2021 Chicago Marathon survival guide: Everything you need to know about the race

Here’s how you can watch in person or from your couch, track a runner, plus tips on how to successfully maneuver around the city during the marathon Sunday.

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Runners race down LaSalle Street near Wacker Drive during a past Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Runners race down LaSalle Street near Wacker Drive during a past Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

Ashlee Rezin / Sun-Times file

After COVID-19 forced the cancellation of the Chicago Marathon last year, the city’s biggest test for long-distance runners returns Sunday.

More than 35,000 people from 50 states and 100 countries are expected to compete in the 26.2-mile race.

The course winds through 29 neighborhoods. So, even if you’re not running, chances are the race might affect Chicagoans’ travel plans Sunday.

Here’s a rundown of all you need to know:

When is the race?

The race begins with the men’s wheelchair grouping at 7:20 a.m. Sunday in Grant Park. The starting line is at Columbus Drive and Monroe Street. Here are the scheduled start times:

  • 7:20 a.m.: Men’s wheelchair.
  • 7:21: Women’s wheelchair.
  • 7:23: Handcycle.
  • 7:30: Wave 1 (red).
  • 8: Wave 2 (blue).
  • 8:35: Wave 3 Start (orange).

The course

The race begins in Grant Park and generally winds its way north to Sheridan Road in Uptown, then back south and west by the United Center through the West Loop, south to 35th Street in Bronzeville, finishing back in Grant Park.


Can I watch from the starting line?

No. Only registered runners can watch at the start or finish line. Spectators can access Grant Park beginning at 9:30 a.m.

How can I watch or listen from home?

  • NBC-5, Telemundo Chicago and TeleXitos will have live TV coverage and live streaming from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.
  • WSCR (670-AM) will broadcast the race from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m.

How can I track a particular runner?

The Chicago Marathon app will provide live race-day runner tracking, along with elite athlete profiles, live broadcast streaming, weather, and an interactive course map. Download it here from the Apple App Store, or here via Google Play.

Where and when does the race end?

The finish line is at the south end of Grant Park. The elite runners are expected to cross first at about 9:30 a.m. All runners must finish within six and a half hours, which is about a 15-minute mile pace.

Are there any COVID-19 restrictions?

All participants must be fully vaccinated or provide a negative coronavirus test result from within the previous 72 hours.

What’s the weather forecast Sunday?

Partly sunny and warm, about 78 degrees Sunday morning. There is a 25% chance of rain as of Saturday, according to Accuweather.

How can I find a runner after the race?

Alphabetical signs can be found in the “Runner Reunite” area on Columbus Drive next to Butler Field. The post-race festival — with live music, food and drinks — will be from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

What’s the best way for spectators to avoid the course?

Public transit is the easiest way to get around and avoid road closings. Various L trains and buses can get you near Grant Park and around the course. The CTA will be providing extra race-day L and bus service.

Metra plans to add inbound trains during the early morning and outbound trains during the early afternoon Sunday on the BNSF, Metra Electric, Milwaukee District North and Union Pacific Northwest and West lines.

What are the best spectator strategies to watch?

If you’re following a specific runner, the best way to keep up is to track him or her via the Chicago Marathon app.

There are numerous viewing locations. For example, in the fourth mile, you can see the field headed north on LaSalle Street at Division Street. Then, you could two blocks west and see runners going south on Wells Street around mile marker 12. And there’s a Red Line stop at Clark and Division, so you can head south and see other locations.

When do I have to move my parked car from the course?

Any cars parked along the course will be towed starting at 1 a.m. Sunday.

When will streets along the course close?

Streets along the course will be closed starting at 7 a.m. Sunday.

When will streets reopen?

As runners pass through the mile markers, the streets will reopen in a staggered manner from 10 a.m. (near mile markers 1 and 2) to 6 p.m. For a complete guide of reopenings, click here.

What are the best shortcuts — by car and walking — to avoid the race?

  • If you’re driving, the best way to avoid runners while heading north or south is by taking Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive.
  • To head east or west, Lower Wacker Drive is extremely useful at getting to Lake Michigan, the Magnificent Mile, Streeterville or Lake Shore Drive.
  • On foot, the Riverwalk is an easy way to get past closed Loop streets.
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