Marathon Maniacs Fran Libasci & Tom BrandFran & Tom caption2
As “tireless” goes, the Energizer Bunny’s got nothing on Fran Libasci and Tom Brand. Since crossing their first marathon finish line in New York City at age 49 this duo from Summit, New Jersey has:

  • Conquered 350 marathons and ultras between them
  • Finished all 50 states twice, concluding their first nationwide tour in Missoula, Montana in July 2010 and their second in Humble (with a silent “H”), Texas in December 2012. As of this writing, they’re 33 states into their third tour.
  • Completed marathons on 4 continents, with plans to finish all 7 in 2016.
  • Earned top-tier “Titanium” status in the Marathon Maniacs club

And setting the pace in her own home state, Fran in 2012 became the first New Jersey woman ever to run 100 marathons.

Their race schedule may set the tone for their travels, but their other hobbies – which include geocaching and visiting local museums, zoos, botanical gardens, ballparks and national parks – help them to appreciate each race destination beyond the finish line.

Given their passion for races and intimate familiarity with the American racing landscape, we asked Fran and Tom to share their favorite marathons with runners looking to plan their 2015 (and beyond!) race schedule. Among their criteria, the two are most likely to seek out and enjoy races produced by running clubs for the sheer love of the sport. And though the world’s largest race – the TCS New York City Marathon – ranks among their favorites, they prefer smaller races with fewer than 500 participants.

Here we’re pleased to present the fruits of their selection process: 15 favorite U.S. races plus 10 can’t-miss honorable mentions. Each race is described in their own words. And for non-marathoners, all but four include shorter – and in the case of Big Wild Life Runs and the ET Full Moon Midnight Marathon, longer – distances as well (these are indicated by a *).

Agree? Disagree? Got your own fave race to share? Let us know in the comments below!

Favorite 15 (by 2015 date)

