Welcome to the results of our 2018 Best Marathons in the U.S. poll! Here we crown the top marathon in every U.S. state as chosen by you, the runners. THANK YOU to all who voted or posted your reviews — your overwhelming support enabled us to compile this list with confidence.
Thanks also to those of you who shared your write-in candidates and hidden gems; we’ll be featuring those in a future article.
Now though, without further ado, we present our authoritative “runners choice” list of the best marathons by state. We hope you’ll add some of these to your own wish list! 👏
You can also view the full list organized by month.
Disclaimer: Due to their exclusive status as World Marathon Majors (with all the prestige and advantages conferred by that status) the Boston Marathon, Chicago Marathon and New York City Marathon were excluded from the voting in their respective states (Massachusetts, Illinois and New York). It’s no secret these three races are bucket-list favorites, and our goal is to help runners discover less ballyhooed events deserving of their time and money.
Best Marathons in the U.S. by state
Rocket City Marathon
Huntsville, AL (Dec)
Nicknamed “Rocket City” for its affiliation with the aerospace industry, Huntsville is a stellar venue from which to launch your next personal best or Boston Qualifying mission. The winding course provides a scenic tour of the city’s historical neighborhoods as well as the Botanical Gardens and the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, where runners pass directly under the Space Shuttle Orbiter Pathfinder. Impeccable course markings and exceptional support ensure your focus remains on running, while a finish inside the climate-controlled Von Braun Center promises a smooth landing in the unpredictable December weather. Rocket City will give you the boost(er) you need to end your racing year on the right foot.
Runner-up: Mercedes-Benz Marathon (Feb)
Anchorage Mayor’s Marathon
Anchorage, AK (Jun)
Get ready to see the light (and lots of it) at this summer celebration in Alaska’s largest city. Held the weekend nearest the summer solstice when daylight approaches 20 hours per day, Anchorage Mayor’s has more the feel of an intimate trail race than a big-city road marathon. “Gorgeous views” of the downtown skyline framed against the Chugach Mountains help take your mind off the hilly course, though don’t get too distracted since you’ll want to watch for early-morning moose or bears out strolling the Tony Knowles Trail. With distances ranging from one mile to the full 26.2, AMM is a “great destination race” for the entire family to run together and “take in the beauty of Alaska.”
Runner-up: Anchorage RunFest (Humpy’s Marathon) (Aug)
Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona
Phoenix, AZ (Jan)
As the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series continues to evolve, its Arizona offering remains a popular “racecation” for runners looking to kick off their racing year and escape the dead of winter in their own home states. The largely flat marathon course runs through three different cities, starting in Phoenix before visiting Scottsdale and ending in the college town of Tempe. Along the way runners are treated to scenic desert landscapes, a final mile on the Mill Avenue Bridge spanning the Salt River and, of course, an eclectic assortment of musical acts that give this series its name. Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona is a recommended winter getaway for first-timers, traveling runners and 50 Staters alike.
Runner-up: Lost Dutchman Marathon (Feb)
Little Rock Marathon
Little Rock, AR (Mar)
Yes, it’s the largest race in the state’s largest city, but it’s the sheer size of its finisher medals that solidifies Little Rock’s reputation as the go-to marathon in Arkansas. Proud finishers annually share photos of their oversized bling on social media, prompting oohs and aahs from amazed followers. Little Rock’s appeal goes beyond the bling, though, as the event welcomes both runners and walkers, promising “a race for every pace” on its hilly and historic course. And the CICs (Chicks in Charge, as race directors Geneva Lamm and Gina Marchese Pharis are affectionately known) clearly enjoy hosting their annual 26.2-mile party; case in point their offbeat “theme reveal” videos, which bring a smile to even the most serious marathoner’s face.
Runner-up: Jacob Wells 3 Bridges Marathon (Dec)
Big Sur International Marathon
Big Sur, CA (Apr)
As one of the premier bucket-list events in the country, it’s no surprise Big Sur plays the role of David among the Goliaths of the California marathon scene. Runners rave about the “insanely beautiful” point-to-point course with its soaring redwoods and rugged coastline, while distinctive touches like taiko drummers (mile 10), a tuxedo-clad pianist on the iconic Bixby Bridge (mile 14) and creative mile markers heighten the allure of “Running on the Ragged Edge of the Western World.” Due to the race’s small field size (limited to 4,500) and outsized popularity, entry is based on a series of random drawings, with 400 slots set aside for Boston Marathon participants looking to conquer the prestigious Boston 2 Big Sur Challenge.
