If you’re looking to run a marathon in the near future, you’ve got options. In 2016, the most recent year for which there are statistics, there were a total of 507,600 marathon finishers in the U.S. And those racers competed in one of the country’s 1,100 marathons, which translates to roughly three marathons happening a day. So whether you’re an experienced marathoner seeking a new experience, or a first-timer willing to travel for that just-right course, there’s never been a better time to follow your dream.
To help narrow things down, we’ve compiled this list of marathons for every type of runner. (We left off a few obvious ones like New York and Boston.) It wasn’t easy to create this list — in part because the best race for you might just be the one that’s in your hometown. But if you’re looking for adventure, consider these.
We’ll start with a recommendation from Sandra Gallagher-Mohler, CEO and run coach at iRunTons — albeit one that includes a key caveat. “This is a tough one because there are great marathons all over,” she says. “It simply depends on what you’re looking for. A Boston qualifier? Flat and fast? Trail and scenic? Small or large? Personally I love the Rock ‘n’ Roll Series because they are well run by the event staff, and having live bands every mile really does improve motivation, especially for the novice marathoner.”
Our list offers a bit of everything, from all around the globe:
MARATONA INTERNAZIONALE DI ROMA
Date: April 7, 2019
Best for: Racers who want a view (international edition).
Key details: If you’ve always wanted to see the Eternal City, but didn’t want the experience to take, you know, an eternity (seriously: the traffic is nuts there), there’s this: A marathon through the heart of Rome, starting and finishing near the Colosseum, with a smorgasbord of sights along the route. Note: Due to a legal dispute (also very Italian), a new organization is putting on this year’s event.
You may also like: The Great Ocean Road Marathon in Bourne, Australia, which offers seaside views as you jog along the country’s southern coast; The Kilimanjaro Marathon in Tanzania, which takes place in the shadow of — and fortunately, not on — Africa’s tallest mountain.
ROCK ‘N’ ROLL MARATHON SERIES: NASHVILLE
Date: April 27–28, 2019
Best for: Racers who need an entertaining pick-me-up along the way.
Key details: This race — part of a worldwide circuit of more than 30 events — takes you from the Music City hotbed of Lower Broadway to a post-race concert at Bridgestone Arena, with approximately 28 sound stages hosting live music in-between. Proceeds benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
You may also like: Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon Series: New Orleans, which has a very NOLA spin on the marathon. (If someone hands you a colored drink in a cup, it might just be a bloody mary.) The Disney Marathon in Orlando takes you past all four of Disney World’s parks, and costumed characters will be cheering you on along the way.
BIG SUR INTERNATIONAL
Date: April 28, 2019
Best for: Racers who want a view.
Key details: You’ve probably heard of California’s iconic Highway 1, pretty much the consensus pick for best place to rent a convertible and just drive. Turns out, it’s a great place to run, too, but you’ll have to race in this marathon to have your turn on the Bixby Bridge sans automobile. For a chance to do that, you’ll have to enter a lottery (and endure a 2,000-foot climb as you run from Big Sur Village to Carmel), but remember your prize is a jaw-dropping view of the Pacific.
You may also like: The Surf City USA Marathon in Huntington Beach is a SoCal alternative to this iconic NoCal marathon. Beachside views of that same Pacific Ocean, plus live surf rock to keep your energy up. The St. George Marathon in Southwest Utah is a super-scenic desert race, with a course that starts in the mountains and descends through beautiful canyons and valleys along the way.
THE VERMONT CITY MARATHON IN BURLINGTON
Date: May 26, 2019
Best for: Racers who like to keep it weird (but still, you know, compete).
Key details: Feel the burn at this quirky race, where finishers often celebrate by jumping into nearby Lake Champlain and local garage bands provide on-course entertainment. A nice bonus: The course is clover-shaped, so you’ll pass your personal support crew up to five times.
You may also like: The Austin Marathon, where live music and the city’s Keep Austin Weird contingent provide ample support; The Hatfield-McCoy Marathon in Williamson, West Virginia, where racers are split between Hatfields and McCoys, in homage to the famously feuding families.
MARATHON DES CHÁTEAUX DU MÉDOC
Date: September 7, 2019
Best for: The whimsical marathoner.
Key details: Some marathons are more serious than others, but few are less serious than this famously wine-soaked (and costume-required) run through France’s Bordeaux region. You’ll race through 23 vineyards and by nearly 60 chateaus, stopping at aid stations with oysters, cheese, pâté and, of course, wine. Don’t enjoy yourself too much, though: The cutoff is still 6.5 hours, and failing to finish means you won’t get a complimentary bottle of (still more) wine.
You may also like: The Great Wall Marathon in China. Less wine, more hills, equally poor chance of setting a PR.
THE CHICAGO MARATHON
Date: October 13, 2019
Best for: The serious marathoner.
Key details: Boston and New York understandably get all the hype, but this is a World Marathon Major, too, and it’s somewhat underrated. It’s famously fast due to its flat course, and extra-enjoyable thanks to the roughly 1.7 million people who come out and cheer, and it provides a scenic tour through 20 of the Windy City’s neighborhoods.
You may also like: The Twin Cities Marathon, another scenic tour through the Midwest, and one where something like 14% of eventual Boston Marathoners qualify.
THE MARINE CORPS MARATHON IN WASHINGTON, D.C.
Date: October 27, 2019
Best for: The extra-patriotic racer.
Key details: There’s a lot of cool stuff here. First, you’re racing through the nation’s capital, past such landmarks as the National Mall and Arlington National Cemetery. Second, Marines often line up to cheer you on and even place medals on the winners. Third, it’s called “The People’s Marathon” — there is no prize money, and racers come from all 50 states and more than 60 countries.
You may also like: The Air Force Marathon in Dayton, Ohio. The course might be a celebration of flight — you’ll run past the Wright Brothers Memorial Monument and circle Wright-Patterson Air Force Base — but it’s notably flat. Be sure to look up as there will be flyovers on race day.
THE HONOLULU MARATHON
Date: December 8, 2019
Best for: The bucket-list marathoner.
Key details: Popping over to Hawaii for a 26.2-mile run isn’t most people’s idea of a vacation, but marathoners aren’t most people. For what it’s worth, the course is mostly flat and offers a generous view. Maybe more important, there’s no cutoff time.In 2010, a 92-year-old finished the race in 10 hours.
You may also like: The Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon in Alaska, which takes place on the Saturday closest to the summer solstice — a time when the city has sunlight for 19 hours a day. It’s nicknamed the “Midnight Sun Marathon,” though it starts at 7:30 a.m., and the sun wouldn’t be up right at midnight.
Date: May 1, 2020
Best for: The serious marathoner (international edition).
Key details: A relative newcomer, having begun in 2007, this is Asia’s only race in the World Marathon Majors Series. It’s highly popular, with more than 300,000 applicants for roughly 36,000 spots, but offers a unique experience (and a challenging course) within the circuit.
You may also like: The Virgin Money London Marathon, also in the Series, offers another city race with an unparalleled experience. The course is notably flat, circling the River Thames.