Top 10 Marathons for First Timers

The top 10 places for running your first marathonYou always remember the first time, right?

My first marathon was back in 1998 on the NCR Trail north of Baltimore. It was a perfect fall day, my coach was there to cheer me on, and I finished the day with a 3:39, good enough for Boston.

While I loved this marathon, I know it’s not for everyone. It still takes only 350 people. It’s on a trail so there aren’t crowds out there. In fact, there are long stretches of quiet. But I like it that way.

Forbes magazine (just where I think to go for all things endurance sports) recently published its list of top 10 marathons for first timers. Clearly the writer hit the big-city, big-production marathons. Take a look at how he ranked them:

  1. London
  2. Paris
  3. Honolulu
  4. Chicago
  5. Philadelphia
  6. Marine Corps Marathon
  7. Las Vegas
  8. Phoenix
  9. Disney
  10. New Orleans

The only one of these I’ve run is Philadelphia, and even that was before it became so big (I think it’s now an RnR?). I can understand why first-timers, and others, flock to these big events.

With the exception of Boston, however, I’ll always gravitate towards the smaller- to medium-sized events. I like to have room to spread out and concentrate without all the distractions. Yes, crowd support can be nice, but in the end I like to hear myself think.

Have you run any of the top 10 on the list? Was it your first?



Related Posts:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge


  1. says

    My first marathon was Marine Corps Marathon. I have to say it was the best organized race I’ve EVER run. I loved it. I’d totally run it again if it wasn’t for the training through Virginia summer thing.
    MCM Mama recently posted..PrioritiesMy Profile

  2. says

    I’ve run Boston and Philadelphia – I’ll toe the line for Chicago in October. I love the big races bc of the electric atmosphere, but there’s something “homey” about the smaller ones that hold a place in my heart. My first was Vermont City Marathon, which I think caps at 3500 – and it will always be a favorite :)
    Meaghan recently posted..Pumpkinman Half Ironman Race ReportMy Profile

  3. says

    Huh, this list is really interesting, I have to look into it more, find out how they came up with the ranking (seems like Forbes is now into ranking just about everything!). I haven’t run any of these, only New York. While I liked all the support in NYC, I do remember those last two miles when the yelling was so loud it was actually hurting my ears and I just wanted to finish. So I can understand why a smaller race could be really nice. Thanks for posting this!
    lisa @ early morning run recently posted..Jenny Barringer-Simpson, Gold Medal WinnerMy Profile

  4. says

    I have only run one marathon and that was Boston. I think after such a huge event I want my next one, whenever that may be, to be smaller and more local. I have my eye on the Amica Marathon in Newport, RI. My hometown and all! The only downfall is that it is HILLY but then again I made it through Boston!

  5. says

    My first was Columbus. I have since run Detroit which is pretty large, and caters to the half, which I have done numerous times. I qualified for Boston at the Martian Marathon, which is very small, and it was nice to have lots of room and be on a familiar road to me. It didn’t bother me that there were not a lot of spectators or people, it was great to be just me. Hopefully I will get in to Boston on Friday, and then have the opportunity to experience that. I am also trying to prequalify to NYC with my half time (at Detroit), so I can check that off and do it before the family I would hope to stay with move out of the city. I would love to do a disney race, but honestly, I don’t know that I would be able to “race” it, but rather try to enjoy it so I don’t feel like crud afterwards. I am thinking maybe a disney half would be better suited for me.
    Melissa C recently posted..I think I am going to puke, or cry, or bothMy Profile

  6. says

    I totally agree! I hate the BIG races. OK, they are fun to run for “fun” but who does that?! I’m always let down with my time regardless. The whole time you’re watching the people in front of you & never really get a chance to take in the city or crowds. Just too much for me. I love the medium size ones… big enough that there are spectators & you’re never “alone” on the course, but small enough that congestion is not an issue & your cheerleaders can travel around easily in the city.

  7. says

    No I haven’t run any of those marathons, and I don’t think i will… I’m not into big races. I’m not into running through Citys when there are montain and trails to run on…

    I’ve run 59 marathons and 14 ultras and my favorites ones are: all in the Swiz / French Alps, Zermatt Marathon, Jungfrau, Mont-Blanc, Davos…
    Coach Dion recently posted..IS IT TIMEMy Profile

  8. says

    Gargh! Every time I almost feel like I’m the verge of coming to peace with the idea that I might not be able to run Chicago this year, I see a list like this or some reference to The Spirit of the Marathon and feel unwilling to let this go.

