Must-Run Big City Marathons in the U.S.
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Must-Run Big City Marathons in the U.S.

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If you like excitement and plenty of crowd support during a marathon, then you probably prefer big city races. Running a marathon in a large city is a great excuse to travel someplace you've been wanting to visit and is also an excellent way to check out the local attractions (during your 26.2-mile running tour). And you know you'll never be alone during the race.

Check out this list of big city marathons in the U.S. that definitely live up to their hype and provide runners with a fantastic marathon experience.


Chevron Houston Marathon

Where: Houston, Texas?

When: Third Sunday in January

Why run it: With a flat course and traditionally favorable running weather, the Houston Marathon is a great course for first-timers and for veterans trying to achieve a PR or BQ. Runners get a tour of America’s fourth-largest city, as they’re cheered on by more than 250,000 supporters and spectators. From rock bands, belly dancers, and Elvis impersonators, to marching bands, radio stations, and cheerleaders, there’s plenty of entertainment and distractions along the way.

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Los Angeles Marathon

Where: Los Angeles, California

When: In March

Why do it: With more than 25,000 runners, the LA marathon is a big city marathon, but still manages to maintain a small town, community feel with tons of support along the way. The popular ¡°Stadium to the Sea¡± course, starting at Dodger Stadium and finishing near the Santa Monica Pier, is one of the most scenic in the world, taking runners on a tour of Los Angeles past every major landmark. The race has been named ¡°Best Big City Race¡± by Runner¡¯s World.


Boston Marathon

Where:?Boston, Massachusetts?

When:?Third Monday in April

Why do it: The granddaddy of marathons, Boston is the world’s oldest annual marathon and is known as one of the most prestigious road races in the world. While other popular marathons have lotteries, you need to meet tough qualifying times or participate in one of their charity programs to get a number for Boston. Most charity spots require a minimum of $5,000 in fundraising.

The point-to-point course starts in the rural town of Hopkinton and finishes on Boylston Street in Copley Square. Although the Boston course is known for its challenging hills, hearing what feels like the entire city cheering for you makes getting to the top of Heartbreak Hill seem achievable.


Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

Where:?Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minnesota

When:?First weekend in October

Why do it: The Twin Cities Marathon lays claim to being the “Most Scenic Urban Marathon in America” and people who’ve run it say that it’s true. With a backdrop of spectacular fall foliage, the course takes runners through gorgeous neighborhoods, along the shoreline of the lake and on the banks of the Mississippi. Beginners and veterans alike appreciate the 300,000 spectators along the course and beer at the finish line.


Portland Marathon

Where: Portland, Oregon

When:?First Sunday in October

Why do it: The Portland Marathon course stays open for 8 hours, so it¡¯s perfect for slower runners and walkers. Race organizers are very proud of the race’s motto: ¡°All finishers are treated as winners!¡± Runner¡¯s World has called the Portland Marathon ¡°the best people¡¯s marathon in the West¡± and for the past ten years has ranked it as one of the top marathons in the country. It also gets high marks for its thousands of volunteers, course entertainment, fantastic race swag, and beautiful course.

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Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Where:?Chicago, Illinois


Why do it: The Chicago Marathon is a flat, fast marathon, so it’s a great one to do if you’ve never run a marathon or you’re trying to run your fastest time ever. In addition to its speed, the course offers a scenic tour of Chicago as it weaves through numerous diverse neighborhoods and dozens of local and historic landmarks. You’ll see all that is great about the city of Chicago while being supported by tons of screaming fans. 

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Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank Marathon

Where:?Detroit, Michigan

When:?Third Sunday in October

Why do it: As a runner in the Detroit Marathon, you’ll cross the U.S./Canadian border twice (you actually need to show a passport or documentation at race packet pick-up!). The fast, spectator-friendly course takes you through historic neighborhoods and the only underwater international mile in the world.

First-time marathoners have an added incentive to choose this race: All first-time runners receive a special green number. Detroit knows and loves its "greenies" and gives them the support needed to cross the finish line.?


Marine Corps Marathon

Where:?Washington, D.C.?

When:?Late October?

Why do it: Oprah famously ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994 and it’s been a popular race for first-time marathoners ever since. It’s often called the “People’s Marathon” because it doesn’t offer a huge purse for top finishers, despite its large size. As a result, it attracts lots of recreational runners who are rewarded with a well-organized race and a scenic course. You’ll see plenty of D.C.’s landmarks and monuments, and be supported by plenty of spectators and Marines along the way.


New York City Marathon

Where:?New York, New York

When:?First Sunday in November

Why do it: Everything about the New York City marathon is big. It’s the largest marathon in the country¡ªboth in terms of participants and spectators. Runners tour the biggest city in the country, as they experience diverse and vibrant neighborhoods in all five of New York’s boroughs. Gaining entry by drawing gets tougher every year, but the race does have some charity partners that also grant numbers in exchange for fundraising.

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Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon

Where: Las Vegas, Nevada

When: Mid-November

Why do it: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon promises all the fun and excitement of Vegas, without the risk. The race course features live bands, cheerleaders and themed water stations to entertain participants in true Las Vegas style. The race starts at night, so marathoners run under the neon lights on the strip.


Philadelphia Marathon

Where:?Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

When: Third Sunday in November

Why run it: If you’re looking for a fast big city marathon experience, but don’t want to deal with the crowds, the Philadelphia Marathon may be a good option for you. The mostly flat course and almost guaranteed late November cool temperatures make a good combination for fast race times.

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