The Best Marathons for Beginners Around the World
Paris Marathon, Paris, France
Sure, you want to run your first marathon—but the Paris Marathon will also give you an excuse to tour the heart of the City of Light. Starting at the famed Champs-Elysees, the course runs by the Louvre, along the Seine, and past the Eiffel Tower and Notre-Dame Cathedral. It's one of the five biggest marathons in the world, with 60,000 finishers from 100+ countries last year. Still, it's a relatively flat route, making it a good one for novices. And no matter what your level, nothing beats post-race refueling with Parisian crepes.
Le Marathon du Medoc, Medoc Region, France
Oenophiles, take note: Le Marathon du Medoc combines your love for tannins with your love for tarmac with a wine-inspired run through the Medoc region of France. Limited to 8,500 runners, the race winds through dozens of vineyards, with both red and white wine offered along with water at aid stations. Not enough? Gourmet food like cheese and oysters are also offered at specific pit stops. When it comes to the best marathons for beginners, pacing yourself (in more ways than one) has never been more essential. (Related: Drink Up, Because Smelling Wine Can Stave Off Alzheimer’s and Dementia)
Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series, Multiple Locations
Set up like a concert tour, the aptly named Rock 'n' Roll Marathon Series hits 31 cities across the globe (China! Spain! Peru!) over the course of a year. True to its name, this race exudes musical spirit: Dozens of local live bands perform along the route, and a big-name headliner (past singers include Bret Michaels and Pit Bull) awaits you at the finish line. (Can’t make it to one of these best marathons for beginners? Power your way to a new PR with this pump-up playlist.)
Little Rock Marathon, Little Rock, Arkansas
The Little Rock Marathon in Arkansas attracts almost 10,000 participants each year, all of whom are treated to a surprise towards the finish line. Although it's unlikely makeup will be on your mind when running one of these best marathons for beginners, this race has a lipstick pit-stop just in case. Runners can touch-up for a perfect (if unnaturally so) finish-line photo. And as if the photo
And as if the "I just nailed my first 26.2" shot isn't Instagrammable enough, the 7.75- x 6-inch finisher's medal—the world's largest—will bring in even more likes.
Sparkasse 3-Laender Marathon, Lindau, Germany
One marathon, three countries, no passport needed. Beginning on the German island of Lindau, Both the Sparkasse 3-Laender Marathon and Half-Marathon begin on the German island of Lindau, and from there you'll run along Lake Constance through the towns of Austria, then cross the finish line in Bregenz, Switzerland. Out of all the best marathons for beginners, this course is arguably the most scenic. Mountain views are on either side as you run over rivers, bridges, and alternating asphalt and cobblestone streets, but the race is blissfully flat, making it a not-so-far fetched idea for even first-timers. Don't worry about a potential language barrier; runners report that even if your German is limited to little more than schnitzel and strudel, you'll still get by just fine with English. (P.S. Would you consider a virtual race?)
Athens Classic Marathon, Athens, Greece
Two thousand five hundred years ago, the Athenian messenger Pheidippides ran 24 miles to Athens to announce news of the Greek victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. At the Athens Classic Marathon in Greece, you can run just a bit more—26.2 miles in the full marathon, or the 10K or 5K—in his reported footsteps. The course is the same one used in the 2004 Olympic Games, with the finish line at Olympic Stadium. Runners of all levels will be pounding asphalt the whole way, but this is one of the best marathons for beginners because the course itself is relatively mild: A flat 12 kilometers in the beginning, gentle hills for the middle 19 kilometers, and downhill for the final 11 all the way to the finish line. (Speaking of the games, did you know that pole dancing might eventually become an Olympic sport?
Space Coast Marathon, Cocoa, Florida
Smallish in size (about 6,500 runners) but big in spirit, the Space Coast Marathon in Cocoa, Florida, is exactly what it sounds like: A space-themed run, inspired by the race's proximity to NASA headquarters. A Space Shuttle countdown and Shuttle liftoff on a jumbotron appropriately kicks off the race, and runners can either do a full or half-marathon that weaves along the Indian River. Space props are visible along the route, and if you're thirsty, you can grab a cup of water from volunteers dressed in NASA uniforms at the water stations. Once you've finished ~orbiting~ and are ready to run through the finish line, an astronaut medal and an electronic space certificate await you.
GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon, Victoria, British Columbia
If you want to see (not run on) rolling hills and picture-perfect scenery, consider the GoodLife Fitness Victoria Marathon in Victoria, British Columbia, which showcases Canada's natural beauty. The seaside route winds along the southern tip of the island, with the Olympic Mountain range visible in the distance. The course also gives runners a glimpse of city sights like the BC legislative buildings, Ogden Point, Beacon Hill Park, and the statue of Terry Fox at Mile “0.” Though the Victoria Marathon is a Boston Marathon qualifier, the flat route makes this one of the best marathons for beginners. (Related: The Step-by-Step Couch to Half-Marathon Training Plan)
SunTrust Richmond Marathon, Richmond, Virginia
Running your first marathon may seem daunting, so there's no better first race to sign up for than Virginia's SunTrust Richmond Marathon, the course dubbed "America's Friendliest Marathon." It's all about small-town hospitality and sights: the James River, statues of Civil wear soldiers, and the Virginia Commonwealth University campus. Sure, there are also some unorthodox marathon perks in play (read: junk food pit stops), but with a 7-hour time limit, you've got some time to have a little fun.
Portland Marathon, Portland, Oregon
Considering that Portland, Oregon is consistently named one of the “greenest” cities in the world, it should be no surprise that it also hosts one of the most environmentally-friendly marathons in the country. Among other initiatives, the Portland Marathon uses recycled paper and biodegradable products when available and the race is conveniently reachable by public transportation. (Related: Small Tweaks to Effortlessly Help the Environment)
Humboldt Redwoods/Avenue of the Giants Marathon, Northern California
For runners looking to tune into Mother Nature, the Humboldt Redwoods/Avenue of the Giants Marathon, Half-Marathon, and 10K is your jaunt. Though there are no showers or dressing facilities present, these minor inconveniences are vastly outweighed by the fact that you'll be running almost the entire distance under towering (seriously, towering—Redwoods can reach over 350 feet in height!) tree branch canopies in Humboldt Redwoods State Park in Arcata, California.
Flying Pig Marathon, Cincinnati, Ohio
Even though it's a qualifier for the Boston Marathon, the Flying Pig Marathon in Cincinnati is also one of the friendliest and best marathons for beginners. The first half of the course is relatively flat, and the organizers make it clear that walkers are also welcome. Held on the first Sunday of May every year, the race includes a 5K, 10K, half-marathon, and full marathon that crisscrosses the Ohio River and weaves by a number of historical landmarks. An added bonus: The organizer of the race, Cincinnati Marathon, Inc., is a nonprofit organization, so all proceeds go toward charity. Now, that's just another reason to feel great when crossing the finish line. (Up Next: The Best Running Apps to Help You Train For Your Next Race)
Originally published on FitnessMagazine.com, November 2011.