Runner-up: Napa Valley Marathon (Mar)
Pikes Peak Marathon
Manitou Springs, CO (Sept)
Looking for the ultimate runner’s high? Look no further than “America’s Ultimate Challenge.” As its nickname suggests, Pikes Peak is widely acknowledged as the nation’s toughest marathon, boasting over 15,600 feet of elevation change (7,815ft up, 7,815ft down) with its midway point at the summit, 14,115 feet above sea level. Space considerations on the narrow dirt-and-gravel Barr Trail limit the field size to 800 marathoners, each of whom must meet a qualifying standard to gain entry. Still not intimidated? High-altitude masochists with iron quads can earn the title of Pikes Peak Doubler by completing the Ascent (half marathon) on Saturday followed by the marathon on Sunday.
Runner-up: REVEL Rockies (Jun)
Hartford, CT (Oct)
The “biggest race day in Connecticut” is also a New England favorite. Now in its 26th year, Hartford is a well-oiled machine with respect to race logistics, a fact which earns the event particularly high marks for its production. The course features “modest hills” and a diverse mix of urban, suburban and rural scenery, with stretches alongside and over the Connecticut River. Finishers agree that running under the imposing Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Arch with its twin brownstone towers in the home stretch is a race highlight. And as a bonus perk, marathoners who complete their 50 States quest in Hartford receive an exclusive keepsake to commemorate their accomplishment.
Runner-up: Savin Rock Marathon (Mar)
Rehoboth Beach Seashore Marathon
Rehoboth, DE (Dec)
Enjoy the beach and boardwalk without the crowds at this late-season marathon in Delaware’s “most visited city.” Situated on the Atlantic Coast, Rehoboth Beach draws enthusiastic marathoners with its flat course that traverses sandy dunes, wetland habitats and coastal maritime forests as well as the occasional residential neighborhood. Finishers tout the bustling after-party (free with race registration) which includes unlimited food and three beer tickets. And the town’s eclectic assortment of colorful cottages, funky shops and charming restaurants appeal to runners and non-runners alike. Looking for a fast marathon in a coastal setting? Come “sea” what all the fuss is about in Rehoboth Beach.
Runner-up: Delaware Marathon Running Festival (Apr)
Walt Disney World Marathon
Lake Buena Vista, FL (Jan)
Founded in 1994, runDisney’s flagship event is an annual winter favorite. After all, who can resist an event that justifiably bills itself as “the most magical race weekend on Earth”? Starting and finishing at Epcot, the flat and fast course winds its way through all four WDW theme parks as well as the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, highlighted by photo ops with beloved Disney characters. And the weekend’s hottest ticket may be the Dopey Challenge, in which participants complete the 5K, 10K, half marathon and marathon on four consecutive days to earn each individual finisher medal plus the coveted Goofy’s Race and a Half Challenge Medal (half marathon and marathon) and Dopey Challenge Medal. Gawrsh!
Runner-up: Space Coast Marathon (Nov)
Atlanta Marathon (fka Georgia Marathon)
Atlanta, GA (Feb)
Despite a new name and new course for 2019, the Atlanta Marathon retains the same organizers as its popular predecessor, the Publix Georgia Marathon. Produced by the Atlanta Track Club (organizers of the nation’s largest running event, the Peachtree Road Race), Atlanta is a reliable option for an early-season marathon. The predominately loop course passes through historic neighborhoods and by several colleges, universities and stadiums, with highlights that include Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthplace and final resting place, the 1996 Olympic rings and torch cauldron, and the Georgia State Capitol. All of which supports the organizers’ assertion that “the best way to see Atlanta is on foot.”
Runner-up: Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah (Nov)
Honolulu, HI (Dec)
Ironically for a marathon with 20,000+ annual participants, Honolulu is a laid-back celebration of running. The event owes much of its appeal to its tropical December weather and atypical “no time limit” policy that appeals to walkers, first-timers and back-of-the-pack runners. The course features panoramic ocean vistas, passing landmarks such as the King Kamehameha statue and Diamond Head volcanic cone while not straying far from the Pacific Ocean. And what better way to reward yourself after a 26.2-mile effort than with a post-race malasada (Portuguese donut) and nap on the white sands of Waikiki Beach? Registration fees increase significantly as race day approaches, so sign up early for the best deal.
Runner-up: Maui Oceanfront Marathon (Jan)
Coeur d’Alene Marathon
Coeur d’Alene, ID (May)
Runners who prefer their marathons on the scenic side will appreciate this diamond in the Gem State. Situated on the shores of its namesake lake, the resort community of Coeur d’Alene is a popular choice for a destination race, with recreational and leisure activities for the entire family. The race organizers promise a brand-new marathon course in 2019 to replace the current hilly, two-loop route. That said, what will remain a constant are Coeur d’Alene’s pristine natural beauty and ideal May running weather, along with its friendly volunteers and Pacific Northwest hospitality. As 2016 overall winner Nathan Birdsall puts it, “I couldn’t imagine a better place for a marathon.”
