50 States, 50 Marathons: Awesome Races Around the U.S.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr/Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

Photo courtesy of Flickr/Metropolitan Transportation Authority of the State of New York

According to Running USA, the number of folks who crossed the finish line during a marathon increased nearly 300 percent between 1990 and 2014. In 2015, the New York City Marathon, the largest in the world, drew 49,595 finishers alone. But not all marathons are created equal. While some encourage donut-bingeing during the race (Krispy Kreme Challenge), others are created to honor military servicemen (Bataan Memorial Death March). To help you find the best marathon for your athletic abilities -- and interests -- we tracked down the top race in each U.S. state that's worth traveling for. So lace up your sneakers and hit the ground running. See you at the finish line.

1. Rocket City Marathon, Alabama


This 26-mile run through Huntsville isn’t called the Rocket City Marathon for nothing. Athletes run a course that goes through the U.S. Space & Rocket Center. The forecast for this December race is chilly, but volunteers bring warm cheer and thermal blankets at the end. As an added bonus, your name and hometown will be announced when crossing the finish line. After the race, visit the space center and other area attractions such as Big Spring International Park and the Huntsville Museum of Art, which has 2,300 masterpieces on permanent display.

2. Prince of Wales Island International Marathon, Alaska


There’s no better way to take in the culture and natural beauty of Prince of Wales Island than on foot during the Prince of Wales Island International Marathon, which weaves through the Tongass National Forest. Visiting the island also provides a great opportunity to see the island’s wildlife, which includes bears, elk, and deer. As for the forecast, runners should expect cool temperatures in the low 60s for this late May marathon.

3. Sedona Marathon, Arizona


Sedona is pure magic and those who partake in the Sedona Marathon in February get to trek through its otherworldly landscape of stunning red rock formations. The full and half marathon both take runners through the Coconino National Forest, too. But while you’ll see some amazing scenery, don’t expect to use this as a Boston Marathon qualifier. On the up side, the marathon also includes an all-you-can eat pasta dinner before the race.

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4. Little Rock Marathon, Arkansas


Who runs the capital of Arkansas? Marathoners — literally. In March, participants of the Little Rock Marathon will run through the streets of the state’s capital. Cheering spectators and live music create a party scene at the finish line. Those who finish can go to a secured area in the Athlete’s Village, which includes snacks, drinks, and even alcoholic beverages. And while this race may not be one of the largest marathons in the country, the medal is one of the biggest (pictured above).

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5. Los Angeles Marathon, California


Sunny SoCal is home to one of the largest marathons in the U.S. — one that goes from the “stadium to the sea.” The Los Angeles Marathon first started in 1986, two years after the Olympic Games were hosted in L.A. Today, the scenic 26.219-mile route takes runners from Dodger Stadium in downtown Los Angeles through Hollywood, Beverly Hills, and finally ends by the Pacific Ocean in Santa Monica

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6. Colorado Marathon, Colorado


The Colorado Marathon, formerly called the Old Town Marathon, is a mostly downhill route. And there’s a good reason the 26.2-mile course bills itself as “America’s Most Scenic Course.” The route, which begins at the Cache la Poudre Canyon and follows the Cache la Poudre River, is flanked by stunning surroundings. Stick around after the race in Old Town for the beer garden and live bands.

7. Eversource Hartford Marathon, Connecticut


According to its organizers, the Eversource Hartford Marathon draws about 70,000 people annually. The 26-mile marathon is held every October along with the half marathon, 5K race, team relay, and Kids K race. The full marathon takes runners on a loop around Silver Lane, along Market Street, and by Riverfront Park. And those who complete the race dart though the Memorial Arch. The whole affair is festive as there are about 35 bands that cheer on runners from start to finish.

8. Delaware Marathon Running Festival, Delaware


The Delaware Marathon Running Festival is a fun event the whole family can enjoy. Delaware was without a marathon until 2004, when the 50 States Marathon Club established the race. The 26.2-mile marathon course begins at Wilmington’s Tubman-Garrett Riverfront Park, and marathoners run twice on a loop that goes through Brandywine and Wawaset parks as well as Little Italy. The race starts out flat, but gets hilly toward the second half. The cure for post-race soreness? A one-dollar per minute massage, which is offered on a first-come, first-served basis. 

