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Our Top 13 Bucket List Marathons

Looking for some marathon inspiration? Here are some of our editorial team's top picks.

As a certified running coach, I work with runners of all fitness levels, many of whom either train and race marathons regularly or have a bucket list goal of running one.

Interestingly, in either scenario, almost every marathon runner has at least one bucket list marathon they would love to run one day.

For some runners, this dream marathon will be a one-and-done deal, whereas other experienced runners who love the marathon distance aim to run at least one or even two marathons every year. 

These habitual marathon runners often have an ever-growing marathon bucket list of running events they would love to train for and race.

Because you are going to be dedicating 12 to 16 weeks or more to your marathon training plan as you build up to race day, it is extremely helpful to be registered for a marathon that truly excites you.

This is why running coaches strongly encourage first-time marathon runners or those who may struggle with consistency and motivation with their training plan to splurge and go for the bucket list marathon that they really want to run.

Even if it is a destination race that will involve some travel expenses and more logistics planning, having an enticing or exciting marathon at the end of your training plan can really help you through the long and challenging marathon build-up.

So, what are some of the best bucket list marathons? Keep reading for our picks!

Marathon runners.

What are the top bucket list marathons in the USA and Worldwide?

Although every runner will have their own personal preferences and dream marathon races on their goal marathon list, here are some of the Marathon Handbook team’s bucket list marathons:

#1-6: The Abbott World Marathon Majors

Many runners would love to cross the finish line at all six world marathon majors.

These are some of the world’s most popular marathons, including the Chicago Marathon, Boston Marathon, New York City Marathon, BMW Berlin Marathon, Tokyo Marathon, and London Marathon.

Our Senior Editor, Katelyn, who normally trains and races ultra-marathon events, says that her top bucket list marathon is the Boston Marathon.

Although she currently lives in Costa Rica and proudly represents Costa Rica with her ultramarathon running, Katelyn is originally from Newton, Massachusetts, one of the main towns along the Boston marathon course.

In fact, the infamous Heartbreak Hill and hilly parts that make the Boston Marathon a very tough big city race occur right in and around Newton.

Katelyn is training for a spring marathon to hopefully hit a Boston Marathon qualifying time so she can slide in under the cut-off time for her age group and run the 2025 Boston Marathon.

Finishing all six Abbott World Marathon Majors is an honor that earns triumphant finishers a “Six Star Medal.”1Majors, A. W. M. (n.d.). Home. Www.worldmarathonmajors.com. https://www.worldmarathonmajors.com/

‌However, getting to the finish line of these six big-city marathons usually takes several years due to how difficult it can be to qualify and get accepted into several of these races.

For example, the Boston Marathon qualifying times are notoriously hard to hit for even experienced marathoners, and the London Marathon is one of the hardest marathons in the world to get into in terms of the acceptance rate, especially for international runners.

But, as our founder Thomas Watson says, “One of the best things about running a marathon is that it gives you the opportunity to travel.”

Therefore, whether you’re an American who lives in the USA, a British runner from the UK, a runner from France, or hail from anywhere else in the world, picking these bucket list races will give you an opportunity to see several parts of the world on foot.

From running through Central Park and the various NYC boroughs to passing in front of Buckingham Palace, there are tons of fun reasons to run the majors.

Plus, you’ll have several years of working towards qualifying, marathon training, and getting from the starting line to the finish line of six of the largest marathons in the world.

All of these big-city races have some of the best organizers, aid stations, fast, flat courses, and Olympic and elite runners in the field.

Marathon medals.

#7: Beachy Head Marathon

Ben Gibbons, our running injury guru, has long had the Beachy Head Marathon on his bucket list. He says it is known for being a super tough course that offers picturesque scenery of the British coastline.

#8: Great Wall Marathon, Huangyaguan, China

For runners who are not looking for a flat, fast course for a PR but truly want to immerse themselves in another culture and take on one of the toughest marathons, the Great Wall Marathon in China is the perfect choice.

This exotic and challenging route requires ascending 5,164 steps of the Great Wall of China and then descending them to journey through rice fields and traditional villages along the route. 

If you love ancient history and want a truly beautiful but grueling marathon course, this is one of the most unique marathons to add to your bucket list races.

