While the half-marathon grabs all the attention with skyrocketing participation numbers, its growth hasn't been at the expense of 26.2. Yes, fewer people run marathons than halfs—it's twice as far, duh!—but the ranks of marathoners continue to tick up, too.
In 2012 there were 487,000 marathon finishers, compared with 354,000 in 2002, says Ryan Lamppa of Running USA, which tracks road-race statistics. And the number of 26.2-mile races has doubled in the last decade to 850.
"The marathon has become more about the engagement and the experience than the performance," says Lamppa. "Innovations include split and finish times being texted to family and friends; social-media shout-outs, photos, and videos; virtual goody bags; VIP packages; and unique tech shirts and medals."
To find the best of the new, we looked at U.S. marathons that debuted since 2008 (excluding first- and second-year marathons, because even the best organizers need time to iron out glitches) with at least 500 participants. We aimed for geographical diversity, poured over runners' reviews, and consulted with our own Chief Running Officer Bart Yasso, who has traveled to 150 marathons in the past five years.
These nine rose to the top. Now go run a new 26.2!
More: 3 Treadmill Workouts for Marathon Training
January 19: THE LOUISIANA MARATHON
"Louisianans know how to throw a party, with festivals, tailgates, and parades that last for hours to celebrate any and all occasions," says race cofounder Danny Bourgeois. That's a 26.2-mile party!
Starting and finishing at the 34-story state capitol—the nation's tallest—the flat course follows a Mississippi River levee and oak-canopied roads in City Park; slices through the century-old Garden District and the LSU campus; and cruises past egret-filled University Lake and million-dollar estates.
A Saturday family fest and an expo with local foods and craft beers. Bill Rodgers and The Long Run author Matt Long speak at the "pastalaya" dinner.
Text tracking, fluids every mile, gels, food, jazz bands and dance teams.
A "food village" with 20 Louisiana restaurants and caterers, including delectables like chicken gumbo, alligator-sausage chili, crawfish remoulade, and turtle soup. Concert headlined by Big Sam's Funky Nation.
Gender-specific tech shirt, medal, drawstring backpack, virtual and actual goody bags.
$110 to $130
Half-marathon, 5-K, kids' runs; Marathoners who do the Saturday 5-K get a custom seafood tray.