The 2021 Bank of America Chicago Marathon is set to take place this weekend, and a crowded field of elite athletes will hope to make some history on the streets of the Windy City.
This year’s race is being embraced by organizers, competitors and fans after COVID-19 caused last year’s race to switch to a virtual format, and when the starting gun fires Sunday morning, more than 35,000 racers will hit the course.
Here are some of the top storylines we’re watching as we head into race weekend.
COVID’s Impacts on the Race, Field
After coronavirus caused last year’s race to move to a virtual format, this year’s event will be back on the streets of Chicago, and organizers couldn’t be happier.
“This is as good as it gets,” executive race director Carey Pinkowski says. “We continue with our baseline strategy of making sure this event is safe and secure for all of our participants. The city of Chicago, and the department of health, have been great.”
All runners in this year’s race will be required to either present proof of a negative COVID test, taken within 72 hours of the marathon, or to show proof of COVID vaccination.
Even still, Pinkowski says that more than 35,000 runners will take part in this year’s race, and organizers are thrilled to be back in the city for the marathon.
Could Heat and Humidity Impact the Race?
Chicago has been going through a period of above-average low temperatures, and when runners approach the starting line on Sunday, they’re going to have to deal with some adverse conditions.
According to forecast models, temperatures are expected to already be in the mid-to-upper 60s when runners start the race at 7 a.m. Dew points are also expected to be quite high, meaning that the race will be run in humid conditions.
Highs are expected to climb into the upper-70s or low-80s.
Runners are being encouraged to drink plenty of fluids, and different foods and supplements will be available to runners as a result of the warm and humid conditions.
Galen Rupp Returns to Chicago Hoping for Another Strong Run
The 2017 Chicago Marathon champion is back again, and this time he’s hoping to continue a recent streak of strong runs in big races.
Rupp, who underwent Achilles tendon surgery in 2018 and did not finish the 2019 edition of the marathon, won the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, and then finished in eighth place during the Tokyo Olympics earlier this summer. He also finished in eighth place in the U.S. 10-kilometer Road Running Championships on the Fourth of July.
Sara Hall Sets Aggressive Goals for Chicago
Every morning when Flagstaff, Arizona-native Sara Hall wakes up, she’s greeted by a message written on her bathroom mirror:
“American marathon record-holder.”
That’s the goal Hall has set for herself in Chicago this October. The current American record for fastest marathon run by a woman is 2:19:36, set in 2006 by Deena Kastor.
Hall is hoping to break that record in Chicago.
“When I thought about where I wanted to chase the American record, I thought it would be more exciting to do it at home, in the U.S., and Chicago is such an epic race,” she told race organizers.
Shalane Flanagan to Showcase the Challenges, Opportunities of a Condensed Schedule
This year’s Abbott World Marathon Majors are condensed into a tight six-week window thanks to COVID issues earlier in the year, but that’s not stopping Flanagan from trying to achieve an incredible feat.
She has already run marathons in both Berlin, where she finished in 2:38:32 on Sept. 26, and in London, where she finished in 2:35:04 over the weekend.
Now, she’s heading to the United States to do something truly remarkable. On Sunday, she will race in the Chicago Marathon, and then she’ll fly to Boston, where she’ll compete in the Boston Marathon on Monday.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, Flanagan plans to run in the New York City Marathon on Nov. 7, and to add a sixth race to the mix to replace the delayed Tokyo Marathon.
That would give her six race finishes in a span of seven weeks, a truly remarkable achievement for someone who had previously retired from competitive running.
Tatyana McFadden, Daniel Romanchuk and the Champaign Squad Look to Make Noise
One of the more interesting stories in the Chicago Marathon each year is the incredible dominance of a group of talented wheelchair racers that have established their home base in Champaign, Illinois, and that group will hope to make some noise again this year.
Tatyana McFadden headlines that list, with a staggering eight Chicago Marathon titles under her belt and a slew of other accomplishments, including winning three medals in this summer's Paralympics in Tokyo.
After winning seven straight Chicago Marathons, McFadden has finished seventh and second in the last two races, and she’ll try to get back on the podium this time around.
Amanda McGrory also has a bunch of high finishes in Chicago, including three titles, and she’ll be looking to improve on her third-place finish in the 2019 race.
Yen Hoang, an alum of the University of Illinois, will be competing in her third Chicago Marathon, with seventh and 12th-place finishes to her credit in her previous two races in the Windy City.
In the men’s wheelchair race, the Champaign connection is improbably even stronger. Daniel Romanchuk is the two-time defending champion in the race, putting up a blistering 1:30:26 in the 2019 race. He is also a former winner of marathons in Boston and London, and is widely regarded as one of the top athletes in the history of the sport.
Brian Siemann has competed in every Chicago Marathon since 2010, putting up a fifth-place finish in 2013. Gyu Dae Kim from South Korea has four top-ten finishes in Chicago, while Aaron Pike has 10 top-ten finishes in Chicago, including back-to-back sixth place finishes in 2018 and 2019.
James Senbeta rounds out the incredible Champaign crew, with two top-ten finishes in Chicago to his credit.
Keira D’Amato Marks Another Milestone in Her Incredible Comeback
The 36-year-old from Richmond, Virginia has put up some impressive race times in her career, including a 32:16.8 in this year’s Trials of Miles 10,000-meter race, but her story of how she got to the starting line in Chicago is just as remarkable.
As an NCAA Division I runner, D’Amato was forced to undergo surgery to repair a nagging ankle injury, and after that she took a seven-year break from the sport, according to race organizers.
During that time, she got married, had two children and built a successful career in real estate, but her love of running was always there, and she decided to give the sport a try again.
Since then, she has put up some blistering times, including a personal-best 2:22:56 in The Marathon Project in Dec. 2020. She’ll hope to build on that when she competes in Chicago for the first time this weekend.