Tuesday, 25 October 2011

International road marathon comparison - M-Z

This is the second part of my marathon comparison posting covering marathons M-Z that I've run and so it's just for ones I can write about first-hand. Part one is here.

After each description I show my estimate of how many minutes to add on to your perfect time due to the course/conditions for a three hour marathoner to give a comparison. Like this: ADD X MINUTES

Marrakech Marathon, Morocco (January) - Maybe not the most effective organization but it's a great city to visit and weather will tend to be at least comfortable, but possibly hot. The course is mainly outside the old town with the souks and windy little side-streets so has some desert-like views but it's all on flat roads so is very fast if the heat stays low. ADD 2 MINUTES

Napa Valley Marathon, California, USA (March) - Scenic point-to-point run through the Napa wine region with your weight in wine as a prize if you win (they're smart - the winner is unlikely to be big). The course rolls slightly but is quick in general with comfortable, if potentially wet, conditions. ADD 1 MINUTE

New Forest Marathon, England (September) - A scenic run through this forest in the south of England on roads with very small trail sections. Some gentle rolling paths and wind can slow the pace slightly but generally a relaxed and enjoyable smaller race. ADD 3 MINUTES

New York City Marathon, New York, USA (November) - The world's biggest marathon with multiple start areas and routes that stay separate until several miles into the course. This one has to be on every marathoner's to do list despite the fact it's fairly tough due to the bridges acting as nasty hills. If you want to run fast here then you need to qualify to be at the front but the times required are tightening from 2012 due to the popularity of the race (for a senior man it will be 2:45, with times dropping for masters' age groups). It's a fun race with a chance to see plenty of NYC, much of which you might not need to really see, so this is really about the experience and it isn't cheap (I can't think of a more expensive entry fee for a road marathon). Don't expect to be running in those early miles or where the starts merge later on unless you're very near the front. ADD 3 MINUTES (much more if not in the front corrals)

Newport Marathon, Oregon, USA (June) - An ideal race to go for a time plus some scenic views of the sea, a large bridge and along a river in the beautiful Oregon coast. Small enough that everyone can run immediately but fast and flat enough to let people nail the race, especially since the weather tends to be ideal for running. Only remotely difficult bit is a tiny hill in the first few miles, unless you decide to do the oyster challenge and eat as many oysters as you can as you go past the oyster farm on the way out and heading back (current record 80 oyster shooters).  ADD 0.5 MINUTES

Night of Flanders Marathon, Belgium (June) - The marathon isn't the main event here as it's more focused on the 100k which has previously been the 100k World Cup race. But the courses are the same and the 100k just includes more loops through the countryside and small Flemish villages. The novelty here is that it starts in the evening and so some of the marathon is in the dark while most of the 100k is. Flat, slightly windy and with each lap going past weekend revelers in bars (who seem to be oblivious to the race). ADD 2 MINUTES

Oakland Marathon, California, USA (March) - Oakland doesn't have a great reputation and has very high crime rates, even though it's just across the Bay from San Francisco and near much less dangerous places. The marathon starts with a gradual then steeper climb up to Piedmont, which is the rich part of town and takes an effort. Then after 10 miles there's downhill into Oakland proper and flat, speedy roads. The front-runners spread out so if you go significantly under 3h pace then you'll run though much of the dodgy part of Oakland solo. So each time you see a cop blocking a road for the race, you'll be happy. This shouldn't be an issue for most people but I felt unsafe running along (having run through ghettos in Africa and several third world countries). ADD 3 MINUTES

Oslo Marathon, Norway (September) - A course that mainly goes along the bay in one of the richest and most expensive countries in the world. A chance to see Viking ships but if you want to do a Scandinavian marathon then Stockholm is prettier and more fun, not that this is a bad race at all. ADD 1 MINUTE

Paris Marathon, France (April) - Starting along the Champs-Elysees by the Arc de Triomphe so that it's a very wide start allowing the field to spread out on the very gentle downhill. Then you get the chance to see most of Paris' sights, two very French parks and a finish back at the Arc de Triomphe. Fast course, beautiful course and it includes a trip to Paris - highly recommended. ADD 1 MINUTE