Runner-up: Mesa Falls Marathon (July)
Quad Cities Marathon
Molina, IL (Sep)
Four cities + three bridges + two states = one memorable marathon along the Mississippi River. Your two-state tour starts with a bridge crossing into Iowa, followed by nine miles in the Hawkeye State before crossing back over the river, through the Rock Island Arsenal Army Base, and into Moline to finish where you started. Given its slogan of “Run the River” there’s no question as to the centerpiece of this event, with much of the flat and picturesque course paralleling the mighty Mississippi. Finishers rave that QCM Is “always well organized” and “very friendly,” case in point Race Director Joe Moreno, who after more than 20 years at the helm still makes an effort to high-five every runner who crosses the finish line.
Runner-up (tie): Belleville Main Street Marathon (Sep), Illinois Marathon (Apr)
Indianapolis Monumental Marathon
Indianapolis, IN (Nov)
The hashtag says it all: #BeMonumental. Celebrating its 12th anniversary in 2019, the Hoosier State’s largest marathon continues to grow in popularity among novice and seasoned runners alike, having sold out in each of the past seven years. The flat, Boston Qualifier-friendly course starts and finishes at the State Capitol, while treating runners to a 26.2-mile urban tour of Indianapolis landmarks including Lucas Oil Stadium, Monument Circle, Butler University and the Indiana State Capitol. Throw in Central Indiana’s normally brisk (i.e. optimal) early November weather, and Indy Monumental may very well answer the question of “Hoosier favorite fall marathon?”
Runner-up: Carmel Marathon Weekend (Apr)
Des Moines Marathon
Des Moines, IA (Oct)
Not only is Des Moines the dominant marathon in Iowa; it’s also one of the best in the Midwest as indicated by its glowing reviews on RaceRaves. The tree-lined route through residential neighborhoods and local parks is a tale of two courses, with a rolling first half transitioning to a flatter, faster second half. Highlights include Water Works Park, Gray’s Lake Park, and an energizing lap around the famed blue track at Drake University. And a shout-out to the good-natured, supportive volunteers who patrol the course on bikes, effectively acting as mobile aid stations. One hilly marathon not enough? Runners who accept the I-35 Challenge commit to tackling Des Moines and Kansas City (see Missouri, below) on consecutive days.
Runner-up: Run4Troops Marathon (Jun)
Garmin Marathon in the Land of Oz
Olathe, KS (Apr)
Like eating BBQ in Kansas City, what feels more apropos than running a marathon in the land of Garmin? Race day starts at Garmin Headquarters before heading out into local neighborhoods and parks on residential roads and paved bike trails. Along the way, rolling hills may have you thinking you’re not in Kansas anymore. True to its location and name, the race pays tribute to L. Frank Baum’s iconic characters with creatively themed finisher medals and an “Emerald City” finish line festival featuring an “amazing post-race food spread” plus beer/margaritas for the adults. And don’t be surprised to find yourself running alongside Dorothy, the Scarecrow or even a Wicked Witch or two in racing flats.
Runner-up: Prairie Fire Marathon (Oct)
Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon
Louisville, KY (Apr)
When it comes to the state’s premier event, Louisville doesn’t horse around. With its 10,000+ runners, the Marathon/miniMarathon is one of more than 70 events attended by 1.5+ million people as part of the city’s two-week Kentucky Derby Festival, culminating in the Run for the Roses. The mostly flat loop courses start and finish in Downtown Louisville, with the hands-down highlight arriving in mile 9: a lap inside the gates of the legendary Churchill Downs race track, accompanied by the broadcast sounds of past Derby calls. Here, insider views of the dirt track and iconic twin spires atop the grandstands provide a unique perspective and appreciation for “The Greatest Two Minutes in Sports.”
Runner-up: Hatfield McCoy Marathon (see West Virginia) (Jun)
Baton Rouge, LA (Jan)
Baton Rouge promises lagniappe (a little something extra) with its marathon weekend, and the city delivers big. The pancake-flat course takes runners past diverse urban scenery, through parks and tree tunnels, and along oak- and magnolia-lined streets that showcase the city’s charming antebellum architecture. Keep an eye out for Tiger Stadium, the centerpiece of the LSU campus and a structure which, when filled to capacity on game days, holds the equivalent of nearly half the city’s population. Afterwards, kick back and celebrate at one of the best finish festivals in the country featuring a food village (cajun cuisine as well as vegan options), local beers and live musical entertainment.
