Runner's Footprints

Runner's Footprints

Monday, February 1, 2021

Top 20 Road Marathons

Running almost 500 races around the world, I am asked: What are your favorites? There are thousands of road and trail events worldwide, increasing in numbers every year as the running community grows globally. Race directors have evolved their events to appeal to all different types of runners, depending what experience you are looking for: field size, location, course, degree of difficulty, time of year, post race experience, etc.

Personally, I enjoy all different types of races and attempt to explore as many different kinds locally and internationally. It keeps my training variable and each event gives a different special feel. From Ironmans, triathlons, ultras, obstacle course races, roads, trails, mountains, and marathons, I enjoy to mix it up from time to time. My favorite distance: the marathon. Here in a several part series, I share my top 20 road marathons in the US. Next releases will be top 10 international races, top 10 ultras, and top 10 trail races. Enjoy! 




20. Houston Marathon
Location: Houston, TX
Race Date: 1/15/2012
2012 Finishers: 8000
2012 Race Temps: 50F/65F
2012 Results: 3:37:37


A Texas visit is always great with friends to experience the open space, meandering highways, and hearty food. Decided to visit this growingly popular race when the Olympic Trials arrived. It was an absolute treat to watch both the elite men and women in a loop course battle it out for their personal achievement. The next day, all marathoners can run the regular course exploring the city with great energy. The race has substantially grown since 2012. 

19. Portland Marathon
Location: Portland, OR
Race Date: 10/04/2009
2009 Finishers: 8000
2009 Race Temps: 50sF, cloudy
2009 Results: 3:39:05


The Pacific Northwest is always a treat! It is my favorite place to visit after Colorado in the US. Traveling with my fellow LAUSD educator, we enjoyed hiking, sightseeing, and embracing the lusciously green terrain in the outskirts of Portland. A beautiful place to visit, extend your weekend, and visit the locals. Race has changed in management since 2009; however, the city remains a great place to explore. 

18. Route 66 Marathon
Location: Tulsa, OK
Race Date: 11/18/2012
2012 Finishers: 2000
2012 Race Temps: 45F/60F
2012 Results: 3:30:02, 18th state


Travel eastward in the fall is a great treat for city dwellers who live in a city without seasons. First time exploring Oklahoma with beautiful colors, amazingly great energy, and a highly recommended marathon amongst my traveling marathoning friends. This one is worth it. 

17. Bellingham Bay Marathon
Location: Bellingham, WA
Race Date: 9/26/10
2010 Finishers: 401
2010 Race Temps: 62F, light rain
2010 Results: 3:38:48, 48th total
Reviewed as “the most beautiful marathon in the Pacific Northwest,” you will run along the serenity of Bellingham Bay, San Juan Islands, and mountain views running on roads, bridges, and a touch of trails. A wonderful variety of beauty with slight hills is a favorite small race of mine to share with my little brother.

16. San Francisco Marathon
Location: San Francisco, CA
Race Date: 7/31/11
2011 Finishers: 5,920
2011 Race Temps: 57F/60F
2011 Results: 3:35:06
Larger field growing each year, several distances / challenges to choose, cool race temps, great city to visit. At the time, SFM is the only race that shuts down the Golden Gate for its runners. The first half is hillier than the 2nd half. Running this event 8 consecutive years, I enjoyed running through the winds on the Golden Gate, smell the fresh sourdough bread of Embarcadero, and get a taste of peacefulness through Golden Gate Park. A great excuse to have some fresh seafood and clam chowder.

Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Race Date: March
2011 Finishers: 3,200
2011 Race Temps: 40F/55F, sunny
2011 Results: 3:20:48

My first visit to New Orleans with friends to experience the great food, music, and city energy. Jambalaya remains my favorite! Flat, fast course through the city and a high energy finish line festival.

Location: Hoover Dam, Nevada
Race Date: January
Race Temps: 30s/40s
Race Results: 2012-13 1st FOA

A beautiful road course that almost seems like a trail race with open views of landscape, lakes, the dam, and runs through several tunnels. Tends to be pretty chilly as it's in the desert during the winter -- optimal racing weather. I ran this race with my dad and usually see several marathon maniacs. Highlights have been winning first female overall two consecutive years. 

