If you’re looking to set a PR in the marathon, you’re going to want to choose to run one of the fastest marathons in the world so that you have the best chance possible.
There are a variety of different factors to consider when choosing a “fast” marathon, and we have taken on the task of putting together that list for you!
So, what are the fastest marathon courses in the world, and what are the fastest marathons in the US?
Keep reading to find out!
In this guide, we will cover the following:
- What Are the Fastest Marathons In the World?
- What Are the Fastest Marathons In the US?
Let’s dive in!
What Are the Fastest Marathons In the World?
It is somewhat difficult to pinpoint exactly which are the fastest marathon courses in the world. There are various factors that influence whether a marathon race course is considered “fast“ or not.
The most significant factor is the terrain itself, or the course profile, which refers to how flat versus how hilly the marathon course is.
As can be surmised, the fastest marathons in the world tend to be flat courses.
Every runner knows that running uphill takes significantly more energy, and even if you are rewarded on the other side of the hill with an equally long downhill, the decrease in pace that you can achieve in the downhill typically doesn’t compensate for the added time it takes and the extra effort that has to be exerted when running uphill.For this reason, world record marathon races and the fastest marathon courses in the world tend to be quite flat rather than rolling routes.
Theoretically, a downhill marathon course would likely be the fastest marathon course in the world because running downhill takes less energy since the body is working with the force of gravity.
For this reason, in order to be a “world record legal“ marathon race course, there can only be a certain amount of net downhill in the marathon course from the start to finish.
Another complicating factor when trying to determine the fastest marathon in the world is the prestige or quality of the elite field the marathon draws.
In most cases, the lists of the fastest marathons are generated by looking at world record marathon performances and the winning time of the marathon, and perhaps the average finish time.
While there is merit to evaluating these factors when trying to determine the fastest marathons in the world, solely looking at these criteria without a critical item is not without its faults.
For example, the Berlin Marathon, Chicago Marathon, and London Marathon are undeniably fast race courses. All of these marathons are pretty flat, which inherently makes them fast.
However, are they the fastest marathons in the world?
It would be pretty easy to say that the Berlin Marathon is the fastest marathon in the world. After all, the last eight world record marathon times for men have been set at the Berlin marathon.
The London Marathon is also a notoriously fast marathon course. It is quite flat and draws an incredible elite field.
The women’s marathon world record was set at the London Marathon by Paula Radcliffe from Great Britain in 2003. This blazing time stood for 16 years before the record went back to the Chicago Marathon course with Kenyan runner Brigid Kosgei in 2019.
However, the Berlin Marathon, as well as the London marathon and Chicago Marathon, are all a part of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors.
As such, there is a tremendous amount of prestige and a huge prize purse associated with running these marathons, which means that they draw the best elite fields.
Thus, the quality or ability of the runners who are entered in the race, at least in terms of the elite field, tends to be much higher than your average marathon.
This can somewhat skew the average finish time as well as the top finish time for men and women, making these race courses look even faster than they might be.
All of this is to say that it is not possible to make a definitive ranking of the world’s fastest marathon courses because there are a variety of factors that can influence what makes a race fast.
Even just the presence of a strong elite field will help the top runners get an even better time due to plenty of competition upfront to push them.
In this same way, a large city marathon will have so many runners along the course at your pace, enabling you to work with others throughout the duration of the marathon and get a better time.
Some marathons also require qualifying to enter.
If there is a qualifying time, the average finish time will likely be faster, even if the race course is not inherently all that fast.
A good example of this is the Boston Marathon.
The Boston Marathon is a pretty hilly course, but because you have to qualify to run (save for a much smaller proportion of charity slots), the average Boston marathon finish time is faster than something like the average Honolulu Marathon finish time since there is not even a cut-off time for that marathon.
Therefore, it draws much slower marathon runners and even walkers.
Although not a definitive list, here are some of the fastest marathons in the world:
- Berlin Marathon
- Chicago Marathon
- London Marathon
- Dubai Marathon
- Valencia Marathon
- Tokyo Marathon
- Milano Marathon
- Frankfurt Marathon
What Are the Fastest Marathons In the US?
If you’re looking for the fastest marathons in the US that don’t require a rigorous qualifying or registration process (such as the Chicago Marathon), consider:
#1: Baystate Marathon
The Baystate Marathon is a super popular race for runners looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon. Also held in Massachusetts, this marathon typically sees at least 25 percent of the field hitting qualifying times for the Boston Marathon.
The course is relatively flat and has a double-loop design, which promotes easier pacing.
#2: Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon
When looking at the average finish time, the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon ranks up there for one of the fastest marathons in the US. The average finish time is 3:49:56, which is quite a bit faster than the average marathon finish time across all ages and genders worldwide.
Held in September every year in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon was actually designed by Bart Yasso, Chief Running Officer at Runner’s World.
The marathon course is not only beautiful, winding its way through the picturesque Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, but it is also an extremely fast marathon course. It is a point-to-point route with a net downhill of 240 feet.
If you are looking for a great marathon course for a PR, this is a great option.
Coupled with the fact that the race is usually held in optimal weather conditions for fast running and the course has plenty of shade, the Via Marathon draws speedy runners who are looking to qualify for the Boston Marathon or otherwise run a personal best time.
#3: Mountains2Beach Marathon
The Mountains2Beach Marathon is one of the more scenic ways to enjoy an incredibly fast marathon course. This fast marathon route begins in the hills at Ojai, California. Runners enjoy more than 10 miles of gradual downhill ending near the surf at Ventura Promenade.
This is one of the fastest marathon race courses in the world, with a net downhill of 700 feet.
Although you can find plenty of other marathon courses that have a more significant drop in elevation from start to finish, some net downhill marathon courses actually have too much downhill, or the downhill is so steep that it can trash your quads and lead to a slower time.
The Mountains2Beach Marathon has a nice gradual decline over most of the course profile.
In this way, it’s like running with the wind at your back the entire way without feeling like you were actually pounding downhill and crashing your knees the whole race. The average time of this fast marathon course is 3:52:51.
The race is also held in May, just before the temperatures heat up, so you should be pretty comfortable running at a fast pace.
Unlike many of the other fastest marathons in the world on this list, the Mountains2Beach Marathon is pretty sparsely populated in terms of crowd support along the route, so if you derive your energy for running fast from the enthusiasm of throngs of cheering spectators, this might not be the marathon for you.
Some of the other fastest marathons in the US include:
- REVEL Mt. Charleston Marathon, Las Vegas, NV
- Light At the End of the Tunnel Marathon, North Bend, WA
- Jack and Jill’s Downhill Marathon, North Bend, WA
- Steamtown Marathon, Scranton, PA
What marathon course did you set your PR on? Was it one of the fastest marathon courses in the world? Let us know!
If you aren’t too worried about a PR but are looking for a scenic route, check out our list of The 11 Most Beautiful Marathons In The World.