When you spend a lot of time driving for work, you have plenty of time to think up random blog topics. This is one I’ve been sitting on for a while.
I’ve run 10 different marathons, with 11 total finishes (ran one race twice…see below). That’s a nice number to rank the races based on my experiences. Illinois will become number 11 in less than 10 days, if all goes well.
Let’s get to it!
10. Milwaukee Marathon
I ran Milwaukee in 2015, but had to DNF due to injury. I came back in 2017 when the race was under new ownership. This one was to be my Dad’s first marathon, and my goal race for the Fall.
I ended up getting injured in the closing miles of the race. But more importantly, the course was measured incorrectly and ended up being almost a mile short. The post race area was nothing to write home about either. I loved the course, and I love the city. But a certified marathon that ends up short on distance puts this at the bottom.
9. Pony Express Marathon
Only my third marathon, and it was…something. I signed up the Tuesday before the Sunday race, so that should be your first indication it wouldn’t go well. The second should’ve been that it came at the tail end of three weeks of travel.
It was the first year for this race and it was HOT. Like 80+ degrees in Sacramento hot. The course was partly in country, partly along the river, and partly in neighborhoods. We didn’t see much of Sacramento.
Oh. And this race was a one and done. It never returned for another run.
8. Lincoln Marathon
My friends in Nebraska and Iowa will probably murder me for putting Lincoln this low. It’s a quintessential spring race in the heart of the country. Why so low? Mostly because of the second half of the Full. The first Half, and the Half Marathon in the race is amazing. Miles 13-26 is an out and back that’s pretty lonely, and unshaded.
In a hot year like 2016 that made the second half of the race brutal. The race finishes at the 50 in Memorial Stadium, which is neat. But to leave, you have to walk up an incredibly steep incline to which a runner next to me said, “This is bullshit.” It was.
7. Shamrock Marathon
Cue my BibRave Pro friends, and other friends, grabbing their pitchforks and coming after me. I didn’t love the Shamrock Marathon, but that’s again in large part due to the ridiculous weather in 2016. 26.2 miles in rain and wind isn’t pleasant. It also made the post race area very cold.
Admittedly, I wasn’t all that prepared for a super cold day either for during or after the race. I’m sure on a beautiful day, this would be a great experience. But on that day, it wasn’t a race that talked me into coming back.
6. Cowtown Marathon
I’m actually stunned I have the Cowtown in the bottom half. But maybe that’s a testament to the amazing races I’ve run. I really liked the Cowtown and would recommend it to anyone. The race organization is amazing, and the swag is second to none. Plus, for this Midwesterner, Texas in February is a nice treat.
I broke the cardinal rule of not trying anything new on race day, and instead tried everything new. That resulted in three bathroom stops, hurting feet, and foggy sunglasses. But I loved the course, and I loved the swag. The only thing that would keep me from returning to the Cowtown is the travel involved.
5. Chicago Marathon
Cue the rest of the readers grabbing their pitchfork and coming after me. Almost everyone I know who has run Chicago absolutely loved it. I thought it was fine. Again, I fully admit the weather probably played a role here, especially when it came to crowd support. But it’s also a super crowded race, especially at the start, which I didn’t love.
I’m happy I did Chicago. And it is my current PR as well. But I’m not clamoring to get myself signed up for this one again. It is a great race, and I think great for first timers, but it wasn’t a top dog race for me.
4. Mount Desert Island
I struggled with ranking spots 4, 3, and 2 on this list. I landed on MDI at 4 simply because I’m not sure I would go back for it. Traveling to Maine in the Fall, and running a race through the changing leaves is a great experience. But because of it’s location, Mount Desert Island is super tough to get to, and expensive.
I ran MDI with friends, which helped my experience a ton. It was a nice birthday treat to myself as well. It’s a challenging course that I think you could run fast on. Definitely a top destination race.
3. Grandma’s Marathon
The one marathon I’ve run twice (and possibly a third this Spring?) comes in at number 3. Grandma’s will always hold a special place for me for two reasons. The first being that it was my very first marathon, and my first experience getting decked by The Wall. The second is that in two attempts I haven’t been able to run well here and it really bugs me.
It’s a great course in a great city. The race has enough people to run with, and not a ton of crowd support. Love this one, and it would probably be top on this list if I could actually run this race well.
2. New York City Marathon
But Ben, you complained about Chicago being too big, but ranked NYC as number two. It’s really because the NYC Marathon was that epic. It’s wildly expensive for entry, but this race was so good that I seriously thought about trying to get in again.
And yes, I ran my PW at NYC, but that’s in large part because it was a few weeks post Chicago, and I did a lot of touristy things instead of resting in the days leading up. All the people, both runners and spectators, make for an amazing day. I had watched the elites come over and down the hill on the finishing stretch so many times on TV, and it was surreal to be running that at the end of the race.
1. Twin Cities Marathon
Easily my best marathon experience, and I would argue the best race I’ve run (although it’s no longer my PR). Everything was picture perfect for Twin Cities. The weather was amazing, I got to run with friends, and I got to see some friends spectating along the course. It was one of the few times I’ve really gotten in the zone in a Full.
While it was my PR for almost two years, Twin Cities is probably one of my most under trained for marathons, in my opinion. I had a good day, and that 3:08 was probably my max based on the work I had put in. It was such a good experience that I’ll probably never do Twin Cities again. Why? It was so good that I don’t want to run TC another time and have a sub par experience; whether it be my race, the weather, etc.
So what are your favorite marathons? And why?