farther south, you may need to transfer to the Red Line or the Green Line at Roosevelt.
  • If you're staying really far north or south, consider taking the Orange Line to Roosevelt and then getting into a cab or Lyft/Uber.

If you're not sure where to go, feel free to ask a fellow train passenger. Chicagoans are generally friendly and helpful!

By Lyft/Uber

Lyft/Uber now service both Chicago airports, but they both have designated locations where they can pick up passengers and the signage is minimal.

As you approach the airport exit or the baggage claim exit, look for signs that say "Ride Share Pickup." As of September 2018, Midway has designated pick-up areas outside Door 4 of the baggage claim terminal and near Departure Gate 1. You need to cross the first lane of traffic and look for the "Rideshare Pick Up" signs by the middle set of drive lanes. (Regular passenger pickup is in the far lanes.)

Don't see any signs? Go ahead and request a driver.  Your phone app should then give you more specific directions on where to meet, and you'll have about 10 minutes to find your way there while the driver makes his/her way there, too. Having trouble spotting your driver? They're good about calling if they cannot find you.

By Taxi

If you prefer to take a cab, you may want to know that all taxis in Chicago are required to accept credit card payments, and most (if not all) have a credit card terminal mounted in the backseat for your convenience. As you're leaving the terminal, look for signs to "Ground Transport" and/or "Taxis." Once outside, you'll need to look up and down the sidewalk for the central spot where all the cabs are picking up passengers. There is usually at least a little bit of a line, although it can move quickly. This should be fairly easy to spot.

The Details

The Abbott Health & Fitness Expo is being held in part of Chicago's massive convention center:

McCormick Place
North Building, Hall B
2301 S. Martin Luther King Drive
Chicago, IL 60616

Racertrips Tip: We HIGHLY recommend going as early as you can on Friday to avoid the crowds, to avoid traffic, to save your legs and to get the best selection of goods from the vendors.

While you're there, try to make time to watch the video that shows the marathon course!

How to Get There — Free Shuttles from Downtown

The expo provides free shuttle buses from four downtown locations. You can locate the one nearest you and get free service, practically door to door.

To avoid rush hour traffic, we recommend going as early as possible on Friday. If you simply cannot go Friday, we recommend going early on Saturday.

How to Get There — By Train or CTA

To get to McCormick by train, you can take the Red Line or the Green Line (toward Cottage Grove) to the Cermak-McCormick Place stop and head east about Cermak Road and then south on S. Calumet Avenue for about 0.7 mile.

How to Get There — By Driving

If you're staying downtown or near downtown, we don't recommend driving. It's hard to find your way into the correct entrance, the garage fills up quickly and you have to walk a long way from the parking garage into the expo. You may find yourself wishing you could count that mileage as part of your 26.2. Plus, if you end up at the expo Friday afternoon, you're bound to hit rush hour traffic on your way out.

If you need to drive, set your GPS for 2301 S. Martin Luther King Drive, Parking Lot A. Watch for the Parking Lot A signs and follow the signs instead of your GPS.  Click here to download a pdf of the official driving directions and tips.

Once you've parked, be sure to remember your parking location and bring your parking ticket with you into McCormick Place to be validated at the booth by the race expo entrance. The validation booth isn't always easy to spot, so you may need to ask someone where it is. The validation reduces the parking fee to a flat $10, which isn't bad for Chicago.

How to Get There — By Cab, Lyft/Uber

Don't want to try out the trains or shuttle buses? Grab a cab, Lyft or Uber to get you to the expo. Let someone else worry about finding the right entrance! Again, if you go Friday afternoon, you're likely to hit rush hour traffic on the way back from McCormick.

How to Get There — Divvy Bike

Fancy a leisurely bike ride along beautiful Lake Michigan? Use the Divvy app to locate the docking station nearest you. Buy a 24-hour Divvy pass for $9.95 or the beefed up Explorer Pass for $15. (Both give you unlimited usage for 24 hours. But with the $9.95 pass, you have to dock the bike and check it out again every 45 minutes. With the Explorer Pass, you can keep the bike for 3 hours at a time.)

Head east to the lakefront and south on the Lakefront Path. There are two Divvy docking stations near the expo: Calumet & 18th Street or along the bike path at Burnham Harbor. If you plan to load up on race swag and running gear, you may need to plan to catch a cab or shuttle bus back to your hotel!

Chicago is known for being a fast, flat course—yay! The only hill or incline you have to worry about is right before the finish line—boo! Literally, the incline begins just before Mile 26 and lasts for about 300 meters. You'll turn right off of Michigan Avenue onto Roosevelt Road, and the incline lasts until you hit Columbus Drive again.

