Why the Chicago Marathon Lottery Could Be a Good Thing

If you haven’t been following along …

Chicago Marathon registration opened up last week, and there were terrible technical issues. People would start the registration process and get error messages. So they would try again. Their credit cards would get double or triple charged.  This lasted for a few hours, until finally, the marathon folks had to take down registration (via Active.com). They said they would be in touch later with how they will proceed for registration for the remaining spots. Today they announced that they will use a lottery for the remaining 15,000 spots.

In Charity Village after the raceDoes that suck? Yeah. No question.

I feel bad for anyone who had their hopes set on running the marathon this year and has to enter the lottery. I know how you feel. I remember last year, deciding months in advance of registration opening that I would run the marathon, and waiting for registration day to come, and then logging into the site at the exact moment registration opened, and signing up. So to have to deal with the headache of all the problems when registration did open this year, and then not get in, and now find out you have to go through a lottery … yeah, I’d be pretty annoyed too, to put it nicely.

But, I think this could be a good thing for the Chicago running community. In the long run.

Clearly, there is a demand for marathons in the Chicago area. And we’ve always had the Chicago Marathon, and it’s 45,000 spots to meet that demand. As a result, there aren’t that many other local marathons in the fall. If you live in the Chicago area, and wanted to run a fall marathon without leaving town (and paying for a hotel room), Chicago was the easy choice.  Without a lottery or qualifying times to deal with, you didn’t have to worry about getting in.

But now, it is pretty obvious that the Chicago Marathon is no longer meeting the demand for a fall marathon in the area. There are more runners than ever who want to run a fall marathon in Chicago. That’s good! It means there are more runners! Granted, a lot of out-of-towners run Chicago, but a lot of locals run it too.

It sucks right now, but when there is a greater demand, but not a big enough supply to meet that demand … well, I didn’t major in business, but I think that means good things for the consumers. (That would be us, the runners.)

You know some group is going to step in and create another fall marathon in the area. It’s a pretty obvious business opportunity. We already have one new fall marathon for 2013, the Naperville Marathon. Yes, they have gotten off to a shaky start with the local running community, but their race sold out in a day. Even if it was only a few thousand spots, that still says something. Even the new local fall marathon can’t keep up with demand.

Of course there is also the Fox Valley Marathon, and while I have heard good things about it, it is a bit early in the fall season for me. I personally don’t want to gamble on getting marathon-perfect weather in mid-to-late September.

Maybe there won’t be another new local marathon popping up for 2013 (a bit late to start planning), but I would not be surprised if 2014 saw at least one new local fall marathon. (And I hope it’s in late October or early November.) (And I hope the price is a true alternative to the Chicago Marathon, hint hint, I’m not made of money, race directors …)

More races (as long as they are done well) can only be a good thing. More races = more options = happier runners.

So, sorry 2013 is kind of a crap shoot for runners who wanted to do Chicago. But hopefully next year will provide more options. And luckily for 2013, there are so many other fall marathons in the Midwest that have not sold out.

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18 Comments on “Why the Chicago Marathon Lottery Could Be a Good Thing”

  1. I think the only thing that saddens me is that Chicago was one of the last (if not the last) of the World Marathon Majors that was still non-lottery. Of course, the Chicago Marathon and the other World Marathon Majors made up that title themselves so it really doesn’t mean much if you think of it that way.

    Personally, I LOVED the Milwaukee Marathon which is pretty close to Chicago both timing and location-wise but, yeah, unless you live in the north suburbs it would require a hotel stay.

    1. Hey Erin, not entirely true about the world marathon majors being a made up title. It’s like a Grand Prix of sorts consisting of 6 marathons- and the truly amazing elites who can get in the top placings in these events get points. The male/female with most points at the end of the year wins a huge monetary prize.


      1. Right, but the race directors (including Chicago) got together and created it themselves. It wasn’t created by an outside entity. From the mouth of the Chicago Marathon race director himself. He comes to speak to my running club once a year and a few years ago someone asked him how Chicago got to be a World Marathon Major.

  2. I think this race should go to a lottery system because even at $175, there’s too many people and not enough spots. This race would have sold out by the evening had every thing worked fine the first day.

    Hadn’t thought of the angle of creating another marathon.thats brilliant Maggie!! I would prefer spring. I believe Toronto has 2 marathons during the year (may and October) i dont know if both go similar routes or how big each is. I think it could work here too.

    **i was also worried about fox valley, but somehow for each race they’ve put on the weather has been perfect- they even list the starting temps on their site. But anytime of year here could pose a huge weather issue. (Think Chicago marathon!) the get lucky half in mid march was like 80 degrees last year!! (And because I’m running it in 2 weeks, I hope to god it’s not more than 50!)

    1. I know there are a couple spring marathons sort-of in the area … Crossroads of Indiana in Lowell in April and All Community Event’s Chicagoland Spring Marathon in Schaumburg in May. Neither are very big races though.

      1. That’s true- there are so many options around here! My goodness may 19 has like 5 marathons within 2-3 hours of here- but nothing like Chicago. It does seem like there is a void for a larger race in the spring closer to downtown. Hmm if I knew anything about being a race director I’d consider trying to get something together- but 26.2 is a lot to coordinate.

        Ooh but wait- if it’s a larger race it will cost too much $$$$ 🙂

        1. There used to be a Chicago Marathon in the spring. I think it was called the Lakefront Marathon or something. It wasn’t managed as well as the fall marathon and I think had a few years in a row of big mistakes where they ended up nixing it all together. But like you said, there is a void. Hopefully there will be an organization that can pick up the pieces and pull one (or more) reasonably priced event(s) together!

          1. Yeah, how about the “Hot Chocolate Spring Marathon/15k/5k/1miler”? It will only be $250 plus a $30 surprise checkout “fee” and a 4 hour packet pickup. I’m in!

  3. Very well put! I also felt a bit bad for the runners who had their hearts set on running Chicago, but the lottery system was inevitable. I really enjoyed your positive twist on the entire situation. It really is basic economics – if demand increases and there isn’t enough “supply” to cover the demand then more supply will get created. More races = more money raised for charity and the community and more opportunities for those who want to run marathons.

  4. I was really fascinated by all of the commentary on their Facebook page. To be honest, I wasn’t quite sure what to think, but I really like your perspective. I agree that it has just gotten too popular, and I feel like we would have seen a lottery system within the next year or two anyway. I love the thought of more quality marathons in the Chicagoland area!

  5. Maggie,
    A “shaky start” in your reference to Naperville is hardly accurate or by any means fair. We listened to the running community and changed accordingly. Why is that conceived as “shaky”? I would think just the opposite and hence the quick sell out. If we didn’t respond that would be shaky!!!
    Your comment with regards to The Fox Valley Marathon was not accurate either. If you look at the history of the weather for their race it has proven to be better for running than that of the Chicago Marathon weather over the past 3 years. It is one of the best organized events out there. Perhaps that was why Chicago Magazine named it Chicago areas best marathon in their 2012 issue of Chicago’s Best.

    I am disappointed in your negativity….but even Maggie is entitled to an off day! 🙂


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