9. Miami Marathon, Florida


Parties and warm weather are synonymous with Miami. Even in January, when the Miami Marathon takes place, folks can count on mild weather (most likely in the 60s). Runners take their mark at the American Airlines Arena. This single-loop course then takes marathoners on a sightseeing route past the Port of Miami, along Ocean Drive, and over several bridges, including a drawbridge that gives runners an awesome view of the Miami River. Live music will be available at more than 20 entertainment stations throughout the course. And after all that hard work, runners receive a medal and goodie bag. 

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10. Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon, Georgia


Chickamauga Battlefield Marathon runners start at the 6th Cavalry Museum and bolt through the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park in northwest Georgia. This park features more than 9,000 acres, including Civil War battlefields where the Union and Confederate forces fought in 1863. If you miss the monuments during the run, check out the visitor center afterward on Lookout Mountain. The finisher’s medal, which is engraved with a state monument on a battlefield, also stays within the marathon’s overall theme.

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11. Honolulu Marathon, Hawaii


Nothing gives you a second wind quite like a front-row view of a Hawaiian sunrise during the Honolulu Marathon. The fourth largest race in the U.S. takes place in December, Hawaii’s rainy season, with temperatures that range between 60 and 80 degrees. The terrain is flat for the most part at the start line on Ala Moana Boulevard, and the greatest incline comes when runners head up Diamond Head. It’s hard to beat this scenic route, which goes by Waikiki beach and Koko Head crater. Those who cross the finish line at Kapiolani Park get a T-shirt, certificate, and medal. Get ready for the marathon two days before at the all-you-can eat luau with live Hawaiian music.

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12. Pocatello Marathon, Idaho


Retrace the steps that gold miners took on the Oregon Trail as you tackle the Pocatello Marathon. The course, which ends right near Idaho State University, takes runners from 6,1000 feet above sea level to just above 4,400 feet by the end. Carb up before the race at the pasta dinner which typically includes lasagna, spaghetti, bread sticks, garlic bread, and salad. Need a post-run massage? The Idaho State University Student Physical Therapy Association will be providing 15-minute sessions. 

13. Chicago Marathon, Illinois


The Bank of America Chicago Marathon, which started in 1977 as the Mayor Daley Marathon, is considered the second largest marathon in the country and can accommodate up to 45,000 runners. According to its website, runners come from more than 100 countries and across the U.S. The mostly flat course, which begins at Grant Park by Lake Michigan, is favored by runners of all skill levels. After crossing the finish line at Grant Park’s Butler Field, runners will be greeted with live entertainment, ale, and food available for purchase. 

14. Monumental Marathon, Indiana


Indianapolis serves as the backdrop for the Monumental Marathon, which starts and ends at the state capitol, a building that was completed in 1888 with limestone and white oak. Some highlights along the way include the Monument Circle, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, the Eli Lilly campus, and Indianapolis Museum of Art, to name a few. The relatively flat race with a few small hills is scheduled in November, right after the Health and Fitness Expo. Carbo-load before the run at the pasta dinner that also includes dessert. You’ll get a medal, T-shirt, and other goodies as well as a gift for finishing. 

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15. Wabash Trace Trail Marathon, Iowa


The Wabash Trace Trail Marathon starts at East Mills High School and follows the Wabash Trace Nature Trail to Shenandoah and its rolling hills. The trail is a mostly flat converted railroad line, and part of the profits benefit the Wabash Trace Trail. Once you’ve crossed the finish line, reward yourself with plenty of music, drinks, food, and of course, a medal.

16. Free State Trail Run, Kansas


Strap on your trail shoes and prepare to get muddy. The Free State Trail Run isn’t for the faint of heart — runners tackle rocky trails and streams in Clinton State Park. You might even spot deer, squirrels, and other wildlife along the way. Dog owners can also run with their leashed pooch. Courses include a 100K, 10-miler, 26.2-mile marathon, and a half marathon. Dress appropriately as the temperatures can range from 47 to 68 degrees in April. Plus, since many finish after dark, there are markers along the trails and marathoners bring flashlights. The race culminates with a meal at the finish line. Note: You can’t use this as a qualifier for the Boston Marathon.

