10 Best Marathons for First-Timers

Do you like to reward yourself with a glass of wine?

Napa Valley Marathon

Napa, California - March 6, 2011

Point-to-point, flat, rural, shuttle buses, music, schwag

Napa offers runners the good life: Sip wine on Friday evening and mingle with other runners as a jazz quartet plays in the background. Sip more wine (and lots of water) at the expo. Run from Calistoga to Napa along the famed, mostly flat Silverado Trail through vineyards for 26.2. Then release your aching muscles into the hands of one of the 25 massage therapists at the finish. On the course, local high-school bands and a classical music ensemble entertain runners. The small field of 2,400 means that roads never feel crowded. Other amenities include a long-sleeve T-shirt, duffle bag or backpack, and showers at the finish.

Heads up: The first half of the course has a sloped shoulder with little shade. On a sunny day, it can feel hot.

Veteran tip: There is a BYOB option. If your favorite brand or flavor of sports drink isn't served, fill your own bottles in advance. Volunteers will have them for you at aid stations.

Do you worry about everything that could go wrong?

Flying Pig Marathon

Cincinnati, Ohio - May 1, 2011

Loop, hilly, urban, kid's run, music, pace teams, schwag

When the idea of running a marathon first came up, did you think something along the lines of when pigs fly? Then run this race; it was founded in order to provide nervous runners with a fun, hey-you-can-do-this event. So it's no surprise that the race's best attribute—besides its silly pig theme—is its support. Fifty entertainment sites, including bands and squealers (that's pig for scream teams) line the course, and more than 100,000 spectators add their own attractions: fruit and candy stands, lawn parties, and beer lounges. Courtesy vans drive along the course scouting for runners who might need help. You do need to be prepared for hills—but they'll reward you with views of the Ohio River and downtown Cincinnati. You can also join a pace group to help you manage the terrain. Postrace, take the free shuttle back to your hotel, where you're guaranteed late checkout (hotels can't be a race partner if they don't). 

Heads up: More than 16,000 runners in the full, half, and relay can make for a crowded race. But organizers are instituting corrals at the start this year to ease congestion.

Veteran tip: The climb from miles five to eight isn't as bad as the profile suggests because the incline is stair stepped, so you get a breather now and then. Pace yourself and you'll have plenty left for the second half.

Do you prefer scenery to screaming crowds?

Ogden Marathon

Ogden, Utah - May 21, 2011

Point-to-point, hilly, rural, shuttle buses, kid's run

Ask any veteran marathoner to choose the most scenic race in America, and you'll hear Big Sur (California) or Mount Desert Island (Maine). But Ogden has one up on both of them: Its gorgeous views don't come with epic climbs. In fact, the course drops 1,100 feet as it winds through national forest lands on quiet country roads. The field of 3,000 takes in views of pine-covered mountains, green pastures, and the calm waters of the Pineview reservoir. Just after mile 17, runners enter what many consider the course's highlight: Ogden Canyon, where you run along the Ogden River until you arrive at a waterfall at mile 22. The finish-line festival boasts live bands and a beer garden, along with smoothies, fresh-baked bread, fruit, and Creamsicles.

Heads up: The 2011 event is sold-out, but space has been exclusively reserved for Runner's World readers. To register online, use this code: "runnersworld" (one word, lowercase).

Veteran tip: There is only one departure time for buses to the start. That's right, 3,000 runners are loaded into 93 buses simultaneously, then they all take off, so don't be late.
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