Runner-up: Rock ‘n’ Roll New Orleans (Feb)
Mount Desert Island Marathon
Bar Harbor, ME (Oct)
Lying just off the southeast coast of Maine, Mount Desert Island (MDI) is home to what runners call “the most scenic marathon I have ever run” and “definitely one of my top five favorite races of all time (50+ marathons).” The rolling course offers spectacular coastal views while passing quaint New England villages and fall foliage dressed in dazzling reds, yellows and oranges. “Top-notch” organization ensures a smooth event from start to finish, with all finishers earning the coveted “Crusher Claw” medal. And keep in mind humans aren’t MDI’s largest residents, as the island is also home to the black bears and moose of Acadia National Park. For a “stunningly beautiful” fall marathon, you won’t do bettah than Bah Hahbah.
Runner-up: Maine Marathon (Oct)
Baltimore Running Festival
Baltimore, MD (Oct)
When Baltimore calls its annual event a “running festival,” it means it. This celebration of Charm City features race distances from 0.05K (yes, you read that right) to 26.2 miles. Starting at Camden Yards, the “hilly, challenging” marathon course leads runners on a tour of the city, around two lakes and along the Patapsco River, including a stretch through the Maryland Zoo where penguins greet runners dressed in their finest “tails.” Your journey finishes in the historic Inner Harbor, the hub of tourist activity where post-race refreshments (including a local favorite, crab soup) and festivities await. If you’re looking for a fun urban marathon or a Maryland option for your 50 States quest, Baltimore won’t leave you crabby.
Runner-up: B&A Trail Marathon (Mar)
Cape Cod Marathon
Falmouth, MA (Oct)
Massachusetts may be unicorn country, but Cape Cod is the Bay State’s other favorite marathon. Located on the edge of the Eastern seaboard, it’s no surprise Cape Cod finishers tout the “beautiful views of the beach and ocean,” including Martha’s Vineyard, Nantucket Island and Nobska Lighthouse. Though the 2019 event will feature a new marathon course, the organizers promise a “flatter, faster and much more scenic” route that will “showcase the beauty of the scenic Falmouth coastline.” And for the full Falmouth running experience, the Clam Chowdah Challenge offers exclusive swag to runners who complete the half marathon on Saturday followed by the marathon on Sunday.
Runner-up: Baystate Marathon (Oct)
Detroit Free Press/TCF Bank Marathon
Detroit, MI (Oct)
The Freep Marathon (as locals affectionately know their race) is a fall favorite and the only event on this list that crosses international borders. The first half of the route enters Canada via the Ambassador Bridge, covering nearly four miles in residential Windsor, Ontario before returning stateside via the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel under the Detroit River. The second half then navigates commercial and residential Detroit, including a loop of Belle Isle. As a bonus, first-time marathoners (or “greenies”) sport a distinctive green bib number to rally spectator support. So if the idea of visiting Canada on foot piques your interest, then cross that bridge when you get to it in the Motor City.
Runner-up: Grand Rapids Marathon (Oct)
Duluth, MN (Jun)
Who doesn’t love a doting grandma? Runners who prefer their scenery aquatic will delight in this gently rolling, point-to-point course on MN-61, which hugs the shoreline of Lake Superior for most of the race before finishing on the streets of Duluth. And the lake isn’t the only thing that’s superior, as finishers rave about the “wonderful crowd support” and “spot-on perfect and friendly” race production. Plus, the race website makes it easy to plan your Duluth getaway with race dates listed out to the year 2040. Be aware that local hotels, knowing they have a captive audience, do increase their rates significantly for race weekend. That said, when it comes to hosting a scenic and runner-friendly marathon, Grandma’s knows best.
Runner-up: Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon (Oct)
Mississippi Blues Marathon
Jackson, MS (Feb)
Mississippi Blues continues the trend of popular winter marathons in the Deep South. The rolling course explores several of Jackson’s upscale neighborhoods, where tree-lined streets offer an abundance of shade. Bring your high school senior with you, because the route passes several campuses including Jackson State University, Mississippi College and Belhaven University. The event embraces its musical roots with live blues music at the expo, musical acts along the course, and its classic baby blue finisher medal modeled after Lucille, blues legend B.B. King’s own Gibson guitar. And a cool piece of Magnolia State trivia: Jackson is the only U.S. state capital built on a (fortunately extinct) volcano.