    My first marathon was Columbus, which while not as big as the races on this list, was a big enough event that I never felt alone or a lack of crowd support – as I sometimes did when I ran my second marathon – Team Ortho Minneapolis. I like the medium to bigger races because of the energy of the event. I like the whole running in a pack thing.
    Raquelita recently posted..Other LovesMy Profile

  9. Pat says

    I’ve run Philly and MCM, although I haven’t run either since they got huge. I also prefer small-to-medium sized races of any length. logisitcs get difficult with the larger races. My first marathon was the old Maryland Marathon(no longer inexistence) in 1979. I was a mere child at the time :)

  10. says

    I ran Chicago twice and it was my very first. The crowds were A-Mazing and probably the only reason I was able to finish in the blazing heat.
    My heart will always be with the Grand Rapids marathon. Small, on paved bike paths mostly and minimal crowd support, but SO well run and so scenic, God’s country for sure.
    Teamarcia recently posted..Yoga Gone BadMy Profile

  11. says

    I’ve run Disney, but it wasn’t my first. My first was the biggest one we have here, though, so certainly not a small race. I think I like the big ones more, but it’s nice to change it up with a quieter and more laid back atmosphere now and then.
    marlene recently posted..Wasaga Sprint Tri Race ReportMy Profile

  12. says

    I would love to do London and Paris only for the excuse to do it.
    My first was Honolulu and I would love to run it again someday. I would like to run it well tthis time!
    It is in December when the Islands are decorated for christmas only in Hawaii Santa has dolphins for reindeer and wears an aloha shirt! The palm tree trunks are wrapped with lights and when the sun starts to come up, you see it over the ocean as you start the steady climb up Diamond head. The rest of the race is residential and not too interesting but overall it was a very cool race.

    I like my hometown marathon. Des Moines is a pretty city and one of the fun parts of the race is the lap around Drake Stadium on the springy fancy track and getting to see yourself on the BIG screen as you pass through.

  13. Leah @ Chasing Atalanta says

    Chicago 2005 was my first. I’ve done the half at Las Vegas. London and Disney are on my to do list, along with the New Orleans half. The big ones are fun for all the spectacle, but I’ll admit I do like the smaller races (e.g. Detroit) partly because I have a better chance at placing higher. Flying Pig 2012 here I come!

    FYI, Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia is a half only and is this weekend (I’ll be there!). The Philadelphia Marathon is in late November.

  14. says

    I ran MCM, and the first 18 miles are great, with big crowds and fun sights…. but the rest is a desolate wasteland. I’d probably get discouraged in the last 10k if it were my first. I’m with you that the small/medium size is my favorite. Fewer crowds and the people who come out to cheer get really into it!

  15. says

    Chicago was my first, back in 2009, and I have to say that it truly made the whole experience of my first larger than life. I get a sparkle in my eye every time I think about it. Having my name on my bib made me feel like a rockstar the entire course because everyone was cheering me on and all the crowd support made me feel like I was floating rather than running around the city. Although now I most definitely prefer the medium/small sized races I do think a good first time marathon is the big city ones.
    Morgan recently posted..WWKDMy Profile

  16. says

    Vegas (which is a RnR now) was my fisrt last year, and then I did Disney just a couple of weeks later. I loved them both, but equally loved the smaller two marathons I did after. Vegas and Disney had over 30,000 runners… Pocatello had 600 marathoners. I love the big races and the small races… it’s fun to do a mix of both :)
    Erin Henderson (@SeeMomRunFar) recently posted..Exploding with excitementMy Profile

  17. says

    i haven’t run any of those! i really want to run some of them, philly being at the top of the list. i chose the providence marathon in the spring to do as my first. mostly because it was really close to where i was going to school so there was no travel involved.
    Karyn recently posted..It’s Looking Like I’m Training.My Profile

  18. says

    My first marathon was Houston in 1997. I’m returning to do it again this January. I really liked it, despite some un-scenic sections. It’s flat and fast and usually chilly, and well-organized despite being large. I’ve also done the Boulder Marathon (small and scenic, but tends to be hot) and New York. New York was a great experience, but not surprisingly, Boulder was the friendliest of my three. My marathon on Saturday is Top of Utah–small, but I’m hearing great things about it and am really looking forward to it.

    Forbes’ list looks more like “Top marathons for rich people.” But that’s their audience. :^)
    Terzah recently posted..Taper TicsMy Profile

  19. says

    I’ll be running chicago which is most exciting because it’s a hometown race. I don’t like the RNR series at all. It’s just too much for me. I prefer smaller races. Did you register for Boston already?

  20. says

    I like it when magazines or websites put together list of the more obscure races. As much as I like doing a “big” race once or twice a year, I’d also be willing to travel to a more remote area for a unique experience. Races with a community feel are often better organized and more personalized. That said, I’d love to do all of these on this list too!
    David H. recently posted..That 20-milerMy Profile

  21. Glenn Jones says

    I really think San Diego Rock n’ Roll should be on this list. It’s a mega marathon with tons of course support and crowds. Even if you’re clipping along at a six hour pace, there are tons of volunteers and support for you. I remember so vividly looking over a bridge struggling through mile 16 or so and seeing the mass of humanity that was still behind me. All of a sudden, it wasn’t so bad after all…
    Glenn Jones recently posted..This Week’s PlanMy Profile

  22. says

    I’ve not run a full yet and was thinking initially that I wanted my first to be all big and splashy like NYC but lately I’ve been rethinking that. It won’t happen until the fall of 2012 but now I’m looking into something closer to home like California International Marathon — they only take 7500 — so big enough to be fun but not 30,000. I think the travel, logistics and the craziness of the huge race just might do me in on my first time.

    We’ll see what happens,.

