Five Chicago Marathon Spectator Tips

Planning to watch someone run the marathon? Here are a few tips that can make finding each other amongst the masses a little bit easier.

1. Have your runner where something to distinguish him/herself. Those neon shoes may seem like enough, but try to make the runner’s outfit stand out as much as possible – brightly covered shirts are incredibly helpful. Giant wigs and tutus? All the better, although not as practical for some runners. I found my first year out that my fluorescent hat did a whole lot of nothing to capture the attention of family and friends.

2. Go with some helium – and think big. Buy the biggest, most obnoxious SpongeBob balloon you can find. It’s more affordable than skywriting, and it helps to have a too-big-to-miss bright sign for runners who see a ton of faces and may be in a “zone” during more difficult miles.

3. Prearrange where you’ll be – and be specific. Pull out the course map, plan the intersection AND which side of the street. Have the runner write it down on a wristband (It’s easy to get muddled out there, especially late in the race). It’ll be much easier for the runner to find you than vice versa.

Look at the Chicago Marathon Spectator Guide. There’s actually a good map with public transportation listed on there.

Running with a charity? Check out their event weekend plans. Some organizations such as the American Cancer Society set up markers for family and friends to meet as cheering stations, making it easy for everyone to see each other.

4. Use the online updates. Although I have yet to find the online link this year, there is generally an opportunity to sign up for text updates for where runners are along the course. Sign up... but know that these are not always reliable. Many folks claim they’ve been notified that they’ve completed the race a day later. McDonald’s is also providing eight “update centers” where spectators can check in on loved ones.

Update: Thanks to Shannon for letting us know that sign up for runner tracking is now available on the Chicago Marathon site here.

5. Remember the areas with less public transportation access have less crowds. Miles 14-20 can be pretty quiet for the runners. You can be easily seen – and very much appreciated when many runners are fighting with their motivation!

What tactics have worked for you? Share them in the comments!


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  • There won't be text updates this year, I'm afraid. You'll be able to track runners through the results page on the marathon website.

  • In reply to cubicledad:

    I thought that might be the case given the update centers. Not a huge loss between smart phones and the sites along the course. Thanks for confirming!

  • fb_avatar site has text updating available as of today.

  • In reply to Shannon Heisler:

    Awesome! Thanks so much, Shannon!

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