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Chicago Marathon highs and lows

As the seasons change, we will soon welcome to our city some of the most elite runners in the world, Chicago. And about 45,000 more committed participants, too.

This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Chicago Marathon. The race starts in waves beginning at 7:20 am on Oct. 9 in Grant Park, and follows a route through 29 neighborhoods. It is a flat, fast course considered one of the world’s six major marathons.

But it didn’t start out that way. Heck, the first race wasn’t even 26.2 miles long. Yet, it’s become more inclusive for a variety of people — including wheelchair racers — throughout the decades and has only been canceled twice (due to lack of a sponsor in 1987 and the coronavirus pandemic in 2020).

Enjoy this look back at how the competition has changed over time. I, a non-runner, am going to eat a donut.

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— Kori Rumore, visual reporter

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Fifteen runners started the 25-mile race at Evanston, but only 7 crossed the finish line at Washington Park. Along the route, they kicked up dust on Sheridan Road, and were forced to wait for a passing train at Devon Avenue and at Rush Street during a bridge lift for a passing steamship. The winner crossed the finish line in …

Theology student Dan Cloeter, 25, from Fort Wayne, Ind., won the first Chicago Marathon — which was then known as the Mayor Daley Marathon — with a time of 2 hours, 17 minutes, 52 seconds. His prize money was…

Promoters were criticized for the high entry fee ($10) and late start time (10:30 am), but it was the temperature — with a high of 80 degrees — that hit participants hardest. Mayor Michael Bilandic created a flap when he walked into the first-aid tent, looked at the runners receiving medical attention and said they were there because …

The next year, the race was moved to October and Bilandic was ousted from office — for his handling of a blizzard.

Though the Chicago Marathon’s first wheelchair competition wouldn’t take place until 1984, Northwestern University medical student Jayne Schiff became its first unofficial wheelchair winner with a time of 3:02:38. Schiff nearly died in 1975, when a landslide inside an upstate New York cave crushed her spinal cord, leaving her paralyzed from the chest down.

Vintage Chicago Tribune

Vintage Chicago Tribune


The Vintage Tribune newsletter is a deep dive into the Chicago Tribune’s archives featuring photos and stories about the people, places and events that shape the city’s past, present and future.

“When I’m rolling along the lakeshore I don’t feel like I’m in a wheelchair, I feel like I’m flying,” she told the Tribune in 1981.

The first Halloween marathon — the latest in its history — and the weather was frightening: snow, 34 degrees with and 12-degree wind chill. Many runners dropped out with hypothermia. Ritva Lemetti of Finland (figures) won the women’s race in 2:33:18. Luiz Antonio Dos Santos of Brazil (go figure) won the men’s side in 2:13:14.

Five-hundredths of a second — the closest finish to date in the Chicago Marathon — separated Jaouad Gharib (Morocco) from Patrick Ivuti (Kenya). Both men appeared to cross the tape at the exact moment, but the head judge ruled the winner was …

More than an hour later, however, the race was stopped after complaints of insufficient water and hundreds treated for heat-related illnesses.

The Chicago Marathon has been canceled twice in its history — in 1987 after a sponsor withdrew its support and in 2020 due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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Have an idea for Vintage Chicago Tribune? Share it with Ron Grossman and Marianne Mather at [email protected] and [email protected].

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