17. Hatfield McCoy Marathon, Kentucky


Several hundred Hatfield McCoy Marathon runners take off when the shotgun start goes off outside the Food City grocery store in Goody, Kentucky. From there, runners take a path that retells the story of the Hatfield-McCoy feud that began after the Civil War over a land dispute. The route goes along Highway 119 and past the homestead of Randolph McCoy as well as the gravesite of his relatives. Just keep in mind this race takes place in June, Kentucky’s rainier month.

18. Louisiana Marathon, Louisiana


In true Louisiana fashion, this January marathon is followed by a Finish Fest on the bayou, where you can scarf down gumbo, jambalaya, and craft beers while enjoying live jazz music. The majority of route, which goes through Baton Rouge, is flat and fast, making it a good Boston qualifier. Plus, runners will enjoy the scenic path that meanders from downtown, along the river, through the Louisiana State University Campus, and more.

19. Sugarloaf Marathon, Maine


You can take in the scenery through a car window on the scenic highway, also known as Route 27, or you can run the Sugarloaf Marathon in May. The route kicks off in Eustis, goes through Maine’s Carrabassett Valley, and finally ends in Kingfield. The first five miles of the race is flat, but things go uphill starting at mile eight. Don’t sweat it, though — the final 16 miles of the course are downhill. 

20. Baltimore Running Festival, Maryland


Steamed blue crabs are a tradition in Maryland and on the medals of the Baltimore Running Festival. The medal for the 2017 half marathon and marathon weighs more than seven ounces, and the shell even opens. To earn one of these, marathoners must run through the Inner Harbor waterfront and past the penguin exhibit at the Maryland Zoo. According to the website, spectators are so friendly that they have even let marathoners use their bathrooms and handed out gummy bears in the past. The race ends near the M&T Bank Stadium, where there’s food, drinks, and a free Under Armour shirt waiting. 

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21. Boston Marathon, Massachusetts


Getting a bib at the Boston Marathon is reserved for the most elite athletes. This is the third largest race in the country and also the oldest (it started in 1897). The time-honored community event is held every year on Patriots’ Day. The horrific bombings in 2013 shocked the world, but the tragedy has not stopped runners from competing. The race begins at the Doughboy statue that pays tribute to Hopkinton Citizens who fought in World War I before taking runners on a challenging course through Scream Tunnel and the infamous Heartbreak Hill before finishing up on Boylston Street. 

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22. Grand Rapids Marathon, Michigan


It’s the personal touches that separate Grand Rapids Marathon held in October from the big city races. Dan Kern, the race director, is known to give congratulatory high-fives at the finish line. There’s also a no whining policy. “You signed up for this on purpose. Deal with it. I don’t care what you were under the influence of when your friend talked you into it,” the site states. Aside from the hills between mile seven and 12, the course is mainly flat and includes going across the Grand River. Hit your personal best? Ring the PR bell at the finish. When it’s all over, participants can hit the showers at the YMCA.

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23. Grandma's Marathon, Minnesota


The Grandma’s Marathon has grown from 150 runners in 1977, which is when it began, to about 9,000 runners these days. This June race, named after the first sponsor (Grandma’s Restaurants), allows runners to qualify for the Boston Marathon with a course that goes from Two Harbors to Duluth. Cool down after the race in a natural ice bath in Lake Superior. Even better, massages from professionally licensed therapists are available free and first-come, first-served for participants on race day.

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24. Mississippi Blues Marathon, Mississippi


Got the blues? The Mississippi Blues Marathon celebrates the history of blues in Jackson, Mississippi. A portion of the proceeds even go to the Mississippi Blues Commission’s Musicians Benevolent Fund. Music is a central focus of the race from the starting line at the Mississippi Museum of Art all the way to the finish line. In fact, tunes are played before, after, and throughout the course. But if you still want more after the race, visit the B.B. King Museum or the Delta Blues Museum. The Saturday following this January race features the Blues Crawl, which takes folks to some of Jackson’s music hot spots for live blues. (Runners receive a wristband that grants admission to each venue on the crawl).