But when you turn onto Columbus, you're on the home stretch. The finish line is right there. Truthfully, the incline is not that bad if you're prepared for it, and if you're from a more mountainous climate, you might find it amusing that we consider it a "hill."

Download the Official Bank of Chicago Marathon Course Map

Racertrips Tip: When you're at the race expo, seek out the video screen that shows the marathon course at high speed (while someone drives a car through the route).

The Chicago Marathon kicks off in Grant Park at Monroe Avenue and Columbus Drive. Because there are about 45,000 runners, your starting area or corral is likely to be a few to several blocks south of the starting line.

You'll need to enter the starting area from the west. Points to the east, north and south will be fenced off.

The marathon does a wave start: Waves 1 through 3. Within those waves, are Corrals A through L.  Wave 1 is reserved for individuals who have met a qualifying time. Waves 2 and 3 are based on your estimated finish time. Prior to the marathon, you should receive your starting corral assignment via email and postal mail. Your starting corral letter also corresponds to assigned entry Gates 1 through 7, and your gate number will be printed on your race bib.

To see where your entry gate is, you'll need to download the Participant Guide. (We couldn't find a stand-alone map online for 2019.) See pages 11 and 12 for the wave start times, a map of the starting corrals and gates, and the closing times for each corral.

Starting Line Transportation Options

Here are your options for getting to the starting line...

On Foot

If you're staying within walking distance, the easiest and fastest way to get to the starting line is to walk there. Even though it will be dark while you're walking, you should expect to be in good company with thousands of other runners and fans heading in the same direction.

The walking distance that's acceptable to you is obviously subjective, and we know you'll want to save your legs for the marathon itself. But keep in mind that ride share services are likely to be in surge pricing mode and getting on any of the trains from a near north, near south or Loop location is likely to be a feat in and of itself. The trains will be packed. You may be better off with a leisurely walk.

By Mass Transit

If you're staying directly north or south of Grant Park, the Red Line (train) is the best way to get within easy walking distance of the starting line. It runs 24/7, so no need to worry about train schedules on race morning. Plan to exit the train at Monroe, Jackson or Harrison, depending on where your starting corral is.

If you're staying a bit farther west, check the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) system map to see which train line will take you into the Loop closest to Grant Park, and double check the transit schedule for hours of operation to make sure the train is running early enough for you to get to the starting line on time. (Currently, the Red and Blue Line trains are the only ones operating 24/7, but many of the other lines offer early morning service.)

The buses will be running, too, but many will be re-routed and could experience delays as a result of road closures and heavy traffic. (For real-time bus tracking, check out the CTA Bus Tracker.) The train is your better option.

Racertrips Tip: As with any mode of transportation on race day, allow plenty of extra time for delays and crowded buses and trains (.e.g., waiting for another train that isn't so crowded). While the CTA typically runs extra trains on marathon day, there is always the risk of an unexpected delay.

By Ride Share

Setting up a ride with Uber, Lyft or one of the other services is an option for race day, too. We recommend making reservations ahead of time; allowing extra time for delays/heavy traffic/road closures; and having a contingency plan in case your driver doesn't show.

By Car

While we strongly advise you to take mass transit on marathon morning, many people do drive into the city and park. You can find the official marathon parking lots on the Chicago Marathon website.

While these lots are the amazingly close to the starting and finish line, they're also practically underneath the starting, finish and post-race party areas. There could be traffic or road closure delays getting in and out of the garages. If driving is your best option, consider parking outside the marathon route area and taking transit or a ride share from there.

Have a specific question about how to get to the starting line? Don't hesitate to email us or to contact us on social media. (We're @racertrips on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter).

 

Traveling with family and friends who want to cheer you on? Here are our Racertrips™ Ambassadors' tips for the best places to spectate on race day.

Racertrips Tip: Tell your runners ahead of time where you'll be watching for them, such as near major intersections or mile markers, and on which side of the street you'll be standing.

Avoid the Start and Finish Lines

You may be surprised to learn that the starting line and the finishing line are not on our list of recommended places to cheer on your runner. You must have a ticket to access both areas, and even before ticketing was mandatory, the areas were simply too crowded. The chances of you seeing your runner were slim, and your runners don't need fan support at the beginning like they do farther along in the race—after mile 20 for sure.

Start Up North - Miles 5-11

Once the runners leave downtown, they head up north through Lincoln Park and Lakeview/Boystown, where they take a turn west and then south. This gives you a chance to see them twice in a short distance—if you can cross the street without disrupting any of the runners. It's also very lively along here, which makes it fun for the runners and spectators alike.

If you're staying up north, take a look at the race map (downloadable PDF) and see which part of the route comes closest to your hotel. You can plan to stake out a couple of spots near there. If you're staying at the Majestic Hotel on Brompton (one of our recommended places to stay), you can walk half a block to Inner Lake Short Drive and have a front-row spectator spot. Cheer on your runner and then walk a block west to Broadway, where you can see them again.

