Most notably known for being home to one of the six World Major Marathons, the Prairie State offers the 26.2 in both the streets of the Windy City and the rural countryside. Based on reviews, here are the ones runners deemed the best.
Bank of America Chicago Marathon
One of three World Major Marathons in the U.S., the Chicago Marathon attracts world-class athletes and one of the largest fields — 45,000 runners that come from all 50 states and more than 100 countries. Because of the high demand, there’s guaranteed and non-guaranteed entry. Check the website for more information.
Starting and finishing in Grant Park near Lake Michigan, Chicago’s known for its flat, fast course, which has helped produce four world records and several national records. The course takes marathoners through 29 Chicago neighborhoods.
Image Source: Chicago Marathon
“This was the best race I’ve ran in terms of support, organization, just about everything. Of course, being a World Marathon Major, it should be. This was a race I’ve thought about running for a very long time, and I’m still excited I had the opportunity. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience! Absolutely recommend anyone that has the ability to run it apply for the lottery and hopefully get that chance.” — Josh, BibRave.com Review
“Believe the hype. The entire experience was outstanding. Incredibly organized, flat, fast, the list can go on and on. If you have an opportunity to run Chicago, do it.” — J.A., Marathonguide.com Review
Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon – Champaign-Urbana
The race touts itself for being flat, fast and an example of Midwest hospitality. In addition to a race shirt, medal and food, marathoners receive a commemorative fleece blanket. The Illinois Marathon also hosts a “Golden Ticket” program — if your bib has a Golden Ticket sticker, you receive a prize from one of the race sponsors. Click here for more information.
Runners start on the campus of the University of Illinois and finish on the 50-yard line of the historic Memorial Stadium. The course is a Boston Marathon qualifier with an elevation change of only 85 feet.
Image Source: IllinoisMarathon.com
“I found the crowd support and interest over the whole course, second half included, to be terrific. Outside the Chicago Marathon, which is a huge event, this is the best support I’ve seen in a full marathon and this was #47 for me. The fact the course is in neighborhoods, not commercial/industrial areas, makes all the difference. I found these folks very encouraging and very plentiful.” — Joe, Marathonguide.com Review
“If you’re looking for a Boston Qualifier that is flat and fast… This is your marathon. The finish line in Memorial Stadium is a great way to end the marathon with the announcer yelling out your name and finish time. Solid!” — Drew, BibRave.com
Advocate Breyer Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon – Geneva
As the name suggests, this race is for those who are serious about qualifying for the Boston Marathon. As of 2015, it was ranked No. 1 in the country for having the highest percent of Boston qualifying finishers, at 50.4%. The race is only open to 300 runners who have to be within a certain time of their Boston qualifying time. See the race website for more information.
The course is run on the flattest, easiest portion of the Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon Fabyan Forest Preserve, which is a simple 3.21-mile loop around the Fox River that runners will repeat eight times. The marathon says it features a net downhill, plenty of shade and scenic views. In addition to 16 aid stations, every runner can also use the Elite Water Bottle Table.
Image Source: Last Chance BQ.2
“I, like most, was worried about the 8 laps and if it would get boring…it did not. Being able to count down the laps instead of miles made the distance seem less daunting. After 1-2 laps, you learn every nuance of the course, which really helps as you get into the later laps and begin to tire. You can prepare, both mentally and physically, for what’s coming and that is invaluable.” — Brie, Marathonguide.com Review
“One of the coolest parts of the race was the elite water bottle table for ALL runners. Simply put your bib number on your bottle and volunteers will have it ready for you each lap (they’ll retrieve it from the drop zone — just no refills). The course support is fantastic for a race limited to 300 participants. For those spectating, it’s a real treat to see the athletes 8x without moving! Definitely check this race out if the spring and summer marathons didn’t quite get you to your goal.” — Jake, BibRave.com Review
Quad Cities Marathon – Moline
Starting and ending in downtown Moline, the Quad Cities Marathon says it captures the “essence of the nation’s heartland with a consistent connection to the Mississippi River.” The event also benefits two worthy causes: prostate cancer research/screening and the Erika Kate Hope Alliance, which helps families of children with life-threatening heart conditions.
