Chicago Marathon Pacing Strategy

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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.
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10 Comments on “Chicago Marathon Pacing Strategy”

  1. This is such great advice. Vera really is a wealth of knowledge! I would say for the first 8 miles, take it easy and ENJOY THE VIEW… These miles are fun because you are feeling great and there are tons of spectators (and some of the best signs).

    I’ll be there at mile 17 waiting for you! I hope to be by the mile marker sign but you know I’ll be texting you later in the week. Enjoy the rest, enjoy the taper… you are totally ready for 26.2!!! But then again, you already knew that… 🙂

  2. Good advice, especially about not worrying about your pace early on. I had broken the race into four parts based on mile markers, but did not consider where those mile markers would be on the map. I think I’ll take a look…

  3. Vera’s advice is right on! My mind game for the last 6 miles last year was to focus not on the blocks but to continue to look ahead for the flags that signaled the water stations. I focused on the next water station until I hit the auto mile on Michigan avenue then the excitement of being so close to the finish line boosted my motivation.
    When I hit the Roosevelt bridge I started to swear at the masochist who designed the last .25 miles over that bridge.
    Last year was my first marathon and I am glad that it was in Chicago. This year I am looking forward to doing it again because I know what to expect and how to pace. Now I have to decide if I want to finish with a time goal in mind or to just go out and enjoy the run.

  4. Vera is spot on! Even though I just ran it last year many of her points I can visualize clearly in my head. I think your plan is solid. You shouldn’t worry about the last 6- I really think we can bring on problems to ourselves just by thinking too much 🙂 your training has been perfect- you are more than prepared to have a huge smile plastered on your face the entire 26.2!

    I can’t wait for the meetup lunch on Saturday! 🙂

  5. Great post! As a first marathon I’m not sure I’d ever think of it as a race. Just cover the miles and enjoy the sights and crowds. The second half gets TOUGH. But it’ll be cold. That should help a ton. Good luck and enjoy–I’ll be out there cheering you on!

  6. AWESOME advice. It seems like the overriding theme is to not go out too fast or let yourself get too swept up too early in the race, which I know can be hard to do.

    Totally agree with you on the “sprinting up Roosevelt” being relative, by the way. =D

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