  23. says

    Napa Valley Marathon

    Fast course, beautiful scenery. small limited field with marathoners only thankyouverymuch.

    showers and real food at the finish.

    point to point course from Callistoga to Napa down the silverado trail (road down the east side of the valley)

    I very much recommend this as a first, as long as you don’t care about crowd support.
    Paul recently posted..Me, doing intervals?My Profile

  24. says

    I’m running Philadelphia on November 20th. YAY!
    My first marathon was small, the Wineglass in Corning, NY. I can’t imagine running a big city marathon as a first. But then, if you live in the big city, maybe it wouldn’t bother you.
    Joanne recently posted..Dassant Brownies and BreadMy Profile

  25. says

    i’ve done chicago and disney. i can’t believe NYC isn’t on here! (that one’s my fav) mcm is definitely a “to do” for me!

    personally i like smaller marathons, in smaller towns, but the big ones in big cities have their appeal too.
    lindsay recently five yearsMy Profile

  26. says

    The only one I’ve done is MCM. I think it was my third – Emily’s first. In fact she blogged about it recently. My favorite remains the VCM here at home and I also loved the Mohawk Hudson in New York which is very small.

  27. says

    I’ve run the half at Philly and will be running Vegas in December. The other race I have run is Dallas which has quite a few people (20K?) and would love to run a much smaller race.

    Like you I am all about hearing my footsteps and breathing than the yelling crowds especially when they yell almost there….really at mile 15 I am almost there?
    Jason @ Cook Train Eat Race recently posted..Vegetarian PaellaMy Profile

  28. says

    I prefer the smaller/medium marathons myself. My first was Mount Desert Island Marathon (highly recommended!) it is super hilly and not recommended for first timers probably. But I didn’t know any better and loved it. Capped at 1000. My favorite marathon is the Sugarloaf Marathon – it has about 400 people!! It is the best race!! SO gorgeous. See, I am trying to talk you into coming to Maine! :)

  29. says

    I have run Chicago twice and Disney twice. Liked them both but as with you, I prefer the smaller races. My first was the 1993 Fox Cities Marathon where I crashed and burned to a 3:40, still my PR. I took 11 years off of marathoning and now would love to run that time again.
    Bill recently posted..A Hazy Shade of IntervalsMy Profile

  30. says

    I’ve run 17 marathons and none of them on the top 10 list. My first was Dallas White Rock in 1997. I’ve done it 3 more times since, always a special race in my heart. With the exception of Paris, I’m not sure I’d even want to do any of those 10 on the list. I do, however, sort of like larger marathons…but not larger other races. When I ran Tucson, I had to wait a long time to find someone to block the insane wind! :)
    Jill recently posted..Week 2 / Random mindlessnessMy Profile

  31. says

    I don’t run marathons but … if I would consider doing one I’d choose London from the list. I’ve watched this one this Spring on TV and it’s a great marathon and very fun to run.

    I like both kind of races: big or medium or small. Next Sunday I do a big one, 40,000 participants and in this case I’m glad about that because due to my cold I won’t be fast at all and in such a big crowd no one notices that. Besides there will be other groups starting after me and I won’t be coming in last.

    My half is a big race too and I choose that on purpose too because it’s my first and I don’t want to come in last and chances are much bigger in smaller races.

    I do like smaller races too, I’ve signed up for 2 after my half in October, both shorter distances and close to home.
    Fran recently posted..A day in my life: Wednesday September 14, 2011My Profile

  32. says

    Long time no comment – I know. But hope things are good and you are well?

    I’ve run London and Chicago in that list – London once, Chicago twice, and I’ll run London again next spring. I’ve also run NYC, Berlin and Boston so I’ve definitely hit the big city ones. What I like about them is the crowd support – it can be incredibly stimulating and moving and helpful. On the other hand – it IS crowded and doesn’t necessarily lend itself to running your own race. I will run London again – it has a very special place in this country – but I think after that I’m going to try some smaller races.
    Petra recently posted..this girl’s back in town.My Profile

  33. says

    I wish I had this list before I decided to run Pittsburgh as my first marathon – that was tough!

    I am running Disney in 2012 – it will be my 2nd and I have heard it is a lot of fun so I am looking forward to that! I am glad to see it on the list!!
    Sara recently posted..Stillpower Review – Pass it On!My Profile

  34. says

    I’ve run Marine Corps and Disney and they’re both great races. I would have put Disney higher on the list for first timers, but that’s just me. I so want to do London!
    Kim recently posted..Music Scenes!My Profile

  35. says

    I ran Disney. It was my first.


    This is really the ideal first marathon. Disney packages it excellently and leaves nothing to chance. They just think of everything, right down to the exceedingly motivational pre-race emcee. Perfect.

    – Dean

  36. says

    Was actually searching for just a traditional shower enclosures when I stumbled
    upon this web site, wouldn’t have any idea there were any
    such thing as a ‘steam shower enclosure’, wow, will probably just may have to buy one
    Cortney recently posted..CortneyMy Profile

  37. says

    Never heard of a steam shower enclosure until finally I stumbled on this website, so pleased I did so truly want one right
    now and money permitting will likely be owning one before long recently posted.. Profile