Chicago Marathon…how to spectate well!

I am so excited for the Chicago Marathon again this year, and extra excited that my parents have decided to fly in (all the way from the UK!) to watch! So I started thinking about spectating tips at large marathons (some of these tips and ideas are specific to Chicago but most – if not all are transferable to any marathon). Don’t get me wrong….my parents are pro spectators from their years at Mountain bike and Cyclo Cross racers with my brother, but they haven’t ever been to a major marathon!

We runners love spectators… guys are awesome and really give us a boost with your signs and cheers and just being there for us! So first off THANKS. Now, do you want to know how to be the best spectator possible? of course you do! 😉


1) Study up

Study the course – usually published on the marathon website and also the spectator guide. The spectator guide gives transport options for spectators as well as runners projected times at various points on the course. Talk to your runner (gently – we are fragile creatures 😉 ) about what their planned pace is so you know when to expect them at your chosen viewing points.

2) Make a plan

First you have to decide if you want to rush around from point to point and see your runner as many times as possible or stick to points around the start and finish to avoid dealing with travel and ensure that you hold a good spot at the railing – these can be hard to come by especially near the finish and other crowded spots on the course.

I heard a rumour that Kacey (who has both run and spectated – with kids in tow – at the Chicago Marathon is working on a post to give you some more specifics on the best places to watch!)

Figure out where you plan to try to see your runner and how you will get from one spot to the other and let your runner know your plan so they can look for you. It is often easier for a runner to spot someone in the crowd than the spectator to spot them in the sea of runners. Your runner will know that there are no guarantees, and that you may not make it to every spot but this gives you the best possible chance of seeing each other.

Speaking of seeing each other….. 3) Get obnoxious

Make signs, carry flags, balloons, wear a ridiculous shirt – as well as entertaining ALL the runners this will make it easier for your runner to spot you…remember 45,000 runners translates to A LOT of spectators – give yourself the best possible chance of successfully supporting your runner.

Here are a few of our favorites…think topical, think funny, think “they are already dehydrated and confused let’s mess with them a little more!” 😉

Big Sur Marathon Mile 25

Cute Ones

Denver Good Idea 2

Denver Marathon 5 Signs



4) Get connected

Chicago, like most marathons, offers text message runner tracking. Sign up on the website plenty in advance of the race – the website is often SUPER busy the evening before the race – so that you can get real time updates while you are on the course, allowing you to know if you missed your runner and should move to the next spot or if you should adjust your time.

5) Plan a post finish meeting point

After last years bombing at Boston there may be big changes to Chicago’s finish line this year – so make sure you check the runner and spectator guides for more info….but one thing is for sure….Chicago tries to funnel the 45,000 runners through the finish, medal pick up, post race food and bag pick up etc. and out the other end of the park. Pick a meeting point someone outside the finish area……and prepare to both be patient. It may take your runner a while  to get through the finish (know whether they have a bag to pick up or plan to hit the post race food etc.) but depending on where you watched the finish it may also take you a while to get through the crowd to your meeting point. Know whether your runner will have their phone (if they put it in their drop bag or not) – personally we avoid drop bags but may make sure we at least put $5 in our pocket this year – since we felt a little like homeless people walking up MI Ave last year with just our race blankets and were lucky to find a roadside free social media camera to take this photo!


Are you an expert marathon spectator? Did we miss anything? Got spectating questions? We’d love to hear them!


3 thoughts on “Chicago Marathon…how to spectate well!

  1. Hi everyone – this is Katherine’s Mom(Mum) here. Also very excited at watching Chicago marathon this year. As she said we’ve done a lot of bike race spectating including cyclocross where you get thrown a dirty bike to clean off every lap (= about every 12 minutes) which you then exchange at pace for the other one ( which you gave clean last lap but is now totally muddy) So at least with running you don’t get that. Anyhow I’ve run ( staggered) round the Great North Run ( 1/2 mara ) three times and the spectators were great all the way round. The first time my husband decided not to wait at the agreed place but to ” see me over the line” – didn’t spot me, result I was 10 cold, hungry and very furious minutes waiting for him.Hmmmmm!!!
    So as ever – get a plan and stick to it is my advice.
    Oh – and I ran miles and miles with a £10 note wrapped in cling film in my shorts little zip pocket just in case….

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