Portland Marathon, Oregon, USA (October) - Although Portland is a very green city in every way, this course shows less pretty parts of town and has a big bridge crossing around 16 miles. A relaxed atmosphere and not too large a field, plus a focus on making the race good for beginners and be female-friendly means this is a chilled race. People aren't fighting for position at the start like at many races. It'll probably rain and could be cold and windy so this isn't a super-fast course but is good as a first race or if you want to avoid the over-competitiveness you get at many races (particularly near the front). ADD 3 MINUTES

Prague Marathon, Czech Republic (May) - As my first marathon, this feels particularly special to me and Prague is always a great city to visit, particularly the ancient old town where the race starts and finishes. The course has been improved slightly since I ran it but still involves some running on boring roads away from the center. Fast, although some people may not like the flat cobbles near the start and finish. ADD 1 MINUTE

Quebec City Marathon, Canada (August) - Not many marathons in August but this is a fun one that includes a chance to see a large part of the city along the water then finish at the bottom of the old town. Easy first half including some bike paths then there's a steep climb up to a big bridge halfway through and a prevailing headwind to the finish which can really slow everyone down. ADD 4 MINUTES

Reykjavik Marathon, Iceland (August) - Iceland is an interesting place to visit and the race coincides with their summer festival so the locals do the two things they're famed for - drinking heavily and being promiscuous (the latter is just what I've heard). The course is mainly along the Atlantic coastline and typically is windy, plus even August is generally cold. So even though this course isn't fast, it's the road marathon I've done the most and somehow led to four PBs in a row. But beware that if you run faster than 3h pace you'll be on your own for most of the time. ADD 2 MINUTES

Robin Hood Marathon, England (September) - This race in Robin Hood's locality in Nottingham follows the half marathon route, which is quite hilly, then heads off around man-made rowing lakes where there can be headwinds. A medium-sized marathon where a Brit is almost guaranteed to bump into a runner he or she knows. ADD 2 MINUTES

Rome Marathon, Italy (March) - This is one of the best road marathons out there and even has a quick course. Undoubtedly the most impressive city marathon course given you run past so many world famous sights (unlike, say, London which avoids most tourist areas). Starting and finishing at the Colosseum then including the Vatican, Roman Forum and everything else you'd want to include on a trip there. Some cobbles but they're flattened and shouldn't be an issue for 99% of people. Do this race and fit in a longer trip to Italy if you can. ADD 1 MINUTE

Salt Lake City Marathon, Utah, USA (April) - A net downhill, but starting at almost 5,000ft which takes a tiny toll on sea-level dwellers. The start is around dawn with the views of the mountains surrounding the city just starting to be lit with purples and blues, so that distracts you at first before some rolling hills. The half starts at the same point then splits off a few miles in before joining back up near the end. Some freeway running but generally a decent course for views. ADD 3 MINUTES

San Francisco Marathon, California, USA (July) - Even though its at sea-level with mild weather, this is probably the hardest city marathon course I've seen given the significant hills (ok, trail runners, it's flat in mountain terms). Starting pre-dawn means cold and probably misty conditions but the main draw is the chance to run over the Golden Gate Bridge on an out and back. I loved the course despite the fact it slowed me down a lot. Great excuse to visit a cool city too. ADD 4 MINUTES

Santa Rosa Marathon, California, USA (August) - This small town race in wine country is very fast, despite the short sections of graveled trail. Basically a two-lap course along a river with a small field and so an ideal course to go for a PB if you don't mind potentially running alone. ADD 1 MINUTE

Seattle Marathon, Washington, USA (November) - One of my favorite marathons and a good reason to go to Seattle just after Thanksgiving. Not a fast course but lots of running by the water before coming back inland to the finish, which includes some sharp hills. Another race run concurrently with the half marathon, but the half takes a short-cut so marathoners pop out into the back of the pack half runners, which can be really motivating given the mutual support runners provide to each other. ADD 3 MINUTES