Runner-up: Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon (Dec)
Kansas City Marathon
Kansas City, MO (Oct)
Ask about the Show-Me State, and marathoners will gush about the City of Fountains. The recently revamped course, which comes within a stone’s throw of the Kansas border, spotlights a number of historic neighborhoods, local landmarks, and nicely manicured parks. Finishers applaud the “amazing volunteers” and “flawless” production, while noting you’ll want to “train on hills!” And though it’s easier said than done, save your best for last because your 26.2 miles finish on a sharp downhill under the watchful eye of the National World War I Museum and Memorial. Marathon masochists who accept the I-35 Challenge commit to tackling Kansas City and Des Moines (see Iowa, above) on consecutive days.
Runner-up: GO! St. Louis Marathon (Apr)
Missoula, MT (Jun)
Big Sky Country features eye-popping natural beauty and one of the most beloved marathons in the U.S. As evidenced by its rhapsodic reviews on RaceRaves, Missoula gets everything right, from pre-race communication to breathtaking scenery to spot-on support. The peaceful route follows country roads (with one notable hill) from Frenchtown to Missoula, where residents offer cooling sprinklers and enthusiastic support. And more leisurely runners will appreciate the generous 7.5-hour time limit. Strategically located between Glacier National Park to the north and Yellowstone/Grand Teton National Parks to the south, and with hospitality to spare, this “marathoner’s marathon” is a jewel of the Treasure State.
Runner-up (tie): Bozeman Marathon (Sep), Madison Marathon (Jul)
Lincoln, NE (May)
A capital time awaits runners in Nebraska’s capital city. Starting on the campus of the University of Nebraska, the marathon course traverses rolling tree-lined roads, its first half treating runners to a loop of the city past local landmarks such as Union College, Irvingdale Park and the Nebraska State Capitol. The second half then consists of a 12-mile out-and-back to postcard-pretty Holmes Lake before finishing in a highlight moment on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium, home to the Cornhuskers football team. Here friends and family can watch you enter the home stretch on the stadium’s HuskerVision video screen, so smile and strike your best Heisman pose!
Runner-up: Omaha Marathon (Sep)
Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas (full discontinued, 1/2 still offered)
Las Vegas, NV (Feb)
It should come as no surprise the lone nighttime race on this list happens in Sin City. As the only private event to shut down the iconic Las Vegas Strip, Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas offers a unique opportunity to experience its glitz and glamour. The race starts at sunset and travels the length of the Strip, continuing north to its turnaround near downtown before returning for a Vegas-style finish alongside The Volcano at The Mirage. More leisurely runners should note the race’s tight 5-hour time limit, while its late start time may present a distinct circadian challenge for morning people or travelers from other time zones. For runners in search of a high-energy marathon experience, Viva Las Vegas!
Runner-up: ET Full Moon Midnight Marathon (Aug)
Clarence DeMar Marathon
Keene, NH (Sep)
Established in 1978 to honor the former Keene resident and 7-time Boston Marathon champion, Clarence DeMar is a small-town race with big-city heart. The “awesome point-to-point” course winds its way through the New England countryside in the company of babbling brooks and early fall foliage, highlighted by a visit to picturesque Surry Mountain Lake. And race organizers go the extra mile to recognize every runner who crosses the finish line at Keene State College. Before the race, make time for the “delish” pasta dinner and keynote speaker, which in recent years has included 1968 Boston champ Amby Burfoot and Boston Race Director Dave McGillivray.
Runner-up: New Hampshire Marathon (Oct)
Atlantic City Marathon
Atlantic City, NJ (Oct)
Entering its seventh decade in 2019, Atlantic City is one of the oldest marathons in the nation. Race day starts in front of Bally’s Atlantic City Hotel & Casino near the corner of Boardwalk and Park Place (which may sound familiar, since Atlantic City was the inspiration for the board game Monopoly). The centerpiece of the flat course is the popular beach boardwalk with its notoriously stiff ocean headwinds. Along the way, keep an eye out (twice) for Lucy the Elephant, a “mammoth” six-story pachyderm statue listed on the National Park Registry of Historical Landmarks. Runners who crave more miles on the boardwalk can sign up for the King Neptune Challenge to earn extra bling.
Runner-up: New Jersey Marathon (Apr)
Bataan Memorial Death March
White Sands, NM (Mar)
If you’re a marathoner in search of an inspiring and patriotic race experience, Bataan is calling. More than a race, BMDM is an opportunity “to honor the heroes of Bataan in a living history lesson,” with the 1942 march’s few remaining survivors in attendance to answer the ceremonial roll call. Participants can choose to wear a 35-pound rucksack to simulate the challenges faced by the original marchers, and though the high-desert course is largely off-road with stretches of soft sand, a generous 12-hour time limit ensures all marchers earn their dog tags. One logistical note: while trail shoes are not necessary, wearing gaiters will help to keep sand and small rocks out of your shoes.
