The Bucket List Of the Best Marathons In the US (2023)

Big Sur International Marathon

Think you’ve done it all as a runner? Checked off every race on your list of the best races? Not so fast! There are still some of the best marathons in the US left to run.

Why Run a Marathon?

Running a marathon is an excellent way to challenge yourself both physically and mentally. It can also be a great way to raise money for charity or a cause that is important to you. There are many reasons why people choose to run marathons, but ultimately it is up to each individual runner to decide what motivates them.

Some runners may enjoy the sense of accomplishment that comes with completing a marathon, while others may use it as an opportunity to push themselves outside of their comfort zone. Whatever the reason, running a marathon can be a hugely rewarding experience.

If you’re thinking about taking on the challenge of running a marathon, there are a few things you should keep in mind. First and foremost, make sure you are physically prepared for the challenge. Marathon training is no joke, and if you’re not in shape, it can be dangerous.

Secondly, be sure to have a solid plan in place. This means figuring out your route, your pacing, and what you need to do in order to complete the race. And finally, make sure you have a support system in place. Having friends or family cheering you on from the sidelines can make all the difference on race day.

So why run a marathon? The answer is different for everyone, but ultimately it boils down to personal challenge and satisfaction. If you’re up for the challenge, a marathon can be an excellent way to push yourself both physically and mentally.

History of the Marathon

The marathon distance of 26.2 miles (42.2 kilometers) was established in 1908 when the Olympic Games were held in London. The race was intended to commemorate the fabled run of the Greek soldier Pheidippides, who is said to have delivered news of a victory at the Battle of Marathon back to Athens in 490 B.C. According to legend, Pheidippides ran the entire 40 kilometers from the battlefield to Athens without stopping, and then collapsed and died after uttering the word “Nike” (victory).

However, there is no evidence that Pheidippides actually ran such a long distance. The first recorded marathon race took place in 1896 during the first modern Olympic Games in Athens, Greece. The event was won by a Greek runner named Spyridon Louis.

Prior to 1908, the marathon distance was slightly different for every venue. The name simply meant “the long foot race” and that race might be a route of about “25 miles or 26 miles”. The marathon distance of 26.2 miles became the standard in 1908 when it was used for the Olympic Games in London.

The race has been held at every Olympics since then, with the exception of the 1912 Games in Stockholm, Sweden, when organizers decided to use a shorter distance of 24.85 miles (40 kilometers).

The marathon is now one of the most popular long-distance running events in the world, and certain marathons are considered “bucket list” races.

The Marathon Distance and Where It Fits In

For most people, the marathon distance is the longest race a runner can enter. It is an Olympic event, and the larger marathons are broadcast live on TV.

It’s an event that anyone, with proper training, can participate in.

Fitness LevelDistanceAverage Time
5kBeginner3.1 miles30 minutes
10kIntermediate6.2 miles1 hour
Half MarathonIntermediate13.1 miles1:55 for men, 2:11 for women
MarathonAdvanced26.2 miles4:21 for men, 4:48 for women
Ultra MarathonInsane50k – 100 milesDon’t know. Don’t wanna know.

The Best Marathons In the US

From historic races in big cities to out-of-the-way events with stunning scenery, we’ve got the scoop on the best marathons. So what are you waiting for – add these epic races to your running calendar and check them off your bucket list!

Boston Marathon

April 17
Boston, MA

The Boston Marathon represents the epitome of marathon racing for many runners. It’s the only race that you can’t simply sign up for – you must qualify for it. Read this to see all the ways you can qualify to race the Boston Marathon.

The Boston Marathon is the world’s oldest annual marathon having begun in 1897. It ranks as one of the world’s most prestigious road racing events.

boston marathon qualifying times

It is traditionally held on Patriot’s Day every year – the third Monday in April (one of the best sprint marathons in 2023). It is a point-to-point race that actually has a negative elevation gain (-459 feet) from start to finish.

The Boston Marathon crowd support surpasses 500,000 people every year and this is New England’s most-viewed sporting event. Thousands of people are lining the entire course from the start to the finish line.

The total entrant count is around 30,000 runners each year.

Weather Conditions

It varies but seems to be about 50 degrees and wet most of the time.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

Boston is considered the Holy Grail of marathons. It says you’re more than just a marathoner, you’re in a special class.

This race is also one of the World Marathon Majors (Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York City). Finish all six World Majors and become part of the Six Star club.

