|If you were one of the nearly 66,000 hopefuls who came away from last week’s New York City Marathon lottery drawing with a losing $11 ticket in hand, don’t despair! New York may be the biggest and among the most prestigious marathons in the world, but then again, it will likely be even bigger and more prestigious next year when you DO get in. And Taylor Swift will still be welcoming you.
In the meantime, since we’re all runners in search of our next start line, we’re here to help you fill that late-season void in your race calendar, with ten marathons (five road + five trail) that offer worthy November/December alternatives to the Big Apple. After all, there are plenty of other races & places in the world to “Get Your ____ On”.
Of course this list isn’t comprehensive, and we’d recommend you do some research of your own using our handy customized “Find a Race” feature. But we (objectively) can’t think of a better place to start. And for non-marathoners, races that include a shorter – and in one case, longer – distance are indicated by a *.
Got your own rave recommendation for a great year-ender? Review it on RaceRaves and let us know in the Comments below!
|Athens Marathon. The Authentic* (Athens, Greece; Nov 8, 2015)
The name says it all – as the birthplace of the marathon, Athens appropriately bills itself as “The Authentic”. Ask any hardcore marathoner for their top five bucket-list races, and Athens will undoubtedly be among them. The point-to-point course starts in the town of Marathon and finishes in the Panathenaic Stadium in Athens, site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896. With a steady uphill climb between miles 6 and 19, don’t expect to come away with an easy PR. But with 2,500 years of history at your back and the spirit of Pheidippides urging you onward, do expect to come away with hard-earned goosebumps and indelible memories that are wholly Authentic. As a bonus, you may even come away learning to spell “Pheidippides”. Registration opens Mar 15.
|Philadelphia Marathon* (Philadelphia, PA; Nov 22, 2015)
As historical context goes, few U.S. marathons can stake their claim like Philadelphia. The race wastes no time in flexing its colonial muscle, starting on Benjamin Franklin Parkway before passing City Hall in mile 1, the Liberty Bell in mile 6, and other notable landmarks touted by the official race website as “familiar to Franklin, Washington and the rest of the gang” (those Founding Fathers were such Little Rascals!). The first half of this deceptively rolling course features a 13-mile tour of urban Philly, the second a more relaxed out-and-back along the Schuylkill River. And like a third wind blowing you forward when you need it most, thousands of raucous spectators line the course eager to share the brotherly love for which their city is famous. Registration opens Apr 1.
|California International Marathon* (Sacramento, CA; Dec 6, 2015)
Its organizers at the Sacramento Running Association bill CIM as the “fastest, friendliest, most spectacular course in the West!”, and they may well be 2/3 right. Traversing the suburbs of Sacramento, the net downhill course is PR- and BQ-friendly while offering just enough variety (i.e. hills) in the first half to keep the legs guessing. From its readily navigated expo to its easy start-line access to its cowbell-toting spectators, CIM is a first-class marathon that doesn’t sacrifice its relaxed, small-town vibe. The field size (5,805 finishers last year) is very comfortable, and with the exception of a deluge in 2012, weather conditions tend toward ideal.
What is more, CIM offers one shrewd bonus for Boston Marathon hopefuls (i.e. age-division qualifiers): an October “guaranteed” registration window reserved for runners who have recently finished a marathon within ten minutes of their BQ standard and who want another shot. Look for other astute race directors to adopt this policy in the not-too-distant future. Registration now open; guaranteed registration for age-division qualifers opens Oct 1 and closes Oct 16.
|Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship (Fukuoka, Japan; Dec 6, 2015)
Back in the 70s, when Nike co-founder Bill Bowerman was making shoes in his wife’s waffle iron and fleet-footed giants like Bill Rodgers and Frank Shorter ruled the marathon circuit, Fukuoka was one of three major marathons in the world alongside Boston and New York City. In 1974 – the year Shorter claimed his fourth consecutive victory – the race’s name was updated to reflect this global significance, adopting its current title of “Fukuoka International Open Marathon Championship”.
Though its star has faded in recent years, Fukuoka continues to attract top elites, as confirmed by 18 straight winning times under 2:10, including a course record 2:05:18 set by Ethiopian Tsegaye Kebede in 2009. With a 68-year tradition of marathoning excellence, and in a country that reveres its top endurance athletes, Fukuoka is an underappreciated diamond in the marathon rough – at least for those male cheetahs capable of meeting its eligibility requirement of a sub-2:40 marathon finish time. Registration opens Aug 20 and closes Sept 15.
|Honolulu Marathon* (Honolulu, HI; Dec 13, 2015)
As both temperament and temperature go, Hawaii is about as far from New York City as you can get without a passport. While most of the country braces for another long cold winter, Honolulu organizers load up their aid stations with ice and sponges in anticipation of sunshine and mid-70s temperatures. Despite being the nation’s fourth-largest marathon, Hawaii’s capital city stays true to the state’s laid-back vibe and Aloha Spirit by keeping the finish line open until the last runner crosses. White-sand beaches, volcanic craters, Pacific Ocean all around… what more could a runner want from a year-end event?
