Courtesy of Paris Marathon
For Vacation Goers
Sure, you want to run a marathon — but the Paris Marathon will also give you an excuse to tour the heart of the City of Light. Starting at the famed Champs-Elysees, the course runs by the Louvre, along the Seine, and past the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral. It's one of the five biggest marathons in the world, with more than 30,000 finishers from 100+ countries last year. Still, it's a relatively flat route, making it a good one for novices. And no matter what your level, nothing beats post-race refueling with Parisian crepes.
Courtesy of Nike Women's Marathon
For the Well-Accessorized Runner
Benefiting the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, each year the Nike Women's Marathon in San Francisco hosts 22,500 women looking to take on a challenge for charity. If that's not a good enough incentive for you, what other race rewards you with a Tiffany & Co. finisher's necklace at the end? Oh, and did we mention they are handed out by firefighters? In tuxedos? We'll just leave it at that.
Courtesy of Le Marathon du Medoc
Oenophiles, take note: Le Marathon du Medoc combines your love for tannins with your love for tarmac with a wine-inspired run through the Medoc region of France. Limited to 8,500 runners, the race winds through dozens of vineyards, with both red and white wine offered alongside water at aid stations. Not enough? Gourmet food like cheese and oysters are also offered at specific pit stops. We'd say that pacing yourself (in more ways than one) is a good call for this event.
Courtesy of Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series
For Rock Star Groupies
Runners, get your devil horns ready! Set up like a concert tour, the aptly named Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series hits 24 cities in the U.S. and Canada, and three in Europe, over the course of a year. True to its name, this race exudes musical spirit: Dozens of local live bands perform along the route, and a big-name headliner (past singers include Bret Michaels and Pit Bull) awaits you at the finish line.
Courtesy of Disney Princess Half Marathon
For Those Who Believe Fairy Tales Can Come True
Glass slippers not recommended: Held at Walt Disney Resort in Florida, the Disney Princess Half-Marathon is designed for a "girlfriends only" type of weekend (or, let's face it, very secure male companions). The 13.1-mile course winds through the Magic Kingdom and Epcot theme parks. For moral support, Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of your favorite Disney characters will be cheering you on as you make your way to the finish line to collect your tiara-shaped medal.
Courtesy of Little Rock Marathon
For the Girly Girl
The Little Rock Marathon in Arkansas attracts almost 10,000 participants each year, but ladies will be most inclined to lace up. In addition to live entertainment cheering you toward the finish line, there's a surprise incentive at mile 26 — a lipstick station, where runners can touch-up their pout for a perfect (if unnaturally so) finish-line photo. And those who appreciate a little bling won't be disappointed either, this marathon boasts a 7.75-x-6-inch finisher's medal — the world's largest.
Courtesy of Sparkasse 3-Laender Marathon
For the Jet Setter
One marathon, three countries, no passport needed. The Sparkasse 3-Laender Marathon and Half-Marathon begins on the island of Lindau, Germany, and from there you'll run along Lake Constance through the towns of Austria, then cross the finish line in Bregenz, Switzerland. Mountain views are on either side as you run over rivers, bridges, and alternating asphalt and cobblestone streets, but the marathon is blissfully flat, making this race a not-so-farfetched idea for even first-timers. Don't worry about a potential language barrier; runners report that even if your German is limited to little more than schnitzel and strudel, you'll still get by just fine with English.
Courtesy of Athens Classic Marathon
For the History Buff
Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Athenian messenger Pheidippides ran 24 miles to Athens to announce news of the Greek victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. At the Athens Classic Marathon in Greece, you can run just a bit more — 26.2 miles in the full marathon, or the 10K or 5K — in his reported footsteps. The course is the same one used in the 2004 Olympic Games, with the finish line at Olympic Stadium. Runners will be pounding asphalt the whole way, but the course is relatively mild: A flat 12 kilometers in the beginning, gentle hills for the middle 19 kilometers, and downhill for the final 11 all the way to the finish line.
