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Chasing the Six Stars: A Running Coach's Perspective on Conquering the Chicago Marathon

As a running coach who has personally experienced the exhilaration of the Chicago Marathon, I am thrilled to share my insights and expertise on securing a spot in this iconic race and training effectively for optimal performance. This is the 2 of a 7 part World Marathon Major series, if you want to read the overview, head over to this post. I will follow the order of the marathons as I completed them. Still, it is essential to note that in the race season, the first marathon major is the Berlin Marathon, traditionally held in September. Chicago takes place shortly afterward in October.

Join me as we explore the journey towards conquering the Chicago Marathon, from gaining entry to training like a seasoned athlete, I'm going to include a game-changing speed workout that I used not only during my Chicago training but also frequently use with athletes to help them crush this flat and fast course.

When I ran Chicago, the registration process was akin to signing up for your local hometown race; registration opened, you logged in, and you secured your spot, but that didn’t quite work out in 2012. The demand for registration was so high that the servers crashed, leaving many of us runners in the dark about whether our registration was secured. The next year, Chicago announced they would follow in the footsteps of other highly coveted races like NYC and went to a lottery system.

The below methods and details are how you would obtain registration to the Chicago Marathon as of July 2023.

Gaining Entry to the Chicago Marathon -

  • General Entry: To secure a spot through the general entry, aspiring participants must register during the specified period and hope the lottery favors them. While Chicago has not listed the 2024 lottery registration date, we can likely surmise that it will be open in October, and the drawing will be held in December. Out of the WMM races, Chicago is generally the easiest to gain entry through the lottery, but staying looped in via Chicago’s website is a great way to ensure you don’t miss the registration timeframe. There is no application fee, but when you fill out your entry, you must provide a credit card that will be charged with the applicable fee if you win the lottery.

  • U.S. residents (those who live in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico or other U.S. territories): $230 (USD)

  • Non-U.S. residents: $240 (USD)

  • Charity Entry: Consider joining a charity team to guarantee your entry. Many charitable organizations offer reserved spots for runners who commit to raising a certain amount of funds. It's a fantastic opportunity to make a positive impact while embarking on your marathon journey.

  • Time-Qualified Entry: For experienced runners, qualifying with a specific time from a previous marathon or half-marathon is a viable option. Familiarize yourself with the qualifying times based on your age and gender category by visiting the official Chicago Marathon website.

  • Tour Operators: Don’t forget the great folks over at Marathon Tours; if you are hoping to run 2023, I suggest calling them and asking to be put on a waitlist. You never know!

Training Strategies for the Chicago Marathon -

Okay, you secured your spot, you celebrated, and now you are ready to get down to business, let’s chat about training.

  • Customized Training Plans: As a running coach, I strongly advocate for personalized training plans tailored to each runner's abilities, goals, and schedule. A well-structured plan should include progressive mileage, cross-training, recovery days, and targeted workouts.

  • Long Runs and Progression: Long runs are the cornerstone of marathon training. Gradually increase your mileage weekly, peaking with at least one or two 20-mile runs several weeks before the race. Introduce progression runs to simulate race-day conditions, gradually increasing your pace during the second half of your long run.

  • Strength Training and Cross-Training: Include strength training exercises, focusing on functional movements and core stability, to improve running economy and reduce the risk of injuries. Incorporate cross-training activities such as swimming, cycling, or yoga to enhance cardiovascular fitness and provide active recovery.

  • Rest and Recovery: Adequate rest and recovery are paramount in marathon training. Plan regular rest days to allow your body to adapt and rebuild. Prioritize quality sleep, consume nutritious meals, and incorporate foam rolling or self-massage techniques to aid recovery.

  • Essential Speed Workout: One highly effective speed workout to incorporate is the renowned "Yasso 800s," which has been instrumental in many successful marathon campaigns; while using Yasso 800s as a marathon finish predictor tool has been somewhat debunked or replaced by better methods, the reality is that this is still a solid speed workout for beginners to advanced runners to incorporate.

Race week and race day logistics - Where to stay: The WMM Chicago may be the easiest to figure out logistics with a start and finish at Grant Park. Finding accommodations nearby in downtown or on the loop was relatively easy and allowed me to walk to the start line and back to my hotel after I was done. Being downtown also allowed for great pre-race fuel options and post-race festivities!

However, if you are staying farther away in the suburbs or surrounding metro area, be aware of road closures and give yourself plenty of time to get to your starting corral on race day. Expo: The expo was like all of the WMM races, HUGE and an event in and of itself. There are a couple of schools of thought, and some say to make this part of your race experience and enjoy the time at the expo. Personally, save your feet and legs, go in, secure your bib, and don’t add tons of extra hours on your feet and legs the day before your race. So if you can arrive early in Chicago and explore the expo on the opening day, that may be worthwhile.

Sightseeing: If you want to do some sightseeing, sign up for one of the amazing scenic architectural boat tours. They book up quickly on marathon weekends, so reserve yours soon! However, I advocate for my athletes to save the sightseeing after the race if possible. Again, saving those legs for the “big time.” The foodie scene in Chicago is INCREDIBLE, but just like those boat tours, reservations can go fast. So book your favorites as soon as you can.

Race Day: This is what you trained for, friend, don’t try anything new; enjoy it all, take it in, and enjoy your 26.2 victory lap around Chicago!

Having personally crossed the finish line of the Chicago Marathon, I fell in love with the city, the crowd support, and the distance. There is nothing quite as magical as training for and finishing a marathon! I can attest to the incredible journey that lies ahead for aspiring participants.

Remember to trust the process, stay disciplined, and savor every step as you chase your Chicago Marathon dreams. Lace-up your shoes, embrace the training, and I look forward to celebrating your triumph in the bustling streets of the Windy City!

Have questions or want to learn more about incorporating speed workouts into your training? Sign up for the TFB Training newsletter or drop a message over to

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