Chicago Marathon Registration: How To Get In

Chicago Marathon registration.  Changes about as often as the weather here, right?  Not really, I guess it just changes annually.  There are quite a few ways you can gain entry to the Chicago Marathon so read on to find out how!

As many of you probably know, I love the Chicago Marathon.  It wasn’t my first marathon, but it is my hometown marathon.  (Apologies to Cincinnati, my other “hometown.”)

Up until a few years ago, Chicago Marathon registration was open until it filled to capacity.  And some years that took over a month.  Then in 2012, it filled in like 4 days.  Then in 2013, the system crashed when registration opened because everyone tried to register at once.  I was one of those people and luckily managed to get in.



I have only actually run the race twice, officially.  I was registered each of the past 2 years, but had to drop out of each due to injury.  During my junior and senior years of high school, my cross country team volunteered at a water station.  (And an elite took my water, btw.)  Then in college, it always worked out that I was home for fall break during Chicago Marathon weekend.  So I got to jump in and run with Catherine for a few miles one year :)  And jump in and just run a few miles the following year, mainly to practice running through a water stop for my upcoming first marathon (Columbus in 2010.)  I know that’s generally frowned upon, especially more so recently with heightened security measures.

Anyways, yeah I love the Chicago Marathon.  And I’m lucky in the sense that I can manage to get in through time qualification.  But lotteries suck.  So here I decided to write out the pros and cons of each Chicago Marathon registration option.  OK, maybe not EVERY way, because I know there are some “special” entries for people who work from sponsor companies, select members of the CARA running group, and elites of course.  But here are the Chicago Marathon registration options for the common (wo)man:

Lottery: Sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do and hope for the best.

Pros: Simple.

Cons: Complete chance; playing the waiting game; putting your life (don’t lie, marathons are your life) in the hands of “The Man.”

Seriously though, I wonder what system they use to “draw” winners.  My guess is all are assigned a number and then run through a system that randomly spits out a certain number of entries.  But I do wonder if there is any weight given to factors like your location (NYC Marathon gives a larger number of entries to NY residents)?  Or do they do a separate drawing for males and females to keep it even.  Chance drawings should come up with a fairly even result given the laws of statistics, but you never know.

If you are interested in entering the Chicago Marathon lottery this year, head here and register by April 12!! (Update for 2017: apply by November 29!)

Time Qualification: Survival of the fittest.  Literally.

Pros: If you have seen success in your running, you are rewarded.  Chicago is (currently) a more lax qualification standard than Boston and New York (the other World Marathon majors in the US), but that’s not to say it’s easy to meet.

Cons: Given the more lax standards that Boston, if the race does continue to grow in popularity, more spots are likely to be taken up by time qualifiers and less available for the lottery.

For details on the standards by gender and age, head here and see if you qualify!

Charity: Do good and good will come to you.

Pros: You are raising money for a good cause, hopefully one that you care about.  I ran for a charity in 2013 (by choice, not because I needed a way in) and I liked it because as part of this group, we got access to a training group comprised of a few other smaller charity groups and “non-affiliated” runners who just wanted to work with this coach.

Cons: The actual raising of money could be rough.  I was lucky that I had so many generous friends and family that donated to my fundraiser.  However, if I was going to do it again, I’d try to think of something more creative to raise the money.

There are SO many charities you can choose to run for!  Browse the charities here!  If you are interested in running the Chicago Marathon for the Imerman Angels charity, please let me know and I can get you in contact with a friend from work who is on their board.  This unique charity pairs individuals going through cancer with a survivor of the same type of cancer, who fought during the same stage in life.  Oh, and these services are 100% free, which is why you know for sure the money you help raise will be making an impact!

Also, if I never did it through a charity (benifitting Old St. Patrick’s Church), I would not have met my wonderful friend and training partner that summer, Mac!!


Deferment: The best gift in life is a second chance.

Pros: If you got injured or something came up last year and you declared to defer your entry by a certain date (I think sometime in August), you can bypass the lottery.

Cons: You still have to pay the entry fee again.

Legacy: Persistence pays.

Pros: It’s like a loyalty shopping program for marathon runners.  If you ran the Chicago Marathon in 5 of the past 10 years, you can get guaranteed entry as a legacy runner.  If you keep timing it right, you can probably keep up this guaranteed entry method for awhile.

Cons: Even if you were signed up for the Chicago Marathon, but did not finish, that doesn’t count.  That’s my issue because I’m currently at being registered during 2011, 2013, 2014, and 2015, but only actually finished in 2011 and 2013.  So I wouldn’t qualify this way.  But I’ve had fun working the Sweaty Bands booth at the expo those 2 years at least!


By the way, if you would like to buy Sweaty Bands and you click through my link, you will a 15% off discount code!

How are you going to get into the Chicago Marathon this year?

Are you hating that so many marathons are going to the lottery system?  I am.  Sometimes I don’t plan that far ahead.  Yes, I need to plan at least like 16 weeks ahead of a marathon, but these lotteries often occur many weeks before that.  And what if you want to run with a few friends, or even just one friend, and one or a few of you don’t get a spot.

What is your favorite booth to visit at the expo?


2 Thoughts on “Chicago Marathon Registration: How To Get In

  1. I was present for the purchasing of that Elmo balloon.

  2. Cheryl on March 18, 2016 at 7:35 pm said:

    What a fun post to read! Answer to your expo question – Sweaty Bands of course! Also, KeySmart!

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