Chicago Marathon at Ravinia Park

On October 8, 2017, more than 40,000 runners will line up for the Chicago Marathon, celebrated as the 40th Anniversary Bank of America Chicago Marathon.  Many readers know the story of Pheidippides, and his mythic run to report the victory of the Greeks over the invading Persian Army. 

That early Ravinia Park amusements included the starting line for the Chicago marathon, beginning in 1906, may be less common knowledge.  (The Illinois Athletic Club´s (IAC) inaugural marathoners began the race at the Evanston Golf Club, September 23, 1905 at 2 o´clock in the afternoon, according the Chicago Tribune.   Illinois native Rudolph ¨Rhud¨ Metzner won, clocking 3 hours, 15 minutes.  The distance was 25 miles with the finish line in Grant Park where the IAC would erect its headquarters at 112 Michigan Ave.) 

The IAC set an international, cutting edge tone that may resonate with 2017 participants; and sometimes, surprise results. Heavy rainfall postponed the Ravinia Park debut to the afternoon of Monday, October 1, 1906, when Canadian glass-blower Dennis Bennett won with a record setting time of 2:41:33.  
French-Canadian Alex Thibeau won the next year with a time of 3:00:10.

Paris-born Olympic medalist and Chicago-Milwaukee ultra-marathon record-holder Albert Corey (Louis Albert Coray) won the 1908 race with 2:57:30. It was Corey´s first true marathon win, having placed second for a United States silver medal in the 1904 Saint Louis (Summer) Olympic Games to a strychnine and brandy enhanced American Thomas Hicks.  

The Chicago Tribune reported that France courted Corey to represent his home country in the 1908 Olympics in London, England,  while his sponsor the First Regiment Athletic Association of Chicago advocated for his participation as an American.  Corey did not participate in the Olympic games preceding his 1908 Chicago Marathon victory. 

A sort of machismo marathon fever took over in 1909 with individual challenges launched by Corey; and at least 2 additional Chicago marathons were held, including In 1909, a ¨real¨ marathon of 26 miles, 855 yards, that took place at White Sox park, won by Swede John Svanberg. 

In 1909, The IAC´s Chicago marathon started north of Ravinia Park at Northwestern Military Acadamy on Ravine Drive to make the race a true 26 mile, 855 yard marathon.  Chicago ¨teenager¨ L.J. Pillivant won the 1909 race with a time of 2:55:30 in a field of 81 runners, quadrupling the number of participants 4 years after the first Chicago Marathon.  Spectators lined the streets from Sheridan Road on the North Shore to Grant Park.  Mounted and motoring police kept order and local dignitaries drove along side, keeping pace.

On January 11, 1910, the New York Times announced, ¨Marathon racing at the full distance was discarded by the Illinois Althletic Club...because the long race was injurious to athletes. ¨ 

In the 1910s, the Chicago Daily News sponsored a Chicago Marathon as did the Boy Scouts. 

Sources for this article include the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Marathon : Image of Sports/ by Raymond Britt (Arcadia, 2009), and the Smithsonian Magazine, 2012.

Photo credit:  Architect William W. Boyington designed the Northwestern Military Academy building.The school served as race start for the 1909 Chicago Marathon.  Postcard photograph Orson B Brand, 1908.  Digitization funded with a grant from the Illinois Secretary of State.