A marathon is one of the toughest challenges a runner can tackle.
They’re a grueling test of endurance and stamina that can take years of training to prepare for; most of all, however, marathons are super fun and a great challenge for any avid runner looking to put their skills to the test!
There are more than a thousand marathons held every year all across the United States, and more than half a million participants take part in marathons annually.
Some of the more popular marathons can have more than 10 thousand people taking part! The Boston Marathon alone has over 35 thousand runners from around the world participating each year.
Racing in a large marathon with thousands of people is an experience like no other. If you’re a runner looking to take your passion to the next level, then signing up to take part in a marathon is just what you need!
With that said, with so many marathons to choose from, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Don’t worry, because this guide has got you covered.
We’ve compiled a list of the biggest and most popular marathons across the USA. So read on, and take a look at some of these incredible events and how you can be a part of them!
The Largest Marathons In The U.S.
Thinking about running in a marathon? Then you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. There are more than a thousand races held every year across the United States, including some of the largest and best-known marathons in the country. Here we’ll go through the top ten largest marathons in the US, along with some information about them:
1) New York City Marathon
Held in November, the NYC Marathon is the largest annual marathon in the world. Runners start in Staten Island before making their way through Queens, Brooklyn, Manhattan, and finish in Central Park.
It’s been run every year since 1970 and was first hosted by the city as a means of promoting tourism. This race attracts almost 100,000 runners from all over the world, and it’s become such a huge event that it is broadcast live all across the country!
2) Chicago Marathon
One of the oldest and most prestigious marathons in the world, the Chicago Marathon takes place in October. The race starts in Grant Park near Buckingham Fountain, and travels through the heart of downtown Chicago.
Over 45,000 runners participate in the race each year, which makes it the second-largest marathon in the U.S., only behind the NYC Marathon.
Not only that, but the Chicago Marathon is also ranked as the fourth-largest in the world by number of finishers!
3) Los Angeles Marathon
The LA Marathon has been going strong since 1981, and first grew in popularity after the Olympic Games were hosted in Los Angeles in 1984. More than 25,000 runners participate in this race each year, and it’s one of the fastest-growing marathons in the U.S.
While the route of this marathon has changed multiple times since its inception, runners are still able to pass through some of LA’s most iconic locations throughout the course of the race.
4) Boston Marathon
The Boston Marathon traditionally takes place on Patriots’ Day (the third Monday in April), and has been going since 1897.
This makes it one of the oldest continuously running marathons. Today it’s one of the most well-known marathons in the entire world, and it draws more than 30,000 runners from all around the globe.
Participants can expect slightly over 26 miles of route to cover; however, due to the course passing through the Newton hills, it’s considered to be one of the more difficult marathons to run.
5) Philadelphia Marathon
The Philadelphia Marathon takes place on the third Sunday of November each year, and has been doing so since it started in 1954.
It has a flat course for most of the way around, which starts at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and circles through some of Philly’s most historic spots before looping back to its starting spot.
On top of the full marathon, there is also a half-marathon, 8k, and even a kid’s marathon! If you’re interested in running a marathon but you aren’t sure if you’re cut out for the full thing, then this might be the race for you.
6) Houston Marathon
The Houston Marathon is Texas’ biggest marathon, and has been going on since 1980. With almost 30,000 entrants and half a million spectators watching each year, the Houston Marathon is the city’s largest sporting event by far.
Participants pass through various parts of Houston’s urban areas, including both Uptown and Downtown, as well as parks like Memorial Park.
It is also run alongside a half-marathon, although a strict 6-hour time limit is in place for both events.
7) D.C. Marathon
This marathon takes place in Washington D.C, and is most commonly known by its nickname – the Rock ‘n’ Roll Washington D.C Marathon.
First started in 2006, this fairly recent marathon has quickly grown in popularity to become one of the largest in the country.
Washington D.C also has another iconic marathon – the Marine Corps Marathon. The MCM is the fourth most-popular marathon in the US, as well as the 9th-largest in the world!
8) Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon
Established in 1998 and hosted by the same company as its Washington D.C counterpart, the Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego Marathon is an incredibly popular race that draws 20,000 participants each year.
The course takes its participants through downtown San Diego and along some of the city’s beautiful coastal spots
9) Honolulu Marathon
The Honolulu Marathon is held annually, and is one of the few US marathons that doesn’t take place on the mainland.
Instead, it’s held in the state capital of Hawaii; but despite its separation from the rest of the US, the Honolulu Marathon is still one of the country’s largest.
It takes place in December, and is popular with beginner marathon runners due to its lack of prerequisite qualifications.
While its hillier course and warm conditions can make this a tough marathon to run, it more than makes up for it with some gorgeous coastal scenery.
10) Walt Disney World Marathon
This is by far the most unusual marathon on this list, but definitely one that can’t be missed!
Taking place in Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida, participants race throughout the park for a combined distance the equivalent of a marathon.
While navigating the theme park normally can be a nightmare, the marathon is scheduled to avoid any disturbances to the course.
There is also a half-marathon, 10k, and 5k race, which are spread over a whole weekend.
How Do I Apply For A Marathon?
Now that you’ve had a look at some of the biggest marathons in the US, it’s time to apply for your choice!
However, it’s not as simple as just showing up on the day – most marathons require strict qualifications before you can even sign up.
These include physical requirements to prove you’re capable of running for such a long distance, as well as possibly needing to run a qualifying race within a suitable time beforehand.
On top of that, there are typically entrance fees that you need to pay, along with several other factors that decide whether you’re able to participate.
If you want to run in a marathon, then you’ll need to apply well in advance. This can be several months or even an entire year before the actual race is taking place, so check when applications for your chosen marathon are closed first.
Applications are done online; look for the official site for the marathon you’re interested in taking part in, and follow the instructions on the application form.
The application process isn’t the same for every marathon, so make sure you pay attention to the guidelines laid out in the application.
Many marathon applications will require a physical exam and a qualifying race beforehand. These are to check whether you’re capable of running the marathon.
Because organizers typically only have a certain amount of spaces for participants, your application may be rejected if you aren’t up to the right physical fitness levels to complete the marathon.
These qualifying tests are done well before the race itself.
Not every marathon will have such strict guidelines surrounding entry.
For instance, the Honolulu Marathon is open to anyone who pays the application fee; meanwhile, the NYC and Boston Marathons are notoriously hard to qualify for due to how many applicants there are.
Once your application goes through and you’ve got your space in the marathon, it’s down to you to put in the required training in preparation for the big day!
Running a marathon is a fun and exciting experience, and one that every avid runner should try at some point in their lives.
With so many marathons run every year across the U.S., there are plenty of events to choose from.
Now you’ve been able to look at the largest marathons in the US and how to apply for them, all you have to do is pick which one you want to take part in.
If you put in the work and get yourself ready to run your marathon, you’re guaranteed to have an unmatched and unforgettable experience!