Best Marathons In The US in 2021

Requiring very little specialized equipment or organization, running is one of the most accessible and popular forms of exercise in the world. Marathons are the ultimate long distance test for a runner and a great way of meeting like minded individuals with a passion for running.

Although many people travel and partake in marathons abroad, the U.S. in 2017 hosted over 750 marathons, so why feel the need to travel anywhere else? Who knows, your own state probably has at least two or three marathons at different seasonal times of the year, so there’s never one too far away.

U.S marathons can vary from city road races, ocean vista runs to cross country courses and there’s even a couple of marathons in theme parks or on military air bases. Some marathons are more suited for advanced runners and may have strict entry requirements, while others are open to all, regardless of age or gender.

“Run Forest. Run!”.

Forrest Gump may have taken marathon running to a new extreme when he ran across the whole country, but for many people, marathons are now something they travel from state to state competing in. In 2016 alone, there were 507,965 registered finishers in marathons in the U.S and Canada in 834 races. The New York City marathon attracts over 50,000 runners each year and is the world’s largest marathon, with four of the 10 largest global marathons held here in the United States.

Many people choose to run marathons to raise funds or awareness for a good cause, some do it for a corporate event, some competitively but for many it’s just a personal challenge. Not only do you get a nice medal and a souvenir vest when taking part, maybe even your name in print, but you can also prove to all those doubters that you can really do it. And of course, it’s a great way of keeping healthy and a good training goal to motivate and inspire you. It’s the taking part that counts, not the winning, to quote my mother!

When taking part in a marathon in your own state or city you may get to see parts of the city you didn’t even realize existed but taking part in marathons can also be a great way to travel across the U.S. If you love travel, running a marathon can be an excuse to visit a different state, where you’ll see a lot of the local area and may even be able to negotiate a discounted marathon runners room rate at the hotel. Marathon races have a long history in the U.S., so why not explore that history and be part of the future history books.(All marathon finishers names are recorded for posterity and kept on record for future generations to view!)

Marathons and History

When you decide to run a marathon you’re joining the ranks of millions of other like-minded people worldwide who run marathons every year. The oldest marathon in the U.S. dates back to 1897, the Boston marathon, which was inspired by the success of the first Olympic marathon in Athens in 1896. (The Boston Marathon is actually the world’s oldest annual marathon and rated as one the world’s best known road racing events.)

When asking why marathon races are always 26.2 miles long you must go back to the Summer Olympics of 1896 where the race was introduced and where the marathon also gets its name from. The very first marathon was held to commemorate the run of ancient Greek soldier Pheidippides in 490 BC from a battlefield near the town of Marathon to Athens. Legend states this soldier ran approximately 25 miles to announce the defeat of Persian invaders to the waiting masses in Athens. Unfortunately Pheidippides wasn’t in the best of shapes and promptly keeled over and died after exclaiming “Niki!”(Victory).

The first official race from the Marathon Bridge to the Olympic Stadium in Athens was measured at about 24.85 miles and the next few Olympic marathons all varied in distance with the importance being the runners all ran exactly the same distance. The 1908 London Olympics laid out a course from Windsor Castle to White City Stadium which was roughly 26 miles, but to place the finish line in front of the royal family’s box in the stadium an extra 385 yards were added. (Sometimes you may hear “God save the Queen” yelled in the final mile as a nod to this tradition.) When the International Amateur Athletic Association (IAAF) finally decided on a standard distance for the marathon event, the 1908 distance was adopted. The first seven Olympic marathons actually covered six different distances.

The following Youtube clip looks at the history and the science behind marathons.

The Best Spring Marathons in the US

Springtime marathons can be some of the most rewarding marathons to run, with ideal weather conditions for racing (neither too hot or too cold), sunny skies (hopefully) and stunning backdrops as the trees and flowers start to blossom. Alongside the fall, spring is the time of year when you’ll find the most marathons in the U.S. But the training for a spring marathon will also be the most challenging too, with most experts recommending training to start a minimum of 16 weeks prior to the marathon, meaning you have to start in the winter months.

