10 Best Marathons for First-Timers

Do you want to do a big-city race where first-timers are celebrated?

Marine Corps Marathon

Washington, D.C. - October 30, 2011

Loop, flat, urban, kid's run, music, pace teams

Marine Corp's reputation as "The People's Marathon" is spot-on, and precisely why it's perfect for first-timers. The race's mission is to show recreational runners a good time. You don't need to qualify, fund-raise, or enter a lottery to be among the 30,000 runners who participate in the country's fourth largest marathon. A Friday reception for first-timers enables runners to meet people with the same anticipated pace, and ask experts questions about shoes, nutrition, and the course. The race also boasts 30 bands and 100,000 spectators lining the mostly flat course that passes the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials and the Washington Monument. The Pentagon marks mile 24.5. Shortly thereafter, you pass through rows of cheering Marines before crossing the finish, where a 2nd lieutenant drapes a medal around your neck.
Heads up: The race sold out in six days last year; be online February 23 to register.

Veteran tip: Limit your time at the expo and take a hotel shuttle. Browsing the 200 vendors makes for a long day on your feet.

Will this be your only marathon ever? (Yeah, right.)

ING New York City Marathon

New York, New York - November 6, 2011

Point-to-point, flat, urban, shuttle buses, kid's run, music

If there's a chance you'll run only one marathon, it has to be New York. No other city better turns a race into an event. Each year, 2 million people and more than 130 bands line the five-borough course to support you (and the 43,000 other runners). The festive atmosphere begins with fireworks in Central Park the night before the race and continues at the start with Frank Sinatra's "Start spreading the news. . ." The sound of gospel takes over in Brooklyn, then cheers from the 10-deep crowds on First Avenue, and finally the high-fives from kids in Harlem. Indeed, runners say the enthusiastic spectators carry them through the race—especially the final hilly miles in Central Park.

Heads up: Interested runners must enter a lottery and be selected to run. No luck? You can gain entry through one of the race's charity programs.

Veteran tip: Develop a plan of attack for water stations. Decide if you'll go to the left or the right, and if you want water or sports drink. Be superspecific with your support crew as to where you'll see them during and after the race.

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