Friday Five: 5 Tips for Chicago Marathon Spectators

It’s Friday, so I’m linking up with Running on Happy and Fairytales and Fitness for Friday Five 2.0. The theme this week is scheduling. I’m horribly over-scheduled and way too busy at the moment, so I’m going to go off topic. I’ve spectated at the Chicago Marathon 10 of the 11 years we’ve lived here. I’m kind of an expert! This weekend is the 40th running of the Chicago Marathon, so here are my top 5 tips for supporters.

5 Tips for Chicago Marathon Spectators

1. Plan your spots and tell your runners where you’ll be. Don’t forget this is a huge race, so it’s important to tell them (and to know) where and what side of the street you’ll be on. It’s hard to cross the race so look at the map to see which side you’ll be on. Pick landmarks or cross streets and look at the course to tell your runner which mile marker you’ll be near. Here’s a link to the course map. I typically hit mile 13 and 20 or 25 depending on how fast my fastest runners are. It’s easy to do 6 and 9 then to head to the 20s via el train, too.

2. Know your runner’s number. You can track your runner if you know his/her number. It can take 20 – 30 minutes for runners to cross the start line in some cases. If you track, you can better estimate when he or she will get to you. Do keep in mind that with so many runners, the alerts may be delayed, so keep an eye out around the expected pace. (Don’t forget to ask the expected pace!)

3. Know what your runner(s) are wearing. The crowds are massive, so you have to know what to look for. Tell them what you’re wearing, too, so they can look for you. Even better, take a tip from my friend Carolyn’s book and carry a big helium balloon. I always see her from far away. She tells me what character she gets via text on race morning. Usually it’s Tweety Bird!

4. Cheer for everyone. Bring a cowbell if you want to save your hands. Call out names/teams, tell people they look great and that can do it. [A caveat from my friend Jason, “never tell a walking runner he/she “looks good.” Shout other encouragement like “you can do it!” instead!]

5. Unless you are near the finish, NEVER say “your almost there.” In my mind that means .5 miles or less is “almost there.” Even better, only yell this if you can actually see the finish line. When someone yells this at Mile 10, or even 20, I want to punch them and hurl myself off of a bridge. Got that one? Good. It’s really important. In Milwaukee last weekend, I saw a sign at mile 20 that said, “You are NOT almost there.” That made me chuckle and it was very true.

Did I miss anything? Please leave your top tips in the comments!

Good luck to all of the runners this weekend! Start slow and finish strong. Enjoy every step!

PS. Have you entered my Fall Running Gear Giveaway? Ends 10/8.



  1. Amy Scott says:

    Sending this post to one of my friends who is spectating on Sunday…

  2. Diane says:

    Dave and I volunteered at the water stop close to our apartment last year. It was so fun – a great way to be a close up spectator for the event!

  3. Yea, I don’t want to hear “almost there” unless I can see the finish line..haha.

    Thanks for linking up!

  4. Something I enjoy doing is watching near the finish line (like a 1/2 mile out), and I LOVE spotting the first-timers. They are usually the ones who are smiling (or crying) and interacting with the crowd. I try to call them out by name (if it’s on their bib) and tell them something like “Oh my gosh! Erica! YOU did it!” I totally wish I could be in Chicago this weekend 😉

  5. Lisa Brown says:

    Good tips! I’m planning to be in Tokyo for the Olympics, and I really want to see the marathon. These are helpful.

  6. Amber Ludwig says:

    Great tips! My sister in law just completed her first full and her husband made the funniest signs! It was a great way to keep her smiling!

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