Many people use marathons as a motivation to keep training during those colder months. Training for a marathon during the holiday season can offset some of the guilt of those holiday parties and help maintain your weight and fitness regardless of how many festive treats you’ve enjoyed. A spring marathon will also help prepare that bikini body ready for the summer beaches.

Boston Marathon (Monday April 16th, 2018), Boston, MA

The Boston Marathon has been organized by the Boston Athletic Association since 1897 and although it’s recognized as the oldest annual marathon in the world, it’s only the second oldest continuously running footrace in the U.S. (The Buffalo Turkey Trot debuted five months earlier and is still held to this day, but is not officially recognized as a marathon being only eight kilometers, 4.97 miles, in distance.)

Boston is not the largest marathon in the world either, that honor goes to the New York City Marathon, but it’s the second largest in the U.S and one of the six World Marathon Majors (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago and New York City). The Boston Marathon though, is steeped in history and regularly attracts over five hundred thousand enthusiastic supporters along the route.

Held annually on the third Monday in April, the Boston Marathon coincides with Patriots Day. Unlike most other marathons that have an open entry or lottery system to participate, to take part in the Boston Marathon you must meet strict qualifying time standards specific to your age and gender. (Applications close on 31st January each year, nearly three months before the race.) The course runs through eight towns and cities of Boston starting in the town of Hopkinton before finishing in Copley Square in Boston city center and includes the infamously challenging Heartbreak Hill.

Unfortunately, the Boston Marathon is often remembered for the 2013 bombing which killed three spectators and injured an estimated 264 others or for the Rosie Ruiz scandal. In 1980 an unknown amateur runner, Rose Ruiz was the first to cross the line in the women’s race, but when officials noticed Ruiz didn’t appear in videotapes of the race until near the end of the race, an investigation was launched. It was subsequently revealed that Ruiz had skipped most of the race and joined the crowd about one mile from the finish line, where she sprinted to her apparent victory. Rose Ruiz was officially disqualified and Canadian Jacqueline Gareau was proclaimed the winner.

Mayor’s Midnight Sun Marathon (Saturday June 23rd, 2018), AK

At the very tail-end of spring this marathon is one of, believe it or not, 15 annual marathons held in the state of Alaska and without doubt the most well known. Held close to the summer solstice each year, this race takes advantage of the extra daylight hours and beautiful scenery of Alaska, where else are you likely to find a moose on your path as you run?

The certified course involves a mix of bike trails, rocky gravel and paved roads with incredible scenery including views of Cook Inlet and the Chugach Mountain Range (not for runners who want the big-city race experience!). Only about one thousand runners take part, but those who do come from all around the globe and find the destination and experience worth the trip.

Big Sur International Marathon, (Sunday April 29th, 2018), Carmel, CA

The Big Sur International Marathon is the largest rural marathon in the world which sees four thousand five hundred runners run along the scenic Highway 1 amid stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and redwood forests. A challenging course, you won’t be setting any personal records here, this marathon features 13 challenging hills in the back half of the race, touches seven state parks while one of the favorite traditions is the classical music played on a grand piano player on the iconic Bixby Bridge as the runners cross it.

Other race distances are available from a 3 kilometer kids race to a 21-miler and there are plenty of activities around the Monterey Bay area, making this an ideal spring break for the whole family.

Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville, (Saturday April 28th, 2018), Nashville, TN

For music fans, this is the ultimate marathon which features 50 bands on 28 stages. The course passes historic sites like the Parthenon, Nashville’s world famous Music Row and finishes at a large festival outside the home of the Tennessee Titans, LP field, along the banks of the Cumberland River. Bands from every genre, country, rock, jazz, blues, swing and more along with hundreds of cheerleaders, keep the runners entertained for every mile of the marathon. There’s even a post-race concert in downtown Nashville for those who don’t want the party to stop.