Even the fast kids like this race – when Hurricane Sandy forced the cancellation of the 2012 NYC Marathon, current world #1 ranked marathoner and reigning World Marathon Majors champion Wilson Kipsang chose Honolulu instead. Clearly 30,000 finishers sporting holiday suntans can’t be wrong. Registration opens in April.
|Moab Trail Marathon* (Moab, UT; Nov 7, 2015)
Few places in the continental U.S. can rival the spectacular vastness and beauty of Southern Utah. For those approaching from the Colorado (eastern) side, Moab stands as the gateway to Arches National Park and the region’s natural spoils. The marathon course takes full advantage of its red-rock environs while challenging runners every step of the way, with soft sand, frequent slickrock and even – weather permitting – an ice-cold creek bed to wade through. Suffice it to say your feet will never be bored, though they may threaten to secede along the way. Race director and ultrarunning legend Danelle Ballengee (read her story of personal survival HERE) sets the tone with her exuberance and constant encouragement, and race goodie bags include a discount at Milt’s Stop N’ Eat, a local greasy spoon landmark owned by Ballengee and her husband.
Rain can cause the perilous slickrock to live up to its name, but otherwise Moab is a striking setting for a late-season trail marathon. And besides… what better destination for a runner than a place called Arches? Registration now open.
|Volcano Marathon* (San Pedro de Atacama, Chile; Nov 12, 2015)
“You versus you. You versus your limitations” is the rallying cry of UVU Racing, the folks who also bring you the North Pole Marathon, Antarctic Ice Marathon & Antarctic 100K. Held in the driest place on earth (the Atacama Desert), the Volcano Marathon appropriately starts alongside Lascar Volcano, the most active fumarole in the Andes of Northern Chile. “Extreme” is the name of the game here, and if the heat (85+°F at the finish) doesn’t test your mettle, the altitude will. At 14,682 feet, the start line sits higher than any point in the continental U.S., while more than half the course sits above 13,000 feet.
As UVU’s slogan suggests, this race is a singular challenge. For runners looking for a November off-road alternative to New York City, the Volcano Marathon is about as alternative as it gets. Registration (limited to 40) now open.
|Catalina Island Eco Marathon* (Avalon, CA; Nov 21, 2015)
Lying 30 miles southwest off the coast of Long Beach, Catalina Island hosts a late-season trail marathon that its finishers describe as “some of the most beautiful trails I’ve ever run,” “a little slice of paradise” and “the hardest race you’ll ever love”. The lariat-shaped course offers sweeping views across the Pacific that don’t come easy – if hills pay the bills, Catalina Island Eco finishers can expect to cross the finish line debt-free. Limited accommodations are available in Avalon, though most runners arrive at the start line via the early Catalina Express ferry out of Long Beach.
As a bonus, finishers of both the Eco Marathon and the Catalina Island Conservancy Marathon in March earn a Double Buffalo Medal to celebrate the island’s most popular four-legged spectator. Registration now open.
|The North Face Endurance Challenge Championship Race* (San Francisco, CA; Dec 5, 2015)
The annual North Face Endurance Challenge (TNFEC) series culminates in the Bay Area’s trail-running mecca, the Marin Headlands of the Golden Gate Recreation Area, just north of San Francisco across the Golden Gate Bridge. For those not allergic to either dirt or ocean breezes, TNFEC’s crown jewel is a gem of the trail-racing circuit. Unfortunately early December is the rainy season in the Bay Area, and heavy rain in two of the past three years has forced rerouting of the race’s 50-mile course. But when Mother Nature cooperates, the course rewards runners with stunning scenery and panoramic ocean views that remind you you’re straddling the ragged edge of the continent.
The post-race buffet caters to meat-eaters and vegetarians alike, and the swag is always impressive, as is the $80 marathon registration fee. Not to mention Ultramarathon Man mojo hangs in the air, as Dean Karnazes waits at the start line to encourage runners before sending them on their way.
NOTE: The “Championship” label refers to the 50-mile race, which awards $10,000 each to its male and female winners. Registration now open.
|The HUFF 50K* (Albion, IN; Dec 19, 2015)
If winter racing for you means gloves and beanies, then the HUFF 50K is your cup of iced tea. Race-day temperatures typically hover around freezing, which the organizers counter with a heated tent where runners can loiter before, after and even during the race, courtesy of the strategic two-loop course. Each loop of the reasonably hilly course leads runners along double-wide trails across picturesque Chain O’ Lakes State Park. And the HUFF clearly appreciates its runners, from the generous post-race spread (consisting of various soups and beers) to swag that would make Santa jealous (2014 goodies included a shirt, a glass and plastic mug, a running hat and santa hat made of technical fabric, plus belt buckles for all 50K finishers).
The HUFF is unique in being the only ultramarathon on this list, but then again if you’re already training to conquer 26.2 miles, what’s another five? For trail novices and seasoned veterans seeking a year-end challenge to offset the impending holiday gorge fest, the HUFF’s enough. Registration now open.