10 North American Marathons That Are Vacation-Worthy
These races are our top choices to pack your bags and hit the road for a racecation, no matter what type of vacation you're looking for.
Walt Disney World Marathon
It’s not always an easy pitch to your family, friends or significant other: I know where we should go on vacation this year—let’s watch me run a marathon! But lots of marathon locations also happen to be great vacation destinations. Want a big city? Nature? Amusement for the kids? Fun for adults? You can find a race that doubles as a great vacation afterward. While you focus on your training, your crew can anticipate the rest of the vacation. Here are some of our top choices for races to make everyone happy.
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For those with younger kids:
Walt Disney World Marathon
Next run: Jan. 7, 2018
The race: You could argue the marathon travel trend started when Walt Disney World created a marathon on one of its slowest weekends of the year nearly a quarter century ago. The result was a huge success, and the beginning of a Disney running series that incorporates multiple events throughout the year at both its park in Florida and Disneyland in California. The original Walt Disney World Marathon celebrates its 25th anniversary next year, and it incorporates a number of events throughout the weekend—including races for kids—before culminating with the full marathon that runs entirely on Disney properties on Sunday.
The trip: This one is a no-brainer. Of course any kid wants to go to Disney World, and the actual Disney characters out cheering on the racecourse will make the experience of watching the race more fun for the kids. And spending the next couple of days in the park is what they’ll really enjoy
For those with older kids:
Marine Corps Marathon
Next run: Oct. 22, 2017
The race: This is race has long been considered one of the best run races in the country—it is the Marines, after all, who have been putting it on since it first hit Washington, D.C., in 1976. It routinely draws 30,000 runners for its tour of Arlington, Virginia, and the nation’s capital, featuring a scenic course that hits most of the well known landmarks. It’s also known as a good first-timers race, due to the solid organization and a relatively flat course throughout.
The trip: You ran past all the monuments during the race, now slow down and go see them up close. Families will find plenty to do in D.C.: touring the monuments, the White House and the Capitol, and exploring the Smithsonian Museums on the mall. Kids will love the Air & Space Museum as well as visiting the pandas at the National Zoo.
For those who want to leave the kids behind:
Rock ’n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
Next run: Nov. 12, 2017
The race: This nighttime race shuts down the Vegas strip as it’s taken over by the massive crowd of runners. You get a one-of-a-kind experience exploring Las Vegas with entertainment along the route and a massive headliner concert before the race.
The trip: Enjoy a few days before or after the race hitting the casinos, seeing shows, dancing at the clubs or sitting poolside with a drink. Actually…maybe you should plan to stay a few days after the race is over.
For the group of twenty-somethings:
Next run: Feb. 18, 2018
The race: Austin is known for live music, great food, fun bars and a hip urban atmosphere. The loop course of the Austin Marathon includes more than 15 bands along the route as you get a fine tour of the capital city of Texas. You’ll start and finish in downtown Austin, with scenic sections run along the shores of Lady Bird Lake and through the University of Texas Campus.
The trip: Austin prides itself on being an eclectic city. You won’t go far before seeing a Keep Austin Weird sign celebrating its artistic bent. After the marathon, spend a few days enjoying the music, bars and restaurants that have put Austin on the map nationally. If your legs are up to it, the Barton Creek Greenbelt is a forested area that surrounds the city and offers hiking and biking trails to explore.
For a romantic weekend:
San Francisco Marathon
Next run: July 23, 2017
The race: San Francisco is one of the country’s most beautiful cities, and the San Francisco Marathon provides an excellent tour. The course includes a trip across the Golden Gate Bridge and visits to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Embarcadero and Crissy Field. And while San Francisco has plenty of hills that will give runners nightmares, this course avoids the worst of them. This year, 27,000 runners are expected as the race celebrates its 40th year.
The trip: This is one of the few big-city races to take place in the summer, so take advantage of the timing to explore the city. It’s tough to tell anyone to leave the shopping, restaurants and sights of San Francisco, but consider taking a day trip to Marin County to explore Point Reyes National Seashore, or to Napa for a wine country excursion.
