Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How the Chicago Marathon Works


Runners take off from the starting point of the Chicago Marathon in Chicago, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009.
Runners take off from the starting point of the Chicago Marathon in Chicago, Sunday, Oct. 11, 2009.
AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh

Big brains, opposable thumbs and two legs helped humans come out of the trees and take off across the countryside. In fact, taking off is one of our best survival traits: Without our ability to chase down food, our species may have died out before it began. We humans exist because we jumped from the trees and hit the ground running.

With the advent of technology like automobiles, vending machines and computers for online pizza delivery, we no longer have the same need to run for survival. Instead of chasing food, we chase great jobs, wealth and being the best at whatever it is we choose to be. Unlike our forebears, we can live our lives without constantly competing for necessities. Now, we have the luxury of competing just so we can say, "I'm the best."

In the spirit of running toward our goals and being the best we can possibly be, some of us humans have embraced a grueling sport that harkens back to the days of yore: marathon races. Marathon runners have an endurance that even the most hunted of our ancestors would have admired. What's surprising is that almost anyone can run a marathon with the right physical training and mind-set.

Billed as a fast, flat course, many athletes run the Chicago Marathon in pursuit of personal bests. Serious amateur runners choose Chicago's course to achieve qualifying times for other races such as the Boston Marathon. Still others -- such as Steve Jones, Khalid Khannouchi, Catherine Ndereba and Paula Radcliffe -- have broken world records at the Chicago Marathon.

From its inception in 1977 to the present, the Chicago Marathon (affectionately shortened to "Chicago") has been known as one of the greatest marathons in the United States [source: Bank of America Corp, Race History].

Not only is the Chicago Marathon course fast and flat, but according to race event manager Jeremy Borling, it's also a lot of fun to run. Spectators cheer loudly from start to finish, and the course shows off Chicago's great ethnic and cultural diversity.

So, how did this great Chicago tradition get its start? Read on to find out why the marathon's participation exploded from 4,200 to more than 40,000 runners.


More to Explore