The Honolulu Marathon attracts runners from around the world
The Honolulu Marathon attracts runners from around the world

What are the best destination marathons?

I'm training for my first marathon, and I'd like to run it in a fun place. What are the best marathons in cool destinations?

The Honolulu Marathon attracts runners from around the world
Greg Melville

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There are a few important criteria for a good destination marathon. It has to be somewhere you’d really want to go, even if you weren’t running in a race. The course has to be scenic and memorable, and it shouldn’t be straight uphill. (There’s no point in traveling hundreds or thousands of miles to run a crappy time. Sorry Pike’s Peak.) These four races fit the bill.

Running along the shore of Lake Champlain
Running along the shore of Lake Champlain (Courtesy of KeyBank Vermont City Marathon)

KeyBank Vermont City Marathon, Vermont
Since this race takes place completely within Burlington’s city limits, nearly the entire course is lined with spectators as it meanders near the shores of Lake Champlain. The only incline of note is just past the halfway mark at Battery Hill; a troupe of Taiko drummers there pushes runners onward. May 27

Big Sur
Big Sur Marathon (Douglas Steakley)

Big Sur International Marathon, California
A contender for the title of world’s most scenic marathon, the Big Sur International runs through redwood forests along the Pacific coast between Big Sur and Carmel, losing a total of 300 feet in elevation along the way. Despite the net loss, there’s a brutal 500-foot climb between mile 10 and 13 to reach gusty Hurricane Point—a real back-breaker if you don’t pace yourself. April 29

Bar Harbor
Bar Harbor, Maine via Shutterstock (Anne Kitzman)

Mount Desert Island Marathon, Maine
You won’t find droves of spectators along the hilly course of the Mount Desert Island Marathon, but they’d just impede the view of the Maine coast anyway. The course, which starts in Bar Harbor and ends in the village of Southwest Harbor, runs along the fringe of Acadia National Park, leading runners through forests, along ocean cliffs, and past small fishing towns that empty out after the summer tourist season ends. October 14

I’m training for my first marathon, and I’d like to run it in a fun place. What are the marathons in cool destinations?

Honolulu Marathon
Honolulu Marathon (Courtesy of Honolulu Marathon)

Honolulu Marathon
Not that you needed a reason to take a trip to Hawaii, but the Honolulu Marathon is as scenic as any race. Starting at the Ala Moana Beach Park, the course meanders through Waikiki before climbing near the 700-foot volcanic crater of Diamond Head. From there, it passes through the suburbs, returns Diamond Head again at mile 24, and ends by Kapiolani Park, where you can cool off in the Pacific surf. More than 25,000 people enter the race each year, the majority of them from Japan. December 9

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