Courtesy of Space Coast Marathon
For an Out of This World Experience
Small in size (only 3,500 runners) but big in spirit, the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa, Florida, is exactly what it sounds like: A space-themed run, inspired by the race's proximity to NASA headquarters. A Space Shuttle countdown and Shuttle liftoff on a jumbotron appropriately kicks off the race, and runners can either do a full or half-marathon that courses along the Indian River. Space props are visible along the route, and if you're thirsty, you can grab a cup of water from volunteers dressed in NASA uniforms at the water stations. Once you've finished orbiting and are ready to land, an astronaut medal and an electronic space certificate await you.
Courtesy of GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon
If you want to see (not run on) rolling hills and picture-perfect scenery, consider the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon in Victoria, BC, which showcases Canada's natural beauty. The seaside route winds along the southern tip of the island, with the Olympic Mountain range visible in the distance. The course also gives runners a glimpse of city sights like the BC legislative buildings, Ogden Point, Beacon Hill Park, and the statue of Terry Fox at Mile '0.'
Though the Victoria Marathon is a Boston Marathon qualifier, the flat route is ideal for beginner runners. The marathon is also mindful of excessive crowding: only 4,000 will be allowed to participate in the marathon (and 6,800 for the half), so be sure to sign up early to claim your spot.
Courtesy of SunTrust Richmond Marathon
For Small-Town Gals
Running your first marathon may seem daunting, so there's no better first race to sign up for than Virginia's SunTrust Richmond Marathon, the course dubbed "America's Friendliest Marathon." It's all about small town hospitality and sights: the James River, statues of Confederate soldiers, and the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. Sure, there's also some unorthodox marathon perks in play (junk food pit stops?), but with a 7-hour time limit, maybe you've got some time to have a little fun.
Courtesy of Zazzle Bay to Breakers
For the Free-Spirited
Held in Northern California, the famed Zazzle Bay to Breakers is a tradition for both serious runners and, uh, more carefree ones, too. Starting just a few blocks from The Embarcadero in San Francisco, the 12K course runs through the city with the finish line ending near Ocean Beach, where the Pacific waves break on the coast. The event has a particularly festive vibe: Crazy costumes are a big draw of the race, colorful floats and alcohol were also allowed up until 2011, and the post-race celebration with live bands and entertainers is affectionately named Footstock. If you like the idea of running alongside a human-size SpongeBob SquarePants, this is the race for you.
Courtesy of Portland Marathon
Considering that Portland, Oregon, is consistently named one of the greenest cities in the world, it should be no surprise that it also hosts one of the most environmentally friendly marathons in the country. Among other initiatives, the Portland Marathon uses recycled paper and biodegradable products when available, coordinates on-site recycling programs for the event, and limits the use of paper communications in favor of the Web — plus the race is conveniently reachable by public transportation. When you finish the race, in addition to your medal you can pick up a Portland rose and tree seedling to plant!
Humboldt Redwood Marathon
For Nature Junkies
For runners looking to tune into Mother Nature, the Humboldt Redwoods Marathon, Half-Marathon, and 5K is your jaunt. Though there are no showers or dressing facilities present, these minor inconveniences are vastly outweighed by the fact that you'll be running almost the entire distance under towering (seriously, towering — Redwoods can reach over 350 feet in height!) tree branch canopies in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Arcata, California. If your race time suffers because you couldn't stop gazing upward, don't say we didn't warn you.
Courtesy of the Flying Pig Marathon
For Do-Good Trotters
Even though it's a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati is also one of the friendliest courses for first-timers. The first half of the course is relatively flat, and the organizers make it clear that walkers are also welcome. Held on the first Sunday of May every year, the race includes a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and full marathon that crisscrosses the Ohio River and weaves by a number of historical landmarks. Added bonus: The organizer of the race, Cincinnati Marathon, Inc., is a nonprofit organization; so all proceeds go toward charity. That's two things you can feel good about when you cross the finish line.
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, November 2011.