Location: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina 
Race Date: March 
2012 Finishers: 2,000
2012 Race Temps: 44F/66F sunny
2012 Results: 3:20:39

First time visiting the state and heard great things about this race from marathon maniac friends. Relatively flat course with sporadic ocean views. Pleasantly surprised with great weather, ambiance, and beaches made a great race weekend. 
12. Walt Disney World Marathon
Location: Orlando, FL
Race Date: 1/9/11
2011 Finishers: 13,522
2011 Race Temps: 44F/49F
2011 Results: 3:23:01, 52nd total
The place to run through multiple magical kingdoms as the sun rises before the crowds hit the multiple amusement parks. Travel to Orlando in January is low season. Typically, Disney races have you rise very early with their 5:30am race start and very crowded corrals. Many Run Disney events sell out and typically are very large field sizes for the half. If you're a speedster and start in the front corrals, you can enjoy no lines for the characters, which are mostly in the first few miles. Enjoy the magic of the race with the half, full, or Goofy Challenge.

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Race Date: 11/22/09
2009 Finishers: 7,465
2009 Race Temps: 50F
2009 Results: 3:29:42
If you love autumn colors, visit the east coast when all the trees change into a splash of beauty. Philadelphia is a great city to visit in autumn with comfortable, cool temperatures. Rich in US history, there is plenty to explore in museums, food, and local city culture. Race is well organized, energetic, and relatively flat course great for fast fall marathon times. Don't forget to visit and run up the stairs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and relive the Rocky moment. 
10. SLO Marathon
Location: San Luis Obispo, CA
Race Date: March
2014 Finishers: 700
2014 Results: 3:42:54

If you love small town races that offer great organization, countryside courses and wine tasting opportunities, this one is it. Located three hour drive north of Los Angeles, my dad and I ran this one a few times. The multiple decade running event offers the marathon, half, relay, and 5K with an energetic post race festival. The rolling hills course is peaceful in the blossoming spring green fields and flowers. Worth supporting this smaller event with a big event feel.
9. Red Rock Canyon Marathon
Location: Red Rock Conservation Area, NV
Race Date: 3/5/11
2011 Finishers: 175
2011 Race Temps: 35F/50F
2011 Results: 3:38:59 2nd FOA, 55th total
Another majestic rolling hills course for the outdoor enthusiast with red rock formations and sandstone peaks for miles ahead. With a smaller field, the energy is at the start / finish then peaceful escape during the run. Watching the sunrise over the horizon is as breathtaking as they get. A great destination race to combine with other outdoor activities while visiting the Vegas area.
8. Napa Valley Marathon
Location: Napa, CA
Race Date: 3/4/12
2012 Finishers: 1,794
2012 Race Temps: 39F/68F
2012 Results: 3:22:47 BQ, 72nd total
Named the "world’s best little marathon", it has made top lists such as Top 10 marathons worth traveling for, Top 100 road races in North America, and my top picks too. In its 34th year, it pampers their runners with a duffle bag, tech shirt, spinner medal, and great post-race festival with warm soup, massages, showers, and more. Very worth your registration fee, especially at the time. The point to point course is net downhill lined with the vineyards and green open fields of Napa. This race closes every year so register early.

7. Honolulu Marathon
Location: Honolulu, Hawaii
Race Date: December
2015 Finishers: 22,000
2015 Race temps: 75F, 81% humidity, HOT
2015 Results: 3:49:19

All the main islands of Hawaii have their amazing marathons and triathlons to choose from, the birthplace of the Ironman in 1978. As one of the largest for Hawaii, Honolulu marathon starts at 5:00 am in an attempt to beat the heat. Needless to say, be ready for high temps and humidity, especially after the sun rises. Enjoy ocean views, luscious foliage, and great post race experience. 

6. Big Sur Marathon 
Location: Big Sur to Carmel, CA
Race Date: 4/29/12
2012 Finishers: 1,786
2012 Race Temps: 50F/62F
2012 Results: 3:26:45
Mesmerizing every step of the way. It is the only marathon that shuts down PCH in this segment from Big Sur to Carmel running along the jagged edge of the western world. You have miles of green enchantment eastwards and miles of blue beauty westward. Your heart will dance in delight as you run across Bixby bridge and listen to the echoing harmony of the pianist playing. Since 2010, the event added the Boston to Big Sur Challenge to add for any competitive runner who runs the Boston Marathon the same year, usually falls within 1-2 weeks of each other.

5. Marine Corps Marathon
Location: Washington DC, US
Race Date: October
2016 Finishers: 20,000
2016 Race temps: 85F, 80% humidity
2016 Results: 3:49:11

It was my father and my first visit to Washington DC; therefore, we walked about 10-13 miles per day sightseeing before and after his birthday marathon-- we felt it race day. Normally, MCM has cooler racing temps, however, 2016 was an abnormally warm race day. Great organization, amazing history, and a vast amount of things to see and do all race weekend. 

