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25 Great American Marathons

The best marathons to run in 2016, from big-city spectacles to small-town races with charm.

Whether you’re looking for an insane challenge or a pancake-flat race to hit a PR, there’s a marathon for every runner. In fact, the sport has exploded with enough races to fill a lifetime of training schedules. So this year, find that big-city spectacle you’ve always wanted to do. Or have a relaxing weekend and take in some small-town charm. Here are 25 of our favorite marathons in 2016 to get you started.

Walt Disney World Marathon

Jan. 10, Orlando, Fla.

The success of the Walt Disney World Marathon has spawned other races in the park throughout the year, including a weekend full of races before the big event on Sunday. But the full marathon course offers runners a tour of all four Walt Disney World theme parks. If ever there’s a race your family is happy to tag along for, this is it.

Los Angeles Marathon

Feb. 14, Los Angeles

This point-to-point course starts at Dodger Stadium and takes runners through Hollywood, Beverly Hills and other LA neighborhoods before finishing in front of the Santa Monica Pier. Afterward, enjoy a drink in the beer garden overlooking the Pacific Ocean. This year the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials will be held the day before (on a different course).

Austin Marathon

Feb. 14, Austin, Texas

This hilly marathon offers an excellent tour of Austin with a start and finish in front of the Texas Capitol. Along the way, runners will visit Lady Bird Johnson Lake, the Allandale and Hyde Park neighborhoods, and the University of Texas campus. At the finish enjoy live music and food trucks for a great taste of Texas.

Catalina Island Marathon

March 19, Catalina Island, Calif.

This isn’t anything like your typical urban marathon. Held on Catalina Island about 22 miles southwest of Los Angeles, the race features a rugged, hilly and challenging course that offers amazing views of the Pacific Ocean and the island’s unique plants and animals. You won’t PR running over mostly dirt roads and trails with plenty of elevation changes—but you won’t
forget it. 

Boston Marathon

April 18, Boston

The world’s oldest and most famous marathon celebrates its 120th running this year, and the race from Hopkinton, Mass., to Boston is more popular than ever. Participants must qualify for the event and registration for the 2017 race opens in September. For those who qualify, there’s not a more memorable marathon experience.

RELATED: Where to Qualify for Boston

Big Sur International Marathon

April 24, Big Sur, Calif.

Big Sur is universally recognized as one of the most scenic races in the country. Starting in Big Sur, the point-to-point course follows Highway 1 along the Pacific coast to Carmel. Limited to 4,500 participants, the race fills quickly (it’s already sold out for 2016), so register early to enjoy those postcard-perfect views of the rocky coast.

St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon

April 30, Nashville, Tenn.

The Rock ‘n’ Roll folks go a little bit country at this springtime race that celebrates the sounds of Nashville. The course features an impressive tour of the city and plenty of local musicians that highlight the diverse music scene. A headliner concert in the Bridgestone Arena tops off the weekend.

Avenue of the Giants Marathon

May 1, Humboldt County, Calif.

This is a small race in Northern California, but you’ll be running in a place unlike anywhere else on earth. The course is a double out-and-back on the paved Avenue of the Giants in Humboldt Redwoods State Park among 300-foot-tall, old-growth redwood trees. The one downside: Your GPS watch may not work. The positive is you won’t care.

Green Bay Marathon

May 22, Green Bay, Wis.

You’ll be able to finish on the not-so-frozen tundra of Lambeau Field in this spring race that features a flat and fast course. You don’t have to be a Green Bay Packer fan to enjoy the race, although it does help. Runners will earn their bratwurst and beer at the tailgate-themed post-race party.

Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon

June 5, San Diego

San Diego is the city that started the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon series, and the original location is still one of the most popular events. Now in its 19th year, the race offers a tour of Balboa Park, Old Town and other historic neighborhoods; plus all the great music along the way that helped launch the series.

Grandma’s Marathon

June 18, Duluth, Minn.

This year celebrates the 40th anniversary of Grandma’s Marathon, which has made northern Minnesota a must-visit destination for runners across the country. The point-to-point course follows scenic Highway 61 along Lake Superior before finishing in Duluth. It consistently earns high praise for organization, which is one reason why it’s lasted 40 years.

The San Francisco Marathon

July 31, San Francisco

This race offers a spectacular tour of the city while keeping those San Francisco hills in relative moderation. You’ll have some climbing to do, but it’s worth it on this circular trip that includes running across the Golden Gate Bridge. You’ll start and finish near the Embarcadero with visits to Fisherman’s Wharf, the Presidio, the Mission District and AT&T Park.   