For a taste of the tropics:
Next run: Dec. 10, 2017
The race: Nearly 30,000 athletes make this December race—which celebrates its 45th running this year—the culmination of their running year. There’s no time limit and no cap on participation, making it a good race for beginners and one that you don’t have to plan a year in advance to enter. The race starts at 5 a.m. to avoid the warm temperatures, and offers runners a scenic course with ocean views along much of the route, which includes trips past Waikiki Beach, and Diamond Head and Koko Head volcanic craters.
The trip: It won’t take any convincing to get people to accompany you to Hawaii. After the marathon, spend a week (after all, it was a long flight) exploring the beaches, volcanoes and tropical splendor of this piece of paradise.
For a taste of Europe (in North America):
Rock ’n’ Roll Montreal Marathon
Next run: Sept. 24, 2017
The race: Head north of the border to participate in one of Canada’s largest races. The Rock ’n’ Roll Montreal Marathon attracts 30,000 runners to the largest French-speaking city in North America. The course is a great tour of the historic sections of the city as well as its modern neighborhoods.
The trip: Montreal is filled with historical buildings, beautiful parks and excellent restaurants. You get the feel of a European city without crossing the Atlantic. And if French is foreign to you, it’s still easy to get around, as most signs are in English and French—and many Montréalais you’ll encounter are bilingual. If your legs feel good enough, walk up to Mont-Royal for an excellent view of the city’s skyline, and tour the Basilique Notre-Dame.
St. George Marathon
To explore natural wonders:
St. George Marathon
Next run: Oct. 7, 2017
The race: This race in the southwest corner of Utah is primarily known for two things—it’s incredibly scenic and fast. The point-to-point course begins in the Pine Valley Mountains and descends 2,600 feet as it winds 26 miles to the finish in Worthen Park. Anyone looking for a Boston qualifier will certainly benefit from a little help from gravity. The race is limited to 7,800 runners, which it usually reaches quickly after registration opens in the spring. The scenic desert vistas and rocky canyons along the course make this a one-of-a-kind race.
The trip: The secluded southwest corner of Utah is a beautiful place to visit on its own—St. George is about a two-hour drive from Las Vegas and a five-hour drive from Salt Lake City. But once you’re there, you can explore several national parks within a relatively short distance. Head south to see the Grand Canyon in Arizona, or stay in Utah to explore the “Mighty 5:” Canyonlands, Arches, Capitol Reef, Bryce Canyon and Zion national parks.
For a mountain retreat:
Lake Tahoe Marathon
Next run: Oct. 13–15, 2017
The race: This three-day running festival in Lake Tahoe has something for everyone. Friday features the Lakeside Marathon and Nevada Half Marathon, Saturday you can choose from the Cal-Neva Marathon or Carnelian Bay Half Marathon, and on Sunday, finish up with the Lake Tahoe Marathon or Emerald Bay Half Marathon. That doesn’t even cover the ultras, relays, kids events and shorter races available. No matter what race you choose, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of Lake Tahoe in the fall.
The trip: Lake Tahoe, on the border of California and Nevada, offers incredible hiking and mountain biking for outdoor lovers, plus nightlife (and gambling) for those who want to celebrate after the race. No matter how you want to spend a vacation, you’ll be impressed by the towering Sierra Nevada mountains that surround the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe, the largest alpine lake in North America.
For a coastal retreat:
Big Sur International Marathon
Next run: April 29, 2018
The race: Any list of the most scenic marathons in the U.S.—or the world for that matter—includes the Big Sur International Marathon. The point-to-point race along California’s north central coast is the largest rural marathon in the world, starting at Big Sur station and running north to Carmel, Calif. Along the way, runners will see redwoods, ranches, rocky cliffs— and some of the most stunning views of the Pacific anywhere in the state. The run over Bixby Bridge is one of the signature spots in marathon running.
The trip: This section of California is perfect for a relaxing getaway. You’ll find plenty of resorts where you can do nothing but enjoy the coastal scenery—and get a massage or two. Head to Monterey to explore art galleries and museums, or take a whale-watching trip. The town also features a zoo and an aquarium if you’re traveling with kids. Of course, you could also just spend your time at the beach, which is never a bad idea.
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