Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a weekend morning than watching one of the major marathons on television. Sometimes, they even show the women’s field!
The Chicago Marathon kicks off marathon season, the earliest big race in the U.S., on October 8. It’ll be my first time running the race, and my first time at a World Major since 2009.
There’s a lot for running geeks to be excited about at the event’s 40th anniversary, but let’s start with the most important thing:
JOANIE FREAKING BENOIT FREAKING SAMUELSON.
Joan, the 1984 Olympic gold medalist in the first-ever women’s marathon, is going for a sub-3 attempt at age 60. This makes me want to alternately pee my pants out of excitement or throw up because it is at least a tiny bit plausible I might run near her at some point. While Joan describes the attempt as a “long shot,” she ran 2:50.29 at Boston 2013 at age 55 and set a national age-group record last month at her Beach To Beacon 10k in 39:19.
“To have Joan attempting a record in Chicago allows us the opportunity to celebrate her as an American icon and running legend,” said Executive Race Director Carey Pinkowski in a press release.
Race officials describe Joan as an “exclamation point” to a strong American field, headed by Jordan Hasay.
Jordan captured the national 20k championship September 4 at the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race in 1:06:35, more than a minute ahead of second place (Aliphine Tuliamuk, who won the 20k title last year). Jordan made her marathon debut at Boston this year, finishing in third (!!!) in 2:23:00, the fastest debut ever by an American woman by almost three minutes. Keep an eye out for her signature blonde braid and her tongue hanging out — only three other women in the field have run faster (and only one them has done so recently).
Also repping the U.S. are Becky Wade and Sarah Crouch, who could both go under 2:30 if things go well.
Becky ran 2:35:57 at Houston in January after a hiatus from the distance, and has a 2:30:41 best from her debut at the 2013 California International Marathon. She’s writing about her preparation and marathon training in general over at Citius leading up to the race.
Sarah recently relocated to Flagstaff, Az., taking advantage of altitude training and the potential for training partners. In 2016, she missed the Olympic Trials due to injury but rebounded to be second American at Boston two months later. Sarah has a personal best of 2:32:44 from Chicago 2014.
Rounding out the American women elites:
- Alia Gray — 2:34:00 personal best set at Chicago last year (10th place) after a 10th place finish at the 2016 Olympic Trials (2:35:47). Not many people posted PRs at the hot L.A. trials, but Gray did. She trains with Roots Running Project in Boulder (and is engaged to RRP coach Richard Hansen) and she’s coached by Joe Vigil, who led Deena Kastor to a bronze medal and currently coaches Brenda Martinez.
- Danna Herrick — I’m a total fangirl of Danna’s after her 12th place finish at Boston this year, where she took almost SIX MINUTES off her PR to run 2:34:53 for fourth American. Her Boston race report is one of my all-time favorites. She was self-coached until last July, when she joined the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project.
- Dot McMahan — Also from the Hansons-Brooks crew and a badass master’s athlete. She turned 40 in 2016 and was first master in New York that year (2:38:46) and first master in Boston in 2017 (2:36:28). She has a goal of being first master in all six of the World Majors.
- Kristen Heckert — 2:39:37 personal best set at last year’s Chicago Marathon; lives in the Windy City. She was 27th at the 2016 Olympic Trials.
- Michelle Lilienthal — Two-time Olympic Trials qualifier with a PR of 2:34:50.
International female elites:
- Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia) — 2:17:56 personal best from London 2017, where she was second. She’s a legend on the track and in cross-country but this will only be her third marathon (she debuted at London in 2014, running 2:20:35, then took 2015 off to give birth to her son). She could put Paula Radcliffe’s 2002 course record (2:17:18) in jeopardy.
- Florence Kiplagat (Kenya) — Two-time defending Chicago champion, 2:21:32, but struggled in London this spring to finish 9th in 2:26:25.
- Valentine Kipketer (Kenya) — Started marathoning in 2012 as a 19-year-old, also took maternity leave in 2015. Third at Chicago last year in 2:23:41 and sixth at Boston 2017; she has a PR of 2:23:02.
- Lisa Weightman (Australia) — Comes to Chicago off a new PR and fifth-place finish at the London Marathon in 2:25:15.
- Karolina Nadolska (Poland) — She’s been on the road racing circuit this year, including a new half-marathon PR of 1:09:54, but hasn’t raced a marathon since her personal best in 2014, a 2:26:31. She’s competed in the Olympic marathon and won two Polish national 5,000-meter track titles.
- Madaí Pérez (Mexico) — She’s a bit removed from her 2006 best at Chicago in 2:22:59, but she ran 1:11:59 and 2:29:27 last year after taking 2014 and 2015 off.
- Jessica Draskau Petersson (Denmark) — Will give Dot a run for the master’s title, as she turns 40 in September. Set her 2:30:07 personal best at Chicago in 2015. Also has 11 Ironman finishes under her belt and has competed in five Duathlon World Championships, earning three individual silver medals plus a team gold and silver.
- Rocio Cantara Rojas (Peru) — 8th at Houston in January 2017 in 2:49:51, has a PR of 2:37:05 from 2015.
Saltines to watch!
Tips for athletes:
I reached out to Salty Running contributors and readers and asked for their best tips for athletes heading to race Chicago, too.
- “Order your pre-race pizza super early. Deep dish takes forever to cook plus there’s a surplus of orders.” — Barley
- “Lots of food here, not just pasta. Venture out of the Loop and River North for more options.” — @RunFlamingo
- “Get a CTA pass” — everyone
- “The second half is very exposed to the sun — consider hat/sunglasses and plan hydration accordingly.” — @ReallyHillary
- “Go to Eataly. Go hungry.” — @BLMC88 (Seconded by myself; it’s a lot of fun and very delicious. It’s like a market/store/multiple restaurants all in one.)
How to spectate the race in person:
- Check out the extensive spectator guide on the race site.
- Visit one of five information tents to get info, maps, and more.
- Use the CTA to get from point-to-point to cheer.
- Crowd support wanes in the second half of the course, other than Chinatown — make your way there to more easily spot your runner AND to provide welcome support to everyone!
How to watch the race from afar:
- Chicagoans can watch from 7-11 a.m. CST on NBC 5 Chicago.
- Everybody else: nbcchicago.com and telemundochicago.com from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. CST; they have an app you can download to stream.
Other cool stuff:
- Deena Kastor and Paula Radcliffe are two of five race ambassadors for this year’s race and will be around for various events during race week. YES this is your chance to get a photo with three of the women on the classic Sarah Marie Design Studio shirt and YES you should probably wear it the whole time just in case.
- Paprika PR’d at Chicago last year in 2:40:56 — she was 16th female and 7th American woman! Get psyched up for the race with her great race report.
- Find The Drifter bar and go there. You won’t be disappointed. *I can’t tell you where it is, that would be cheating.
* Unless craft cocktails, speakeasies, and burlesque shows are not for you … in which case don’t go.
Do you have any tips ahead of the Chicago Marathon? Who will you be watching on race day?