Runner-up: Duke City Marathon (Oct)
Bath, NY (Oct)
Staged in the spectacular Finger Lakes region in the heart of East Coast wine country, Wineglass is one of the nation’s premier destination marathons and an excellent Boston Qualifier. The flat point-to-point course from Bath to Corning follows quiet country roads awash in an explosion of fall colors, where four-legged locals like goats and horses turn out to greet the runners. A handcrafted glass finisher medal (“way too cool for words”) and small bottle of sparkling wine with wineglass await all finishers, as do gift certificates compliments of the local businesses so you can shop ‘til your drop — which after 26.2 miles and a celebratory glass (or two) of wine, may not take long.
Runner-up: Niagara Falls International Marathon (Oct)
Outer Banks Marathon
Kitty Hawk, NC (Nov)
What better spot for a destination marathon than “America’s First Beach”? And especially in November when crowds thin, cooler fall weather sets in, and beachfront rentals become more affordable. Starting with a mile through the tree-lined Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve, the flat and sinuous OBX course runs south along the Atlantic coastline offering views of Kitty Hawk Bay, circling the Wright Brothers National Memorial in Kill Devil Hills, and traversing Nags Head Woods Preserve before crossing Roanoke Sound en route to the finish line in Manteo. After all that running, stick around for the Southern Fried Party featuring Carolina BBQ, beer garden, and live music.
Runner-up (tie): Charlotte Marathon (Nov), Tobacco Road Marathon (Mar)
Fargo Marathon (★ Top vote-getter ★)
Fargo, ND (May)
Mention Fargo to anyone who’s run it, and you’re likely to be greeted with wide-eyed enthusiasm and regaled with reasons why you have to run this race. So it’s no surprise Fargo received the most votes in our “Best Marathons in the U.S.” poll. The course, which starts and finishes inside the boisterous Fargodome, leads runners on a scenic tour of its host town plus seven miles of Minnesota, visiting three college campuses along the way. The event attracts first-timers and seasoned marathoners alike with its flat-as-it-gets elevation profile, cool May temperatures, Midwestern hospitality, and plenty of on-course support and entertainment. And did we mention it’s a favorite among Boston Qualifiers? Uff Da!
Runner-up: Maah Daah Hey Trail Marathon (Jul)
Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon
Cincinnati, OH (May)
Runners go hog wild for the Flying Pig, one of the most revered races in the country. Now entering its third decade, Cincinnati’s hometown marathon earns rave reviews for embracing its namesake, with start corrals known as “pig pens”, volunteers affectionately referred to as “grunts,” and a “finish swine” where finishers collect pig-themed swag. The scenic urban course (which briefly crosses into Kentucky) and unrivaled crowd support help distract from the “miles and miles of hills,” while Skyline Chili Challenges are a popular way for runners to bring home more bacon. In a state with no shortage of first-class running events, the Pig leaves other races pink with envy.
Runner-up: Air Force Marathon (Sep)
Route 66 Marathon
Tulsa, OK (Nov)
Anyone who’s never used “fun” and “marathon” in the same sentence has never run Route 66. From the confetti cannon that starts you off “feeling like you can conquer the world” to the “continuous hills” and “amazing community support” that make you “feel like a rock star when you cross the finish line,” Route 66 is “one of Oklahoma’s biggest block parties.” As a bonus, marathoners can take the Center of the Universe Detour to earn a unique inlaid coin and complete the World’s Shortest Ultramarathon. And first-timers receive an exclusive “My First Marathon” finisher medal to commemorate their achievement. Runners, get your kicks at Route 66!
Runner-up: Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon (Apr)
Eugene, OR (Apr)
What better place for a marathon than TrackTown, USA? It’s no exaggeration to say Eugene may be to running what Washington D.C. is to government. Not only was Nike founded here in 1964, but former University of Oregon running stars Steve Prefontaine, Galen Rupp and Alexi Pappas sharpened their skills on historic (and newly renovated) Hayward Field, where you’ll finish your own 26.2-mile journey. Eugene’s predominantly flat course, friendly spectators, calming views of the Willamette River and ideal running weather inspire marathoners across the country to just do it.
Runner-up: Columbia Gorge Marathon (Oct)
Philadelphia, PA (Nov)
Feel the Brotherly Love at this 26.2-mile tour through American history. Keep your head on a swivel from the start, lest you miss Independence Hall (home of the Liberty Bell), the National Constitution Center, the U.S. Mint, or the Cathedral Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul, all in the first two miles. The second half follows an out-and-back route along the Schuylkill River, finishing at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. With its gently rolling course and “so many people cheering on the sidelines,” finishers hail Philadelphia as “perfect for a first-time marathoner.” And for the most ardent Phila-philes, the race offers no fewer than five separate challenges. Let freedom bling!