Personally, because I studied Chinese throughout high school and college, I have always had an affinity for the culture and have wanted to go to China for as long as I can remember.

What better excuse to quench my wanderlust than to explore one of the most iconic landmarks and wonders of the world with a full marathon.

Marathon runners.

#9: Big Sur International Marathon, California, USA

The Big Sur International Marathon is known for its sweeping ocean views and cliffside course and is often dubbed the “most beautiful marathon in the USA.”

The challenging course travels along the gorgeous Pacific Ocean coastline in Northern California, beginning among the giant Redwoods in Big Sur, California, and then meandering along the Pacific Coast Highway with ocean vistas most of the way.

I am currently following a marathon training plan designed by Hoka Naz Elite Coach Ben Rosario that will hopefully get me not only to the starting line but also triumphantly to the finish line of the 2024 Big Sur Marathon.

This has long been one of my bucket list marathons, and I am super excited to have the opportunity to work with another running coach, even though I am a running coach myself.

Coach Ben Rosario has me doing a lot of hill training since this scenic marathon has runners ascend five tough hills at the start of the route and climb another 13 hills near the finish line.

#10: Pikes Peak Marathon, Colorado, USA

The Pikes Peak Marathon is often considered the hardest marathon in the USA because the full marathon course involves climbing Pikes Peak Mountain in Colorado, which requires over 8,000 feet of vertical gain.

Plus, because the trail marathon course runs up and down this iconic Colorado mountain, you do 8,000 feet of climbing in a half-marathon distance!

The average gradient of the Pikes Peak Marathon Trail is 11%, and in addition to so much elevation change, runners reach a peak altitude of 14,115 feet!

In 2022, the average finish time was 7:26:45.

But for runners who love trail running and want to prepare for an ultramarathon, this is definitely one of the best marathons to add to their bucket list.

Just make sure to read our guide to altitude training before you start your marathon training plan for this tough trail race!

A trail runner.

#11: Honolulu Marathon, Honolulu, HI

With no cutoff time, the Honolulu Marathon is one of the best marathons in the USA for beginners or first-time marathon hopefuls who are stepping up from the half marathon distance to the full marathon. 

You can run, jog, run/walk, or even walk your way through while enjoying the beauty of the Big Island of Hawaii since you do not have to worry about crossing the finish line under a certain cutoff time.

This beginner-friendly marathon has roughly 20,000 finishers every year of all fitness levels, who get to enjoy sweeping ocean vistas and a run past top landmarks in Hawaii, such as the Iolani Palace, King Kamehameha Statue, Diamond Head, and Kalakaua Avenue.

#12: Walt Disney World Marathon, Orlando, Florida, USA

I recently had the opportunity to attend the Walt Disney World Marathon in Florida.

The course is super flat and fast, and the cutoff time is generous at seven hours, making it a great bucket-list marathon for first-time marathon runners.

Plus, tons of runners dress in costumes of their favorite Disney characters, so there’s a fun atmosphere as you run through the Disney World parks.

I didn’t run the full marathon, but another great aspect of this race weekend is a 5K, 10K, half marathon, and full marathon, each of which takes place on consecutive mornings.

There is even the popular Dopey Challenge, which involves running all four Disney races on back-to-back days.

Maybe this should be on my 2025 bucket list races…

Marathon runners.

#13: Marine Corps Marathon, Arlington, VA

One of the most popular marathons in the USA is the Marine Corps Marathon, held in October near the American capital city of Washington, DC.

The Marine Corps Marathon holds a deep meaning to those who have served the country or have loved ones who have been in the armed services, and there are plenty of historical views along the Potomac River and of Washington, D.C.

Ready to lace up those running shoes and get training?

Consider trying one of our free marathon training plans and join the Marathon Handbook Facebook group!

References

Photo of author
Amber Sayer is a Fitness, Nutrition, and Wellness Writer and Editor, as well as a NASM-Certified Nutrition Coach and UESCA-certified running, endurance nutrition, and triathlon coach. She holds two Masters Degrees—one in Exercise Science and one in Prosthetics and Orthotics. As a Certified Personal Trainer and running coach for 12 years, Amber enjoys staying active and helping others do so as well. In her free time, she likes running, cycling, cooking, and tackling any type of puzzle.

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