What makes a marathon worth running? A great course, enthusiastic fans and a race that's well-organized are all important aspects. These factors played a big role in helping us rank our list of the world’s best marathons. We first began with some simple statistics from Running USA that identified which 2013 marathons were the largest in the United States and the world (largest meaning races with the most finishers.) We also factored in the opinions of our readers. We asked you, the marathon runners of the world, which 26.2-mile races are your favorites of all time. To tie it all together, we created a scoring system that awarded points for everything from course quality, event organization and fan ratings based off runner reviews on MarathonGuide.com to the number of 2013 finishers and of course, votes and comments from our reader survey. Now, the results are in and these 25 races have been deemed the best marathons in the world.
Although the geography of this hilly city does not make for an easy marathon course, runners still appreciate this race for its unbeatable scenery. Additionally, many who have run it in the past agree that it makes for a fantastic destination race. “The city is the major selling point—so electric & beautiful,” one runner wrote on MarathonGuide.com. “It is a very cool place to enjoy before, during and after the run.”
Great live music, typically pleasant weather and challenging hills make this an interesting course—and one that runners return to time and time again. Past finishers compliment the crowds, the scenic nature of the course and, of course, the entertainment.
Though small in size, attracting about 10,000 runners, this marathon is well-planned and has a flat course. One reviewer on MarathonGuide.com found the choice of snacks (gummy bears and pretzels) at the aid stations to be a bit strange, “But overall, I had a lot of fun running this marathon and would consider doing it again.”
Although not one of the biggest or highest rated races, the Duke City Marathon was voted onto our list by readers who appreciate it for its beginner-friendly flat course that offers lots to see along the way. “It's a flat and fast course with beautiful weather and scenery,” one survey respondent wrote in. “It was my first and still is my favorite marathon!”
The California International Marathon is a race put together by runners, for runners—and that makes all the difference. This course is full of rolling hills and ecstatic spectators and it also happens to be a Boston Marathon qualifier and an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier. Those who have run this marathon in the past rave about the finish, running right up to the capital.
Coming up on its 30th anniversary, the LA Marathon has increasingly become one of the largest marathons in the country over the years. Since introducing their famous course entitled “Stadium to Sea,” participants flock to get their chance to run past the major landmarks in the city. Though it can get quite hot, the crowd support and aid stations push everyone forward.
Despite a climate that isn’t always ideal for running, marathoners continue to flock to Hawaii for a unique race experience in Honolulu. In 2013 this race was the fourth largest in the U.S. and the eleventh largest in the world, according to Running USA. What makes this a marathon you won’t want to miss? Well as one past racer puts it, “The scenery and the route cannot be beat” and as another explains, “This race clearly demonstrated the ‘aloha spirit,’ where everyone can just hang loose and enjoy.”
One of the most scenic marathons in the world comes complete with a small-town feel, great organization and personal emails from the organizers leading up to race day. The race is regularly described as tranquil and quiet, certainly a contrast to the top spots on our list, but this is a must-run race for those looking to get away and enjoy a relaxing course. Past finishers recommend winding down post-race with a walk on the beach.
This year the Houston Marathon changed its course for the first time and the racers rejoiced. One reviewer on MarathonGuide.com, who has run the race 13 times, was concerned for the change but claims she had nothing to worry about. “The new course is actually even better, more scenic and [has] nicer roads,” she wrote. Reviewers had a difficult time finding negatives about the race and find it to be an excellent big-city race with a manageable field size.
As one of the world’s largest marathon races, the Stockholm Marathon saw nearly 20,000 finishers in 2013. Runners continue to tout this race as a favorite noting that it’s well-organized and raving about the unparalleled crowd support. One downside is that the course is fairly challenging, but as one MarthonGuide.com reviewer put it simply, “[It’s] well worth doing if you are not aiming for PR.”
What could be more magical than running your way through all four of the Walt Disney World theme parks? Runners start in Epcot then continue into Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom, Disney’s Hollywood Studios and then return to Epcot for the finish. A two-time Disney World Marathon runner said it best on MarathonGuide.com, “Disney knows how to throw a party and the race shows it."
The Marine Corps Marathon is the third largest in the U.S. and has become known as “The People’s Marathon.” It attracts runners from all over the world and is open to everyone ages 14 and up. And as “The People’s Marathon” it’s pretty clear from MarathonGuide.com that the people really do love it. One reviewer states, “It is what I call the total experience you need to do at least once in your lifetime.”
