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Fast Marathon Courses in the U.S.

Check out these races to run a faster marathon


Updated June 09, 2014

Some people choose marathons for the scenery or the race perks, while others simply want a marathon with a course that's relatively flat and conditions that are usually favorable. Those who are trying to qualify for the Boston Marathon seek out fast marathon courses. If you're one of those people who wants to set a marathon PR or run a fast time for your first marathon, check out these U.S. marathons that are known for being fast.

Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon

Where: Cleveland, Ohio
Why run it: The Rite Aid Cleveland Half Marathon course is relatively flat, and it's not boring. The marathon route goes past the Cleveland Browns Stadium, Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, and Lake Erie. The race is held in mid-May, so you won't have to worry about running in the sweltering heat.

Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon

Where: Pocono Mountains, Penn.
Why run it: Don't let the word "mountain" in the marathon's name steer you away, because this race happens to be one of the fastest marathon courses in the country. How? The course begins at roughly 1946 feet above sea level -- the highest point on the 26.2-mile route. From there, it's smooth sailing down the mountain, where you'll finish at an elevation of 400 feet. The marathon is held every May when trees and flowers are starting to bloom, making this course scenic.

Newport Marathon

Where: Newport, OR
Why run it: The Newport Marathon starts about 60 feet above sea level and has few gently rolling hills through a residential neighborhood. The steepest hill you'll encounter is 40 feet at mile four. The flat marathon route hugs the Yaquina Bay for much of the race, providing you with stunning views of the water. Make sure you register early -- the Newport Marathon limits the number of entries in an effort to keep the race more intimate and fun. Although the marathon is in June, it's been known to sell out as early as mid-March.

Grandma's Marathon

Where: Duluth, Minn.
Why run it: Grandma's Marathon is ideal for first time participants as the terrain is relatively flat with some gently rolling hills and a larger incline just before mile 22. The race is in June, but because it's in Minnesota, the weather is usually cool.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Where: Chicago, Ill.
Why run it: Chicago is a flat, fast marathon, so it's a great one to do if you've never run a marathon or you're trying to run your fastest time ever. In addition to its speed, the course offers a scenic tour of Chicago as it weaves through numerous diverse neighborhoods and dozens of local and historic landmarks. You'll see all that is great about the city of Chicago, while being supported by tons of screaming fans.

Via Marathon

Where:  Allentown, Pa.
Why run it:  With a net descent course designed by Runner's World's Bart Yasso, the Via Marathon is one of the fastest marathons in the U.S.  The race is scenic, shady, well-marked, and not crowded, making it a great course to PR on.


Steamtown Marathon

Where: Scranton, Penn.
Why run it: Featuring a 955' net elevation drop, Runner's World has called this race "One of the nation's 10 fastest marathons." You'll really blow off some steam on this course -- this marathon is said to be one of the best places to qualify for the Boston Marathon. In fact, in 2006, 28 percent of all runners qualified for the Boston Marathon. The race is held every October, when temperatures are relatively cool and the fall foliage is beginning to peak.

Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon

Where: Albany, N.Y.
Why run it: Running Times magazine calls the Mohawk-Hudson River Marathon one of the fastest marathon routes in the country. Run in early October, this very flat marathon is also very scenic. The course generally follows the Mohawk River, including 13 miles of paved bike trails, then proceeds to the Hudson River, utilizing 5 miles of bike trails. There is a net elevation loss of 370 feet -- there's just one uphill between miles 12 and 13. The race is limited to 800 participants, which helps runners avoid getting slowed down by crowds.

Wineglass Marathon

Where: Corning, N.Y.
Why run it: Held every October in beautiful upstate New York, the Wineglass Marathon yields one of the highest percentages of runners qualifying for the Boston Marathon. The course is flat, except for a few small hills and provides you with gorgeous views of the fall foliage, as well as New York's countryside. The race starts at about 1050 feet above sea level, finishing 26.2 miles later at an elevation of roughly 940 feet.

Bay State Marathon

Where: Lowell, Mass.
Why run it: Organizers of Bay State Marathon like to say that "the bridge to Boston runs through Lowell." Indeed, every year, about one-third of the race participants run a Boston Marathon qualifying time. Much of the course runs along the beautiful Merrimack River. The marathon is held in mid-October of each year, when running temperatures are ideal. It's limited to 2,000 runners and sells out quickly, so be sure to sign up early.

Philadelphia Marathon

Where: Philadelphia, Penn.
Why run it: If you're looking for a fast big city marathon experience, but don't want to deal with the crowds, Philadelphia may be a good option for you. The mostly flat course and almost guaranteed late November cool temperatures make a good combination for fast race times.

California International Marathon

Where: Sacramento, Calif
Why run it: The California International Marathon is hailed as "The Fastest Course in the West." The course starts at 366 feet above sea level and finishes at the State Capitol at an elevation of 26 feet. This marathon is held in early December of each year, when average daytime temperatures are in the mid-50s, allowing for comfortable running conditions. The race is only open to 7,000 runners, so make sure to register before it fills up.
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