Shakespeare Marathon, England (April) - A marathon in Shakespeare's base of Stratford-Upon-Avon which rolls through country lanes for two laps. Usually very close to the London marathon so it tends to include people unable to get a spot there. An ideal way to run through some gentle English countryside without doing a trail race. ADD 3 MINUTES

Silicon Valley Marathon, California, USA (October) - Out and back from San Jose to Los Gatos along a canal for most of the course. The first half is gradually uphill then the return leg is fairly easy and the parks and greenery is better than you usually see in the area (I used to live there). ADD 2 MINUTES

Stockholm Marathon, Sweden (May/June) - Another of my favorites, this involves two slightly different laps across the islands of Stockholm with the only hard part being the double crossing of the long bridge back to the main city. It's scenic, involves visiting a great (if expensive) city, and usually has really pleasant weather although has been too hot a few times.  ADD 2 MINUTES

Tri Cities Marathon, Washington, USA (October) - A small race through all three of the cities that make up the Tri Cities, along the Colombia River. Completely flat except the four river crossings but these hardly affect your speed, although it can be windy so that's the only risk. Great for a PB attempt, but this may involve running alone given the small field. ADD 0.5 MINUTES

Valencia Marathon, Spain (November) - This race used to be in February and filled a gap in the calendar nicely but has since moved to November. A surprisingly good-looking city with some interesting modern architecture which you see along the route. It's also a well-designed course that is completely flat and easy. ADD 0 MINUTES 

Vilnius Marathon, Lithuania (September) - One of the things I love about running is that way it takes me places I wouldn't ever think of going otherwise. Lithuania is one of those places and it's a beautiful small city with plenty of Gothic architecture, windy little streets and, I found, rain. The course varies from old city streets to bike paths through woods plus it's not got any obvious difficulties. ADD 1 MINUTE

Warsaw Marathon, Poland (September) - As with Vilnius, I probably wouldn't have visited this historic city if it hadn't been for the marathon. It's a larger race but not as interesting since it includes some Eastern Bloc-style views of concrete faceless buildings and boring main roads as well as some of the old town. ADD 2 MINUTES

Zurich Marathon, Switzerland (April) - I usually prefer to run in the mountains when in Switzerland, for obvious reasons, but this marathon is executed with typical Swiss efficiency. Plus it has great views the whole way since most of it is out and back along Lake Zurich with the mountains adding a perfect backdrop. The course does have some gentle rolling sections but is still fast. If you miss out on London, this is a more than adequate alternative. ADD 2 MINUTES

I'll try to update this with additional marathons when I run more of them, but for now that's been fun to remember some fantastic trips in the past few years. Hope you find it interesting and useful.


  1. This is awesome, Ian. What a great resource!

  2. Thought it would be fun to select a marathon from your list and run it next year. So I signed in for Marathon de Paris 2012 today. Paris won because I've never done it before, I've started to study French recently, and it was "highly recommended" by you. Thanks!

  3. What a sweet list! thanks for sharing.

    Also nice to see you have done some marathons in Eastern Europe, too. If you have your way around again and want to try a new one in a less know area, there is a nice mid-size marathon in Kosice, Slovakia, where I am from originally. They say it's the oldest one in Europe and although it is two laps around the city, which might not be enticing for every one, it is well run and the weather (beginning of October) is usually just right.

  4. Hi, Ian.

    I've never come across a blog that evaluates the many marathons in the world, so yours is a very nice find! Thanks a lot! My wife just did the Portland Marathon (her debut marathon), so I'm glad to know we picked the right one for her. You haven't tried the Eugene Marathon? I did, and you should too, since you live in Oregon. Try the Hong Kong Marathon also. That one is tough - 3 bridges, and 2 tunnels, and several flyovers/highways.


  5. Great posts! Excellent run down of so many International marathons!! I've bookmarked them on my blog. :-)