Chicago Half Marathon Race Report

Photo: Chicago Half Marathon

This Chicago Half Marathon race report is meant to help you learn from my experiences with this awesome race. From course details to race day logistics, I try to share all that I can to help you be your best on race day! – Jaysen Chambers

Race: Life Time Chicago Half Marathon + 5K

Runner: Coach Jaysen Chambers

Race Date: 09/29/2019

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Results: 1:49:34 – 8:22/mile – AG 59/341

3 Bests – What aspects of the race did you like the most?

  • Lots of energy with crowd support
  • Great views of Lake Michigan on Lakeshore Drive
  • Ginormous finisher medals and great post-race activities – With 7000+ participants they have several vendor tents set up. Food and beverages are available, and there is usually a band. It is a party atmosphere for sure!

Not so much – Aspects of the race that didn’t do it for you

  • Parking is difficult. I personally parked at the Museum of Science and Industry and walked to the starting area. It’s just under a mile walk.
  • The race also encourages taking the shuttle or walking to the start. The race shuttles cost $15 and begin departing at 4:30a and 4:45a from various locations. There is great information on their website.
  • Much of the route is on concrete and is a combo of asphalt and concrete. The roads are fairly well maintained with only a few patchy spots. No sidewalk running at all.

Highlights of your race – What did you do well and enjoy about your race in particular?

This was the first time I went sub-1:50 for a half marathon. Great pacers. I used the 1:50 pacer for this race and stuck with the group. We ran pretty consistent splits. If I remember correctly the weather was very rainy prior to the race starting and then stopped just before gun time. End of September is a tricky time because you can get anything…cold, hot, rain, sun, wind.

This is an out and back course. You start about the first mile winding through the Jackson Park area then head north onto Lakeshore Drive where you get a great view of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. The overpass turnaround is near mile 7 where you back south on Lakeshore Drive.

Lessons for others – Share your pro-tips on the race to help the next runner rock the Chicago Half Marathon!

Give yourself plenty of time to get to the start/finish area as parking can be challenging. You don’t want to be stressed about getting there on time. During this time of the year, it is still dark. Sunrise is at 6:46a and the race corals close at 6:45a with a start time of 7a.

This is a fairly large race so you don’t need a headlamp to get around in the morning. There are plenty of street lamps and other runners making their way from the parking garage to the starting area. Get there early! There were police directing traffic in to the parking garage, lots of activity…once you park you have the long walk to the start area. There’s gear check and porta potties and a huge starting area for folks to warm up and relax prior to the race.

Lessons you learned that will help you next time around

Know that the turnaround is around mile 7 and is an overpass, so be prepared for that hill. If I was preparing for this race now I would likely take a gel prior to the start. And the two gels on course near miles 4 and 9. Depending on the temp I would sip scratch in my handheld. Everything went well on that day and I gave myself plenty of time to get down to the start area, use the porta potties, relax and warm up.

Most important course specific knowledge to know about the race

It’s usually pretty crowded for about the first mile until you make your way onto Lakeshore Drive where the pack spreads out. Be patient. Once you get onto Lakeshore Drive around mile 2, it’s really just a long straightaway heading north that allows you to settle in to your pace. Pretty flat with a nice view of the Chicago skyline and Lake Michigan. Since it’s an out and back you get to see the folks ahead of you coming back southbound after the turnaround around mile 7.

Aesthetics – Is it a pretty course?

Great views of Lake Michigan and the Chicago Skyline! And an epic final turn towards the finish line in Jackson Park with the Statue of the Republic.

Difficulty – Is it a tough course?

Flat except for the turnaround overpass. It’s your standard exit ramp overpass then down the entrance ramp on the other side. Probably less than a 1/4 mile total. There were a lot of spectators at that turnaround point too. And it always feels good to know you’re headed back to where you started.

Organized and well run – Did it feel like a well-oiled machine or were they flying by the seat of their pants?

Very well run and organized with usually around 7000 participants. Pre and post race communication is excellent for a race of this size. Bib pick up is downtown Chicago and went smooth. Big expo with lots of vendors. Very easy to get live race results. There were several official race photographers throughout the course too.

Competition – Is there a strong field?

  • Top male in 2023 – 1:10:20
  • Top female in 2023 – 1:18:58
  • Competitive age groups

Logistics – Does it require a special handshake, registration a year in advance, hotels all booked? Give us the low down on the nuts and bolts of making the race happen.

  • I don’t believe it sells out. Only logistical note would be parking / shuttle / walking.
  • Your options to get your bib are: Packet pick-up day or two before the race, packet mailing, or purchase the will-call option for day-of pick up.
  • Being Chicago, there are tons of hotels, not many really close to the start/finish area. But that’s where the shuttles play a role.
  • I drove the down prior to race day to get my bib although coming from the suburbs I would consider having it mailed to me for a fee. It’s quite the journey to get down to Chicago from the burbs.

Aid Stations – Standard fare or anything special to know about the aid stations in terms of what’s available or when?

The aid stations were plentiful about every mile to 1.5 miles. They do have Gatorade Endurance Gels and drink available on course at a few of the aid stations too. Lots of volunteers and very easy to navigate as this is a big city race.

Chicago Half Marathon Finish

Weather and typical race conditions

End of September is hard to predict. It’s a few weeks before the Chicago Marathon…and that weather has been all over the board. Hot, cold, rainy…

Our weather was rainy the whole way driving downtown in the dark and then the rain let up just before the start of the race. It’s usually pretty windy along Lake Michigan so you can expect that. But temps is a crapshoot.

Gear – Did you need anything special or is there anything you’d recommend for the next runner?

Even though you’re walking to the starting corals when the sun is still coming up…don’t forget your sunglasses as the sun will rise over Lake Michigan. They do have a gear check area where I dropped a bag. In 2019 the gear check tent was understaffed and hopefully that has improved over the years, it’s tough to get that piece right for a race. I had some extra shoes and another shirt to change into. I was dressed appropriately for the race!

Spectators – Is this a friendly course for your friends?

Yes. With it being an out and back, friend and family can easily see you twice. I didn’t have any personal family/friends spectating me. There are neighborhoods that are along the edge of the course so they can park and walk over to the median area and see the participants twice on the out and back. There’s also a very large start/finish area in Jackson Park to enjoy post-race activities.

How’s the Swag?

The biggest finisher medals I’ve ever seen. The two years that I ran this race we received long sleeve tech shirts that I still wear today. There was also swag for purchase at the expo.

The Overall Score – How many stars do you give the Chicago Half Marathon and do you recommend that others run it?

4.5 / 5 stars. The reason for the .5 off is because it because you do need to give yourself more time than usual to either park/walk or shuttle over to the start area. And the gear check tent was understaffed when you’re trying to get your dry clothes. I would definitely recommend this race… just know it’s a big city race with big city logistics. Improving the gear check staffing (and I would assume it’s been improved) is my only suggestion.

Coach Jaysen Chambers is a coach with Team RunRun. To learn more about him or to work with him, check out his coach profile.