Fast Marathon Courses in the U.S.

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.

A1A Marathon

Runners in sun
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Where: Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
When:  February 18, 2018
Why run it:  If you want a fast course but don't like downhill running, the flat and scenic A1A Marathon might be the one for you. You'll feel the ocean breezes and see the palm trees as you run along one of the most famous roads in America. The race features plenty of on-course entertainment, a beach-themed finisher medal, and a post-race beach party with food, beverages, beer, and live music.

Phoenix Marathon

runners at sunrise
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Where: Mesa, Ariz.
When:  February 24, 2018
Why run it:  The Phoenix Marathon is a fast net downhill, point-to-point course which drops nearly 1000 feet from start to finish. The last 10K of the race is almost completely downhill. The course and favorable running weather make this a favorite race among those seeking a PR or BQ.

Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon


Where: Cleveland, Ohio
When:  May 21, 2017
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

Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon

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Where: Pocono Mountains, Penn.
When:  May 21, 2017
Why run it: Don't let the word "mountain" in the marathon's name steer you away, because the Pocono Mountain Run for the Red Marathon 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.

Mountains 2 Beach Marathon

Where: Ventura, Calif
When:  May 28, 2017
Why run it: The Mountains 2 Beach Marathon is one of the fastest marathon courses in the United States. This point to point race winds through the Ventura River Valley as it makes its way to the beautiful beaches of Ventura. Runners will love that 18 of the first 20 miles have a net down hill of over 700 feet, which is prime to make you faster, but not hurt the knees.  After a six mile pancake flat tour of Ventura, runners and their families are treated to a finish line party only steps away from the surf and the shops and restaurants of Historic Downtown Ventura.

Newport Marathon


Where: Newport, OR
When:  June 3, 2017
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.

Grandma's Marathon


Where: Duluth, Minn.
When:  June 17, 2017
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.

Via Marathon

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Where:  Allentown, Pa.
When:  September 10, 2017
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. In 2014, it had the third fastest (after Boston and Bay State) median marathon time (3:54:42) in the U.S., according to Running USA.The race is scenic, shady, well-marked, and not crowded, making it a great course to PR on. 

St. George Marathon

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Where: St. George, Utah
When:  October 7, 2017
Why run it:  A popular choice for those seeking a fast fall marathon, the St. George Marathon is a net downhill, point-to-point course that starts about a mile up in the Pine Valley Mountains and descends 2600 feet to the finish. Although the course drops nearly a half mile in elevation from start to finish, it does have a few uphills along the course.

Wineglass Marathon

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Where: Corning, N.Y.
When:  October 1, 2017
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.

Bank of America Chicago Marathon

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Where: Chicago, Ill.
When:  October 8, 2017
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. 

Steamtown Marathon

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Where: Scranton, Penn.
When:  October 8, 2017
Why run it: Featuring a 955' net elevation drop, Runner's World has called the Steamtown Marathon "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

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Where: Albany, N.Y.
When:  October 8, 2017
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.

Baystate Marathon


Where: Lowell, Mass.
When:  October 22, 2017
Why run it: Organizers of the Baystate 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. In 2014, the Baystate Marathon had the second fastest (after Boston) median marathon time (3:53:05) in the U.S., according to Running USA. 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.

Canyon City Marathon

Running downhill
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Where: Azusa, CA, Calif
When:  November 4, 2017
Why run it:  The Canyon City Marathon features a very small field (only 624 finishers in 2014), so you don't have to worry about the crowds. But you'll need to practice your downhill running The marathon course drops 5,200 feet from the start (at 5800' above sea level) to the finish (at 600' above sea level). Along the way, you'll be treated to beautiful scenery as you travel through the forests and canyons of the Angeles National Forest to the foothills of Azusa.

Philadelphia Marathon

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Where: Philadelphia, Penn.
When: November 19, 2017
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 3, 2017
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.