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Marathon organizers preparing to run Bank of America race in 2021

The in-person Chicago Marathon was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Runners in the Elite division start the 26.2 mile Bank of America Chicago Marathon in October 2013.
The 2021 Chicago Marathon expects to register 35,000 runners for the race Oct. 10.
Sun-Times file

Bank of America Chicago Marathon organizers are drawing up multiple plans for some 35,000 runners to hit city streets this fall after canceling the 2020 event due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 marathon was canceled for only the second time in the 43-year history of the race, with runners getting the news three months ahead of the scheduled race date in October. Organizers held a “virtual” marathon, with competitors running their own 26.2-mile routes.

Organizers plan to register 35,000 runners, down from the usual 40,000, a change that should allow for more space for runners and staff at staging areas in Grant Park. The route should remain largely unchanged as well, race director Carey Pinkowski said.

By coincidence, the announcement Thursday comes at what would be the start of an 18-week training schedule for marathon athletes in the run-up to the race Oct. 10.

“Sometimes things work out. With the progress we’re making (on COVID-19) in the city and state, we felt it was time to make the announcement,” Pinkowski said.

Runners who registered for the 2020 marathon are able to transfer their registration to compete in this year’s event, or in the 2022 or 2023 races. Runners still can register for slots in 2021 race through charitable organizations that host amateur teams.

Race officials have not settled on final plans and protocols for the event. Organizers noted that public health guidance “continues to evolve” but runners should be prepared for COVID-19 safety measures that could include wearing a mask when not on the 26.2-mile course, providing proof of a negative COVID-19 test result or vaccination. Registered runners should get an update in August, Pinkowski said.

Chicago was not alone among the major marathons to cancel last year, with 2020 races shut down by COVID-19 in Boston, New York, London, Tokyo and Berlin.

COVID-19 concerns will compress the marathon season this year, with springtime races in Boston and Tokyo moving to the fall; the Boston Marathon is set to take place the day after Chicago’s. Despite the busy calendar, Pinkowski said Chicago race organizers have had interest from world-class runners and expect to announce elite competitors soon.

“Chicago is known for being a fast race, so we expect to see those elite athletes that are looking for a fast time,” he said.