The sun peeked over Lake Michigan at around 6:50 a.m. this morning as volunteers filled tiny Gatorade cups along Inner Lake Shore Drive and “What is Love” sounded over a loudspeaker.
The Chicago Marathon, one of the six marathon majors in the world, has begun and will take more than 40,000 runners through the spectator-lined streets of the Windy City.
Beginning and ending in Grant Park, the course goes through 29 neighborhoods, as far north as Uptown and all the way down to Bronzeville.
The marathon is known for its flat track and fast times. Four world records have been set on the course. And this year, the marathon is making history by introducing its first nonbinary division.
From humble, sub-26.2 mile origins, the Chicago Marathon today brings athletes to the city from around the world. It’s been canceled only twice since it began in 1977, first in 1987 due to insufficient funding and then in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This morning, participants started in multiple waves, beginning with the men’s wheelchair wave at 7:20 a.m. The last wave started at 8:35 a.m.
As racers passed Drummond Place on Clark Street, one runner shouted, “Who’s got a Chicago Handshake ready?” as the crowd cheered.
Meanwhile, on Sedgwick Street, racers were serenaded by a five-piece band playing folk music. Neon signs read “Go random stranger, go” and “If I see you collapse I will pause your Garmin.”
The course is dotted with aid stations, including one just before mile nine marker, where two stages are covered in rainbow streamers and an LGBTQ flag. This station features the Frontrunners/Frontwalkers of Chicago, an LGBTQ running and walking club.
Every year, members perform for racers passing by. This year’s theme is “Grease.”
Lindsey Carden, one of the members who is performing as Rizzo, said the group will do two dances, with only one rehearsal under their belt.
But Carden is not fazed.
“The fact that I just get to give them a smile,” Carden said. “Once they turn that corner, and they hear this music, and then they see us looking like idiots — none of us are professional dancers — but we are doing our best and they see that.”
Their first performance of “You’re The One That I Want” started at around 7:45 a.m. as the first wheelchair racer passed.
The weather is forecast to be warm, breezy and sunny, starting at a low of 40 degrees at 6 a.m., before steadily rising throughout the morning, reaching a high of 65 degrees by 3 p.m.
Roads on the course closed at 7 a.m. Sunday and stagger reopening throughout the day as racers pass by, starting in the Loop at 10 a.m. To get around the city today, avoid local roads and take Jean Baptiste Point DuSable Lake Shore Drive and expressways, such as I-90/94, I-290 and I-55.
All roads inside Grant Park closed Thursday evening and are set to reopen Sunday night. All roads will open by 6 a.m. on Monday.
This year, the marathon welcomed 70 nonbinary racers, said Jake Fedorowski, an advocate, runner and consultant to the marathon.
Last fall, Fedorowski started a project to create a comprehensive guide to nonbinary inclusion in running, developing a website and sharing their insights across social media. They said the inspiration for this work came from deciding they would no longer participate in races that only offered men’s and women’s categories.
“I was done paying money to be misgendered,” Fedorowski said.
Emboldened by the successes of races like the Philadelphia Distance Run, they realized it was possible to create an option outside of the traditional gender options sports have always been based on. They created a public spreadsheet to track races that offered a nonbinary division and began reaching out to notable races to offer their services, including the Chicago Marathon.
Fedorowski learned that the Chicago Marathon was already set to offer a nonbinary division for 2022 due to a decision by its management company, Chicago Event Management. However, this division is only for the general population and not the elite divisions.
Cal Calamia, 26, will run the Chicago Marathon for the third time today. Previously, they had registered as female, but when they were checking their account this year, they realized there was a nonbinary option. For Calamia, races had always been stressful, from the registration process to the gendered language used throughout the event. But this year, the Grayslake native feels like they get to run this course authentically for the first time.
However, several nonbinary runners have criticized the quiet addition of the division, since there was no public announcement of the option, including Calamia.
“To have the support of the marathon that’s public that says ‘We’re proud of this category, we stand behind the decision we made to have this category’ — that is what it takes to protect us,” they said.
Cade Gruendl, 30, a co-president of Frontrunners/Frontwalkers, said they are excited the marathon offered this division.
“I think we can celebrate this as very momentous, very recognizable to the community, but also note that this wasn’t made to be as momentous as it is,” they said.
Fedorowski said making an announcement is an act of inviting nonbinary racers into this space, which first needs to be safe, affirming and welcoming. Having a different box to check on an application is only the beginning.
The Chicago Marathon said in a statement that it is excited to introduce the nonbinary division and recognizes the chance for more dialogue.
“Discussions are ongoing with nonbinary participants and leaders within our sport to work together towards our goal of creating more inclusive event experiences,” the statement reads.
Fedorowski’s goal this first year is to ensure race day is a positive experience for all participants. As a consultant, they led internal presentations and trainings over the past few months to ensure volunteers and event staff are welcoming. Some topics they’ve focused on include ensuring the use of gender-inclusive language and planning for equitable representation of participants on social media platforms.
Whenever Fedorowski runs a race, they wear the yellow, white, purple and black nonbinary flag around their neck. This summer, as they crossed one finish line, they saw a spectator clapping and shouting in support.
“Just seeing that one person get excited by that representation is really what keeps me going,” they said. “It’s really not for me, it’s creating a space so that the next nonbinary person that comes through doesn’t have to do that, they can just show up as their full authentic self.”
With the warm weather and Chicago’s signature fast course, several elite athletes had records on their minds headed into the race.
This year’s first finisher was men’s wheelchair racer Marcel Hug, who set an unofficial course record of 1:25:20. Susannah Scaroni, an alum of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, won the women’s wheelchair race in 1:45:48.
The finish marks Scaroni’s first win in a marathon major and is a sign of an impressive recovery. She was hit by a car while training just over a year ago.
“I now have this unshakable appreciation to be alive, which translates into the road,” Scaroni said at the Friday news conference. “I’m so thankful I get to be here and race.”
Benson Kipruto of Kenya won the men’s race in 2:04:24, while Ruth Chepngetich of Kenya grabbed her second consecutive Chicago Marathon win, finishing the women’s race with the second fastest time ever at 2:14:18.
Emily Sisson came in second in the women’s race, setting an unofficial American record of 2:18:29.
The race also marks Jason DePetris’ return to Chicago.
The 44-year-old from Southern California was set to run the marathon in 2019. The day before the race, he went to a restaurant with his family, and his left hand went numb. His mom said his face was drooping, and he started to drag his leg as he walked. He was transported to the hospital and told he was having a stroke, later discovered to be due to a brain aneurysm.
After a yearslong winding path to recovery, he was able to start running again last year.
“I feel like this will be me kind of taking my life back,” he said of his participation in today’s race.
To DePetris, this race represents persistence, refusing to give up no matter how much you want to — something that is naturally analogous to recovery, he said.
“To me, it’s all about what can I do with the ability that I have,” he said.
Cheering him on along the course will be Dr. Babak Jahromi, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Medicine who treated DePetris three years ago.
“The absolute hero of this story is Jason,” Jahromi said. “It’s a testament to his personal power and the tremendous family support he has, and it’s going to be great seeing him crossing the line.”