Chicago for Marathoners

It's coming. Not winter. Well...winter is coming. But this is bigger. The thing thousands of us have been training/half training for, for the better part of the spring and summer: the Chicago Marathon.

Chicago Marathon weekend is almost here. I'm still fairly new to Chicago, but I want to share a few "must do" things for my fellow marathoners visiting from around the country and world, from getting a transit pass to finding a heavy poured shot of Malort.

Buy a Ventra Card

A CTA pass, also known as a Ventra card, is your friend. You have a few options on how to load it, but I’d recommend a 3-Day pass for the weekend. You can use it as much as you want in that time for a set fee. They’re even making sweet Chicago Marathon themed cards. You can snag one HERE, or they can be purchased in L stations and at Walgreens.

Download a Rideshare App

Lyft, Via, and Uber are also your friends. If you don’t have an account, comment and let me know so you can use my codes to get free or discounted rides. Uber and Lyft offer both private cars and shared rides, while Via is exclusively shared (kinda. They added private cars but that defeats the purpose of Via) and is ultra cheap. We’re talking $4 per ride anywhere within the ride zone cheap…the catch is that it takes you corner to corner, within two blocks of your current location and destination.

Download Google Maps

I've seen a lot of people asking about directions to hotels/corrals/etc. and I wanted to take a second to tell you what gets myself (and most of my friends) who live in Chicago from Point A to B: Google Maps. There's a little Bus/Trolley/Train/Thing icon that will give you public transit directions, which include UP TO DATE arrival times based on the bus and train GPS signals, as well as any transfers and walking, all in one, easy to read spot. It even tells you the direction for trains (directions are always a destination, not a cardinal direction. So Howard and 95th for the Red Line, rather than North and South) and how many stops are between where you get on and off for both trains and buses. Just put in your hotel (you can even do it by name) and then set "Grant Park" as your end spot--that will be close, but not exact.

Add about 15 to 20 minutes onto the time Google gives you on race morning to account for any security or backups. I usually leave a half an hour earlier than what Google tells me will get me there on time.

So for example, if I check as I'm getting ready for work and Google tells me an estimate based on current bus positions that it will be 25 minutes to my office and I want to arrive at 9, I'll leave at 8:15/8:20 just to allow for traffic, construction, etc etc.

It really does work. I use it every single day. If you just want to track public transit, I use the app "Transit Stop" for buses and "QuickTrain" for trains. Their logos in the app store look like variations of the CTA logo (which you can find on google).

This will be a great way to get to the race on race day, but also is a great way to get to some fantastic places I'm going to list for you below! All of them can be searched by name on Google Maps--no address required!

Catch a Fun Fitness Class

You don’t HAVE to come to my Friday morning CycleBar class…but I’d love to see you if you’re in town! You can sign up the Friday before :) 

My class aside, I highly recommend hitting up a local yoga or relaxation studio! I’ve got a few recommendations for you below:

  • Thursday, October 5 at 7pm - Sound Meditation at Anatomy Redefined: Let the sound of singing bowls and gongs lull you into a sense of serenity, or in my case, sleep.
  • Friday, October 6 at 4:30 OR 5:30pm - Cycle 45 with Sayre at Studio Three: If you’re in town too late to ride with me at CycleBar, I highly recommend Sayre at Studio Three. She’s got quite the Indoor Cycling Pedigree, a great attitude, and awesome tunes. This studio uses Peloton bikes. It’s pretty rad.
  • Friday, October 6 at 8pm - Deep Release: Yin-Restore Yoga with Stephanie at Studio Three: Nothing to get you centered and ready for a hectic weekend quite like a restorative yoga class. Get in there, sweat it out a bit, and relax. Ahhhhh.
  • Saturday, October 7 at Noon - Vinyasa with Lauren Bellagamba at Y6: Yoga Six Gold Coast has a beautiful studio, and Lauren, a former runner, will help you power through those pre-race jitters and stretch it out pre-race.
  • Saturday, October 7 at 3pm - Breath with Alma Omeralovic at Chill: "You know what’s great about your breath? Besides keeping you alive, we love its reliability. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s always right there with you. Using that handy, built-in constant as an anchor, these classes are rooted in the incredibly practical practice of paying attention to the present moment.”
  • Saturday, October 7 at 9:45am - Hi-Def with Elli G. at Studio Three: Hi-Def classes are amazing. They combine a bodyweight workout with yoga to get you feeling limber AND strong. Elli is great and always has fantastic music.

Studio sign-up links:

  • Studio Three signups are HERE and go live the Sunday PRIOR to the class.
  • Yoga Six Signups are HERE and go live the week before the class
  • CycleBar signups are HERE and go like the FRIDAY prior to the class.
  • Chill signups are HERE

Snag a Healthy, Green Bite to Eat

Chicago has recently become a mecca of healthy food options. It's not quite up there with LA yet, but we're trying. There are five restaurants in particular you should try out:

  • True Food Kitchen - Located in River North close to a lot of the popular marathon hotels, this chain features local, organic ingredients, even in their cocktails! They have fantastic wraps and sandwiches as well as fancier items.
  • Left Coast Food River North - An excellent salad, wrap, smoothie and juice stop with a huge patio also located in River North, a short walk from a lot of the popular marathon hotels.
  • Bad Hunter - If you're a vegetarian, this is a must-eat location. This restaurant caters to the vegetarian and vegan crowd but has amazing, creative dishes that even your omnivore companions will love. Located on Randolph Restaurant Row in the West Loop, you'll need a cab or rideshare to get to this one, or you can take the Red Line to the Green Line. 
  • Sweetgreen - Another chain, but one worth stopping by if you love creative salads and bowls!
  • Real Good Juice (Old Town) - A local Chicago juice shop showcasing local produce and seasonal juices, smoothies and bowls. Highly recommend Sweet Dreams of Falkor!

