Get Your Best Marathon Times Here

The 5 fastest (and often coolest) courses in the U.S.

Flickr/Kris Krüg

As a bucket list challenge, running a marathon should involve a little suffering, but there’s no shame in choosing a fast course to stack the deck in your favor. A cool day and a pancake-flat route can make all the difference when you’re looking to shave minutes off your PR—or just cross the finish line with gastrointestinal dignity intact. So why not treat yourself to 26.2 miles of relatively smooth sailing? Here are five marathons that are known for being fast. And with most of them being in the Fall, there's no time like now to start training.

BayState Marathon
Lowell, MA, Oct. 21, 2012: There’s no guarantee that running BayState will help access a Super Mario warp zone to a Boston-qualifying finish, but you certainly stand a good chance. About one-third of Baystate’s 2,000 participants qualify for Boston each year on the mostly flat course, which follows the banks of the Merrimack River.

Steamtown Marathon
Scranton, PA, Oct. 7, 2012: Some races post fast median times because they tend to attract faster runners, but the Steamtown Marathon posts crazy-fast times thanks to its cool October temperatures and 955-foot net elevation drop. In any given year, 25 to 29 percent of all Steamtown finishers qualify for the Boston Marathon.

Eugene Marathon
Eugene, OR, late April/early May 2013: If you want to follow in the fast-and-furious footsteps of Steve Prefontaine and Alberto Salazar, the Eugene marathon traces the streets and trails used by Oregon’s running’s greats. In 2011, the overall median finish time on Eugene’s scenic, flat course was 3:59:17. Compare that to the general 2011 median marathon finishing times (4:16:34 for men, 4:42:15 for women), and you can see why so many Pacific Northwesterners have posted PRs at Hayward Field. 

Grand Rapids Marathon
Grand Rapids, MI, Oct. 20, 2012: Chicago isn’t the only outlet for Midwesterners looking to nail a fast finish. Grand Rapids posts consistently low median finish times and offers a flat, shady course with well-organized volunteer support. Veterans of the race describe it as having a more personal, less chaotic feel than races in bigger cities.

Wineglass Marathon
Corning, NY, Sept. 30, 2012: Fast median finish times, a net loss in altitude, the promise of “wine” in the title—the Wineglass Marathon has it all. The inexpensive, small-town race was voted “speediest” marathon by Runner’s World readers in 2010 and has received all sorts of accolades for its stunning course. Wineglass sends plenty of runners to Boston—and even more to celebratory PR triumph.

Want fast marathons closer to home? MarathonGuide.com has resources on which races post the most Boston qualifiers, RunningUSA releases an annual marathon report that includes fastest median times, and the Association of Road Racing Statisticians has all kinds of cool stats about international races.

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