As running becomes more popular with the average American, inevitably the marathon becomes a goal for a number of those runners. From local marathons to International marathons endless options abound as you make the choice for your first, next, or (hopefully not) last marathon.
I’ve put together a list of the Top 10 Marathons in the US. There’s no science behind my list, I didn’t create the list only for people looking to qualify for Boston, to see incredible views of the country, or only big name marathons. The following list of top United States marathons is a combination of the previously mentioned and sprinkling in my own opinion.
Top 10 Marathons In the US
Quite possibly the most beautiful marathon in the world, Big Sur encompasses 26.2 miles straight down Highway 1 in Big Sur, CA. Rise and shine at about 3am as you get ready to head to the bus stop for your trip to the start line. Packed into school buses, your bus driver will navigate Highway 1 through the darkness.
This race isn’t for the faint of heart. There are hills throughout, possible strong headwinds, and Hurricane Point (a 600 ft climb over 2 miles). You are rewarded though with breath taking views of the Pacific, a run through redwoods at the start, Bixby Bridge, and Strawberries at mile 23.
A must for any marathoner.
If Big Sur is a 10 on the beautiful runs scale, Newport is just behind with a 9. You’ll run along the Atlantic during this race, on Ocean Drive, and past the mansions on historic Bellevue Avenue, through the Salve Regina campus, and back to the start line to start your second half of the race. The second half is much more rural than the first half, but still a good run.
A word of caution, the elevation map, in my opinion (actually I’ve noticed this with most elevation maps), seems to under emphasize the rolling hills during the first half of the race. After the initial hill about half a mile in, it looks like gently rolling hills through the first half, they’re definitely not huge hills, but not as flat as it seems either.
A flat fast course that’s just asking for you to PR winds you through the streets of Chicago past millions of cheering fans. Definitely a great opportunity to qualify for Boston if that’s your goal. You can check out the Boston qualifying standards here.
This marathon usually brings in 40,000 runners, so if you’re looking for a small field, you won’t find it here. However, this marathon is well organized and the energetic crowd will help you push through any difficulties you may be having.
The course is actually great for spectators with a lot of opportunities to catch their runners as they pass through the streets.
The MCM is not only one of the top 10 marathons in the US, it was also my first marathon. Needless to say, I’m a bit biased.
The start line is adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery, you’ll run through Georgetown, along the Potomac, past the Washington Monument, the Capital Dome, and along the National Mall, before finishing back past Arlington National Cemetery, arriving at the Marine Corps War Memorial.
An incredible race, Marine’s volunteering at each drink stop, the finish line, and really throughout the day. After the race was over I was fortunate enough to talk with one of our Marine’s who told me they were up at 2am setting up for the race and would be breaking down the race until about 10pm. Very thankful to live in the USA!
Also an extremely emotional moment around the halfway point in the race where there were signs remembering our fallen soldiers.
As Jim Valvano once said, “If you laugh, you think, and you cry, that’s a full day. That’s a heck of a day. You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”
The MCM encompasses Valvano’s “Full Day.”
Part of the Rock N Roll Marathon series, this event takes you on a journey through the heart of Nashville. Is there a city in the US you would put your trust in to provide great music every mile more than Nashville? I didn’t think so. There’s a music genre for everyone to enjoy to help take your mind off of the grind of the marathon.
You’ll also find an on-course Spirit Competition, which is an award handed out after the race to local schools who show up to cheer on marathoners.
There’s no shortage of entertainment on this fun, yet challenging course consisting of rolling hills.
You can’t beat Duluth, MN in the middle of June. At least that’s what Grandma said…okay maybe she didn’t but that’s beside the point.
Run along the mostly flat shores of Lake Superior with few turns and the chance of sun, rain, snow, or sleet! After all it is Minnesota.
The course is relatively flat along Highway 61, as you head towards the finish line you’ll find some the crowds begin to swell around 20 miles along with treats to get you that last 5k. Similar to Big Sur at mile 23 you can enjoy some fresh strawberries. At mile 24 you’re home free once you hit the cobble stone, well that is until you reach mile 25 and you face a number of tight turns as you weave your way towards the finish line.
A flat and fast marathon that’s just begging for a PR. Your wave will start to the Bugle Call outside of Monmouth Park and wind your way through Oceanport, Monmouth Beach, Long Branch, Asbury Park and Ocean Grove as you make the turn around and head towards the finish running right along the Atlantic.
This race has a very knowledgable fan base as they encourage runners to work together as they aim to complete the final 10k into a head wind. If you can find a group to work with I highly recommend it! It could be the difference between hitting or missing that PR.
One of the great marathons takes you through all five boroughs of New York City. I could think of a lot worse things to do with my morning rather than running through Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, the Bronx, Harlem, and Central Park, while crossing 5 of New York’s bridges.
You won’t need to search far for motivation in this one as 2 million spectators cheer you over the course of 26.2 miles.
If you’re looking for a small marathon, this isn’t it! With over 50,000 finishers, this is the largest marathon in the world.
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Calling all Night Owls and Alien Enthusiasts!! This race kicks off at midnight on the weekend of the fullest moon in August in Rachel, NV, which is home to Area 51.
A semi-“bring-your-own-cup” event with volunteers set up at only 7 rest stops throughout the course, you better train to run through that wall on limited nutrition…or you could always bring your own and carry it with you. While your training you better take to the hills as you’ll climb 1,000 feet over the course of the first half of the race. Lucky for runners, what goes up must come down and the second half you’ll gain back around 800 feet over a gradual 8 mile downhill from just before mile 13 until just past mile 20.
Possibly the Grand daddy of them all. Kicked off in 1897 this marathon sports a ton of history, including being the oldest annual marathon in the world. This point-to-point course is known for punishing your quads over the course of the first 20 miles followed by hitting Heartbreak Hill for an 88 foot vertical climb over 0.4 miles just at the point of the race when you need it the least.
You’ll start in Ashland and head through Framingham, Natick, Wellesley, Newton and Brookline before heading into Boston where you’ll finish with a right on Hereford and a left on to Boylston.
Let me know your thoughts on the list in the comments below!