The second-largest marathon in the United States (more than 24,000 finishers; only Chicago draws a larger field), the race starts at Ala Moana Beach Park and cuts through downtown Honolulu before hugging Oahu’s southern coastline—a largely flat terrain with Pacific views for miles. At mile 5, you’ll pass the white sands of Waikiki beach, and two miles later start the climb up Diamond Head, an extinct volcanic crater. Even in December, prepare for temps in the 80s by mid-morning. But don’t worry about time—the finish line stays open until every last runner has finished.
This flat course winds among the barrier island’s marshes and dunes, through its lush maritime forests, and past grand mansions. The route is forgiving in both terrain and temperature—the race kicks off from Kiawah’s East Beach Village and heads inland. The first 11.5 miles are shared with a half marathon, and then it turns all business but even more naturally splendid as the course heads east in a set of out and backs into Kiawah’s waterways, ponds, and estuaries. You may catch sight of the long-legged residents of Blue Heron Pond from miles 20 through 22.
Considered one of the most scenic marathons in the country, this point-to-point race north along Highway 1 from Big Sur to Carmel combines California’s most dramatic coastal scenery with some serious physical challenges—headwinds and hills. An additional gauntlet: a hard six-hour limit on the course, which breaks down to about than 14 minutes per mile. Still up for it? You’ll reap the rewards while running among redwoods with stunning ocean views.
But about those hills: There are 13 over the last 13 miles of the course. One of them is a climb up infamous Hurricane Point—a steady 5 percent incline for more than two miles. But it’s not all bad: Japanese taiko drummers are stationed before you start the climb to egg you on, and a concert pianist accompanies your run at the halfway point. More inspiration: finishing among the flaming orange poppies growing right on Monastery Beach at mile 25.
This course strings together six quaint New England villages from Bar Harbor to Southwest Harbor while tracing the coastline’s pink granite outcroppings bordering Acadia National Park. Halfway through, you’ll greet Somes Sound, the only true fjord on the Atlantic Coast, which nearly bisects the island. The course runs up one side and down the other, with almost 13 miles of remarkable views on this topographical marvel. This part of Maine overflows with tourists during the summer, but by mid-October they’re gone, and this picturesque corner of American landscape feels like it belongs to you. Well, you and about 1,200 other runners.
Surf City USA must be the beachiest of all marathons, with nearly a third of the course on a serpentine paved path stretching along the sandy length of Huntington Beach. You’ll feel the surf-town vibe as you pass boarders in the waves and listen to surf rock bands performing live along the way. The route ventures through six miles of the Bolsa Chica Ecological Reserve, a 300-acre wetland home to brown pelicans, snowy egrets, and great blue herons, and past hundreds of cheering kids at Huntington Beach Central Park (instant pick- me-up!). Bonus: Finishers get a medal shaped like a surfoard.
RUNNERS KNOW: The best views are between miles 10 and 14, where you’ll see the lush terrain of Bolsa Chica and the ocean.
6 of 6Photo: TriDuo
Outer Banks Marathon
November 13, 2016
The Outer Banks are both wildly beautiful and deeply historic, and this late fall marathon will show you plenty of both along its fast and flat route. The course begins right at Kitty Hawk, the birthplace of American aviation, and meanders from there along beautiful Albemarle Sound—keep your eyes peeled for herons and egrets. At mile 8 you skirt the location of the Wright brothers’ first flight, and from miles 12 to 13 you run below the East Coast’s largest sand dune—the base of daily hang glider flights. The remaining miles offer some incredible views, including the arch of the Washington Baum Bridge and Roanoke Island.