Runner-up: Pittsburgh Marathon (May)
Amica Newport Marathon
Newport, RI (Oct)
Not just a sailing mecca, the City by the Sea also hosts the most celebrated marathon in the smallest state. Located on an island (Aquidneck) within Rhode Island, the scenic course leads runners on a tour of the Newport coastline highlighted by crashing waves and Gilded Age mansions, before crossing Easton Bay on a meandering (and increasingly rolling) route through more modest New England neighborhoods. Keep in mind the tradeoff for the course’s “stunning” ocean views is exposure to the elements, particularly rain and wind. Even so, the race’s start and finish at popular Easton’s Beach is tough to beat.
Runner-up: Providence Marathon (May)
Myrtle Beach Marathon
Myrtle Beach, SC (Mar)
Like its neighbor to the north, South Carolina’s beachfront marathon is a crowd favorite. And visiting Myrtle Beach in early March means greater hotel availability before the crush of Spring Break and tourism season. Starting and finishing outside Pelicans Ballpark, the loop course opens with several miles of strip-mall scenery and a visit to the upscale Market Common. It then parallels the coastline for nine miles, passing the towering SkyWheel and other popular tourist attractions before turning back inland for the finish. And though the mostly flat course is Boston Qualifier-friendly, finishers warn that heavy wind can spoil the best-laid marathon plans.
Runner-up: Kiawah Island Marathon (Dec)
Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon
Deadwood, SD (Jun)
“Amazing.” “Beautiful.” “Stunning.” So say its runners about the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon. The scenic point-to-point course through the Black Hills follows a gradual uphill trajectory for the first 14 miles, only to give it all back (and then some) in the second half before finishing in the wild west town of Deadwood. Adding to the challenge is the altitude, with much of the course above a mile high and its high point at 6,200 feet. The crushed limestone and gravel trail is well-groomed and non-technical, making it ideal for your first off-road race or your 50th. For a laid-back marathon in a pristine setting, always bet on the Black Hills.
Runner-up: Run Crazy Horse Marathon (Oct)
St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville
Nashville, TN (Apr)
When Rock ‘n’ Roll comes to Music City, runners can expect one melodic marathon. If you’re a fan of music and hills, the urban course offers plenty of both as it showcases Music City’s greatest hits including Broadway’s Honky Tonk Highway, Music Mile featuring the Country Music Hall of Fame, and Music Row where artists like Elvis Presley and LeAnn Rimes recorded hit songs. The race finishes with a flourish outside Nissan Stadium, home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. St. Jude is the series’ national featured charity, and by registering as a St. Jude Hero runners raise funds to support the research and treatment of catastrophic childhood diseases.
Runner-up: St. Jude Memphis Marathon (Dec)
Fort Worth, TX (Feb)
The largest multi-event race in North Texas knows how to put marathoners in a good “moo”d. Its scenic loop course guides runners through the city’s rich cattle drive heritage, highlighted by the historic Fort Worth Stockyards. Finishers laud every aspect of race weekend from the “top-notch organization” and “awesome swag” to the “overwhelming local support,” but its appeal may be most evident in the high number of repeat runners. And the lenient 7.5-hour time limit caters to back-of-the-packers. Participants who complete one distance on Saturday and one on Sunday earn exclusive Cowtown Challenge swag to separate themselves from the herd. Ain’t no bull to say The Cowtown is how the West is run.
Runner-up: Houston Marathon (Jan)
St. George Marathon
St. George, UT (Oct)
In the land of downhill marathons, St. George has a lot of upside. The event operates like a “well-oiled machine,” with impeccable organization and thoughtful details like bonfires to warm runners at the start and Icy Hot rubdowns at aid stations. With a net elevation loss of more than 2,500 feet, the course is “perfect for a negative split,” just as long as you “watch your pace” and “do not underestimate” the “significant uphills” in the first half. Luckily, expansive views of the Veyo Volcano and “gorgeous” red rock help to distract from the heaviness in your quads. And its proximity to Zion and Bryce Canyon National Parks makes St. George a destination race favorite.
Runner-up: REVEL Big Cottonwood Marathon (Sep)
Vermont City Marathon
Burlington, VT (May)
The pride of Burlington, Vermont City is the state’s largest annual running event. Starting and finishing in Battery Park a stone’s throw from Lake Champlain, the moderately hilly course follows a series of four out-and-back/loop segments, a layout which increases spectator support by enabling friends and family to cheer on their runners multiple times. Finishers cite the last four miles, run on a wooded bike path alongside the lake, as a motivational highlight. And the race is held on the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, so traveling runners can take a day to recover and experience the “fun” town of Burlington without having to use vacation time.
