How the Chicago Marathon Works

History of the Chicago Marathon

In 1977, Chicago mayor and avid runner Michael Bilandic set out to make Chicago the running capital of the world. The first Chicago Marathon, called the Mayor Daley Marathon after late mayor, Richard Daley, cost five dollars to enter. It attracted a field of more than 4,200 runners, making it the largest marathon in the world at the time [source: Borling]. In its second year, more than 5,000 people participated. The field was so large Chicago became the first course in U.S. racing history to set up dual starting points [source: Rinkunas]. Chicago still draws an astounding number of participants, and the race ranks among the top marathons in the world with a cap at 45,000 participants and more than 30,000 finishers most years.

Aside from striving for a personal best, why do so many runners participate in Chicago? Perhaps they're motivated by the big bucks that corporate sponsorship brings. Beatrice Foods became the Chicago Marathon's first corporate sponsor in 1979, but it wasn't until Bill Bright signed on as race director in 1982 and negotiated a $77,000 purse -- the total amount of prize money -- that the race began attracting international, world-class athletes. When Beatrice Foods ended its support of the marathon in 1987 and race directors couldn't find another sponsor, the marathon became a half-marathon instead. By 1988, the race had a new sponsor: Heileman Brewing. With the company's help, Chicago was able to offer a record-breaking $350,000 purse with $50,000 each to top male and female finishers. In 1993, LaSalle Bank took over sponsorship of the race, and it became the LaSalle Chicago Marathon. In 2008, Bank of America purchased LaSalle Bank and redubbed the race Bank of America Chicago Marathon. [source: Bank of America Corp, Race History].

How do you enter the Chicago Marathon for a chance to win prestige and prizes? Keep reading to learn what it takes.