Pro Tips for the Chicago Marathon

October 08, 2019

Let us introduce Suzanne Leach, general badass who takes no crap. She ran in college at Kentucky (she’d be mad if we didn’t throw her a “C-A-T-S CATS CATS CATS!” chant). She was an intern at Nike  and she worked at Legends, a run specialty store in Owensboro, Kentucky. She went back to grad school to become a Physical Therapist and coached high school cross country in Owensboro KY while in school. 


We sat down with Suzanne and asked her a few questions about running the Chicago Marathon. She gave some great pro tips for runners and spectators!

What's unique about the race (especially compared to NYC & Boston)?

- I have raced Chicago once in 2011 and spectated on 3 or 4 occasions. For me, it’s the spectators that make this race special. Even at Boston, there are sections of ground where the cheering sections may by sparse, but at Chicago, I feel like there is ALWAYS a crowd as the entire course winds within the city. With the downtown start and finish, there’s just a buzz that a normal race course doesn’t offer.

What was the weather like the year you ran it (we know Chi weather can be crazy)?

- Temps were nice in the morning; that perfect blend “I need to wear something to the start line other than my race gear” and “but it can be this old sweatshirt I’m cool with leaving here.” By the early morning know the pavement was toasty, but nothing like the year after when they had to cut racers short.  Overall, I felt like it was a good day for racing, but I was glad I worked on hydrating leading up to the race. Grant it, I’m from the southeast, so the bulk of my long runs had occurred in what felt like a fish tank next to the sun between the humidity and high temps.

What was your favorite part?

- My favorite part was definitely the crowds. There are a few sections within the first half of the race where the roar of the crowd literally drowns out all other sounds. I remember around mile 5 trying to talk to a friend of mine running beside me and we literally couldn’t hear each other. It was awesome!

What was the hardest part?

- The ever so slight incline, aka Mt. Everest, that is the bridge around mile 26 to take you to the finish line. Don’t let anyone tell you Chicago isn’t hilly. (Sarcasm alert.)

Any tips for course management?

- Be sure to stay hydrated. I feel like if you catch a cool day, fall marathons can trick people into thinking they’re safe to skip that water stop. And read this: Go. Out. Slow. I was told once that for every 10 seconds per mile you run too fast in any mile in the first 10, it will cost you 1 minute per mile somewhere in the last few. I think this is SO true and an easy trick to fall into with Chicago. Unless you’re a pro, the crowd is going to slow you down a little early, so use this to your advantage. Especially for you first timers in the back... Repeat: you can’t go out too slow in a marathon.


Any advice for traveling to the race and/or packing for the race? (doesn't have to be specific to CHI, could be just Marathons in General)

- If traveling in from out of town, or taking car in general (or Uber/Lyft) allow time for traffic changes getting into the expo. Plan out in advance how you plan to tackle getting to the start line and where to meet your admiring fans after. Not-so-pro-tip-but-still-a-good-tip: Buckingham Fountain in Grant Park is a great meeting spot for after. Or meet at Relish Chicago Hot Dogs. Do you.

Physical Therapy:

Any advice or tips you'd like to give people?

- My advice as a PT is no different than my advice as a long-term runner and coach. Race day isn’t the day to change your routine. Stick to what has got you here and what you have practiced. I took a bunch of NSAID’s due to a nagging hip injury prior to Boston (something I’d never done before) and...let’s just say my digestive system wasn’t the same for a week. Do what you know. But also...remember the number one predictor for a new injury, is a previous injury. So if you’re heading to the start line at anything below 100%, I’ll just say, be smart and know the risks.

If there's one thing a runner can do to help prepare or recover, what would it be?

- I have a magic pill I would like to share with everyone for the best prep and recovery. It’s backed by a ton of scientific research and it’s affordable. SLEEP!!! Going into race day this is key for obvious reasons, but for recovery it’s huge too. Allow yourself some time to unwind and recover after race day. This means not jumping in the car and driving home immediately after, but it also means maybe not jumping into your next workout or race too soon either. The marathon,’s a marathon. It takes some time to recover. You ain’t superman/woman. Even if you think you are right now. Rest! Your body will thank you later.

How does hydration impact your race - both during and preparing for?

- With regard to hydration, I can’t emphasize enough that if you’ve never snagged a little water cup on the run, it might be worth practicing. You’re likely not drinking as much as you think (since half of your Gatorade just went on that new singlet, champ) so be prepared to maybe drink more than you think or if you’ve practiced with it, carry your own hydration or have a friend ready to toss you a bottle...and of course retrieve it for you so you’re not a liter bug.

How many marathons & which ones have you done?

- I did two marathons: Chicago and Boston then I hung up my marathon hat to focus on coaching cross country and eventually go back to school. We’ll see if the bug bites me again but after spectating several around the  Southeast and Midwest US, I can’t imagine a better race than Chicago.


Pro Tips for spectators/support:

These are good “fuel” spots to send family/friends who are meeting you with nutrition and a good way for them to know if they’re in the right spots – these are the GPS pins for them. They are close enough together that your spectators can go between spots and make it in time to meet your runner!





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