CHICAGO - The 44th Bank of America Chicago Marathon will be held on Sunday. This year, 40,000 runners will participate in the world-class event with more than one million spectators taking it all in from the sidelines.
On Thursday, the weekend festivities kicked off at McCormick Place during the Abbott Health and Fitness Expo.
"We have got runners not only from all 50 wards in Chicago and we also have volunteers from all 50 wards, we've got people coming in from all 50 states and a hundred countries," said Rita Sola Cook, president, Bank of America Chicago.
Runners began picking up their race packets Thursday morning. Also at the expo, which is free and open to the public, the latest footwear, merchandise and running technology was on display.
The expo will be open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.
"This is my first marathon, I’m so excited!" said Beautiful-Joy Fields.
Participants, like Fields, have trained for months – putting their mental and physical abilities to the test.
"You're right at the finish line, which is really the start line," Fields said of these final days leading up to the race
Fields has always enjoyed cheering for runners during the Bank of America Chicago Marathon, but this year, she decided to run the race – for a good cause. She will take on 26.2 miles with GRIP Outreach for Youth in mind.
First-timers and experienced runners alike will take to the city’s streets.
"I remember at the end of it, I was like, I’m not going to do this anymore and here I am," said Lydia Morales, who ran the Chicago Marathon in 2019 and is running it again on Sunday.
Morales is running for World Vision – a humanitarian organization that helps communities overcome poverty and injustice.
"Before you take off, you get the jitters and it just feels good to be surrounded by people and a lot of them, we have a different charity that we’re rooting for and working for, it’s exciting," said Morales.
One-third of this year's runners live outside of the U.S.
"This year, I’m doing the four marathons in six weeks challenge," said David Yim.
Yim is from London and last weekend, ran his hometown marathon. The week before, he logged his personal best at the Berlin Marathon. Three weeks after the Chicago Marathon, he'll take on another 26.2 miles – in the Big Apple. His purpose, he says, is to support Young Lives vs Cancer.
"Fifty percent is the training, 16-week training block, you've just got to get through it, but half of it is in here on the day," Yim said as he pointed to his head. "Because you’ve trained for it, right, so physically you can do it, but it’s whether or not you can stick with it for that amount of time."
Meanwhile, there's a new division sparking plenty of talk among runners. It’s the addition of non-binary athletes.
To help make this happen, the Chicago Marathon brought in Jake Fedorowski who wrote a guide on this exact topic and works with race directors on ensuring that once they sign up, non-binary athletes feel included from start to finish.
"There's a whole list of things you have to address. It's a whole process to make sure that once you're inviting those folks in, once you announce that division, once you have those folks coming to your event, you have a responsibility to make sure they're safe, they're celebrated and they can bring their full selves to the starting line," Fedorowski said.
Unlike the male and female divisions, there is no monetary prize for those who are running in this category. Fedorowski says that's because it's not been recognized as an elite category by World Athletics.
Things will kick off at Grant Park at 7:20 a.m. on Sunday, but preparations are already well underway. You may have already seen fencing, tents and barricades placed in and around Grant Park. You are encouraged to take note of additional road closures across the city this weekend.
For the official Bank of America Chicago Marathon program, click HERE.