They send you all of the race information in a detailed packet/brochure several weeks before the race, which starts to make the race feel REAL, and the excitement/nerves kick in. The expo was a great pump-up prior to the big weekend, with so much energy, cool new gear and music. I arrived early Friday am to pick up my packet, fearing the crowds would just get worse as Friday and Saturday wore on. Was VERY glad I did - highly recommend if you can.
The pre-race was very well laid out - easy to find gear check, bathrooms, etc (the incredibly detailed maps they send you in advance are a huge help as well). Corrals ran smoothly and I didn't feel like we waited in there for too long. Plenty of bathrooms and aid stations along the way.
My only complaint is that it was so crowded. Of course it was, being one of the biggest/most popular marathons. But I thought the crowd of runners would thin out a little bit around 4-5 miles. Wrong. There was a lot of ducking and weaving through thick crowds of runners and walkers - sometimes the same pace was held across the course, so you definitely have to train for surges/bursts to get you through taking an opening when you see one. I think I'm also in a pretty popular pace group - 4:10:00's, so that might've had a lot to do with it. Guess I need to get a lot faster :) Around 20 miles, it was pleasant and there are plenty of signs telling you how far along you are, and how much further you have to go. I was warned repeatedly about the dreaded last hill right before the finish, but I didn't think it was bad at all (maybe it was just bc I was prepared for the worst). It was actually pretty short and not that steep (although a little bit of a kick in the gut, placement-wise: ;-)
Awesome, awesome first marathon. The crowd is incredible. You are cheered on throughout the entire course - people are so excited for the runners, and the signs, smiles, cheers, (in some areas, shots of tequila), cow bells and high fives truly make the experience unforgettable.
Post race was disorienting, mostly because you are spent and any marbles you had in your head a few hours ago are gone, but still tons of volunteers cheering for you, congratulating you and handing out medals, food, water, Gatorade and beer!
2016 was one heck of a year to run, as the weather was perfect - you never know what you'll get in early Oct in Chicago - from snow to 90+ heat.
Loved the race and will cherish the memories. So glad to have had the Chicago Marathon as my first - It actually made me want to run more! Next time though, I'd love to try a less popular marathon to see how it goes with less runner crowding.
Don't be intimidated if this is your first one, even though it is a BIG one - it's so approachable and a great experience for the fastest to the most hesitant new marathoners.