Marathons

Running On

Costume Contests

Costume contests: the competition within the competition     Photo: Ezra Shaw

Call it the comfort factor: as marathons have moved into the mainstream, organizers have added perks, everything from swag bags to massages. Many races now resemble 26.2-mile bacchanals as much as competitions: in-race entertainment, extravagant post-race dinners (on a cruise ship, in the case of the Miami Marathon), and costume contests. Nowhere is that trend more evident than in the Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon Series, where runners are treated to live ­music and after-parties at events from ­Seattle to Savannah. At the Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon, there’s a live band every mile of the course. The festive atmosphere is one reason the series has added 25 races since it started in 1998 and now has more than 300,000 people competing in events around the globe. But no matter how many bands they pack into the course, it’s still a marathon, and there’s just no way to make 26.2 miles easy. “It’s not an event you can cram for,” says Terrence Mahon, coach of U.S. record holder Deena Kastor. “Successful training is about consistency.” His tip for race day? “The big­gest mistake I see runners make is going out too fast. The first part should feel easy, but that doesn’t mean you should go faster.”

Your turn:
Best Race for newbies:
Marine Corps Marathon
The Scene: Democracy in action. With no qualifying standards, Marine Corps, in Washington, D.C., is a favorite for first-time marathoners. The Highlight: A 26.2-mile sightseeing tour; the course passes in front of the Capitol Building and Lincoln Memorial and runs along the National Mall. Mark Your Calendar: October 28, 2012; marinemarathon.com

Best Race for Bragging Rights:
Boston Marathon
The Scene: Quad-melting hills, unpredictable weather, smack-talking frat boys from Boston College, and a course that’s remained almost the ­same since 1897. The Highlight: Scoring a bib. As the hardest major race to qualify for—3:10 for men 18 to 34—just getting in is a coup. Pick a flat race like ­Chicago, or a downhill one like Utah’s St. George ­Marathon, to notch your qualifying time. Mark Your Calendar: April 16, 2012; baa.org

Best Race for Running with Diddy:
New York City Marathon
The Scene: The world’s largest marathon (44,977 finishers last year), NYC begins on Staten Island and winds through each of the city’s five boroughs—more of Gotham than you’ll see on a double-decker bus tour. The Highlight: Trading surges with the likes of Edward Norton, Katie Holmes, and weatherman Al Roker. Mark Your Calendar: November 6, 2011; ­ingnycmarathon.org

Best Race to Forget Your iPod:
Rock ’n’ Roll San Diego Marathon
The Scene: A mostly flat course, a high school cheering ­contest organized by the race’s sponsors, and its status as the original race in the Rock ’n’ Roll series make it perfect for runners hoping to take their mind off the pain. The Highlight: The free post-race concert, headlined last year by Blues Traveler and Five for Fighting. Mark Your Calendar: June 3, 2012, but the series now has 26 marathons from Seattle to Denver. runrocknroll.com

Best Race for setting records:
Chicago Marathon
The Scene: Next to NYC, Chicago is the nation’s largest (36,088 finishers in 2010). It’s also the fastest, thanks to mild fall weather, a flat course, and plenty of people to draft. The Highlight: Being a part of history. Seven U.S. or world ­records have been set at Chicago since the race launched in 1977. American Ryan Hall is ­gunning for the U.S. mark this year. Mark Your Calendar: October 7, 2012; chicagomarathon.com

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