The First Races: Chicago’s Marathon
2 October 2018
While registration is closed for this weekend’s Chicago Marathon, residents of 1000M can cheer the 45,000 runners expected to finish this Sunday from viewing areas across the city — or simply step out onto the Level 72 Sky Deck and watch the action from home! And if you’re planning to train for future Chicago Marathons, it’s never too early to begin conditioning in the Level 11 Fitness Room to build your weekly mileage
The 26 mile course spans across 29 Chicago neighborhoods, offering a flat and fast track popular among elite runners looking to set personal and world records. For many this will be a first-time visit to Chicago, but locals are expected to make up a large portion of those participating.
In this week’s post, we’ll examine the history of the marathon and its impact on Chicago.
The First Races
The origin of marathon racing in Chicago has its beginnings at the turn of the 20th century, a few short years after the first Olympic Games in 1896. The first Chicago marathon was organized by the Illinois Athletic Club and held on September 23, 1905 and became an annual event up until the early 1920’s when the Great Depression had a huge impact on recreational running. We didn’t see a revival in marathoning for nearly 50 years.
Of all the movements that inspired a new generation of runners, the health-conscious counter-culture movement of the 60’s created the most traction for marathon growth within the United States. In 1970, the New York Marathon established a race that stretched through the City’s five boroughs. Chicago, in true windy-city fashion, created a race to rival it.
The Mayor Daley Marathon
Anthony Bilandic, Mayor of Chicago from 1976-79, took note of the popularity of athletic races and converted five miles of equestrian path along Lake Shore Drive into a scenic jogging course which is now known as the 18-mile Lakefront Trail. This was the course that led to first Chicago Marathon in 1977.
The event was facilitated by an ad-hoc group of seven members whose duties ranged from medical director to publicity. The marathon was named after Richard Daley, the late Chicago mayor; race entry cost five dollars, and took place on September 25, 1977. There were 4200 runners, making it the largest marathon of its time.
Sponsorship and Charity
With the monumental planning required to make the Chicago Marathon an annual event — and the need for sufficient prize money to attract world-class athletes — sponsorship has always been a critical factor. For several years, Beatrice Foods was the official sponsor; Heileman Brewing Company then assumed the role, resulting in the 1988 Old Style Chicago Marathon. LaSalle Bank became the longest running sponsor until it was acquired by Bank of America, which continues to sponsor the marathon today. In 2002, the marathon transitioned from an athletic competition to a charitable cause, allowing participants to sponsor an organization themselves.
Legacy and Future
As we look forward to the 2018 edition of the Bank of America Chicago Marathon is still considered one the top world marathons. It is part of the World Marathon Majors, a prestigious group comprised of six city races across the globe including Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City. 2017 was a milestone year for the marathon, as it broke its previous record for economic impact, bringing in 338 million toward Chicago’s economy ensuring a future for this fantastic spectacle.
The 2018, Bank of American Chicago Marathon takes place on October 7. Start and finish areas are closed off to the public, but there are multiple viewing areas; a list of viewing areas can be found here.