Carb Load

Man oh man, do you have options here. Chicago loves its pizza, and guess what pizza places are: Italian. And they usually serve pasta. I'm personally hitting up Nando's Peri Peri for a bunch of mashed potatoes smothered in Garlic Peri Peri sauce for my carb load, but I've pulled in a few other options with varying price ranges below!

  • Nando's Peri Peri (Streeterville) - A national Brazilian chain with locations throughout the city, including one on Ontario right by Michigan Ave. Not that I go there all the time (read: I'm there constantly). They serve chicken primarily, but I go for their red skinned mashed potatoes and hummus with Peri Peri Drizzle. I'll be topping this off with Dole Whip (which I had previously only seen in Disney World) the night before the race.
  • Carmine's - Family-style Italian. Expect plates of pasta the size of your torso. What could go wrong? This one is a bit pricier and you should make a reservation on Open Table. Enjoy the range of fancy cars valet parked out front, because this restaurant is in the heart of the Viagra Triangle, an area notorious for older, wealthy men attempting to pick up much younger women. It makes for excellent people watching to go with your dinner.
  • Labriola - A bit of a tourist trap, this one might take you some time to get into. That said, the food is pretty good and the portion sizes are perfect for carb loading!
  • Furious Spoon Ramen - Oh yeah. This one is quite a hike but you will NOT regret it. Located in Wicker Park, their classic "The Furious" is my favorite ramen in the city and for $13, you get a TON of it.
  • Lou Malnati's (Gold Coast) - This location is new and large but I still recommend a reservation. In addition to their famous deep dish, their pasta is pretty fantastic.

Explore Chicago for Cheap (or free!)

You've spent enough money getting here and you're going to spend a small mortgage at the expo, don't waste too much money seeing Chicago, because there is PLENTY to do and see for free!

  • Shakeout Run Along the Lake - Take your time and jog the lakefront path. It's safe and removed from cars, and completely beautiful!
  • Lincoln Park Zoo - Chicago has a FREE zoo! A nice one! Check out the Lincoln Park Zoo while you're here. This is a great option if you have kids as well. You can walk there through the park (it's about a mile from North Avenue) or take public transit.
  • Snag a Drink at the Signature Lounge - It's the best view of the city and it's free to see. Go up to the Signature Lounge for a mocktail and some appetizers Friday night (or Sunday after the race!). The Signature Lounge is located in the Hancock Building on the Mag Mile.
  • Architecture Tour - This is the only pricey thing on here but I swear it's worth it. It's $49 and takes you on a beautiful cruise of the Chicago River and is put on by the architecture society. Chicago is known for its world-class architecture and in my opinion, it really shines at night. 
  • Explore the River Walk - The newly completely Chicago Riverwalk runs along the river in the Loop and passes along small parks and sidewalk restaurants. I highly recommend City Winery for a post-marathon celebration!

Shakeout Run Options 

I have a new post that shares all of this! 


You've got a lot of awesome options for recovery. On Monday, October 9, you will find me doing contrast baths and recovery boots at EDGE Athlete Lounge. (Feel free to meet me there!) But for those of you more about pure relaxation and less about torturing yourself in an ice bath, I've found a few ideas for you.

  • Exhale Spa - In addition to classic spa services like massage and facials, you can use a steam room and even take yoga classes after! (Clicking the name leads you to the Gilt City discount page!)
  • Spa at the Wit - I haven't been here, but I have heard amazing things, and it's conveniently located in the Loop! I would definitely book this and the next option below this ahead of time, as they're both popular hotels for marathoners.
  • Bliss Spa at the W Lakeshore - I LOVED the massage I got here. It was fantastic, the products smelled amazing, and I left feeling limber and relaxed. I highly recommend it and sometimes it ends up on groupon!
  • The Spa at Palmer House - Another prestigious spa, Gilt City has three deals right now and they're all fantastic, including a Spa Day package for $148. 
  • Chicago CryoSpa - I know, it's not exactly relaxing but it does promote recovery! And Gilt City has a great deal on it now as well, and has a special package for Marathon Recovery.
  • Delos Therapy - I have personally had them work on my quads several times at events, and have been so pleased. I'm planning on heading to them soon after the marathon! Highly recommend them.

Is there something I missed?

If you own the copyright to this photo and would like me to remove, please let me know. I've been searching for the copyright owner and licensing and can't find it. However, I am not profitting from this post and am an individual, not a business.

If you own the copyright to this photo and would like me to remove, please let me know. I've been searching for the copyright owner and licensing and can't find it. However, I am not profitting from this post and am an individual, not a business.

This post has gotten way out of hand already, and is a lot to digest, so I'm going to end this here. Do you have a specific question about Chicago, something posted here, or something I missed? Comment below! I'll update with the shakeout runs as the time gets closer!