CHICAGO (CBS) — In 2019 a record 45,932 runners crossed the finish line and an estimated 1.7 million spectators cheered them on in the Chicago Marathon. The event generated $428 million for the local economy. Participating groups also raise a lot of money for charity. But the race will not be the same in 2020. Will the virtual event have the same impact?
Brett Geschke ran in his first Chicago Marathon in 2019. He said it was a rush like no other.
“You’re in the pen with the runner, and everyone’s got that nervous energy,” he said.
But this year COVID-19 is changing everything. The race is virtual for the first time in decades. There will be no crowds and no cheers. People run by themselves, clock a time, and cross their own finish line.
“It’s going to be a lonely existence out there for me for 26.2 miles, but I’ve got a good playlist set up,” said Geschke.
geshcke is part of a much smaller crowd than usual. He is trading the downtown streets for the lakefront trail. the Chciago Area Runners Association is running in small groups.
“This year, we had about 1000 that started the season and about 500 that are seeing it through,” said Greg Hipp, CARA Executive Director.
Staff is also seeing the downward trend in participation with those it trains who run for roughly 50 charities.
“All of the charity programs combined raise about $28 million dollars though the Chicago Marathon. With the marathon canceled, they still need support,” said Hipp.
This year charity runners were initially required to raise a minimum of about $1700.
“We started last year’s marathon with 350 people, and this year we have 167,” Hipp said.
One of the largest charities is Mercy Home, a shelter for at-risk and troubled youth in the West Loop.
“We are 100% privately funded at Mercy Home ,so it’s had a big effect on us,” said Jim Harding with Mercy House Heroes.
Last year the marathon brought in about $550,000.
“And unfortunately this year we’re at $130,000 right now,” he said.
There have been similar financial hits for more than 100 charities.
Thankfully Mercy Home says it is financially stable and able to stay on its feet as some runners sit it out during these unprecedented times.
Marathon officials said they continue to take an aggressive approach to encourage people around the world to run for a charity about which they are passionate.
The virtual marathon registration is open until Sunday.