If you're staying downtown or elsewhere, hop on the Red Line and take it to Fullerton, Belmont or Addison. From any of those train stations, you can walk east until you hit the marathon route. At Fullerton, you can see your runners at approximately Miles 6 and 10. At Belmont, you'll be near Mile and Mile 9. At Addison, you'll be shortly after the Mile 8 market.

Head West - Miles 15-19

Every runner is different, but for many of us who have run Chicago, we start to feel some pain and need some encouragement at Miles 15-19. If it's a hot day, this stretch of the race can be brutal because several sections of it are in full sun.

To give your runner some needed support, take the Red Line back downtown to the Monroe or Jackson stops, where you can transfer to the Blue Line. Take the Blue Line (toward Forest Park) to the UIC-Halsted, Racine or Illinois Medical District stops, where you have a few choices:

  1. Exit at UIC-Halsted or Racine and walk north a couple of blocks to see your runner going west on Adams Street between Miles 14-15 and then coming back east on Jackson Boulevard between Miles 16-17.
  2. Exit at UIC-Halsted or Racine and cheer on your runner as s/he heads west on Adams Street between Miles 14-15. Then instead of waiting on Jackson, walk east to Halsted Street, where you can catch your runner between Miles 17-18. If you got off the train at Racine, you'll have a bit farther to walk to get to Halsted.
  3. Stay on the Blue Line until the Illinois Medical District stop, where you can walk north a short distance to see your runner going east on Jackson between Miles 16-17. Then walk south to the Pink Line - Polk Stop. Take this one stop to 18th Street. Then you can walk east to see your runner heading south on Loomis Street or east on 18th Street. This is between Miles 19-20, when every runner will appreciate your fanfare.

Racertrips Tip: Before choosing #3, consider your runner's pace. They only have to cover 2-3 miles. If they're running 7- or 8-minute miles, you may not have enough time to reach the second spot.

The Grueling Home Stretch - Miles 20-26

Once the runners reach Mile 19, they head into Pilsen and then Chinatown. Both of these are traditionally lively, happening neighborhoods with a lot of music, activity and crowd support—and at a crucial time. (Coach Denise says the marathon doesn't even start until Mile 20!)

However, once they leave Chinatown, it really quiets down. If you are cheering on a first timer or a many-timer who knows they fade toward the end, we recommend trying to find one last spot to cheer them on.

Mile 23 Option: If you're still close to the Blue Line after Miles 15-19, take that back to the Loop and transfer to the Red Line at Jackson. If you're near the Pink Line, take that back to the Loop and transfer to the Red Line at the State and Lake St. station. (This is an elevated platform. To access the Red Line, exit the station and head into the subway.) Take the Red Line south toward 95th/Dan Ryan. Exit at Sox-35th. You'll be steps away from seeing your runner as s/he comes south on Wentworth Ave. and then heads east on 35th St. just a short distance into Mile 23. Then head back north on the Red Line to reunite with your marathoner!

Mile 25 Option: If you're still close to the Blue Line after Miles 15-19, take that back to the Loop and exit the station at Jackson. Walk 0.1 miles to the Green Line at the Adams/Wabash Station. If you're near the Pink Line, take that back to the Loop and transfer to the Green Line at the State and Lake St. station. Take the Green Line south toward Ashland/63rd or Cottage Grove. Exit at Cermack-McCormick Place and head east to Michigan Ave., where you'll see your runner during Mile 25.

Depending on where you're meeting your marathoner after the race, you can take the Red Line or the Green Line back north. If you retrace your steps to the Adams/Wabash station on the Green Line, this will put you close to the official family/runner reunite area on Columbus Drive.

If you're meeting your runner a bit farther south, walk west to the Red Line and take that to Harrison St. This should put you close to the spot where the runners can exit the race area at the start of the runner/family reunite area.

Because you likely won't see your runner cross the finish line, you'll want to set up a meet up spot beforehand.

The Chicago Marathon provides an official runner reunite area north of the race finish area on Columbus Avenue near Jackson Drive. The area is marked off with every letter of the alphabet, so in theory, if your last name begins with an "M," you meet near the "M" sign. However, you've just run 26.2 miles. You're mostly likely tired, sore, stiff and any number of things and may not want to walk the full distance of the meet-up area. We recommend picking a letter toward the beginning of the alphabet and meeting your friends and family there.

Another great option is to pick one of the bridges that cross the railroad tracks from Michigan Avenue over to Columbus. There are a number to choose from, and it should be easy to spot the other members of your party.

Have Questions? Post Them Here