Beginner-Friendly Marathons in the U.S.

Running a marathon is no small feat and you should definitely give the decision a lot of thought. But once you decide you want to run 26.2 miles, your next most important question is: Which marathon should I do?

Most first-time marathoners want a race that offers a memorable experience and lots of crowd support. Of course, a relatively flat and beautiful course can't hurt either. Here are some excellent beginner-friendly marathons across the U.S.

Walt Disney Marathon

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When: January
Where: Orlando, Florida
Why do it: If you're a Disney fan or you're just looking for a unique marathon experience, the Walt Disney World Marathon is a must. The race kicks off with a pre-dawn fireworks display and then takes you through all four Walt Disney World theme parks starting at Epcot, continuing on to Magic Kingdom, Animal Kingdom and Hollywood Studios and then back to Epcot for an exhilarating finish. The flat course is very beginner-friendly and the Mickey Mouse shaped medal makes running 26.2 miles well worth the effort.

Asics Los Angeles Marathon

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Where: Los Angeles, CA
When: February
Why do it: With more than 25,000 runners, the LA marathon is a big city marathon, but still manages to maintain a small town, community feel with tons of support along the way.  The popular “Stadium to the Sea” course, starting at Dodger Stadium and finishing near the Santa Monica Pier, is one of the most scenic in the world, taking runners on a tour of Los Angeles past every major landmark. The race has been named “Best Big City Race” by Runner’s World.

Little Rock Marathon

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Where: Little Rock, Ark.
When:  March
Why run it:  With an 8-hour time limit, the Little Rock Marathon is very friendly for walkers and slower runners. The very spectator-friendly course feature some of the city's famous landmarks, plenty of entertaining and crowd support, and loads of southern hospitality. If you're into medals, the race boasts one of the largest finishers' medals of any marathon.

Flying Pig Marathon

When: May
Where: Cincinnati, Ohio
Why do it: One of the biggest marathons in the country, the Flying Pig Marathon always gets high marks from participants as a fun and well-organized race. The race course offers a diverse tour of some the best neighborhoods in the Cincinnati area, as it "flies" along the streets of Cincinnati, Covington, and Newport. Along the way, runners will find more than 25 support stations and lots of entertainment.

Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon


Where: Cleveland, Ohio
When: May
Why run it: The Rite Aid Cleveland 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.

People's United Bank Vermont City Marathon

Where: Burlington, VT
When: May
Why do it:  With its spectacular views and small size, the Vermont City Marathon is the perfect small-town, scenic marathon. Against the backdrop of the Adirondack mountains and beautiful Lake Champlain, participants run through the charming small town of Burlington. The course is very spectator-friendly, so it's easy for your supporters to see you several times on the course.

If you don't want to take on the entire marathon by yourself, you can form a relay team of two to five people. And if the thrill of completing a marathon isn't enough for you, maybe the free Ben & Jerry's ice cream and massages at the end will push you to the finish line.

Grandma's Marathon


Where: Duluth, Minn.
When:  June
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.

Wineglass Marathon

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Where: Corning, N.Y.
When:  October
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.

Portland Marathon

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Where: Portland, Ore.
When:  October
Why run it:  The Portland Marathon course stays open for 8 hours, so it’s perfect for slower runners and walkers. Race organizers are very proud of the race's motto: “All finishers are treated as winners!” ​Runner’s World has called the Portland Marathon “the best people’s marathon in the West” and for the past ten years has ranked it as one of the top marathons in the country. It also gets high marks for its thousands of volunteers, course entertainment, fantastic race swag, and beautiful course.

Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

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When: October
Where: Minneapolis/St.Paul, Minn.
Why do it: The Twin Cities Marathon lays claim to being the "Most Scenic Urban Marathon in America" and people who've run say that it's true. With a backdrop of spectacular fall foliage, the course takes runners through gorgeous neighborhoods, along the shoreline of the lake and on the banks of the Mississippi. Beginners and veterans alike appreciate the 300,000 spectators along the course and beer at the finish line.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

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Where: Chicago, Ill.
When:  October
Why run it: The Chicago Marathon 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. 

Detroit Free Press / Talmer Bank Marathon

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When: October
Where: Detroit, Mich.
Why do it: As a runner in the Detroit Marathon, you'll cross the U.S./Canadian border twice (you actually need to show a passport or documentation at race packet pick-up!). The fast, spectator-friendly course takes you through historic neighborhoods and the only underwater international mile in the world. First-time marathoners have an added incentive to choose this race: All first-time runners receive a special green number. Detroit knows and loves its "greenies" and gives them added support needed to cross the finish line.

Marine Corps Marathon

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When: October
Where: Washington, D.C.
Why do it: Oprah famously ran the Marine Corps Marathon in 1994 and it's been a popular race for first-time marathoners ever since. It's often called the "People's Marathon" because it doesn't offer a huge purse for top finishers, despite its large size. As a result, it attracts lots of recreational runners who are rewarded with a well-organized race and a scenic course. You'll see plenty of the D.C.'s landmarks and monuments, and be supported by plenty of spectators and Marines along the way.

Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon

When: November
Where: Las Vegas, Nevada
Why do it: The Rock 'n' Roll Las Vegas Marathon promises all the fun and excitement of Vegas, without the risk. The race course will feature live bands, cheerleaders and themed water stations to entertain participants in true Las Vegas style. The race starts at night, so runners run under the neon lights on the strip.

Philadelphia Marathon

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Where: Philadelphia, Penn.
When: November
Why run it: If you're looking for a fast big city marathon experience, but don't want to deal with the crowds, the Philadelphia Marathon 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
When:  December
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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