Pikes Peak Marathon

Aug. 21, Manitou, Colo.

Ready for America’s toughest marathon? The Pikes Peak Marathon features a climb up 7,815 feet in elevation followed by 13 miles back down. (At least you’re guaranteed a negative split.) The Pikes Marathon Ascent is held the day before, which is basically a half marathon uphill. Both require serious commitment and qualifying standards.

St. George Marathon

Oct. 1, St. George, Utah

The St. George Marathon is known as the place to go if you’re having trouble qualifying for Boston—the course descends a staggering 2,600 feet. But even if you’re not interested in a gravity-aided time, St. George offers a stunning course in southwest Utah that will impress any runner with a trip through the Pine Valley Mountains.

Chicago Marathon

Oct. 9, Chicago

One of the World Marathon Majors, it draws 45,000 participants each fall to explore the city’s scenic neighborhoods and take advantage of the flat and fast course. The circular shape of this course, with a start and finish in Grant Park (within walking distance of downtown hotels), makes this one of the easier big-city marathons for out-of-towners.

Twin Cities Marathon

Oct. 9, Minneapolis

This marathon dubs itself as the “most beautiful urban marathon in America,” and runners will be hard-pressed to disagree. The course takes full advantage of the parks in Minneapolis and St. Paul, not to mention the fall colors. The downhill finish past the Cathedral of St. Paul and in front of the state capitol is one of the best around.

Detroit Free Press Talmer Bank Marathon

Oct. 16, Detroit

Detroit is one of a handful of marathons with a transnational marathon course. Starting in Detroit, runners will cross over the Ambassador Bridge into Windsor, Ontario, and return via the Detroit-Windsor Tunnel. Along the way runners will get scenic tours of both cities, including Detroit’s Belle Isle and the RiverWalk. The event caps at a relatively small 5,500, so register early.

Atlantic City Marathon

Oct. 23, Atlantic City, N.J.

Head to the shore to run this marathon with a course on Atlantic City’s famed boardwalk bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The race, which has been held for nearly 60 years, offers finishers a seriously big medal, free race photos and a post-race party and beer garden.

Marine Corps Marathon

Oct. 30, Washington, D.C.

Celebrating its 41st running, the Marine Corps Marathon is known as the “marathon of monuments,” and hits more sights than a tour bus as it winds through the nation’s capital. It also features the kind of support you’d expect from the Marine Corps, which has organized this race since the beginning.

Niagara International Marathon

Oct. 30, Buffalo, N.Y.

Here’s another race with an international twist: Runners start in Buffalo, N.Y., at the Albert Knox Art Gallery and cross the Peace Bridge close to the 7K mark, entering Canada. The rest of the race is in Canada before a finish in front of Niagara Falls. It’s a scenic finish to a net-downhill race that should produce fast times.

New York City Marathon

Nov. 6, New York City

The start over the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, the tour of all five boroughs, the finish in Central Park and the overwhelming spectator support through all 26.2 miles of the race: You can understand why the New York City Marathon has such a high spot on most runners’ bucket lists. The toughest part may be getting an entry—the lottery closes this year on Feb. 21.

Philadelphia Marathon

Nov. 22, Philadelphia

This marathon that tours the City of Brotherly Love continues to draw more and more people to its scenic course. Run through big stretches of Fairmount Park along the Schuylkill River, in addition to the historic sites you probably expect. Finish in front of the Art Museum like Rocky—but don’t worry, you don’t have to climb the steps.

St. Jude Memphis Marathon

Dec. 3, Memphis, Tenn.

Support one of the largest nonprofit organizations in the U.S. by running St. Jude’s 15th annual marathon. Participants run through the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital’s campus where patient families cheer from the sidelines, reminding and inspiring runners to race for a greater cause. Last year’s race raised $8.2 million for children’s cancer research, and more than 21,000 people registrered.

California International Marathon

Dec. 4, Sacramento, Calif.

This fast course in California’s capital has long been known as a favorite for West Coast runners looking to qualify for Boston. The 9,000-person race is solid all-around with great spectators along the scenic course—usually with good weather too. The race prides itself on being organized by and for runners, and it shows.

Honolulu Marathon

Dec. 11, Honolulu

When the days become darker and colder, who wouldn’t want to hop on a plane to paradise and do a final marathon for the year? The Honolulu Marathon draws 30,000 people from around the world to enjoy the spectacular course and the island’s paradisiacal amenities. Arrive early for the Friday night luau before the race.

RELATED: America’s 21 Most Scenic Trail Races