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Chicago Marathon prides itself on being a female-friendly race

LiliyShobukhovRussicrosses finish line during Chicago MarathChicago Sunday Oct. 9 2011. Shobukhovfinished first for women's title with time 2:18:20. (AP Photo/Nam

Liliya Shobukhova, of Russia, crosses the finish line during the Chicago Marathon in Chicago, Sunday, Oct. 9, 2011. Shobukhova finished first for the women's title with a time of 2:18:20. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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What: The 35th annual Chicago Marathon.

When: Sunday. Wheelchair start, 7:20 a.m.; start of runners, 7:30-8 a.m.

Where: Begins and ends on Columbus in Grant Park, as far north as Addison, as far west as Damen, as far south as 35th.

On the air: Ch. 5, 670-AM.


Updated: November 5, 2012 11:47AM

Joan, Catherine, Paula, Deena, Liliya.

The first names of the Chicago Marathon are women.

They are the top-end reason the Bank of America Chicago Marathon on Sunday is tops in the world for women 20-29 years old, according to Running USA’s 2011 report.

“Chicago has been a great on the elite side and those women have been phenomenal ambassadors for women’s running,’’ executive race director Carey Pinkowski said.

But there are many grass-roots reasons for Chicago’s marathon being one for women, 45.1 percent worth of field of 45,000 on Sunday. Of those women, 42.2 are between 25 and 34.

It’s more than Joan Benoit Samuelson winning with her personal best of two hours, 21 minutes, 21 seconds, on Oct. 20, 1985; and setting then American and course records.

More than Kenyan Catherine Ndereba (Oct. 7, 2001, 2:18:47) and Great Britain’s Paula Radcliffe (Oct. 13, 2002, 2:17.18) setting world records in back-to-back years. More than Deena Kastor, current American record holder (2:19:36, London, April 23, 2006), winning on Oct. 9, 2005 in 2:21:25, then the third-fastest America time.

More than Liliya Shobukhova bidding on Sunday to become the first to win Chicago four times.

“Our former champions are very accomplished,’’ Pinkowski said. “As athletic as they are, they are very giving. They are very accessible. I think women have looked to them as they aspire to run.’’

Nobody fits that description more than Samuelson. She has been and is the inspiration for thousands of women who ran the Chicago Marathon, or any marathon. But she said there were practical reasons, too.

“It is a destination city for many people,’’ said Samuelson, who will do the broadcast of the women’s race. “It’s a fast marathon, well-organized. All those things add up to make it a priority.’’

“[The Chicago Marathon] is popular for [all] first-time runners,’’ Pinkowski said. “It’s a flat course, a course that friends and family can get to watch easily. And I think women runners feel comfortable.’’

In the past Samuelson has called Chicago the most convenient marathon because out-of-towners could walk to the start and walk back after the finish; and it is a flat, fast course.

The open nature of registration (no lottery, no qualifying system) for the Chicago Marathon makes it accessible for all, thus the interest of first-time runners. About 34 percent of Chicago’s field is first-time marathoners, more than half of them women.

There are other social and Chicago-specific reasons for the stark demographics of young women running the Chicago Marathon.

“Some of it is the convenience to the event,’’ Pinkowski said. “Chicago has risen in its visibility. The demographics have changed. There is a younger active demographic of women in the city and suburbs. The training groups are primarily women. There is a social aspect.’’

That social aspect is also fueled by the rapid rise of charity team running, especially as done by Team World Vision and American Cancer Society. Almost a quarter of the women entered are running for charity.

“Young women are graduating from college and were active in sports,’’ Samuelson said. “They think as young mothers they need a break and they turn to running for an outlet. Instead of coffee klatches, they form running groups.’’

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