Other notable spring marathons include:

Yuengling Shamrock Marathon, (Sunday March 18th, 2018), Virginia Beach, VA. Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon, (Saturday April 28th, 2018), Louisville, KY. Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon, (Sunday May 6th, 2018), Cincinnati, OH. KeyBank Vermont City Marathon, (Sunday May 27th, 2018), Burlington, VT. Newport Marathon, (Saturday June 2nd, 2018), Newport, OR. Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon, (Sunday June 3rd, 2018), Deadwood, SD.

The Best Fall Marathons in the US

Fall is the other main season for marathon runners, with just as agreeable weather as spring marathons but more appealing training conditions. Training for a marathon in fall can start in the spring and give you many enjoyable days out training over the summer. It may be hotter and more humid in the summer but the feeling when you finish that fall marathon will make it all worthwhile.

TCS New York City Marathon, (Sunday November 4th, 2018), New York, NY

Without a doubt, the highlight of the fall season of races is the New York City Marathon which just happens to also be the world’s largest marathon. The race was first held in 1970, and in 2016 broke the world record for the number of registered finishers with 51,394 runners completing the course. With over 98,000 applicants for the 2017 race, entry is getting notoriously more difficult with a lottery system although many charity partners offer places in exchange for fundraising. In 2016, 9000 runners raised $36.1 million dollars through charity slots.

The course starts at Staten Island, where runners hear Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York before passing through the other four boroughs of the Big Apple; Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx. Runners will cross many of the bridges of New York and experience diverse and vibrant neighborhoods before treading the final stretch to the finish line in the famous Central Park. The race originally involved running several loops around Park Drive of Central Park and it was only in 1976 to celebrate the U.S. bicentennial that city auditors proposed the race should cover all five boroughs. (What was originally intended to be a one-off celebration proved so successful that it became the annual course.)

Nearly 2 million spectators line the course and the race is shown live to the world on WABC-TV and ESPN or you can even watch the race online. A computer chip attached to the back of each runner’s bib allows people to receive email notifications to track the progress of runners as they pass timing mats placed at 5-kilometer intervals along the course. The NYC Marathon attracts both spectators and participants from every corner of the globe, it was last won by a resident of New York city in 1974.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon, (Sunday October 7th, 2018), Chicago, IL

If you’re looking for your first marathon or to improve your personal best time, the renowned flat and fast course of the Chicago Marathon is ideal. Founded in 1977, the Chicago race has grown from four thousand two hundred runners in its inaugural year to attracting forty-five thousand runners from across the U.S. and more than 100 countries. As well as being fast, the course offers a scenic tour of the windy city and its many historic landmarks. The Chicago Marathon is also one of the World Marathon Majors events.

Marine Corps Marathon, (Sunday October 28th, 2018), Washington, D.C

The Marine Corps Marathon is often referred to as the ‘people’s marathon’ as it doesn’t offer a large purse, or indeed any cash prizes, to the top finishers. The race attracts many recreational runners and is now so popular that it uses a lottery system for entry in March every year. Thousands of runners follow a unique course of our nation’s capital passing historical sites like the Jefferson Memorial, the National Mall and Arlington National Ceremony.

As an added bonus marines line the course along with other spectators to cheer on the runners and upon finishing the marines place the medals around the necks of the proud competitors.

Anthem Richmond Marathon, (Saturday November 10th, 2018), Richmond, VA

Another marathon ideal for first timers, the Anthem Richmond Marathon has been dubbed ‘America’s friendliest marathon’ by Runner’s World magazine. Offering many of the benefits of a big city marathon but with a small town feel, there are junk food stations to fill up at on the 16 and 22 miles lines, with wet washcloth stops and energy boosting party zones along the course. This annual race traverses through historic neighborhoods, runs along the James River before a downhill stretch to the finish line in the heart of the city.