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Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon
Northfield, MN
Jan 11, 2015
Unique indoor marathon held at St. Olaf College, comprising 150 of the most fun laps you can ever run. Amazing pre-race meal. Temperature always a comfortable 60 degrees. Personal lap counters, with all counters chanting your name on your last lap. Your favorite tunes as well as silly songs (such as “Turn! Turn! Turn!” and “Dizzy”) played throughout. More camaraderie than you can imagine. We’ve run ZYY 4 times and will keep returning. (Editor’s note: ZYY is limited to 44 runners and uses a lottery system for registration; applications must be received by August 31.)
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Bataan Memorial Death March*
Las Cruces, NM
Mar 22, 2015
An opportunity to meet survivors of the World War II Bataan Death March, hear their stories and have them cheer you on throughout the course. Easily one of the most difficult marathons on our list; however, there is no time limit. Two miles uphill in ankle deep sand can’t compare to the torture sustained by those this race honors. In 2007 there were 15 survivors at the event. But with the clock ticking, we fear there will soon be none.
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Yakima River Canyon Marathon
Ellensburg, WA
Mar 28, 2015
The course follows the challenging Yakima River Canyon Valley. From mile 5 to the end you have beautiful views of the valley, the river and the train on the valley floor to your right – lush, green hills rising up on your left and ahead of you as the road twists and turns to the finish line. But don’t just plan to go for the race; this is a weekend event.  Hosts Bob (who has run >500 marathons) and Lenore Dolphin do everything they can to inspire, to entertain, to host, to make you laugh, and to help you remember the experience and want to return.
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Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon*
Deadwood, SD
Jun 7, 2015
A lovely rails-to-trail race providing some amazing and serene scenery. Gradual uphill climb in the first half, then gradual downhill to the finish. Stay in the town of Deadwood where duels are staged daily in the streets.
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Steamboat Marathon*
Steamboat, CO
Jun 7, 2015
A significant (1400 ft) elevation drop, along with rolling hills and spectacular scenery throughout the 26.2 mile journey. With its great weather, you can’t get much better than this.
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Big Wild Life Runs*
Anchorage, AK
Aug 16, 2015
Run primarily on lovely bike and hiking trails through the city, with the start and finish in downtown. Most downtown hotels are just a short walk to the start/finish.
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ET Full Moon Midnight Marathon*
Rachel, NV
Aug 29, 2015
2½ hr bus ride from Las Vegas. Starts at midnight by the “black mailbox”. Run entirely along the Extraterrestrial Highway, with a steady uphill climb to the halfway point, then down/flat for the second half. Runners don all types of lights, blinky things and headlamps. Held on the weekend closest to the full moon.
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Kauai Marathon*
Koloa, Hawaii
Sept 6, 2015
Paradise with a marathon – a very hilly marathon. However, all the hard work pays off at mile 19 when you catch beautiful vistas of the Pacific Ocean. Finish alongside the ocean.
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Clarence DeMar Marathon*
Gilsum, NH
Sept 27, 2015
A lovely run past farms, houses, a golf course, across a reservoir, and through two cemeteries. Some of the course is on roads open to traffic, but amazing volunteers help with safety. In addition to a great course, the race organizers and volunteers go out of their way to make each and every runner “feel the love”. The college town of Keene (where the race finishes) is the picture-perfect New England town. Town square, church with white steeple and fabulous restaurants and shopping.
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Quad Cities Marathon*
Moline, IL
Sept 27, 2015
Boasting 5 different races (there is something for everyone), 4 cities, 3 bridges, 2 states (Illinois and Iowa) and 1 island, with a great deal of the course alongside the Mississippi River!  
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Freedom’s Run*
Harper’s Ferry, WV
Oct 10, 2015
26 miles of history running through 4 National Parks.  Shuttles bring runners to the start at Harper’s Ferry. The course runs alongside the C&O Canal, Antietam National Battlefield, and the Potomac Heritage Trail with the finish in Shepherdstown. No other marathon provides such a unique historical experience.
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Detroit Marathon*
Detroit, MI
Oct 18, 2015
Medium-sized event which provides a lovely tour of the city and spectacular views. Unique treat of running over the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, Canada and then back to Detroit through the mile-long Detroit-Windsor tunnel. (Editor’s note: Journey fans, here’s your chance to experience the “South Detroit” Steve Perry sang about!)
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New York City Marathon
New York City, NY
Nov 1, 2015
By far the largest race on our list, and by far the most complicated logistically. But those two issues aside, there is absolutely nothing like running through the 5 boroughs of the city, each with its unique characteristics and each with hundreds of thousands of cheering spectators, music blaring, millions of slippery Gatorade cups crushed under foot – ahhh New York! Running along you may turn to your right and see a group from France, to your left a group from Korea, and ahead of you someone from Paraguay… and on and on. Certainly New York is always a memorable experience. (Editor’s note: NYC uses a lottery system for registration; 2015 registration opened on Jan 15 & ends on Feb 15.)
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Philladelphia Marathon*
Philadelphia, PA
Nov 30, 2015
While we tend to stay away from large marathons, Philly provides a fabulous tour of the City of Brotherly Love. Stay at a hotel within walking distance of the start/finish, which is in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum and the famous “Rocky” steps.
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Rocket City Marathon
Huntsville, AL
Dec 13, 2014
Of all the marathons we’ve done, this is arguably the best-marked course! A new course was introduced in 2014 with more turns than we could count, but each one was perfectly marked with arrows on stakes or with painted markings on the road. Outstanding aid stations and course support. Some of the roads are open during the event, but police and volunteers keep the runners safe. This is a beautiful tour of the historical residential areas of the city, the U.S. Space and Rocket Center (you even get to run under the Space Shuttle Pathfinder), and the Botanical Gardens.

10 more not to miss

Shiprock Marathon* – Shiprock, NM | May 2, 2015
Fargo Marathon* – Fargo, ND | May 9, 2015
Vermont City Marathon* – Burlington, VT | May 24, 2015
Morgan Valley Marathon* – Morgan, UT | Jul 18, 2015
Newport Marathon* – Newport, RI | Oct 11, 2015
Spinx Carolina Marathon & RunFest* – Greenville, SC | Oct 25, 2014
Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon* – Chickamauga, TN | Nov 8, 2014
Soldier Marathon* – Columbus, GA | Nov 7, 2015
Potomac River Run Marathon* – Potomac, MD | Nov 16, 2014
Mississippi Coast Marathon* – Stennis Space Center, MS | Nov 28, 2015

Your turn – what do you think?