25. MO’ Cowbell Marathon, Missouri


It’s going to get noisy at the MO’ Cowbell Marathon, which includes 7,000 cowbells and begins and ends in Frontier Park by the Missouri River. The terrain is flat for the most part, making this race a good choice as a qualifier for the big city marathons. Top finishers get a cowbell trophy and everyone goes home with a medal. The race is open to rollerbladers, bicyclists, pets, and even runners with strollers. After the race, fuel up on food, beer, and chocolate milk.

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26. Missoula Marathon, Montana


Start out in the country, running along fields and farms, before heading to the historic downtown during the Missoula Marathon. The course, which is a Boston qualifier, is flat on average except for a fairly big hill at the midway mark. Runners finish on the Higgins Street Bridge. And if the July heat gets to be too intense, volunteers offer hoses on their front lawns for overheated runners. 

27. Lincoln Marathon, Nebraska


Welcome to Nebraska, home of the Cornhuskers. In May, both the Lincoln Marathon and the half marathon kick off at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and loop by the Nebraska State Capitol. The finish line for this Boston qualifier is set on the 50-yard line of Memorial Stadium. Neighbors are known to be friendly to marathoners, passing out gummy bears and jelly beans, and local bands often provide music along the route. Runners receive a pre-race pasta dinner and a post-race celebration. 

28. Las Vegas Rock 'n' Roll Marathon, Nevada


Only in Vegas would a marathon allow couples to get married in a group ceremony in front of the Monte Carlo Resort & Casino. Runners participating in the nighttime Las Vegas Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon shut down the Strip. This fun race started in 1998 and has since featured musical acts at the finish line, including Goo Goo Dolls, Macklemore, Snoop Dogg, Pat Benatar, and more. Finish 26.2 miles and you’ll walk off with a snazzy finisher’s jacket. For those who want to start with something shorter, there’s also the half marathon and 5K race. 

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29. Manchester City Marathon, New Hampshire


Enjoy the fall foliage as you run this November marathon through the historic mill district of New Hampshire. The Manchester City Marathon, also a Boston qualifier, starts in downtown Manchester and crosses several bridges and rivers, including the Merrimack and Piscataquog rivers and the new “Trestle” bridge. The final portion of the route goes over the Notre Dame Bridge to Elm Street. Participants get a T-shirt, medals, and a drink ticket to a nearby bar at the end.

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30. Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon, New Jersey


Novo Nordisk New Jersey Marathon, New Jersey’s largest race, goes through several neighborhoods and districts, including Oceanport, Monmouth Beach, Long Beach, Allenhurst, Ocean Grove, and more. While runners will experience some rolling hills on the course, there are no big climbs. Popular with both runners and spectators, this race is a family affair with a Kids Run, 5K, relay race, and half marathon. Enjoy the celebration after the race, which is filled with food trucks, live music, and free massages as well as medal engraving. 

31. Bataan Memorial Death March, New Mexico


The Bataan Memorial Death March, a 26.2-mile march that’s held on the paved and sandy trails on the White Sands Missile Range, pays tribute to the survivors of the Bataan Death March, many of whom attend the event. Packs are filled with dried beans, rice, and cans to meet the weight requirement and many donate the food to charity after. There are heavy and light divisions, with the former requiring that marchers carry 35-pound packs. Civilian and military registrations are both available. Finishers are fed a post-march meal and go home with a T-shirt, commemorative dog tag, and other goodies. 

32. New York City Marathon, New York


Scheduled in early November, the New York City Marathon begins in Staten Island and finds its way through all five boroughs — Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Manhattan. The finish is in Central Park, where the marathon was initially held shortly after it started in 1970. Back then, runners got a wristwatch and used sports trophies. This race, with more than 50,000 runners, is the largest in the world. Fun fact: Brooklyn is not only the hippest, but it’s also the fastest borough for runners, thanks to its mostly flat terrain.

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33. Krispy Kreme Challenge, North Carolina


The road on this five-mile marathon leads to the Krispy Kreme shop. Here, costumed runners are challenged to devour a dozen of the ringed treats and then get back to the finish line all within one hour. The Krispy Kreme Challenge, which benefits the UNC Children’s Hospital, started in 2014 as a college dare among 10 friends. The route today begins at the Memorial Bell Tower on the North Carolina State University and goes through downtown Raleigh. 

