If you haven’t run an organized race before — be it a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or marathon — you’re in for a real treat. There’s a certain energy and excitement in the air as you’re surrounded by thousands of other eager bucket-listers, music playing, and volunteers cheering. It’s far different than just setting out on a solo run.
That said, no two marathons are the same. Some are urban, some take place amongst lakes and backwoods, some are care-free, and some are more intimidating than anything you’ve ever done. If you’ve gotten over the hump of deciding to do a marathon, the next step is deciding which one. We’re here to help. Here’s our list of the best marathons in the U.S.
Twin Cities Marathon, Minnesota
Often dubbed as the ‘most beautiful urban race in the country,’ the Twin Cities Marathon is one that certainly lives up to its hype. Taking place between Minneapolis and St. Paul, this race traipses through stately neighborhoods, along the shorelines of lakes, and by the Mississippi River. Because it’s a race that happens during autumn, runners are blown away by the fall foliage. Plus, the descent past the famous Cathedral of St. Paul is one of the great finishes you’ll find in the country.
When: Early October
Where to Stay: Cozy Downtown Duplex
Honolulu Marathon, Hawaii
As far as destination marathons go, it’s tough to beat the Honolulu Marathon. Starting in Hawaii’s capital and winding through Waikiki, the Kalanianaole Highway, and eventually the Waikiki Kapiolani National Park, it’s one of the most scenically stunning in the world. And, in keeping with the welcoming spirit of Hawaii, the Honolulu Marathon continues until the last person crosses the finish line. There’s no rush, so feel free to run, walk, or pause to admire the landmarks along the way. Be sure to catch the pre-race luau, and then treat yourself to some much-needed beach time after the race’s finish.
When: Early December
Where to Stay: Ala Moana Condo with Ocean View
Walt Disney World Marathon, Orlando
The Walt Disney World is for the child in all of us. This route speeds through four of the Walt Disney World theme parks: Magic Kingdom Park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Park, Disney’s Hollywood Studios, and the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex. Bring your family for a great excuse to go on a family vacation — just make sure you plan the race for the end of your trip!
When: Mid January
Where to Stay: Thornton Park Bungalow
Chicago Marathon, Illinois
Chicago has built its reputation as one of the best marathons in the United States for a few solid reasons. First, unlike other races where runners have to spend up to an hour on an anxious shuttle (and even more time shivering outside), runners in Chicago can walk out of their hotel rooms and up to the starting line. The Chicago Marathon is a very flat race, and because there are so many runners, there’s always someone to keep pace with — crucial factors for beating your PR. It’s also a loop course, so you’ll end up very near where you began.
When: Mid October
Where to Stay: The Palmer House
Surf City Marathon, California
Enough dilly-dallying around cold climates — let’s talk about marathons in Southern California. The Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach leads runners along the longest stretch of uninterrupted beachfront in the U.S. Along the way you’ll find aid stations and bands playing Dick Dale-style surf rock to put you in the mood. If you’re looking for a good wintertime race that won’t leave your extremities purple, consider the Surf City Marathon.
When: Early February
Where to Stay: Coastal Single Family Home
Asheville Marathon, North Carolina
Run entirely on the grounds of the Biltmore Estate — the largest privately-owned mansion in the United States — the Asheville Marathon course runs through rolling hills, meadows, gardens, and packed dirt roads through evergreen forests. For the uninitiated, Asheville is located at the foot of the impressive Blue Ridge Mountains, and is a bit of a brewery capital (check out these 7 Best Breweries in Asheville after your race), which make it an ideal setting for a destination marathon. The full and half marathons here are boutique-style, meaning they cap the number of runners at 1,525, so it never gets too crowded.
When: Mid March
Where to Stay: Brookstone Lodge
While there are tons of Tours, Activities, and Things to Do in Boston, the Boston Marathon is inarguably one of the most popular events of the year. It’s the oldest marathon (going strong since 1897), and not just anyone can run it. You’ll need to post a qualifying time in one of the official qualifying races. Once you get here though, it’s a real treat. Over 500,000 spectators from around the New England area gather to celebrate and cheer on their loved ones.
When: President’s Day
Where to Stay: Gorgeous Beacon Hill Apartment
New York City Marathon, New York
The New York City Marathon is considered the largest marathon in the world, plain and simple. The race starts in Staten Island and flies through the rest of the five boroughs — Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. Best of all, the race ends right at Central Park. As far as city marathons go, the New York Marathon is a candidate for the best in the country. Also, if you’re just in town for a quick trip to do the Marathon, check out our New York City 48-Hour Itinerary.
When: First Sunday in November
Where to Stay: Empire Hotel
Steamtown Marathon, Pennsylvania
While you may miss out on some of the household name recognition, there’s something to be said for running the lesser-known races that are cheaper and more off the beaten path. The Steamtown Marathon takes place in Northeastern Pennsylvania, and is capped at 3,000 runners. Steamtown is big on philanthropy, and since 1996 they’ve donated 1.7 million dollars to St. Joseph’s Children Center.
When: Mid October
Where to Stay: Residence Inn Scranton
Baltimore Marathon, Maryland
As a part of the larger Baltimore Running Festival, the Baltimore Maryland is being touted as one of the best new races in the country. The “fair yet challenging course” winds through pretty neighborhoods, the scenic Inner Harbor Waterfront area, the Maryland Zoo, and the historic Federal Hill. Runners say the best part about the Baltimore Marathon is the small-town community support that pervades all aspects of the event. The starting line is located at Paca and Camden Streets.
When: Mid October
Where to Stay: Luxury Camden Home Overlooking Park
The VCU Health Richmond Marathon, Virginia
Just a few hours down the road from the Baltimore Marathon is the widely-recognized Richmond Marathon. With its tagline being “America’s Friendliest Marathon,” it’s another gem that prides itself on the sense of community, philanthropy, and volunteer work surrounding the annual event. At the Richmond Marathon, you’ll run by street art, river views, historic architecture, and beautiful parks. You’ll also encounter live bands, spirit groups, DJ’s, and Party Zones — all of which help motivate you to the end.
When: Mid November
Where to Stay: Omni Richmond Hotel