Chase a PR, if the Weather's Right: Chicago Marathon1 of 11
The Chicago Marathon pulls off an oxymoron that few races of its scope can: it's both a low-key and big-city affair. Despite its field of more than 35,000, you can get to the start area pretty easily via car, city bus or the L, and you don't have to get there four hours before your corral closes; ditto for leaving the finish area in Grant Park. It attracts the world's top talent—Khalid Khannouchi ran a then world record on the flat course in 1999—as well as throngs of recreational runners chasing personal bests or news headlines (Amber Miller completed the 2011 event when she was 39 weeks pregnant). Mother Nature can unleash unpredictable weather in October, though, so runners should brace themselves for possible 90-degree or 30-degree temps.
As Big City as it Gets: New York City Marathon2 of 11
Are the harder-than-Boston time qualification standards, increasingly competitive lottery or charity fundraising commitment worth the effort to gain entry? You might just have to trust that the cannon ball firing signaling the start of the race, and Frank Sinatra singing "New York, New York," does its job of inspiring goose bumps as you launch across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Soak up the culture, races, languages and neighborhoods you'll encounter on this five-borough parade. Cresting the Queensboro Bridge engulfs you in the screams of spectators welcoming you to Manhattan; you can't help but quicken your pace and feel grateful to partake in one of the few sporting events with the power to unite an entire city.
America's Most Iconic Marathon: Boston Marathon3 of 11
photo by FayFoto/Boston
Runners who earn the coveted Boston Qualifier (BQ) proudly endure the thrashing the downhill than notoriously uphill course unleashes. The world's oldest annual marathon is steeped in noble athletic firsts, from Kathrine Switzer's defiant 1967 run to prove that women could compete in the event to Alberto Salazar's and Dick Beardsley's "duel in the sun," the first time two athletes finished under 2:09 in the same race. As the squealing throng of Wellesley College women, who line up for hours to cheer and smooch passing runners, suggest, it is a privilege to run this race. More runners than ever will toe the start line of the 2014 race to celebrate the fact that the race will continue despite the terrorist bombings that took place at the 2013 event.
Tough it Out at 1 of the 7 Wonders: Great Wall Marathon4 of 11
If you're bored with more traditional footraces, the Great Wall Marathon will satisfy your wanderlust, so long as you leave any PR ambitions at home. Even the fleetest will huff when trekking up thousands of steep sometimes broken stone steps. The lush green landscape will compete for your attention, but stay alert because the aggressive ascents and descents can put you startlingly close to sheer drops village, and the village streets remain open to traffic during the event. ?
Scenic, Friendly Midwest Race: Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon5 of 11
Photo by: Competitive Image
The tagline, "most beautiful urban marathon" in a city crowned recently with the title of best parks system does not disappoint. You'll notice an earnest, well-designed effort by event organizers as you make your way from the start downtown to a tour of the city's chain of lakes, where the majority of the course is run, before you're rewarded with six miles of views of awesome mansions and shouts from big crowds lining Summit Avenue. Usually timed at the peak of the fall foliage, the contrast of the blue-grey water with the fiery scarlet and canary leaves will distract you from your aching legs. The friendly Midwestern spectators don't leave you hanging; there's nary an inch of the course where you won't hear a boost of encouragement.
Where It All Began: Athens Marathon6 of 11
Hark back to the days of Phidippides, the legend who was allegedly the first to cover 26.2 miles on foot, at the Athens Marathon. Your journey begins as Phidippides' did in Marathon, and climbs roughly 360 feet towards Athens. Revel in the epic finish at Panathinaiko Stadium, the site of the first modern Olympic Games in 1896.
Unmatched Coastal Beauty: Big Sur International Marathon7 of 11
The secret's out: The Big Sur Marathon has sold out in record time the past two years, and it's easy to see why. The stunning views of the cerulean Pacific Ocean, craggy Carmel coastline and towering redwoods make the rolling hills seem puny in comparison. Where else will the melody of a live pianist dressed in coattails help you relax as you strive to make it to the finish before the six-hour cutoff?
Are You Tough Enough? Pikes Peak Marathon8 of 11
photo courtesy of: Pikes Peak Marathon
Even if you're accustomed to running at elevation, ascending 8,000 vertical feet during the first half of the Pikes Peak Marathon will likely rattle your guts, leave you gasping, and humble your ego. Traversing over boulders and rocky trails above the tree line is tricky enough but the unpredictable weather can bring several inches of snow, even if temperatures at the start were in the 50s. At 12,000 feet, it can take a frustratingly long time to cover just one mile; 2012 champ and mountain running superstar Kilian Jornet finished the event in 3:40. If the thin air doesn't make you dizzy, the descent, littered with roots and rocks, just might.
Something for Everyone: London Marathon9 of 11
The huge field, welcoming crowd and party atmosphere make this race less intimidating for newbies, and the fast, point-to-point course makes it ideal for speed-hungry veterans—Paula Radcliffe lowered the women's world marathon record to 2:15:25 at the 2003 event. The highlights of this impeccably organized race are the sights along the last 3 miles: runners pass the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace on the way to the finish.
Race in Paradise: Honolulu Marathon10 of 11
There's a reason thousands of Japanese runners flock to Oahu in December for this event: it's a chance to experience the spirit of aloha while touring island landmarks like Waikiki Beach, Diamond Head and Koko Head Crater. You will have to rise before the sun to make it to the 5 a.m. start, but the early-bird wake-up call gives you more time to lounge on the beach post-race with an umbrella-adorned mai tai. The humidity can pose a problem for some toward the end of the race, but the refreshing breezes of Waikiki Beach are less than 2 miles away from the finish in Kapiolani Park.