CHICAGO — Say what you will about Chicago's dividing lines. The city knows how to come together.
On a picture-perfect autumn day, as 45,000 runners took off on a 26.2-mile course across the city, cheering spectators lined sidewalks, ringing bells, hollering support and holding signs ("Go Mom!" "All toenails go to Heaven!")
The 37th annual Chicago Marathon kicked off Sunday morning with a pair of Kenyans, Rita Jeptoo and Eliud Kipchoge, winning the elite division race. Kipchoge won the men's heat, finishing in 2:04:11, and Jeptoo topped the women's race, finishing in 2:24:35.
David Neumar, of New York City, won the handcycle race in 1:30:30. Americans Joshua George and Tatyana McFadden topped the men's and women's wheelchair races, respectively, in 1:32:12 and 1:44:50.
As they crossed the finish line, tens of thousands of participants pounded the streets from Boystown to Greektown to Armour Square.
In Lincoln Park, where hundreds encouraged runners near the Francis W. Parker School, 330 W. Webster St., neighborhood resident Casie Simpson cheered on the athletes.
A former cross-country runner, Simpson said she knew first-hand how a crowd's enthusiasm can keep runners going.
"It's so much fun," she said. "Everyone is rooting for each other."
Tessa Simpson stood on the sidewalk, supporting her aunt and uncle, who came from Seattle to run the marathon.
"It's like a big party," she said of the crowds.
Holding a sign with her phone number, she shouted, “Great job! You look good today. Love the tights!"
"I'm single," she said.
Nora Bayer, 56, of Plainfield, made her way through the thousands of people near the finish line in Grant Park to find her daughter, Jenelle Bayer.
“This is a big one for her,” Nora Bayer said. “The last marathon Jenelle ran was the Boston marathon in 2013.”
“She finished the (Boston) Marathon 20 or 30 minutes before the bombs went off. It was scary,” Nora Bayer said. “We heard the bombs go off. We didn’t know what was going on but we knew something was wrong when we saw all the police.”
Jenelle Bayer, 26, took more than a year to refocus after the bombings.
“After that marathon, I took some time off and finally decided to run my third marathon for everyone who lost their lives in the Boston (marathon) and the people who can’t run anymore,” she said. “So to say the least, this marathon was very emotional, very surreal.”
The support of family members, and Chicagoans cheering Bayer and the other runners helped her get through the course, which snaked through 29 neighborhoods.
“It was wonderful to see everyone come together for this,” said Bayer, a first-time Chicago marathon runner.
Runners agreed the crisp temperatures were ideal running condition. But the encouragement from spectators helped, too.
“The cheering, and the camaraderie within the course is so inspiring,” said Anna Curato, 23, of Lakeview. “You have people encouraging one another when you start to fall off. It’s a team effort even though we are all strangers.”
“Crossing that line and having the support, I feel so accomplished,” Curato said.
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