Chicago Marathon – Preparation, Training and Race Day Tips

The Chicago Marathon has a very special place in the world of running. With a flat and fast course that runs through the stunning city of Chicago, it is one of the most prestigious marathon events in the world. In this article, we will give you valuable advice on preparation, training and the big running day at the Chicago Marathon, so that you can give your best and maybe even achieve personal best times.

Topic overview

Entry criteria

About 40,000 runners enter the Chicago Marathon every year. There are several ways to get one of the popular starting places.

  • Qualification by time
    Age groupMenWomenNon-binary
    16 – 2903:05:0003:35:0003:35:00
    30 – 3903:10:0003:40:0003:40:00
    40 – 4903:20:0003:50:0003:50:00
    50 – 5903:35:0004:20:0004:20:00
    60 – 6904:00:0005:00:0005:00:00
    70 – 7904:30:0005:55:0005:55:00
    80 and over05:25:0006:10:0006:10:00
  • Lottery draw
    For all those who do not qualify for one of the other spots.
  • Charity runners
    To register for the Chicago Marathon in this way, a specific amount must be transferred (in consultation with the fundraising organisation) for a good cause.
  • Tour operators
    Another way to register is to apply for a starting spot through a marathon travel agent.
  • Legacy Finisher
    All athletes who have participated at least five times in the last 10 years have a guaranteed starting place.

Preparation and training


At running.COACH we recommend a targeted training build-up of at least 16-20 weeks. The exact duration depends on your current training level, experience and individual goals.

You can find more on this topic here:
How many weeks of training it takes for a running race?


The number of weekly training sessions for the Chicago Marathon will vary depending on your individual profile. Factors such as your previous training level, your personal goals and your daily routine play a key role here. It is crucial to find a balance between training and recovery to improve your performance.

Here is a useful table that can help you determine the optimal number of training sessions per week:

Beginner Jogger Intermediate Ambitious Professional
Improve performance 4 4 5 8 12
Maintain performance 3 3 4 5 7
Just for fun 2 2 2 3 3

Increasing your training volume for the Chicago Marathon requires a healthy amount of mindfulness. It’s important that this increase is not done too quickly as this can raise the risk of injury. Our recommendation is to increase the number of training sessions by no more than one session per week per six months. This will give your body enough time to adapt to the greater training load, minimising the risk of overuse. Your long-term health and performance are paramount, so act wisely!


Variety is the key to training success in the Chicago Marathon. Monotony can get in the way of your progress. Therefore, it’s important to vary the volume and intensity of your training from week to week. A solid training framework should include an intense run each week (if you do 5 training sessions per week, you can even schedule two intense sessions) and a long run. The remaining training sessions can be completed with endurance runs and recovery runs.

The duration of the long runs should be between 75 minutes and 180 minutes during the Chicago marathon preparation. Cycle your training by varying the amount and intensity of training from week to week. This will not only improve your fitness, but also keep your training exciting and motivated.

Example: Week 1: 75min, Week 2: 120min, Week 3: 140min, Week 4: 160min, Week 5: 180min – restart the cycle afterwards. The intensity should be slightly lower than for an endurance run.


Long jogs and interval training/threshold runs are crucial elements in the running.COACH training plan. To maintain the quality of your training, we recommend that you take at least one day off between two such key sessions, or alternatively, do an endurance run or recovery run.

If you let running.COACH create your training plan automatically, you will not only receive a tailor-made training structure, but also suggestions for the optimal training pace. This way you can get the most out of your training!


You can get pace and regular feedback on your training progress with the help of preparation races. These can be selected as follows:

  • 3-4 preparation races spread over the last 20 weeks of preparation.
  • Half marathon as a “compulsory element”, ideally four weeks before the main competition.
  • Last race 14 days before the main competition, maximum 10 km.
  • Race distances increase towards the competition, final race shorter. E.g. 10 km, 15 km, half marathon, 10 km and main race.

You can find a calendar with interesting races here.

Create with running.COACH a tailor-made and dynamic running training plan that prepares you optimally for your running goals, based on your current fitness level. Try running.COACH for free for two weeks after your first login!


Pacing strategy for the Chicago Marathon

The course of the Chicago Marathon is a circuit through different neighbourhoods of the city. The starting point is in Grant Park. First, the route leads towards downtown, with several crossings of the Chicago River. Then the Chicago Marathon runs through the north of the city, including Old Town, Lakeview and Wrigleyville. After about 20 kilometres, you reach downtown, from where you head onto Michigan Avenue and finally to the finish point, Columbus Drive. The course of the Chicago Marathon has a star-shaped layout and always leads back to the city centre. The course is completely flat with minimal inclines.

Note that the many participants can make the first few kilometres a challenge. It’s therefore even more important to start cautiously and not waste your energy on unnecessary “evasion”.

There are many spectators along the streets of Chicago who enthusiastically cheer on the runners. Here, too, it’s important not to get carried away by the euphoria and to consistently watch your own pace.

Our running.COACH calculator can be a great help in determining your pace.


  • The optimal time for the last meal is 3 hours before training. In order to keep as little energy as possible in the digestive tract, easily digestible carbohydrates are recommended and fresh and unprocessed foods such as vegetables and whole grains are discouraged.
  • 1-2 hours before exercise: If you only eat in the last 2 hours before exercise, lighter meals such as a small low-fat sandwich with white bread, sports bars, rice cakes or a small ripe banana are suitable.

You can find more on this topic here.

Tips for race day:
  • Breakfast: Ideally 3 hours before the start and without “surprises”. Carbohydrates should be the central element. The consumption of fats and proteins should be limited, as they can lead to gastrointestinal problems due to slower digestibility during the race.
  • During the race: For endurance races lasting longer than one hour, it is recommended to replenish the micronutrients (especially carbohydrate reserves) lost during the race. This can be achieved through various foods such as sports drinks, gels, solid food, energy bars or chewable tablets. The aim is to provide immediate energy (we recommend maltodextrin-based products). Be sure to test your food intake during the race in training!

Further details and tips can be found here.

If you are worried about stomach problems negatively affecting your race, see our article on stomach problems during the run.

Hydration during the run

After one hour of running time, fluid intake becomes especially important. This is because dehydration can not only be directly dangerous, but also leads to a reduction in the efficiency of oxygen transport. This in turn can affect the performance of the muscles. So it’s crucial to take in enough fluids during your run to support both your health and your athletic performance.

Before the run:

Try to fill the stores without overdoing it. We recommend drinking 500ml of sports drink (6-8% carbohydrates) 1-2 hours before the start – preferably in portions.

You can drink another 3 dl during the warm-up (the activation of the body prevents the fluid from going directly into the bladder).

During the run:

The additional fluid requirement generated by running can be calculated as follows:

KG body weight x KM distance = ML fluid

A person weighing 70 kilograms will consume almost 3 liters of additional fluid (above normal consumption) during the Chicago Marathon. The longer the running time, the greater the proportion that should be replenished during the race. It is important to remember that the body can absorb a maximum of 2dl of fluid every 15 minutes. Anything drunk in excess of this will be carried along “unnecessarily”.

It makes sense to consume drinks containing electrolytes and carbohydrates.

Further details and tips can be found here.

Packing list and choice of running clothes

To make sure you don’t forget anything, we recommend you take a look at our packing list.

You can see from our table which clothes we recommend for which conditions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

The reCAPTCHA verification period has expired. Please reload the page.