Chicago Marathon Running ‘Strong’ On Sunday

chiFrom the Saturday, Oct. 12, editions of The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.) …


By Dave Wischnowsky

Back in August, I was out in Boston’s Back Bay.

Early one morning, I went for a jog through the neighborhood along Boylston Street, following the same path that leads runners to the finish line of the city’s famous marathon, which is also now the infamous site of the bombing that killed three race spectators and injured more than 260 others in April.

This day on Boylston, windows had been repaired. A new tree had been planted. And The Forum restaurant, outside of which the second explosion occurred, was preparing for its grand re-opening that same night. All around, buildings boasted blue-and-yellow “Boston Strong” signs and ribbons, promising that the city’s race and spirit will always go on.

Come Sunday, the strength of Boston’s lessons learned will arrive in Chicago as the city hosts its first marathon since that tragic event. Among the new safety measures adopted for the 2013 Chicago Marathon are more bomb-sniffing dogs, the clearing of any unattended items and the barring of un-ticketed spectators from the race’s start and finish lines.

It won’t quite be Race Day as usual, but as usual Chicago’s marquee race will go on, and in honor of it here are three things you might not know about the Marathon.

Racing the past

Founded in 1977, the “modern-day” Chicago Marathon turns 36 this year. But the race actually has an ancestor that dates back much further.

On Sept. 23, 1905, the Illinois Athletic Club organized the inaugural Chicago Marathon, which began in Evanston and finished 26.2 miles later in Washington Park on Chicago’s South Side. That day, more than 100,000 spectators are said to have lined the race route, which ended in dramatic fashion as upstart Rhud Metzer chased down favorite Louis Marks in the final stretch to steal the victory.

While the crowd for the marathon – which continued annually in Chicago until the early 1920s – was big, but its field was not. Only 20 runners registered for the race, 15 showed up and seven finished.

A second wind

After Chicago’s original marathon folded, local long-distance runners ran dry until November 1976 when a group of five Chicagoans met at the Metropolitan YMCA on LaSalle Street to discuss resurrecting the race.

They met resistance from Chicago Parks Superintendent Ed Kelly, however, who was adamantly against packs of runners trampling their way through any of his precious parks or along the lakefront. Marathon organizers instead approached Mayor Richard J. Daley, who liked the idea of the race. But before he could help realize it, Daley died unexpectedly from a heart attack just weeks later on Dec. 20, 1976.

The mayor’s successor Michael Bilandic, however, was an avid runner and also supported the marathon. He finally convinced Kelly to get on board and on Sept. 25, 1977, the first edition of the modern Chicago Marathon was held with Bilandic and his wife passing out the medals to the winners.

Marathon tour

Today, the Chicago Marathon’s course leads 45,000 runners on a tour of 29 of the city’s neighborhoods – and its sports venues, to boot.

Laid out in a loop, with its starting and ending points downtown in Grant Park, the marathon’s course can generally be divided into three sections: North, West and South. Near the turning points of each of those areas stand Wrigley Field (home of the Cubs) to the north, the United Center (home of the Bulls and Blackhawks) to the West, and U.S. Cellular Field (home of the White Sox) to the south.

Additionally, when runners are struggling up the incline on Roosevelt Road during the marathon’s final stretch, they can see Soldier Field.

Bear Down.