The World Marathon Majors Series: Meet The Big 6 Marathon Races


There are countless potential running goals that may inspire a runner and help them have the drive to push themselves mile after mile, day after day.

For many runners, their bucket list running goal may be to finish a marathon, or maybe even a specific one, such as the notoriously gorgeous Big Sur Marathon on the California coast or the world-famous Boston Marathon.

Then, there are runners who dream a little bigger and want to accomplish a super impressive feat—finishing all six Abbott World Marathon Majors, an honor that earns triumphant finishers a “Six Star Medal.”

With a lineup of the Tokyo, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, and New York City Marathons, the Abbott World Marathon Majors represents some of the best marathons in the world, and finishing all six Marathon Majors is definitely a notable accomplishment.

In this article, we will shine a little spotlight on each of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors. 

Whether you hope to eventually run one or you aspire to become a six-star finisher one day, let the storied histories and unparalleled organization of these top-tier marathons inspire you and push you on your running journey to your best race experience.

We will cover: 

  • What Are the Abbott World Marathon Majors?
  • How Does a Marathon Become a World Marathon Major?
  • When Is Each World Major Marathon Held?
  • Which Is the Hardest Marathon Major?
  • How to Run All Six Abbott World Marathon Majors
  • Qualifying for the Marathon Majors Races

Let’s dive in! 

Corrales full of people waiting to begin a marathon.

What Are the Abbott World Marathon Majors?

The Abbott World Marathon Majors, sometimes referred to as the “World Major Marathons,” are a group of six specific marathons around the world. 

The six Major Marathons, along with some notable characteristics, are shown in the table below: 

Marathon MajorEstimated SpectatorsLargest FieldMen’s RecordWomen’s RecordInaugural Running YearNotable Quality
Tokyo Marathon1,000,00035,4602:03:582:17:452007Most massive elite start of any marathon.
Boston Marathon500,00035,8682:03:022:19:591897The oldest marathon run annually every year
London Marathon750,00042,5492:02:372:17:011981One of the most highly watched marathons in the world.
Berlin Marathon1,000,00046,9832:01:092:18:111974The last eight men’s marathon world records have been set here.
Chicago Marathon1,700,00045,9322:03:452:14:041977Racecourse takes runners through 29 neighborhoods in the city.
New York City MarathonOver 1,000,00053,5202:05:062:22:311970The largest field, with the course that runs through all five boroughs of New York City.
The Boston skyline, one of the sites of a World Marathon Major.

How Does a Marathon Become a World Marathon Major?

It’s not easy for just any marathon to become an Abbott World Marathon Major.

There are strict criteria that must be met to gain status as a Marathon Major, down to minute details like the length of the tables at water stops and the number of cups on each table.

Satisfying the detailed criteria isn’t just a matter of jumping through hoops; it is meant to ensure that the Abbott World Marathon Majors are among the most highly-organized races in the world.

In this way, the Marathon Majors is said to be not only an opportunity for the fastest runners in the world to have a stage on which to compete with fellow elites but also for top race organizers to showcase their professionalism and perfection in the behind-the-scenes, along-the-race-course side of competitive running that is so often overlooked.


When Is Each World Major Marathon Held?

Like most well-established marathons, each of the marathons in the Marathon Majors is usually held on the same weekend every year. 

The dates for 2023 for each of the races, along with the typical scheduling for each, are as follows:

  • Tokyo: March 5, 2023, or the first Sunday in March of every year
  • Boston: April 17, 2023, or the third Monday in April of every year.
  • London: April 23, 2023, or the last Sunday in April of every year.
  • Berlin: September 24, 2023, or the last Sunday in September of every year.
  • Chicago: October 8, 2023, or the Sunday of Columbus Day weekend every year.
  • New York City: November 5, 2023, or the first Sunday in November of every year.
People running a marathon.

Which Is the Hardest Marathon Major?

Most runners want to know which is the hardest Marathon Majors race.

The majority of runners who have finished all six marathons say that the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon both have the hardest courses to run due to the hilliness of the course profile, while the Chicago Marathon and Berlin Marathon are notoriously flat and fast.

The last eight world records for the marathon for men have been set on the Berlin Marathon race course, largely indicative of how flat and fast the course is, as well as the level of competition the race draws.

However, in terms of the hardest race to get into, the picture looks a little different.

For international runners outside of the UK, the London marathon is absolutely the most difficult to get into because there are no qualifying standards; rather, international runners are relegated to taking their chances in the lottery.

While this might sound like a welcome relief to runners who typically struggle to meet qualifying standards, the odds of getting selected from the lottery as an international runner are usually in the upper single digits, so that’s not a comfort to most.

People running a marathon.

How to Run All Six Abbott World Marathon Majors

It’s not easy to earn a Six Star Medal and join the exclusive club of Six-Star World Marathon finishers.

Running six marathons in a career is a challenge in its own right; the marathon, with its 26.2-mile distance, is always a big test of one’s physical and mental fortitude, and many runners train for years before ever attempting a marathon, let alone six.

Given the relatively high risk of injuries that can occur during the training leading up to the marathon, even getting to the starting line healthy enough to run a marathon can be an accomplishment.

Then, there’s a myriad of issues that can go wrong during the race itself, relegating plenty of marathon starters to earn a disappointing DNF status.

Therefore, getting to the starting lines and across the finishing lines of six marathons is amazing.

A site of one of the World Marathon Majors.

Then, there are the logistical challenges of finishing all six Abbott World Marathon Majors, a major hurdle (or hurdles!) that can’t be overlooked.

Registering and scheduling the races is the biggest hurdle. 

It can take several years to gain entry into some or all of the World Marathon Majors unless you’re a speedy runner with no issue hitting your qualifying times.

Even then, there’s often a lag between when you qualify and when you can run the race, and with six marathons to complete, it will still take most people several years to finish all of the Marathon Majors.

Arranging the travel to the races can be difficult. The events span the globe, and as they are all huge marathons that draw a massive number of people traveling from out of the area, lodging is almost always sold out months in advance.

Companies like Marathon Tours & Travel help runners arrange entry and travel for each of the six races.

People running a marathon.

Qualifying for the Marathon Majors Races

Qualifying and registering for each of the six Abbott World Marathon Majors involves a somewhat different process. 

There are different qualification standards in terms of times you must hit based on your age group and gender, but there are also alternative paths to gain entry into the races if you do not meet the qualification standards.

For example, there are lottery slots, or you can sign up with a charity partner as long as you commit to meeting certain fundraising minimums.

Additionally, the aforementioned Marathon Tours & Travel not only coordinate all of the travel logistics for each race but also guarantees your entry.

You can learn more about qualifying and registering for each of the Abbott World Marathon Majors on the websites for each of the races, which can be found here.

If you feel inspired to run one or all of the world’s major marathons, check out some of our marathon training programs here. You can start preparing for your journey to become a six-star finisher.

Have you run any or all of the World Marathon Majors? Let us know!

People running a marathon.

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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