34. Fargo Marathon, North Dakota


From the Furgo Dog Run and Cyclothon to the 10K, 5K half marathon, and full marathon, there are no shortage of race options during Fargo Marathon. The full marathon in May, which starts and ends inside the FargoDome, is a Boston qualifier. And with more than 40 bands and DJs entertaining runners along the course, you can expect a lively, exciting atmosphere.

35. Flying Pig Marathon, Ohio


The Flying Pig Marathon, which was founded in 1997, was named in honor of the city’s nickname — Porkopolis — and the the flying pig statue that sits at the riverfront. Many runners also wear pig costumes as they begin in downtown Cincinnati, head over the Taylor-Southgate Bridge, and along the Ohio River. This early spring race is a bit hilly for the the first nine miles, but becomes fairly level after mile 19. T-shirts and medals go to all finishers. Want to pig out before the race? Check out the Flying Pig “Pig Out” Pasta Party, sponsored by Walmart and Sam’s Club.

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36. Williams Route 66 Marathon, Oklahoma


Hit the streets of Tulsa during the Williams Route 66 Marathon, which goes across the historic Route 66 with some hills along the way. Proceeds from the event benefit the Tulsa Area United Way, among other charities. The VIP treatment is rolled out at the Maniac Corner with refreshments, gear check, and private restrooms for Marathon Maniacs and 50-States Marathon Club members. Either way, make sure to stick around the for the Mascot Dash, which also takes place during the marathon weekend in November.

37. Eugene Marathon, Oregon


Participants in the Eugene Marathon will have the opportunity to witness the beautiful scenery of Eugene as they cross the Knickerbocker Bridge and head to Springfield. Runners should expect some hills, but the route is fairly flat for the most part. All in all, runners will dart by 12 parks and eventually loop back to the historic Hayward Field for a big finish. The soccer fields by Hayward Field will have live music, food, and a beer garden. Bonus: Half marathon and marathon runners get free 15-minute massages plus the customary finisher’s T-shirt and medal. 

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38. Philadelphia Marathon, Pennsylvania


The City of Brotherly Love has hosted the Philadelphia Marathon every November since 1954. The route takes runners on a tour of the Old City, Fairmount Park, Independence Hall, the Betsy Ross House, and the Liberty Bell Center. Marathoners begin and end on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where there are the most spectators. Certificates and medals go to all finishers and all runners get refreshments and T-shirts. This November, the half marathon and marathon will be split on two different days, giving the marathoners the course to themselves. 

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39. Providence Marathon, Rhode Island


The smallest state in the U.S. offers a marathon that attracts nearly 4,000 runners. All of the races — the Providence Marathon, half marathon, and 5K race —  kick off one after another on the same day. The May race has a flat course that’s favored by runners seeking to qualify for the Boston Marathon. The marathon begins in downtown and goes along the shaded East Bay Bike Path, offering views of the river and city skyline. Photos of each runner are emailed after the race. 

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40. Myrtle Beach Marathon, South Carolina


Here’s what you need to know about the Myrtle Beach Marathon: the 26.2-mile race, which is held in March, allows a total of 3,000 runners. This Boston qualifier is level for the most part, and goes through downtown, the Market Common, and along Ocean Boulevard. Expect water stops about every two miles. DJs and bands are also located throughout the course and at the Field at Pelicans Ballpark, where runners cross the finish line. Remember to stay for the post-race party. 

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41. Run Crazy Horse Marathon, South Dakota


This race kicks off at the Crazy Horse Memorial, which is located in the heart of the Black Hills. The carving of the monument began 1947 and is estimated to take 100 years to complete. That being said, you may not get to see the complete monument for a long time, but you can participate in the Run Crazy Horse Marathon in early October and enjoy the beautiful mountainous surroundings.