Runner-up: Mad Marathon (Jul)
Marine Corps Marathon
Arlington, VA (Oct)
“The People’s Marathon” is a rousing tour of our nation’s capital and a patriotic tribute to the men and women who serve this country. Starting between the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, the course showcases 240+ years of American history including such Presidential landmarks as the Kennedy Center, Theodore Roosevelt Bridge, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial and Washington Monument. Most powerful is the wear blue Mile, a living memorial to the fallen heroes of the U.S. Military. By the time you cross the finish line and receive your finisher medal from a USMC Officer, you’ll have a new appreciation for the word “inspiring.”
Runner-up: Richmond Marathon (Nov)
Seattle, WA (Nov)
With its golden anniversary on the horizon, the Seattle Marathon remains a hometown favorite. Starting in the shadow of the Space Needle, the new course showcases the pristine Pacific Northwest before looping back to finish on the AstroTurf at Memorial Stadium. And though avoiding hills in Seattle is like avoiding sand in the desert, Emerald City gems like Lake Union, Lake Washington, and the University of Washington help to temper the route’s inevitable ups and downs. Finishers applaud the race as “the perfect cap to the Thanksgiving weekend,” though we shouldn’t need to warn you — this is Seattle in November, so be ready for rain.
Runner-up: Rock ‘n’ Roll Seattle (discontinued)
Hatfield McCoy Marathon
Williamson, WV (Jun)
Expect “No Feudin’, Just Runnin’ ” at this laid-back favorite in the heart of Appalachia. The charming course starts in Kentucky (where HMM was the consensus runner-up in our poll) and finishes in West Virginia, following wooded backroads and tranquil green countryside dotted with colonial-style homes and patrolled by the Tug Fork River. Less charming to the legs and lungs is the steep early climb to the base of Blackberry Mountain. But with its “amazing” volunteers, personalized signs to welcome back returning runners, and rifle-toting characters waiting to greet every runner at the finish, it’s no wonder first-timers and 50 Staters alike call Hatfield McCoy an “incredible experience” and a “must-do event!”
Runner-up: Freedom’s Run (Oct)
Eau Claire Marathon
Eau Claire, WI (May)
The City of Bridges lives up to its billing (and then some) at this spirited springtime marathon. With 11 bridges and ten water crossings over the Chippewa and Eau Claire Rivers, the course showcases the city and its many green spaces. Finishers tout the “beautiful scenery” and “amazing atmosphere fueled by its community support.” And just when you feel your energy waning, the final three miles will add a spring to your step courtesy of the Blugold Mile powered by exuberant UW–Eau Claire students and the Musical Mile featuring local musical acts. Then join the post-race party alongside mile 25 and cheer on your fellow runners as they approach the end of their own 26.2-mile journey.
Runner-up: Madison Marathon (Nov)
Jackson Hole Marathon
Jackson, WY (Sep)
Staged under the watchful eye of the snow-capped Teton Range, Jackson Hole is a “moose”t-run favorite. Finishers laud JHM as the “ultimate small-town scenic race” for its “low-key” vibe and “breathtaking beauty.” (Keep an eye out for ospreys nesting along the course.) This is a marathon for runners by runners, as race founder Lisa Smith-Batchen is herself an accomplished ultrarunner and two-time winner of the Badwater 135. The majestic views of Grand Teton may leave you feeling weak in the knees, or more likely that’s the altitude, since Jackson sits at an elevation of 6,000+ feet. After the race, make time to visit Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks before both go into hibernation for the winter.
Runner-up: Casper Marathon (Jun)
Have you run any of our best marathons in the U.S.?
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(Updated Sept 22, 2021; originally published Nov 8, 2018)
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Author: Mike Sohaskey
Mike Sohaskey is the co-founder of RaceRaves, the premier online reviews community for runners to share their race experiences and find their next challenge. Mike honed his creative and critical thinking skills as a research scientist, earning a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology from Stanford. He’s also completed over 100 races — including 50+ marathons and ultras — in locations ranging from Antarctica to Zimbabwe.
Other RaceRaves articles you’ll enjoy (trust us!):
Best Bets for Boston Marathon Qualifying Races
Introducing your (smart) 50 States Map
Runners Choice: Best Half Marathons in the U.S.
Toughest Road Marathons in North America
Unconventional Races that dare to be different
And for more helpful articles, check out our blog!
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