How to pick a marathon and how I chose Chicago

By Becky Wade

July 22, 2017

Like approximately 507,599 other Americans this year, I’m gearing up for a marathon. And along with all 507,599 of them, I’m going to talk about it! For the next 11 weeks, I’ll be sharing bits and pieces of my Chicago Marathon preparation here at Citius Mag. Let’s begin with a few tips on the selection process, and how I landed on Chicago.

First things first, for those of you toying around with the idea: Are you ready for a marathon? I don’t mean whether you’re physically capable this moment of covering 26.2 miles by foot. I’m talking about your health, your motivation, and your readiness to do the work. If you’ve recently endured a string of stress fractures, or you really just want to spite your out-of-shape colleague who wore her finisher’s medal to the office for a week straight, be honest with yourself. Is running a marathon a good decision right now? Despite my fellow contributor’s beliefs, in my opinion, it usually is!

Assuming you’re in, the first step of choosing a marathon is to think about the timing—not just of the race itself, but also of the three to four months in advance that you’ll spend preparing. If you live somewhere like Atlanta or Phoenix, and aren’t a morning person, an early fall marathon probably isn’t your jam. Likewise, if you have a string of bachelor parties or work trips on your calendar, best plan around those. Because I raced the Houston Marathon this past January, then put in a fun spring season on the roads, fall seemed like a nice time to take on another marathon. That would allow me eight to ten months between major races, with the added benefit of training in Boulder’s amazing summer weather.

So you’ve identified a season for your race. Nice work! Now it’s time to choose the location. This usually boils down to three options: staying local, traveling domestic, or going abroad. If your hometown puts on a reputable race—think good competition, whiskey at mile 20, or a prize for anyone who beats a pro runner in a pancake suit—racing at home is a great option. Other reasons to stick around include having training partners you’ll be able to team up with or family obligations that can’t be easily scrapped. If any of those are the case, unfortunately you don’t have much say about the course. So embrace whatever makes your race a unique one, and take advantage of living close enough to the course to get a feel for it in advance.

If your schedule is more flexible and you’re hankering for some adventure (perhaps in the form of a “race-cation,” as the kids call it), go ahead and expand your scope to the rest of the country and beyond. With many more options for host cities, you’re now in a position to consider the course too. Are you a strong hill runner? Chasing a PR? Eager to check Big Sur, Twin Cities, or Thailand off your list? There’s a race for that. Knowing that I wanted my next race to be one of the six World Marathon Majors, I had three options for the fall: Berlin, Chicago and New York (in that order). Of them, Berlin is the flattest and the fastest, but also requires international travel and acclimation; Chicago, also flat, is less reliable weather-wise, but has a great reputation and is on American soil; and New York is a monster of a race, with major hills, deafening crowds and a chance of both wind and rain. My last three marathons have been in a lot of heat, humidity, or both, so I was eager to find a typically fast course with great competition. It also made sense to attack my first Major without adding international travel to the already daunting cocktail of variables that goes with each marathon. Considering all of that… Chicago it is!

So that’s where I’ll be on October 8. Until then, I’ll be logging lots of miles (yes, probably more than you drive) and checking in here periodically. If you have any questions about my approach, I’d love to hear them. Find me on Instagram at @beckyswade and Twitter at @bexwade89.

Becky Wade

Native Texan, Rice University grad, Colorado transplant. Specializing in the 3K Steeplechase and Marathon. Author of “Run the World: My 3,500-Mile Journey Through Running Cultures Around the Globe,” which is available on Amazon and wherever else you get your books.