“I have run 18 total marathons at 10 different locations. St. George is the one I keep coming back to,” a MarathonGuide.com user raves of this race. “The course, the red rock scenery, the support, the awesome energy felt in the air at the starting line, the cool sandstone finisher's medal, and on and on—what's there not to love?” And apparently this runner is not the only one who feels that way. With five star ratings for both the event’s course and organization, this race easily earned enough points to sneak onto our list.
The GORE-TEX Philadelphia Marathon has a particularly scenic course, which leads runners past historical markers like Benjamin Franklin’s place of burial, the Liberty Bell and the National Constitution Center. Runners will also pass the beautiful waterfronts of both the Delaware and Schuylkill Rivers, and it’s even easier to appreciate the natural beauty when you realize the marathon is an environmentally-friendly event.
Known for its gorgeous route through the city of love, this marathon is one of the most popular races in Europe. It offers unique food and drink stations that include beer, wine, cider and oysters. It is limited to 37,000 runners and requires a doctor’s note to compete. But the race gives participants the opportunity to run through the best areas of the city including past the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre, Bastille, and the Arc de Triomphe.
Although much smaller than some of the world’s more popular races, our readers wrote in to vote for the Wineglass Marathon mentioning that the race is “so well organized” and pointing out that the course’s scenery is incomparable to almost any other race (both reasons why this event also landed a spot in our recent round-up of noteworthy destination races).
Started in 1976, the Berlin Marathon has become so popular that the event now spans over two days. The first day features a 500 meter and a 1,000 meter Bambini Run, a mini marathon and an inline-skating marathon, and the second day is when the main marathon takes place. The festivities are a sight to see; exciting enough to easily land Berlin on any runner's marathon bucket list.
Pittsburgh gets rowdy for their annual marathon. Participants boast of the incredible crowd support. One MarathonGuide.com runner commented, “The spectators were enthusiastic and the neighborhood cheering groups- bands, cheerleaders, step dancers, percussion groups, choirs, etc. gave it a lot of personality.” Though Pittsburgh has a particularly hilly landscape, the course winds through, and most of the race is flat.
The Tokyo Marathon is the fifth largest in the world (the 2013 race logged 34,832 finishers according to Running USA) and it happens to be one of the highest rated races, too. “I have run Tokyo three times and it is more than a world class race. It is a life changing cultural event,” one runner commented on MarathonGuide.com.
A flat course, enthusiastic spectators and “superb” race organization make this marathon a favorite among seasoned runners. Though it’s tough to get a spot on the starting line of this major race, it’s one of the best in the world and the scenic finish gives runners a one-of-a-kind view of the city.
Set during the most scenic time of fall, this race has been unofficially dubbed, “The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America” by many racers and supporters. And the beauty goes far beyond the lake views throughout the flat course. Festivities are in full-swing the entire marathon weekend with fun events for the entire family. Twin Cities makes their marathon a celebration, attracting over 300,000 spectators, 5,000 volunteers, over 25 entertainers and Cheer Zones, and post-race activities.
This race in France landed a spot on our list thanks to input from our readers. “It’s a perfect setting for an amateur runner who is out to enjoy his time on course and soak the atmosphere,” one survey respondent commented. It also scored extra points for above average ratings on MarathonGuide.com with a five star fan and course rating and 4.5 stars for excellent race organization.
Easily among the best races in the world, the Boston Marathon is a pillar of athletic achievement and perseverance. The course that starts in Hopkinton and ends in the heart of Boston is a scenic challenge well worth the tough entry process and qualifying races. Runners on MarathonGuide.com have said it’s well worth trying for years to get on the starting line and one commenter said, “If you're looking for a festive atmosphere and a moment to celebrate your running achievement, Boston can't be beat.”
Runners agree, this is one of the best races of all. The course is fast and flat, which attracts the pursuit of personal records and world record performances, and the race is always exceptionally organized. A noisy crowd of cheering fans flock at the start, throughout the course and near the end with a fun post-race scene. 2013saw 40,801 finishers with many return marathoners who praise the race as a rewarding and memorable experience.
“This is the mother of all the races, best course best support,” one runner wrote about the New York City Marathon on MarathonGuide.com. Year after year runners from around the world vie for a spot in this iconic race that tours the Big Apple’s five boroughs. Last year the event saw 50,266 finishers (the most of any marathon in the world according to Running USA) and time and time again participants continue to praise the race for its extraordinary course that’s said to be lined with some of the most rowdy and cheerful fans of any race in the world.