A half marathon, an 8-kilometer run and a kids race all take place on the day too, with a post-race pizza and beer party being the perfect end to the day for the many who keep coming back to this marathon.

Other marathons worth checking out in the fall include:

Ashworth Awards Baystate Marathon, (Sunday October 21st, 2018), Lowell, MA. Baltimore Marathon, (Saturday October 20th, 2018), Baltimore, MD. Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon, (Sunday October 7th, 2018), Minneapolis, MN. Air Force Marathon, (Saturday September 15th, 2018), Dayton, OH. Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon, (Sunday November 11th, 2018), Las Vegas, NV.

The Best Winter Marathons in the US

Many people may shy away from running a marathon in winter but a destination marathon gives you a chance to escape the harsh winter weather and turn a marathon into a vacation. There are many marathons in the U.S. that can offer a perfect antidote to that cold weather at home if you live in a colder climate.

Walt Disney World Marathon, (Sunday January 13th, 2019), Orlando, FL

Probably my favorite marathon, if you too are a Disney fan or just looking for a different marathon experience, the Walt Disney World Marathon could be perfect for you. Starting with a pre-dawn fireworks show, the course takes you on a journey through all four of the Walt Disney World theme parks; Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios. A very flat course, this race is beginner-friendly and at the finish line in Epcot all finishing runners are presented with a Mickey Mouse shaped medal.

Honolulu Marathon, (Saturday December 9th, 2018), Honolulu, HI

What could be better than squeezing a quick Hawaii break in mid-winter? Running a marathon there, too. As you run along the streets of Honolulu, along the breathtaking coastline and around the base of an extinct volcano (Diamond Head), you’ll soon forget about that cold weather back home. The race finishes at one of the most popular surfing spots in Hawaii, Waikiki. A traditional Hawaiian welcome awaits you, with a pre-race concert and all-you-can-eat dinner on the Friday night.

The Best Summer Marathons in the US

It can be quite difficult to find a marathon in July, August or early September with spring and fall being the most popular marathon seasons in the U.S. Many people make the most of their extra vacation time over the summer and travel abroad for marathons, but if you look hard enough there are some worthwhile races here in the U.S if you’re willing to travel.

San Francisco Marathon, (Sunday July 29th, 2018), San Francisco, CA

San Francisco’s mild, dry and cool July climate make it the perfect place for a summer marathon. The San Francisco Marathon takes runners on a scenic tour of the city and past famous sites like the Embarcadero, Fisherman’s Wharf, Golden Gate park and Haight Ashbury district. The highlight for many of the participants is the run over the iconic Golden Gate Bridge and although there are some hills, the course doesn’t take in any of the ridiculously steep hills San Francisco is famed for.

Two half marathons, first half or second half and a 5-kilometer (3.1 miles) race are held on the same day and over twenty-seven thousand five hundred runners are expected to attend.

Santa Rosa Marathon, (Sunday August 26th, 2018), Santa Rosa, CA

The Santa Rosa marathon celebrates its 10th year in 2018 and offers six thousand runners from both the U.S. and abroad the chance to race through the scenic vineyards of Sonoma County countryside. Marathon runners also get to run through the barrel room at DeLoach Vineyards, a once in a lifetime opportunity! Every finisher gets a special limited edition double-spinner medal, some race swag and a bottle of DeLoach Vineyard wine.

There’s also the option of a half marathon and all runners can attend the post-race festival complete with pancakes, a free glass of wine or beer and watermelon. The flat and fast course has been certified and sanctioned by the U.S. Track and Field Association and the marathon can even be used as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.

No matter what time of the year you decide to run your marathon, there’s almost certainly likely to be a suitable race near your hometown. In the fall and spring months you’ll find organized marathons every weekend but in the more extreme summer or winter months you may have to look further afield. Whether you decide to stay closer to home or visit one of the many destination marathons, running a marathon can be a great way of seeing everything that America has to offer, be it a theme park or an ocean coast road.

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