A Quick and Salty Guide to Running in Chicago

Going to Chicago for the weekend? In the middle of marathon training? Like cities where people drink… a lot? Great. You’ve made it to the right place.  Chicago is known for its deep dish pizza, friendly Midwestern people  and 15 professional sports teams. Though as runners we know it as the city that hosts The Chicago Marathon. Since its inception in 1905, the race has been one of the major world marathon growing to about forty-thousand runners last year. But you don’t need to run in the marathon to enjoy running to Chicago!

Chicago Lakefront
Chicago Lakefront (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re heading to Windy City and need a little rundown on the running scene, this post is for you!

English: Chicago Lake front bike trail
The Chicago Lakefront is the place to be (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The thing about running culture is that runners are generally cool. Just show up and you’re part of the gang for the next few hours. That defiantly was the case when I recently visited Chicago for a weekend. I rolled out of bed on Saturday at 5am, sunscreened up and went out without a map to try to find the downtown meeting place. It turns out that the only people awake before 6am on the weekend in Chicago are runners.

Out that early, I stumbled across the Chicago Area Runners Association’s Saturday long run. CARA, as the group is commonly called, is the group to get in touch with if you’re looking for a group run.  CARA’s run schedule is published on the group’s web page, and when I contacted them for my weekend jaunt the people there were super friendly.

I attended CARA’s Saturday group run.  There were probably 150 runners there assembling into pace groups from 7:30/mi to over 12:00/mi.  The group appeared to be organized around mildly coached training for a particular local races. Most runners on the Saturday Long run were training for the Chicago Marathon. I was given a shoe tag for the aid stations found a pace group and we were off. Yes, they set up aid stations! It was a blast. To join up with these guys, just check their training schedule online and show up at the meeting place.

English: Chicago Lakefront Trail near Fullerton
Even if you head out alone on the Chicago Lakefront Trail, you won’t be alone! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’d rather go out on your own, don’t miss a chance to run the Chicago Lakefront Trail. It runs 18 miles along the coast of Lake Michigan, which basically puts it within a warmup-distance of every hotel in Chicago. If you’re only in town for the weekend, this is the Chicago running staple you can’t miss. Just head east to the lakeshore and when you get the path on the shore,  head north or south. In a few places the trail splits and runs paved along the lake while the parallel path turns to gravel more inland. Here is a comprehensive  trail map you can use to create a route. The lakefront is beautiful, and you can do it yourself without fear of getting lost – just remember where you started.

Also keep a few things in mind about the Chicago Lakefront Trail. There really is no shade. The trail runs directly along the west bank of Lake Michigan. From sunrise until some time late in the afternoon, most of it bakes in the sun. Chicago Lakefront Trail is really crowded. In my father’s words, there are no rules: runners in packs take up the whole trail. Bicyclists try to squeeze by. The point is be responsible

Don’t forget you can also race when you are in town. With about 10 million people living in the Chicago metro area, there is no shortage of races. The CARA has a race finder on its webpage organizing the area’s races by date and length so you can quickly find races on the weekend you’re in town. Chicago is a beautiful and fun place to run!

Have you ever run in Chicago? Have any other great running resources for visitors?



I'm a subelite marathon runner, but I didn't come from a collegiate running background. Instead I'm trying to break into competitive running in my thirties. I write about chasing the dream of running with the elite girls and tell stories of adventures along the way. Watch me chase the next big thing.

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