4. Los Angeles Marathon
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Race Date: 3/1/99
1999 Finishers: 16,861
1999 Race Temps: 55F/73F
1999 Results: 4:05:55, 1st


As my first marathon, I ran it side by side with my father. For 22 consecutive years, we return each year to toe the line through all forms of weather from extreme heat waves to monsoons, course changes, management changes, and race date changes. As of 2020, the field has grown to about 20,000 with a net downhill course from Dodger Stadium through iconic spots of LA to finish oceanfront in Santa Monica. Note: it does have a fair share of hills so a great race course strategy is keen for those racing for personal records. It was my first, my current personal record, and recent my fastest in this decade of my life. You never forget your first marathon. 
Location: Chicago, IL
Race Date: 10/7/12
2012 Finishers: 37,455
2012 Race Temps: 42F/50F
2012 Results: 3:18:40, 17th state

Capped at 45,000, this World Major Marathon produces everything you can desire in a very large event. With Chicago friends, I ran this event four times prior to it being transformed into lottery. Weather is a toss up in this month; typically, it tends to be very optimal racing weather. By 2014, the race is by lottery or qualification. Qualifications are more lenient than Boston or NYCM. The energy, spectators, deep dish pizza and great race atmosphere makes this world renown marathon worth running at least once.
2. Boston Marathon
Location: Boston, MA
Race Date: 4/19/10
2010 Finishers: 22,588
2010 Race Temps: 42F/52F
2010 Results: 3:28:32 BQ, 40th total
Many runners dream to qualify and run Boston, and it does deliver a memorable experience. Marathon Monday is a holiday for Bostonians, and they welcome the running community with full energy. It is full of emotion, non stop spectators cheering, and thrill from the moment you start in Hopkinton to the finish. I enjoy training throughout the year and grateful to have qualified 75 times. Expect  increased flight, hotel, and food prices on race weekend. Be prepared for any type of weather as I have experienced their historical hottest race day (2012), coldest race day (2018), and the unforgettable day that turned the running world in shock (2013). It is an inspiring international gathering worth the hard work of qualifying. 


1. ING NYC Marathon
Location: New York City, NY
Race Date: 11/6/11
2011 Finishers: 46,795
2011 Race Temps: 40F/65F
2011 Results: 3:39:37 , 66th total
As one of the largest marathons in the world, the energy is not only in the field but also in the 3 million spectators that line the entire course. Runs through the five boroughs of NYC with multiple bridge crossings; usually not a PR course as age groupers and elites tend to run a few minutes slower than to a flat course. Pro tip: practice fueling strategies for a late morning start given you will need to wait a few hours from wake time to start time, similarly to Boston. In 2011, it was my first visit to NY to run it, and I've returned a couple times for work, equally as memorable. A definite must do and favorite US road marathon.




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If you enjoyed my top 20, please feel free to share or email me if you are looking for training plan to keep you accountable. Thank you for reading! 

7 comments:

  1. Congrats Nadia on all of your marathons. :) WOW!! I'd love to run NYC one day! Thanks for being an inspiration. You really are a lovely person. Good Luck at LAM next month!!! xo

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  2. Great reviews. I've run a few of these - Napa Valley, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. I agree with your rankings. I thought Napa was one of the most beautiful runs, although it rained on me both years I did it!

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    1. Oh! Nadia, you gotta try a Spartan Race sometime. I really think you'd like the trail running aspect and the variety of obstacles. There are a couple 4-mile Sprints in Southern California coming up. There are some 13-mile Beasts in Northern California coming up as well. Use this link to get 15%-off: http://share.spartanrace.com/x/peMeQ.

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  3. I have only done 5 of these, but several others are on my to-do and wish lists. I recommend Crater Lake marathon for you.

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  4. Some of these are on my list, although my total # run is much lower than yours. We are spoiled with such great races in CA. Hope to see you at one of these one day.

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  5. Hi Nadia - I am a fellow Marathon Maniac. I came across your blog searching for Barcelona Marathon. You should check Madrid and Valencia Marathon. They are phenomenal too. Best of luck in LA this week!

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  6. We are looking for people to Join the 15th Annual Team Spirit Long Beach 5k and 10K marathon and help put an end to breast and ovarian cancer today!. You can help distribute brochures and yard signs to local stores, offices, and restaurants! Are you a people person? We have many community events where Team Spirit needs a presence. Volunteer to work a table at one of these events to hand out brochures and spread information about Team Spirit, and recruit participants! Already attending the marathon? Then help volunteer the day of the event. We need groups to assist with set up, participant check-in, new registrations, and drive or co-pilot shuttle vans. We will also need people to man water stations, and course monitors to assure participants’ safety and morale.

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