The marathon may get more attention in the press, but the half marathon is the race that people are entering. The growth of the 13.1-mile distance has been phenomenal the last decade, with an average increase in participants of 12.5 percent per year, according to the industry trade group Running USA.
In 2015, the latest year Running USA has reported, nearly 2 million runners completed a half marathon. Compare that to the 509,000 runners of the marathon, and you see just how popular the distance has become.
That interest in the distance has produced more races. In the Chicago area, we’re blessed with literally dozens of half marathons—from massive downtown events to solitary trail runs. The half marathon is a great distance because while it’s certainly a challenge, you don’t have to allow for so much pre-race tapering and post-race recovery as you do with a full marathon. Adding a few half marathons to the training schedule can help you prepare for a full marathon, log those weekend long runs in a fun environment, or challenge yourself with a PR.
Here are the 10 half marathons that we are most excited about in the Chicago area.
1. North Shore Classic Half Marathon
The North Shore suburb of Highland Park is home base for this popular half marathon and 5K that routinely draws about 3,000 people in June each year. Organized by RAM Racing, the race is known for its giveaways (this year’s goodie bag included a technical running tank) as well as a scenic tree-lined course that takes advantage of Highland Park’s beautiful neighborhoods. The course is mostly flat—but with few notable exceptions to get your heart racing—and features a great start/finish area in downtown Highland Park.
2. Humana Rock ’n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon
Perhaps no organization is more responsible for the growth of the half marathon than the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series , which has brought its unique brand of racing to dozens of cities around the world. In Chicago each July, runners will get the same big city urban experience as a major marathon, with big crowds, pace groups, and live music at every mile along the course. A post-race concert adds to the party atmosphere that have made the Rock ’n’ Roll races do successful. Wave starts do a good job of keeping the course from getting too crowded, and the course features a tour of the nearby North Side, West Loop, and South Michigan Avenue. The final three miles are on the Lakefront before finishing in Grant Park.
3. Sunset Half Marathon
Part of the Fitness for America Sports Festival weekend, which includes both running and inline skating events, the Sunset Half Marathon features a unique 5:30 p.m. start time. Held at the AT&T Complex in Hoffman Estates, this July event features a half marathon course held mostly on the campus and in the neighboring Paul Douglas Forest Preserve on roads and paved trails.
4. Nearly Sane Trail Half Marathon
If running a marathon is insane, then running a half marathon is only nearly sane, at least according to the organizers of this annual August trail half marathon at the Half Day Forest Preserve in Lake County. Muddy Monk, which organizes several Chicago-area trail races throughout the year, emphasizes a fun and friendly atmosphere, with post-race party that includes free locally brewed craft beer and free hot dogs (even with a vegan option). If you’re looking for a way to enjoy the outdoors and meet other nearly sane runners in a laid-back atmosphere, you won’t be able to beat this race.
5. Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon
Based in Batavia, IL, about an hour west of Chicago, the Peapod Half Madness Half Marathon features a scenic course along the Fox River Trail at the end of August. The course is a mix of flat to rolling terrain that takes advantage of the Fox River path as well as the tree-lined streets of Batavia. It’s a major event but retains the charm of a small-town race. Runners receive a technical T-shirt, finisher’s medal, and a post-race party with free pizza and beer.
6. Magnificent Mile Half Marathon
Shutting down one the most popular shopping streets in the world wasn’t easy, but the organizers of the Magnificent Mile Half Marathon were able to convince the city to do just that. Formerly a women’s-only event, the September race is now open to everyone and draws thousands of runners to Grant Park for the 13.1-mile (and 5K) run that features not only a few miles on Michigan Avenue but a beautiful Lakefront course for the rest of the race. A wave start keeps the race from getting too crowded, and all runners receive a technical T-shirt and a finishers medal.
7. Oak Brook Half-Marathon
This annual event has become a Labor Day tradition in this affluent western suburb of Chicago. Limited to 2,000 runners, the Oak Brook Half-Marathon does a good job of combining big-race amenities while retaining the charms of a smaller race. The course includes several sections through Oak Brook neighborhoods in addition to gravel forest preserve trails and paved bike paths. Runners receive gender-specific technical T-shirts, a finisher’s medal, and a post-race party held in Oak Brook’s Central Park.
8. Alpine Races Half Marathon
The Lake Zurich Alpine Races have been around long before running’s latest boom. The annual September event routinely draws runners from all over Chicagoland to the northwest suburbs for a quality race organized by the Alpine Runners of Lake Zurich running club. It’s a smaller race—last year featured 365 half marathon finishers—that features a hilly course, especially by Chicago standards. It features an out-and-back tour of the leafy suburb with a start and finish in Paulus Park. All runners receive a hooded sweatshirt and a finishers medal.
9. Chicago Half Marathon
When you talk about half marathons in Chicago, this is what comes to mind first. The Chicago Half Marathon was the first big race at that distance when founded in 1996. More than 8,000 runners are expected to head to the historic Jackson Park neighborhood for the event in September. The course offers a tour of the Hyde Park neighborhood as well as several miles on a closed Lake Shore Drive. More than 15 entertainment stations with live music will be set up along the course as well. Free shuttle transportation is available from downtown, and all runners receive giant 6-inch finishers medals and technical T-shirts.
10. Monster Dash Chicago Half
Celebrate Halloween with this half marathon in Grant Park with an out-and-back Lakefront course. And yes, as you’d probably expect, you’ll find plenty of people in costume, with prizes for the best. If you’re not up to do a half marathon dressed in costume, there’s also a 5K and 10K option. But the half marathon is chip-timed and USATF certified for those looking to actually race it. The start/finish area is at Avery Field, and all participants will receive a hooded sweatshirt.