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The Chicago Marathon has been following the same north/south then west/east then south/north course for years. It’s divided into segments that make it really easy to tackle with a pacing strategy (based on perceived effort).

START

Start at an easy, comfortable pace. You should be feeling fresh because you’re well-rested, well-fueled, well-hydrated and coming off a taper. Don’t get cocky. Keep the pace easy up until you hit the northern-most point of the course – Addison Street. You will be running on inner Lake Shore Drive and turning away from the lake. Up until then, it will be crowded and it is easy to get caught up. Focus on staying calm and not do anything with pace … just stay relaxed. Think of these miles as your warm up. You have a lot of miles to go. Save your energy.

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Start thinking about getting into a rhythm once you turn south from Addison. You still want to stay conservative and don’t use too much energy. You will be going through Boystown and running back down into the Loop (downtown Chicago). This is a long stretch (mile 8-13). You will see people start to lose it because they went out too fast. Stay steady. Run your race and stay focused. Don’t waste energy weaving. Run the tangents on the curves if you can, but don’t think too hard. This is the part of the race you want to forget because there is a lot more in front of you. Luckily, there are tons of spectators and entertainment to distract you.

HALFWAY 

When you turn right, near mile 12.5, you are heading west, away from downtown, and towards Greek Town and UIC.  Once you hit mile 13.1 (right after the Chicago River), the race has begun. You still have halfway to go. These miles after 13.1 are toughest … it is an out and back sort of loop to the west before you turn through Greek Town towards Pilsen. It is ugly and the crowds have diminished. There aren’t as many spectators. Focus on nailing your nutrition plan.

My recommendation for any spectators is to take the L to mile 18. There is a stretch before Pilsen that is lonely. 

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LAST THIRD

This is the toughest part. You’ve covered a lot of miles, but you still have a lot to go. Miles 17/18 to 21. Don’t get caught up in the madness in Pilsen. Stay in the middle. Chinatown should be a blur too … just try to stay in the middle and don’t waste energy. You’ll need it for the last 6. The crowds are thick and cheerful and happy. Keep running your race.

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Once you get toward the expressway (Day Ryan aka 90/94) and you cross the bridge near IIT, you are CLOSE. This is when you just need to try to NOT count blocks. It can be mind numbing because you are literally counting DOWN blocks to Grant Park (the streets are numbered). See how many miles you can go without looking. Remember – pump your arms, DO NOT stop, and just pass people and encourage them. Your heart rate should be high and you should feel like you gave it your all.

Sprint up the Roosevelt Street Bridge. You’re so close.

Look good for the finish 🙂

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In terms of heart rates to target, this is what worked for me when I ran the Chicago Marathon:

  • Miles 1-3 = heart rate was around 75-79% of max
  • Miles 4-8 = heart rate was around 80-82% of max
  • Miles 9-17 = heart rate was around 83-84% of max
  • Miles 18-25 = heart rate was around 84-86% of max
  • Mile 26 = heart rate was around 90% of max
  • Finish = heart rate was around 94% of max

To calculate your max heart rate, there are a few methods:

  • 220 minus your age
    • 220 – AGE
  • 208 minus the product of 0.7 multiplied by your age
    • 208 – (0.7 x AGE)
  • 205 minus the product of 0.5 multiplied by your age
    • 205 – (0.5 x AGE)
  • Do your own test. Head to a track, and warmup for mile or two, then run a mile at tempo pace, then gradually increase your speed over 400 meters before running a final quarter all out. Check your watch every 100 meters during the last 400, and try to accelerate each time. The highest number on your monitor will be close to your maximum heart rate. Source.