The Chicago Marathon Unwrapped

There are no doubt a litany of little known facts surrounding every marathon race ever organized. Things that happen behind the scenes, off the course, on the course and yet out of sight of the throngs of runners and spectators. This weekend is the 36th annual Chicago Marathon and I thought it might be fun to pull back the drapes and look at some of its little known secrets…..

The first Chicago Marathon was actually held in 1905 and continued annually into the 1920s. First sponsored by the Illinois Athletic Club and then the Chicago Daily News, it finished in front of a standing-room-only paying crowd at Washington Park race track.

September 25, 1977: Dan Cloeter, 2:17:52; Dorothy Doolittle, 2:50:47  More than 4,200 runners paid a $5 entry fee and turned out for the first Mayor Daley Marathon, making it the largest marathon in the world.

Wesley Paul, an eight-year-old who finished in 3:15:20, set a World Record in his age group.

The only glitch of the race occurred when the ceremonial starter’s cannon misfired into the crowd, injuring two spectators. Ironically, the two burned were the wife and daughter of Wayne Goeldner, an original race founder.

The founding location of the Chicago Marathon is at 214 West Erie in River North.

September 24, 1978: Mark Stanforth, 2:19:20; Lynae Larson, 2:59:25 The entry fee doubled to $10 and the start time was moved to 10:30. Runners protested the late start time by wearing black armbands and battled 85-degree temperatures. The following year the race was moved to October.

October 21, 1979: Dan Cloeter, 2:23:20; Laura Michalek, 3:15:45  Nancy Reid and Donna Simmons illegally “dropped in” to place first and second for the women, but were disqualified when it was proven that they did not run the entire race. This gave the victory to 15-year-old Laura Michalek of Berwyn, IL, the youngest winner in Chicago Marathon history.

September 28, 1980: Frank Richardson, 2:14:04; Sue Peterson, 2:45:03  Jane Schiff was the Chicago Marathon’s first unofficial wheelchair winner in Chicago’s history with a time of 3:02:38. Proceeds of the 1980 race went to the Chicago Boys Club.


September 27, 1981: Phil Coppess, 2:16:13; Tina Gandy, 2:49:39 While most runners were sleeping, two participants began the Marathon at 2 a.m. to finish by the 3:30 p.m. deadline…walking. At the regular starting time, another 5,400 joined them, ages 7 to 78 years old, including 12 corporate teams, two wheelchair entrants and one blind runner.

October 21, 1984: Steve Jones, 2:08:05; Rosa Mota, 2:26:01 On what was supposed to be his deathbed with burns over 70 percent of his body, Ken Campbell was told that he would never walk again. He did walk again, and eventually he was able to run. Eighteen months after the accident, Campbell finished the Chicago Marathon in 3:37.

Due to a loss in sponsorship, there was no Marathon in 1987.  The Marathon was moved to May 8,1988 and called America’s Marathon/Chicago. This attracted Heileman Brewing Company as a sponsor and the Marathon returned as the Old Style Chicago Marathon on October 30 that same year.

October 28, 1990: Martin Pitayo, 2:09:41; Aurora Cunha, 2:30:11 Local resident Ann Clark enjoyed celebrity status as spectators applauded her finish. The 81-year-old from Carol Stream, IL, who didn’t take up running until age 64, finished in 5:46.

Starting and ending in Grant Park, the course winds through 29 of the city’s neighborhoods – each with their own personality.

October 31, 1993: Luiz Antonio Dos Santos, 2:13:14; Ritva Lemettinen, 2:33:18  34-degree temperatures and 12-degree wind chills greeted the 6,941 runners in the 16th Chicago Marathon on Halloween (the latest race date in Chicago’s history).

October 15, 1995: Eamonn Martin, 2:11:18; Ritva Lemettinen, 2:28:27  75-year-old Warren Utes of Park Forest, IL, set his seventh national age group record with his time of 3:18:07.

October 20, 1996: Paul Evans, 2:08:52; Marian Sutton, 2:30:41 The winners purse was $40,000 each. A long-term agreement was reached with sponsor, LaSalle Bank.

Runners vote on their favorite neighborhood. Last year the Loop and Boystown tied for first place with 23% of the votes each. Old Town was runner-up.

October 19, 1997: Khalid Khannouchi, 2:07:10. Marian Sutton, 2:29:03 This year’s race showed a new diversity, with all 50 states and 47 countries represented. The event awarded $300,000 in prize money and an additional $197,000 in time bonuses.

October 11,1998: Ondoro Osoro, 2:06:54; Joyce Chepchumba, 2:23:57 Race organizers debuted the ChampionChip timing system. The 17,731 starters (now an exact count thanks to the Chip) and 17,204 finishers (a 97 percent completion rate), including 40 wheelchair finishers, were all new Chicago records.

October 7, 2001: Ben Kimondiu, 2:08:52; Catherine Ndereba, 2:18:47 Ben Kimondiu – a pacesetter hired to push a fast pace for the first half of the race – decided to stay in the race and won. It was the first and only time in Chicago’s history that a pacer led from start to finish. The Chicago Tribune’s headline read, “This ‘rabbit’ took all of the carrots.”

Chicago Marathon Temperatures
2007 Chicago Marathon Temperatures

October 7, 2007: Patrick Ivuti, 2:11:11; Berhane Adere, 2:33:49 30th Anniversary Race The elite athletes as well as the mass of 36,000-plus runners were challenged by historic heat on the streets of Chicago. Temperatures soaring into the high 80s combined with high humidity forced organizers to halt the race for the first time in history.

Among the runners was unknown, first-time marathoner……me. Several aid stations ran out of water. Police Officers instructed runners to stop running or risk prosecution. Firemen sprayed their water hoses onto the course – drenching runners from head to toe. Aid stations started closing down. The timing system remained active and all runners who had passed the halfway point before the race was called, including myself, were allowed to finish…although thousands of runners who were taken from the course were not aware of this at the time.


October 9, 2011: Moses Mosop, 2:05:37; Liliya Shobukhova, 2:18:20 With 10,000 charity runners representing more than 160 nonprofit organizations, the Bank of America Chicago Marathon Charity Program netted an event record $13.4 million in fundraising, while the Marathon’s overall impact on the city also grew to $219 million.

October 13, 2013 This Sunday 30 elite male runners, three of which are making their marathon début, and 18 elite female runners will wake up, put on their running shoes and their personalized bib number, and position themselves at the starting line of one of the greatest marathons in the world. Maybe they will feel nervous, confident or anxious just like the other 44,952 runners who have also gotten up early to run, have read books about running, maybe written a blog about running, driven their spouse, friends or families crazy over running – all in an effort to be their very best over the 26.2 miles of this magical course.

We wish the very best for every runner at this starting line. Everyone is a champion at the Marathon!