It has always been one of the biggest, even in 1977 when 4,200 runners turned out for the first Chicago Marathon, making it the largest in the world at the time. Now it is one of the six World Marathon Majors, attracting 40,000 people from 50 states and more than 100 countries. Originally the Mayor Daley Marathon, the race has changed names and sponsors several times, but has always been Chicago. It is now the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, and it takes place at 7:30 a.m. tomorrow, Oct. 12, with a field capped at 45,000 participants.
The two favorites in the men’s race are Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele and Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. Both have track backgrounds and are relatively new to the marathon, but have smoking fast times. Kipchoge ran 2:04:05 in Berlin last year. Bekele clocked 2:05:04 in Paris last April, winning his debut race. Although Bekele’s best time is a minute slower than Kipchoge, his Paris race appeared to be a controlled effort that hints at the potential for more speed. Kipchoge gets the nod as the favorite if he runs the intelligent race expected of him.
It is not expected that anyone else will break through for a win in the men’s race in Chicago unless Bekele and Kipchoge kill each other off with a pace impossible to maintain. Bernard Koech, Kipchoge’s training partner, has a 2:04:53 PR from Dubai. Ethiopian Tades Tola ran 2:04:49 in Dubai, and may end up third tomorrow.
The women’s field is topped by Rita Jeptoo and Florence Kiplagat. The 33-year-old Jeptoo has won two straight Bostons, including a course record 2:18:57 last April, and also won Chicago last year. Kipligat, 27, is the world half marathon record holder (1:05:12) and is a two-time Berlin Marathon winner with a personal best of 2:19:44. Kiplagat has better times at shorter distances, but may be overly ambitious. Jeptoo’s steady patience will likely carry her to the top spot.
Beyond the top two women prospects are Mare Dibaba, with a PR of 2:19:52, and Birhane Aderu, with a 2:22:30 best. Neither appear to be in the same class with Kiplagat and Jeptoo.
American runners are not expected to factor in the top results for either the men’s or women’s races. The fastest American PR in the field is Bobby Curtis with a 2:13:24. Christo Landry has run 2:14:44. Either or both might make the top 10.
For the American women, Amy Hastings appears to be the best hope for an American showing. In her debut in 2011 she ran 2:27:03 and says she is ready to reclaim her position as one of the country’s top distance runners, after struggling the last two years. She said she chose the Chicago Marathon for her comeback because it is a “notoriously fast course,” and she feels running a fast time is her next step in progressing to the next level.
The Chicago Marathon course is flat and fast, but world records are not expected to fall. None of the women are even discussing going for Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25 world record. Radcliffe also has the Chicago course record of 2:17:18, which has stood for 12 years and will probably remain untouched on Sunday. Kiplagat says she is aiming for a time of 2:18, but a winning time of around 2:19:30 is probably a more reasonable expectation.
The Chicago men’s record, 2:03:45, was set last year by Dennis Kimetto, who also owns the world record of 2:02:57, set in Berlin last month. It is not expected that either Bekele or Kipchoge will improve on that time. Bekele will probably break his 2:05:04 PR, but not by enough to touch the record. Expect a winning time for the men of about 2:04:30.
There are some non-competitive entries in tomorrow’s race that are sure to attract some public attention, including one well-known athlete who switched sports. Former Chicago Bears cornerback Jerry Azumah is running his first marathon and says “I’ve never run so much in my life.” After running mostly sprints in high school, college and the NFL, Azumah started distance running a couple of years ago with some Chicago friends. He completed a recent 20-miler in about three hours. He says marathon training is completely different from football training, and has required him to lose some weight and improve his flexibility. Initially hoping for a 3:45 time, he is now just hoping to finish.
Then there is the Chicago man who is planning to run barefoot tomorrow in his first marathon. Naftali Garber of Lakeview does most things barefoot because he has “never found a pair of socks or shoes that don’t make my feet too warm.” Flashback to Abebe Bikila, who won the 1960 Olympic Marathon while running barefoot.
The Chicago Marathon website calls its race “the pinnacle of achievement for elite athletes and everyday runners alike.” Expect plenty of both tomorrow, running as hard as they can for the Grant Park finish line and personal satisfaction.
Commentary by Beth A. Balen
Chicago Marathon (General Information)
Chicago Marathon (Race History)
Runner’s World (5 Things to Watch)
Runner’s World (Chicago Marathon)
Runner’s World (Amy Hastings)
Runner’s World (Jerry Azumah)
World Marathon Majors
Image by Bank of America Chicago Marathon