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42. St. Jude Rock 'n' Roll Nashville Marathon, Tennessee


Take off for the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Nashville Marathon at Eighth Avenue and Broadway and finish at the Nissan Stadium. Founded in 2000, the marathon takes runners on a course that hits a lot of the city’s attractions: Nashville Symphony, Music Row, and the Tennessee State Capitol, among other sights. Cheerleaders and about 28 bands root for runners along the route as well. Plus, more musical entertainment is provided the night of the race. Past entertainers include Phil Vassar, Brad Paisley, and Sara Evans. And it’s all to benefit St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. 

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43. Chevron Houston Marathon, Texas


Everything is bigger in Texas — even the marathons. The Chevron Houston Marathon and Aramco Houston Half Marathon both draw over 200,000 cheering spectators. The route begins on Congress Avenue at San Jacinto and stops at the George R. Brown Convention Center. The 2016 marathon saw 27,000 participants and was declared the largest single-day sporting event in the city. This year’s run takes plan in mid-January. In addition to the medals and customary marathon T-shirts, runners who cross the finish line get a marathon beer stein. 

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44. Utah Valley Marathon, Utah


The 26.2-mile Utah Valley Marathon takes runners on a scenic journey into Provo Canyon. Runners will dash along canyon roads along the Provo River as well as spot views of Bridal Veil Falls, the mountains, and the city. The whole shebang ends up in downtown Provo, where massage therapists await to give runners complimentary sessions. Finish the marathon in less than six hours and you’ll take home a medal. It’s hard to believe that this race began with only 240 runners in 2008. In 2012 the marathon saw 7,200 runners. 

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45. Vermont City Marathon, Vermont


Using the Vermont City Marathon‘s app, spectators can track runners as they make their way through this Burlington, Vermont race. The route begins in Battery Park, overlooking Lake Champlain and the Adirondack Mountains, and then goes through Marketplace and the Northern Connector before looping back to the city and finally ending at Waterfront Park. Interesting tidbit: This New England race began in 1989 and has been held every Memorial Day weekend.

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46. Anthem Richmond Marathon, Virginia


The Anthem Richmond Marathon has be held every year since 1978 when it first began. This November race has a route that starts at Fifth and Grace streets and goes along the James River. Runner’s World called this race “America’s Friendliest Marathon” thanks to the junk food stops, party zones with music and cheering spectators, and wash cloth stations along the race. After the race, head to the party on Brown’s Island, which features a line-up of live acts. 

47. Tacoma City Marathon, Washington


The 26.36-mile Tacoma City Marathon takes advantage of Washington’s stunning scenery with a course that heads over the Narrows Bridge and travels beside the waterfront for nearly one-third of the race. The views of Mount Rainier from the waterfront are sure to give runners a second wind. Oh, and runners will also receive a commemorative T-shirt and medal. 

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48. Freedom's Run, West Virginia


West Virginia’s Freedom Run in early October celebrates “health and heritage.” This Boston qualifier, which goes through Harpers Ferry National Park, along the C&O Canal, on a country road to Antietam Battlefield, and then into Shepherdstown, is a mix of downhill, flat, and hilly. Everyone gets marathon swag in the end, including a long sleeve T-shirt and commemorative pint glass. Expect a festive finish line, packed with family-friendly games, foods, and live bands. 

49. Green Bay Marathon, Wisconsin


Come May, the Green Bay Marathon kicks off at Lambeau Field (home of the Green Bay Packers). Runners make their way to the village of De Pere, cross over the Fox River, and eventually onto a stretch along the Fox River Trail. While there are plenty of spots to stake out, there are six designated areas that feature themed parties and entertainment. The “Halfway There” spot, for example, sits on mile 13.2 and includes a local DJ who will be spinning tunes to pump up the runners. The party continues at the post-race tailgate party. Compared to the larger city races, this one is smaller with a marathon and half marathon cap of 8,000 runners. 

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50. Jackson Hole Marathon, Wyoming


Hit the ground running (and take in the Teton‘s fall foliage) for the Jackson Hole Marathon in September 2017. The whole course is paved with the exception of the finish line at the Village Commons at Teton Village. Deer and elk are often spotted along the scenic route, which starts near the Town Square, continues to the National Elk Refuge, Snow King ski hill, and South Park Loop Road. This environmentally friendly event is cup free, so every runner needs to carry their own water or drinks.

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