New York City Marathon

November 5
New York City, NY

The New York City Marathon is one of the most popular marathons in the world. Every year, over 50,000 people compete in the race and it’s broadcast live on television across the world. It is another World Marathon Major in the United States (along with Boston and Chicago).

The race was first held in 1970 and is typically on the first Sunday in November.

New York Marathon

Today, runners start in Staten Island and immediately tackle the largest climb of the race – the  Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. They continue through the four other main boroughs (Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, and Manhattan) before finishing in Central Park.

The New York City Marathon is a world-famous race that attracts runners from all over the globe. You will line up next to Olympic athletes, celebrities, and of course, the best professional marathon runners on earth. Together you will run past some of the most famous sites in the world and will probably meet some great people along the way.

Participation is held by lottery every year, which is typically held in February. In recent years, there have been over 100,000 applicants.

Whether you love or hate New York, everyone has to do the New York City Marathon at least once. It’s an epic day with crazy crowd support.

Weather Conditions

It varies but seems to be about 45 – 50 degrees most years.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

It’s the largest marathon in the world, in one of the biggest cities in the world. Plus you might get to be on TV.

Chicago Marathon

October 8
Chicago, IL

The Chicago Marathon appears to be the fastest of the US-based World Marathon Majors. It’s flat and fast and October weather in Chicago can be favorable for fast times. Be careful about going in with too much ego though, as the midwest weather can become rather balmy later in the race.

Chicago Marathon - best marathons in the US

You’ll run past Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) and about a million other sites that you’ve seen on TV. Going through China Town is one of my favorites as the sites and smells are a welcome distraction.

The Bucket List Of the Best Marathons In the US (2023)

Crowd support is awesome, although there are a few sections that do not have any spectators. Between miles 13 and 14 seem to not have any people at all. It’s a little strange since it’s tranquil during that period and then gets loud again with spectators cheering on the sidelines. It’s really a strange sensation.

Chicago Marathon - best marathons in the US

This race has also gone to the lottery entrance system since it has become super popular. The lottery entrance period is typically in early November. There are about 85,000 lottery entrants for a total of 40,000 spots.

Weather Conditions

It varies a lot but seems to be about 60 to 75 degrees.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

It’s a course you can PR on thanks to the pancake flat course, and you’ll love seeing the many different sections of Chicago. It’s the third World Marathon Major located within the United States, so you will be halfway to the Six Star club after this!

Walt Disney World Marathon

January 8
Orlando, Florida

The Walt Disney World Marathon is part of Disney’s “Marathon Weekend” which has an event for nearly every running distance over the course of 4 days.

Walt Disney World Marathon - the best marathons in the US

I’d definitely put this event as a “fun” race since runners are encouraged to dress up as their favorite Disney character. Many do this, but it’s not required.

The course is very flat and goes in and out of all the Walt Disney World theme parks (Epcot, Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Hollywood Studios). You’ll see a little bit of each park without the massive crowds. It’s a great way to see each park with 12,000 other runners.

Walt Disney World Marathon - the best marathons in the US

Disney characters (Disney park employees) are everywhere on the course, and participants will often stop mid-race to take photos with their favorite characters. Make sure you’re aware of this tradition so you don’t plow into a group of stopped runners taking a selfie with Goofy.

This race sells out fairly quickly, so be ready to enter when registration opens up – usually in April.

Weather Conditions

Typically about 60 to 75 degrees. Orlando can be humid though, even in January. Make sure you acclimatize for the heat if it’s cold in your location.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

As if you actually need a reason to go to Disney World, there’s a fantastic marathon in January for you. It’s fun, the weather is typically nice, and everyone has a favorite Disney character they’ll want to take a photo with.

Marine Corps Marathon

October 29
Washington, DC

The Marine Corps Marathon is awesome. It starts and ends in Arlington, VA at the Marine Corps War Memorial. However, most of the course is throughout Washington DC. The US Marines do an impeccable job of organizing everything on a very scenic course.

The Bucket List Of the Best Marathons In the US (2023)

The Marine Corps Marathon is one of the largest marathons in the US. Known as “the best marathon for beginners”, the MCM is the largest marathon in the world that doesn’t offer prize money, earning its nickname, “The People’s Marathon.”

Marine Corps Marathon - best marathons in the US

The flat course has a few hills thrown in the early miles before leveling off after mile 5. You’ll pass many historic sites during the race that you can go back and visit later.

Marine Corps Marathon - best marathons in the US

This race sells out very quickly and has about 30,000 runners each year. Seriously, this is one that you don’t want to miss. Plus it’s a Boston qualifier if that is also in your future!