It’s a flat course that “features one of the finest, most scenic river views in the country.” Runners will cover all four Quad cities, three bridges, two states and one island while running along the Mississippi River.
Image source: QCmarathon.org
“The atmosphere was awesome, the local fans cheered like mad, the scenery was great, you could have drowned in all of the liquids at the aid stations (especially the second half, when you really need it), the post-race happenings are better than any other marathon I’ve ever run anywhere, the staggered start worked great at bringing everyone back together at the end, and the volunteers were absolutely the best.” — John, Marathonguide.com Review
“I would recommend this course to a first timer, it is relatively flat. There are hills, but they are manageable. There are also plenty of spectators and entertainment on the course.” — Angie, Marathonguide.com Review
Des Plaines River Trail Marathon – Vernon Hills
Runners looking for a trail marathon that is easy to manage should consider the Des Plaines River Trail Marathon. The course along the Des Plaines River Trail is a wide, crushed gravel track that’s flat and free of roots and rocks. In addition to a post-race hamburger or veggie burger meal, the marathon also serves coffee, water, sports drinks and bananas before the race. Click here for more information.
The course is an out-and-back along the Des Plaines River Trail. Alternating through lush forests and open wetlands, the marathon says with the flat terrain and cool temperatures expected in October, runners should it an extremely fast course.
“If you are a fan of small races or are thinking about trying a trail race, DO THIS ONE. Every step of this course is gorgeous, the surface is flat and smooth, and the organization is fantastic. The few spectators and aid station crews are terrific and cheer for everyone. Most of the race is in a forest; parts go through meadows. (We ran through a wedding party photo shoot on one of the bridges, that’s how pretty it is.) The race directors are extremely responsive to questions.” — B.B., Marathonguide.com Review
The race finish was special. There were little fire pots you could sit around and eat the luscious post-race hamburgers. They were awesome, as were the directors, the volunteers, everything! There were hardly any spectators, but I came to run a fall race in the forest and what I got was way more than what I hoped for!” — P.S., Marathonguide.com Review
YMCA Stone Bridge Marathon – Roscoe
This race is for those looking for the “rural alternative to the urban Chicago Marathon with no crowds along with easy parking next to the start and finish line,” as one marathoner put it, featuring trail views and Illinois farmland instead of skyscrapers and city streets. Visit the race website for more information.
Image Source: YMCA Stone Bridge Marathon
Starting in Roscoe’s Leland Park, marathoners will head to the Stone Bridge Trail and proceed to a turnaround point after connecting to the Long Prairie Trail. Runners say the course is primarily flat and a good place to qualify for Boston.
“No waiting lines for port-a potties, no traffic jams, just a nice, simple marathon. If you are looking for a race with minimal participants and little spectators, this is for you.” — J.B., Marathonguide.com Review
“I can’t believe this rural, northern Illinois marathon doesn’t attract more runners. It’s well organized, the course is flat, the paths are heavily tree lined and it’s cheap to enter. It’s lonely out there, so times may slip. But I strongly suggest giving it a look next fall.” — M.D., Marathonguide.com Review
Advocate Dreyer Fox Valley Marathon – St. Charles, IL
Home to the course of the Last Chance BQ.2 Marathon, runners can expect a fast, gentle, shady route through suburban Chicagoland. The race says its enthusiastic aid stations are ideal for first time marathoners, and it offers multi-year medals so runners can show off their participation streak. Click here to learn more.
Ranked in the top 30 of Boston Marathon qualifying courses, runners start and finish in historic downtown St. Charles, going over bridges and past waterfalls, parks and an authentic Dutch windmill. A shady course along the Fox River helps keep the temperature cool in mid-September.
Image Source: FV26.com
“I ran Fox Valley to get a 2nd Illinois, and was extremely happy with the choice. The race director is totally accessible and very helpful. The course was really flat and slight downhills you could easily run. Nice expo, perfect parking. Friendly, plentiful and helpful course support. My best finish time in 3 years. Would definitely do it again.” — M.L., Marathonguide.com Review
“The volunteer support and drinks stations were excellent and, as a visitor to the USA, I thoroughly enjoyed the whole event. The organization is excellent — well done and thanks. (P.S. Loved the steak at the finish).” — J.R., Marathonguide.com Review