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Chicago race is convenient, but Boston Marathon granddaddy of them all

SharCherop Wesley Korir

Sharon Cherop, Wesley Korir

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Updated: October 6, 2012 9:18PM

If the world’s five major marathons gathered around a campfire to listen to stories, Chicago, London, New York and Berlin would sit cross legged as Boston held court.

Boston is 116 years old — a grandfatherly figure compared to London, 32, Chicago, 35, Berlin, 39 and New York, 42.

And with age, comes prestige. Boston maintains grueling qualifying times, drawing top runners from around the world to tackle its hilly terrain — and offers the biggest individual purse: $150,000. Spectators number about 500,000, including many locals who have the third Monday in April off due to Patriots’ Day. Some 21,554 out of 27,000 registered runners finished the 2012 Marathon.

New York’s uneven, twisty roads through Central Park and five boroughs counted 36,705 finishers out of about 50,000 registered runners this year — among them were a small field of pros seeking its top prize of $130,000. Big apple spectators number about 2 million.

“Boston and New York are for more experienced runners who know the nuances of uphill and downhill sections,” said Bank of America Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski.

Chicago’s flat roads pass through 29 neighborhoods and its first-come-first-serve registration process counted 35,755 finishers out of a full boat of 45,000 registrants last year. It draws the second most spectators: 1.7 million, and its $100,000 purse is third largest.

“In Chicago you get first-time athletes that run with success, as well as track athletes with great athletic success that can test their marathon endurance here,” said Pinkowski.

“Chicago is the most convenient of the races,” said Pinkowski. “Because it’s in October, runners can train in the spring and summer and avoid the snow, ice and cold. Berlin and NYC are like that, too. But Boston and London are in the spring, which can translate to a lot of winter training on the treadmill,” said Pinkowski.

“Plus, Chicago’s start and finish lines are right next to each other. Berlin is the only other one like that. And Chicago is very accessible. You can reach nine course locations using the” Chicago Transit Authority, said Pinkowski.

Celebrities trying to tackle 26.2 miles are mostly drawn to New York (P. Diddy, Anthony “E.R.” Edwards and Lance Armstrong) and London (Gordon Ramsey). Oprah Winfrey has never run the Chicago Marathon (but she did run the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., in 1994).

Berlin had 32,977 finishers out of 40,000 registered runners last year at its mostly flat course that starts and finishes near the Brandenburg Gate. The course was limited to West Berlin before 1990. Like Chicago, Berlin hosts an open registration. About one million spectators turn out for the race, which has a $57,000 purse.

London’s mostly flat course leads past Buckingham Palace and Big Ben and also draws about one million race spectators. There were 36,705 finishers out of 37,500 registered runners this year at the London Marathon.

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