Weather Conditions

Typically between 50 to 75 degrees. Possible rain.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

The US Marines do a fantastic job of organizing this race. There are a ton of Marines encouraging you throughout the course and screaming “take that hill” which will leave you with goosebumps.

After the race, you can tour Washington DC to take in the history of the United States.

Pikes Peak Marathon

September 17
Manitou Springs, CO

The Pikes Peak Marathon, founded in 1956, is the third oldest marathon in the United States, taking runners from Manitou Springs, Colorado, to the summit of Pikes Peak at 14,115 feet, and back down for a total of 26.2 grueling mountain miles.

Pikes Peak Marathon - the best marathons in the US
photo credit: Peter Maksimow

It climbs about 7,800 vertical feet up the historic Barr Trail on the east face of the mountain. This trail is very narrow and makes passing nearly impossible. Many people sprint to the trailhead in order to get ahead of people, but use that strategy wisely. Don’t blow yourself up and be the reason for a logjam.

Pikes Peak Marathon - the best marathons in the US
photo credit: Peter Maksimow

The trail is often narrow, and winding, and may contain gravel, rocks, or dirt with sharp turns and abrupt changes in elevation or direction. There are very few sections that are not going uphill, and the average gradient is 11%.

The ascent to the peak often takes people longer than a full marathon on flatland would. As mentioned, this is not an easy course.

Pikes Peak Marathon - best marathons in the US
All the way up, and all the way down

Getting to the peak is only half the battle. Going downhill on tired legs is physically demanding and is the real challenge. You must remain mentally aware and calm in order to make it to the finish unscathed and not trip while descending.

The race has 8 aid stations most of which you can access both on the ascent and the descent of the mountain. Each station contains the standard supplies – hydration fuel, fruit, sweet and salty snacks, etc. However, you are required to bring your own bottle as a safety requirement in order to avoid dehydration. As mentioned before, this race will take significantly longer than a standard marathon.

Pikes Peak Marathon - the best marathons in the US
photo credit: Peter Maksimow

This is an epic race for experienced trail runners and other athletes that want to test their legs to the extreme. It’s beautiful and painful at the same time.

Many people test out their mettle by doing the Ascent first, which is the half-marathon version of the race held the day before. It’s a race to the top of Pikes Peak only.

Race registration opens on March 1st, and sells out within days. There are only about 800 openings so sign up if you dare!

Weather Conditions

Completely unpredictable, especially above the treeline. The start line typically will be between 60 and 70 degrees. On top of the mountain, expect rain and snow and temperature in the 30s.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

There is just something incredibly cool about running to the top of Pike’s Peak and back down. You get instant street cred. You’ll be Batman in a world full of bad guys.

Big Sur International Marathon

September 17
Carmel, CA

The Big Sur International Marathon is considered one of the most scenic courses in the world. The race is a point-to-point event and starts at Big Sur Station in Big Sur and finishes at Carmel Plaza in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

Big Sur International Marathon - Best Marathons in the US

There are several hills with grades exceeding 6%, including a climb from sea level to 1,600 feet (488 m) over the first 3 miles (4.8 km). The total elevation gain for the course is 2,182 feet.

This race has been featured in Runner’s World magazine’s “Top 10 Marathons” and was named one of the “World’s Greatest Marathons” by Forbes.

Big Sur International Marathon - Best Marathons in the US
Facebook – Big Sur International Marathon

You’ll be running a marathon on closed roads that won’t have many spectators along the course. Not even cyclists. Cell coverage is pretty much non-existent out there as well. It’s nature at its finest. Just take in the enjoyment that you’re running in what we consider to be a best marathon in the US.

Big Sur International Marathon - Best Marathons in the US
Facebook – Big Sur International Marathon

The marathon has approximately 4,500 runners annually and does sell out early.

Weather Conditions

Perfect for running. Temperature between 50 and 65 degrees with very little chance of rain.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

The breathtaking beauty you’ll experience is something you’ll remember forever.

Leadville Trail Marathon

June 17
Leadville, CO

The Leadville Trail Marathon is 26.2 miles of out-and-back dirt roads and single track that takes you through the historic mining district on the east side of Leadville. This isn’t necessarily a “spring marathon”, but it does have spring-like weather.

Leadville Trail Marathon - best marathons in the US

The course is primarily on old mining roads and trails, topping out at 13,185 feet at Mosquito Pass. This is the HIGHEST continuous pass in the country and the highest trail marathon in the USA!

