History of the Chicago Marathon’s Qualifying Times for Guaranteed Entry

The Chicago Marathon has announced that it will be implementing new qualifying times for guaranteed entry, starting with the 2025 Chicago Marathon.

As I began to dig into this data, I was curious about the history of these times. When did they start? Have they changed previously?

I was a little surprised to find out that there was little publicly available information on the topic. The BAA has an entire page on their website devoted to the history of the Boston qualifying times, complete with some interesting data points.

Since I couldn’t find readily available answers to my questions, I did some digging and I’m writing up the results of my research here.

So keep reading below for a brief history of the qualifying times for guaranteed entry to the Chicago Marathon.

When There Were No Qualifying Times

Until 2014, the Chicago Marathon did not require a qualifying time or offer guaranteed entry to runners with a qualifying time.

Prior to this, entry into the marathon was first come first served. A certain number of spaces were available, registration opened, and people were allowed to register until it was full.

Prior to 2000, the race had grown precipitously. But after over 30,000 runners registered for the 2000 race, a cap of 37,500 registrants was put in place for 2001. The Chicago Tribune noted that the registration cap was hit on September 25, 2001.

In his history of the Chicago Marathon, Andrew Suozzo notes that the registration cap was increased to 40,000 in 2003, and that a reporter at the time claimed that without the cap an additional 10,000 runners would have registered (p37). This cap would remain in place for several more years before increasing again.

Suozzo’s book was published in 2006, and at the time he noted that requiring qualifying times or instituting a lottery were “unlikely given the preference for openness and easy accessibility that has marked Chicago’s marathon” (p. 40).

The registration cap would increase – to 45,000 – for the 30th anniversary of the race in 2007. Registration closed in April that year – the earliest it ever had.

However, interest in the marathon continued to grow, and the registration cap was met earlier and earlier.

In 2013, would-be runners mobbed the website as soon as registration went live. Over the next three hours, users confronted errors, the servers crashed, and registration was eventually suspended. For the first time in its history, Chicago instituted a lottery to allocate the remaining 15,000 spots.

The First Qualifying Times: 2014

Following the disastrous registration issues in 2013, the Chicago Marathon revamped it’s registration process. They moved away from the registering runners on a first come first serve basis and towards the use of a lottery.

However, they also included additional forms of guaranteed entry – including qualifying times and charity fundraising.

This archived registration page from March 27, 2014 contains information about the qualifying times. Men needed to run a 3:15 and women needed to run a 3:45 for guaranteed entry. There were no additional tiers of qualifying times for masters runners – the same time applied regardless of a runner’s age.

These times are relatively lax for younger runners. However, they are relatively tough for older runners in their 50’s and 60’s. By comparison, the BAA was using 3:15 / 3:45 as the qualifying times for the 40-44 year old age group – with all older runners having more relaxed standards.

The other options for guaranteed entry into the race included charity fundraising, legacy finishers, and international tours.

These qualifying times would remain the same for the next several years.

The Second Set of Qualifying Times: 2018

The next iteration of the qualifying times began with the 2018 Chicago Marathon.

This archived registration page from November 5, 2017 contains information about the new qualifying times. They now offered tiered times based on multiple age groups – from 16-29 up to 80 and over.

Below are the qualifying times:

Age GroupMenWomen
80 and Over5:106:30

The qualifying time for runners under 30 became 5 minutes harder. It stayed the same for runners in their 30’s. And for runners 40+, there were increasingly relaxed standards.

Across the board, these qualifying times were slightly more generous than the Boston qualifying times. At the time, these ranged from 3:05 to 4:55 for men and 3:35 to 5:25 for women. Boston would tighten their qualifying times in 2020, making the Chicago qualifying times increasingly soft by comparison.

These qualifying times would remain in place through the 2024 Chicago Marathon.

The Third Set of Qualifying Times: 2025

In June 2024, the Chicago Marathon announced that it would be implementing a new set of qualifying times for guaranteed entry beginning with the 2025 Chicago Marathon.

The standards are broken down by 5 year age groups that correspond to those used by the BAA. In most cases, the qualifying times were reduced by 5 to 15 minutes for each age group, but some age groups saw greater decreases. Across the board, the qualifying times are generally 5 minutes lower than the corresponding Boston Qualifying times used in 2024.

Age GroupMenWomenNon-binary
80 and Over4:505:205:20

Although these times are tougher than the listed Boston Qualifying times, the BAA applied a cut-off time of 5:29. That means that runners needed to run 5:29 faster than their qualifying time – which is faster than the new Chicago qualifying times.

It’s likely that a similar cut off will be applied again and/or that the BAA will introduce new qualifying times. In either case, it will remain harder to qualify for Boston than it will be to qualify for Chicago – although the distance difference between the races is much less than it once was.

For more on the impact of these new Chicago qualifying times, see this page.

Feature photo courtesy of Sillyfolkboy on Wikimedia Commons, used under CC BY 2.0.

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