The marathon truly is different from any other running race. It unites people, and it changes lives. Perhaps that's because people recognize the truth in what running philosopher Dr. George Sheehan once said: "The marathon is an adventure into the limits of the self, a theater for heroism, where the runner can do deeds of daring and greatness." And it gives you really nice legs.
Change your life in 2016 and try one—or all—of these 11 marathons.
Napa Valley MarathonMarch 6, 2016 - Calistoga, Calif. 1 of 12
A relatively intimate marathon with about 2,500 runners, the Napa Valley Marathon is a quaint race in an agricultural setting. If you like to mix wine with your running (and who doesn't?), this is the marathon for you.
The scenic course runs along the Silverado Trail on the east side of the valley and winds south from Calistoga to Napa alongside the many vineyards. Except for the last half-mile, the entire course is rural. Take in the views, but don't drink and run (okay, maybe just a little). After the race, stay at one of the charming inns and spend the next day wine tasting and relaxing.
Paris MarathonApril 3, 2016 - Paris, France 2 of 12
Ah, Paris! The city of lights, the city of romance, the city of... a marathon? Yup, the most romantic city in the world has a marathon, and a popular one at that, with 35,000 to 40,000 runners.
The course starts on one of the most famous streets in the world, the Champs-Elysees, and runs a winding loop through the city, beside the banks of the River Seine and past some of the city's greatest sites, including the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame Cathedral and the Place de la Bastille before finishing near the Arc de Triomphe. Volunteers hand out red wine and cheese to runners at the Eiffel Tower, about three-quarters of the way through the race—just enough time to numb yourself before hitting the marathon wall.
Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon and Half MarathonApril 30, 2016 - Louisville, Ky. 3 of 12
The Kentucky Derby Marathon/Half-Marathon, the largest road race in Kentucky, starts and finishes in downtown Louisville, and takes runners along a flat course through downtown, Churchill Downs, the headquarters of the baseball bat company Louisville Slugger, the University of Louisville, Museum Row and the largest Victorian neighborhood in the U.S.
Runners receive gender-specific technical T-shirts that they can wear to the post-race party that will be held on the waterfront and feature live music. All finishers receive unique Kentucky finisher medals and an admission voucher to Churchill Downs.
Big Sur International MarathonApril 24, 2016 - Carmel, Calif. 4 of 12
The Big Sur International Marathon offers a course that features incredible beauty as well as a real challenge for most runners and faster walkers. Staged entirely on Highway 1, runners are treated to panoramic views of the Pacific Ocean on their left and the pastoral beauty of the coastal mountain range on their right. An eclectic offering of music serenades runners along the course, including Michael Martinez playing the Yamaha Grand Piano at Bixby Bridge at the halfway point.
The Great Wall MarathonMay 21, 2016 - Tianjin Province, China 5 of 12
A destination and bucket list race for many, The Great Wall Marathon might be one of the most beautiful races on the planet, but it is not for the faint of heart. The famous course winds up and down a large section of the Great Wall of China—totaling 5,164 stone steps of various heights and widths, making for a notably treacherous and challenging run.
Vancouver USA MarathonJune 19, 2016 - Vancouver, Wash. 6 of 12
The Vancouver USA Marathon is a true Pacific Northwest gem, highlighting historic sites and the mighty Columbia River. The race includes a three-day outdoor Active Expo, along with the Vancouver Saturday Market, the Summer Brewfest and all marathon ceremonies and festivities in Ester Short Park.
Turtle MarathonSept. 3, 2016 - Roswell, N.M. 7 of 12
The smallest marathon in the U.S. with just 22 finishers in 2015 (none of which were aliens), the Turtle Marathon in Roswell is all about you and the road.
The out-and-back course, which starts and ends at Roswell's Cahoon Park, takes runners along bike paths for the first couple of miles. It then heads onto U.S. Highway 70, where runners go west for the next few miles until they reach the half-way turnaround and begin the route back to the finish line. All finishers receive ceramic turtles as awards after crossing the finish line. If you're lucky, you may even spot a UFO during the race.
The Portland MarathonOct. 9, 2016 - Portland, Ore. 8 of 12
Now celebrating its 45th year, the Portland Marathon is consistently ranked as one of the best marathons for beginners, with Runner's World deeming it "the best people's marathon in the West."
The course has no shortage of entertainment, with over 74 different entertainment groups performing at 53 locations during last year's race alone. It is also known as one of the most walker-friendly marathons in the United States—the course stays open for eight hours to accommodate participants of all athletic abilities.
Medtronic Twin Cities MarathonOct. 9, 2016 - Minneapolis 9 of 12
The Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon takes place in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area and is known as "The Most Beautiful Urban Marathon in America." The course winds around several of the city's lakes and along the Mississippi River. Miles 21 to 25 are a steady uphill climb and are considered among the most challenging finishes in American marathons. This race is also notably competitive. On average, 13 percent of the marathon field qualifies for Boston.
TCS New York City MarathonNov. 6, 2016 - New York 10 of 12
The largest marathon in the United States with over 50,000 runners, the TCS New York City Marathon is the cream of the marathon crop. To paraphrase Frank Sinatra, if you can run there, you can run anywhere. The marathon is organized by the New York Road Runners, the largest running club in the United States.
The course begins on the Staten Island side of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge and runs through dozens of culturally and ethnically diverse neighborhoods in Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan, and then finishes in world-famous Central Park. You cross five bridges, including the Queensboro Bridge, which puts you onto First Avenue in Manhattan at mile 16, where you're greeted by thousands of screaming spectators, making it one of the most exciting streets to run on in the world. After the race, get off your feet and dine at one of New York's many famous restaurants, see a Broadway show, and ride a horse-drawn carriage through Central Park.
Because of its enormous popularity, getting into the TCS New York City Marathon is harder than hailing a taxicab in Times Square on a Saturday evening. You can have the privilege of running New York by applying by lottery that is drawn in April, running a speedy qualifying time, running for charity, or being a celebrity.
Honolulu MarathonDec. 11, 2016 - Honolulu 11 of 12
The Honolulu Marathon is the fourth largest marathon in the United States, attracting some 20,000 runners each year.
To beat the heat, the race starts at 5 a.m. (yes, you read that right!) on Ala Moana Boulevard, which is Hawaiian for "path by the ocean." And that's just what you get in this exotic locale known for its relaxed atmosphere, cheap noodle joints and fancy Pacific Rim cuisine. Enjoy spectacular ocean views as you run alongside world-famous Waikiki Beach and Diamond Head and Koko Head volcanic craters before finishing at Waikiki's Kapiolani Park. After the race, soak your tired legs in the ocean and lounge on the sand. If you get there early, don't miss the concert and luau at the Waikiki Shell held a couple days before the race.