Leadville Trail Marathon - best marathons in the US

The marathon is truly for the hardened runner as the entire course is near or above 10,000 feet in elevation. You’ll need to be self-sufficient in this race as there are only 8 aid stations, and you may be 5 miles or so between them. Running vests are the norm.

Total elevation gain is 6,125 feet, so prepare yourself before race day. It’s a lot of climbing when you’re so high the air is fairly thin.

Leadville Trail Marathon - best marathons in the US

Registration opens in January and this marathon will sell out. There are only about 800 spots, so register quickly if you want in.

It’s important to say this again… this is a hard race.

Weather Conditions

You’re running a marathon in a high-alpine environment with the possibility of extreme weather. You’ll definitely see snow on the ground.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

If you’re looking for an extreme challenge along with bragging rights for the rest of your life, this is the marathon.

Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon

May 7
Cincinnati, OH

The Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon is a beautiful course, that “flies” along the streets of Cincinnati, Covington, Newport, Mariemont, Fairfax, and Columbia Township. It’s one of the spring marathons on our list.

In the 1800’s Cincinnati was called “Porkopolis” because of all the stockyards and the meat packing industry.  In fact, they often ran pigs through the downtown streets.

When the founders of the marathon were looking for a name for the event back in 1997 “Flying Pig” brought smiles to everyone’s face so that seemed most appropriate.

Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon - best marathons in the US

This course takes runners up hills for the first ten miles or so, then some small gently rolling hills until mile 19, then flat to the finish.

Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon - best marathons in the US

The course presents a well-balanced, diverse tour of some of the best neighborhoods in the area. Plus it’s a Boston qualifier so you can get moving on that bucket list race as well!

Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon - best marathons in the US

The race is a medium-sized marathon, with the total number of participants of around 21,000.

Weather Conditions

Difficult to predict but most likely between 45 and 65 degrees for the day.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

It’s one of the medium-sized marathons that have been around for a long time. Plus the after-party is aptly named the “Pig Party”. Gotta love it.

St. Jude Marathon

December 3
Memphis, TN

The St. Jude Marathon is an annual event hosted by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. It draws thousands of participants from across the country to raise money for one of the world’s leading children’s research hospitals.

We think this race is a best marathon in the US for beginners thanks to the emotional connection to the race.

St. Jude Marathon - best marathons in the US

The best part of this marathon is when you run by St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital and are greeted with cheers from family members, friends, and hospital staff, and maybe even some patients. It’s an amazing feeling and one that you need to experience.

St. Jude Marathon - best marathons in the US

The route is relatively flat with some rolling hills. You wind your way through downtown Memphis past many historic sites such as Sun Studios (where Elvis first recorded) and the National Civil Rights Museum.

The finish line was previously INSIDE the Minor League stadium AutoZone Park, but due to growth is now located OUTSIDE the stadium. That sucks.

St. Jude Marathon - best marathons in the US

Spectator support isn’t like the larger races, and the second half of the race has very few spectators along the course.

The St. Jude Marathon is an opportunity to make strides in the fight against childhood cancer and show support for the families of those affected by this disease. If you want to do more than just race, you can elect to be a St. Jude Hero and raise a small amount of money prior to race day. St. Jude Heros get a special race singlet to wear on race day.

The St. Jude Marathon is the largest single-day fundraiser for the hospital.

Race participant count is generally around 20,000, and while race may sell out, it isn’t typically right away.

Weather Conditions

Difficult to predict but most likely between 45 and 65 degrees for the day.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

You are doing this for more than the race. You’re racing so sick kids can get healthy and be kids again.

Afterward, the party on Beale street is fantastic. There’s a parade of Santas that you’ll enjoy.

Twin Cities Marathon

October 1
Indianapolis, IN

The Twin Cities Marathon features a flat, fast course that provides great opportunities for personal bests times. It’s a point-to-point race from Minneapolis to St. Paul, MN.

Twin Cities Marathon - best marathons in the US

This race is medium-sized with just 10,000 runners on average, but you’ll have spectators along the marathon course.

Twin Cities Marathon - best marathons in the US

The course has you passing 6 lakes, and crossing over the Mississippi River. If you like the beauty of clean lakes, you’ll love this race. We’ll call this an “urban marathon”, and one you should target as a fall race.

Weather Conditions

Difficult to predict but most likely between 45 and 65 degrees for the day.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

Great scenery, and great swag. The medal alone will stand out in your collection!

Catalina Island Marathon

March 11
Catalina Island, CA

The Catalina Marathon is California’s oldest trail marathon and our one pick that we’re 95% sure you haven’t heard of before. It’s definitely deserving of a best marathon award. It gives the opportunity to run in the island’s interior and experience beautiful views of the coastline and wildlife sightings in remote locations along its trails.

Catalina Island Marathon - best marathons in the US

Catalina is one of the hardest yet most rewarding runs with its rugged terrain and elevation gain. Its uphill battles are eventually met with the satisfying downhill descent into Avalon accompanied by the best cool down in the Pacific Ocean.

Catalina Island Marathon - best marathons in the US

Starting in the small town of Two Harbors on the far side of the island, the course takes runners around the island on dirt roads and trails heading back to Avalon. With a total elevation gain of over 4300 feet, you will see spectacular vistas, ocean views, and the occasional American Bison.

Catalina Island Marathon - best marathons in the US

This race is cupless and runners will need to carry their own reusable soft cups and/or hydration system.

Catalina Island is home to more than 60 plant and animal species found on Catalina and nowhere else in the world. Along the scenic dirt roads keep a lookout for island endemic plants and animals such as bison and the Catalina fox.

Race morning you’ll need to jump on the boat early in Avalon to get to the start at Two Harbors. The boat leaves at 5am and takes about 40 minutes. The race begins at 6:30am.

This race is small and only about 300-400 runners will be at the start line. It’s an unknown gem that you’ll be able to brag about.

Weather Conditions

Usually between 45 degrees at the start increasing to 60 degrees in the afternoon. Small chance of rain.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

Breathtaking views, eco-friendly race, and you have to take a boat to the race course. What’s not to love?

Monumental Marathon

October 28
Indianapolis, IN

The Monumental Marathon is relatively new but has already shown itself to be a world-class race with Olympians taking part and many thousands of runners qualifying for the Boston Marathon.

This course is flat and fast and winds through downtown Indianapolis and a number of historical neighborhoods and Cultural Districts.

Monumental Marathon - best marathons in the US

The race has quickly grown to over 15,000 runners and is in the top 15 largest marathons in the US. It’s an ideal fall marathon that shows no sign of slowing up.

Monumental Marathon - best marathons in the US

Weather Conditions

Typically between 50 and 70 degrees, and seems to rain more than it doesn’t rain.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

It’s flat. It’s fast. It’s growing quickly. You can say you did it.

Honolulu Marathon

December 11
Honolulu, Hawaii

The Honolulu Marathon is the fourth largest marathon in the United States after New York, Chicago, and the Boston Marathons. Because of this, it attracts a large professional field every year.

While on a different island, Hawaii hosts the athletes that qualified for Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona about 6 weeks earlier. Hawaii is known for producing spectacular races.

Honolulu Marathon - Best Marathons in the US

If you are staying in Waikiki, you literally walk to the start line. Also, it’s super friendly to the participants as there is no time limit and everyone is allowed to finish. They don’t even put a cap on the number of runners, which has been around 20,000 to 25,000 each year (pre-COVID).

While the race is a mostly flat course, you do get to climb Diamond Head Crater twice. The second time is right before the finish. How nice of the race organizers.

Honolulu Marathon Elevation Chart
Honolulu Marathon Elevation Chart

The Honolulu Marathon Weekend is all about the Aloha Spirit. Completing 26.2 miles, having fun, and at your own pace.

No time limit and many participants walk part or all of the marathon course.  Enjoy the scenery and meet other marathoners from all 50 states and over 40 different countries.

Honolulu Marathon - Best Marathons in the US

Weather Conditions

Temperatures at the start will generally be in the mid-60s (Fahrenheit) and climb to the low 80s (Fahrenheit) by 10:00 AM. Precautions should be taken against heat and humidity.

Why should this be on your bucket list?

Duh. It’s in Hawaii. It’s a paradise every day. It’s also reasonably flat with some amazing climbs (and views).

Conclusion

The best marathons offer a little something for everyone.

From the prestige of the Boston Marathon to the punishing Pikes Peak Marathon, there’s a race for every type of runner. And whether you’re looking for a destination marathon or one that’s close to home, there’s sure to be an option on this list that will appeal to you.

So start planning your best marathon season now and make sure to add one (or more!) of these great races to your calendar.

Disclosure

Some of the links in this article may be affiliate links, which can provide compensation to me at no cost to you if you decide to purchase the product. This site is not intended to provide medical advice and you should always consult with a physician prior to beginning any physical activity.

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