Endurance running is a uniquely human activity. No other creature on the planet can reach the same limits of human endurance running without seriously compromising its health. That said, we've created a social and competitive event to test these limits: the marathon. If you're a seasoned runner, you might have run or are currently training to run in a marathon. Training for a marathon requires a strong commitment to the sport and hours of running on treadmills or on the street.
All of the marathons on this list are currently Gold Label events according to the International Association of Athletics Federations, an indicator of excellence. Six of them are World Marathon Majors races: Berlin, Boston, Chicago, London, New York City and Tokyo. Athletes that win at least one of the World Marathon Majors races per year during a two-year period qualify for a prize totaling one million dollars. Let's look at some of the best events as we go down the list of the greatest marathons in the world.
The Beijing International Marathon is certainly a remarkable sight. The race starts at historic Tiananmen Square and winds through the streets of the capital of the People's Republic of China. This course finishes at the National Olympic Sports Centre stadium, the site of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics. The Beijing Marathon started in 1981.
The Berlin Marathon is one of six World Marathon Majors races. Berlin is arguably one of the most popular races in the world and is home to the current men's world record time of 2:03:23 hours. Wilson Kipsang of Kenya set this record on September 29, 2013. The Berlin Marathon began in 1974.
The Boston Marathon is the oldest and most respected annual marathon in the United States. For over 115 years, this marathon has helped inspire similar events around the world. The course attracts over 500,000 onlookers each year. The Boston Marathon is legendary for requiring strict qualifying times as a condition of participation.
Unlike most marathons, which generally travel to a distant location, the Chicago Marathon follows a loop course. Thusly, the race begins and ends in Grant Park. The Chicago marathon originally began in 1905 but experienced a hiatus between the 1920s and 1977, when the race resumed annual competitions. Starting in 2001, the Chicago Marathon has encouraged runners to run on behalf of charity organizations, offering a later registration deadline to runners who choose to do so.
Dubai, with its glimmering skyscrapers, is the jewel of the Middle East. With such a reputation, it is only natural that the city should have an outstanding marathon. The Dubai Marathon is one of the fastest endurance races in the world. Though it has yet to claim any world records, there's a good chance that this race will see a world record in the near future. The 2008 Dubai Marathon also offered the biggest cash prize of any single marathon: one million dollars to any person who breaks a world record on the course, though this did not happen.
The Gold Coast Marathon occurs every July in Gold Coast, Australia, on the eastern coast of the continent. This event is the premier marathon in Australia and the only race on our list that lies in the southern hemisphere. The greatest appeal of the Gold Coast Marathon is a straight coastal route on nearly flat terrain. The race begins and ends near the middle of the route and doubles back on itself at the southern and northern ends. This means you'll run the same stretch of road twice during the event.
In general, the London Marathon follows a basic route along the River Thames. However, this race has a multitude of twists and turns, especially between the miles 14 and 21. The London Marathon's annual contest began in 1981, quickly becoming a favorite among runners. On April 13, 2003, Paula Radcliffe set the current women's world record of 2:15:25 hours in London, beating the previous world record, which she also set, by nearly two full minutes.
New York City
There are few places in the world with as much personality as the Big Apple. The city itself defines urban culture in every way. The New York City Marathon, which began in 1970, allows you to take in the culture of its five boroughs as you run from Staten Island through Brooklyn, Queens and the Bronx before finishing in Manhattan's famous Central Park. This marathon is the largest in the world and attracts nearly 50,000 runners in its most recent races.
Prague is one of the most beautiful cities in Europe with a colorful history that reaches back over a thousand years. Each May, starting in 1995, the city hosts the Prague International Marathon to highlight its beauty and rich history. Though the route varies each year, it typically involves a variety of terrain as it winds through the hills of the city.
The Tokyo Marathon in its current format has only been around since 2007. This makes the Tokyo Marathon the youngest race on our list. Each year the race is held in February, often accompanied by rain. The race follows a unique cross- or x-shaped route that goes through the city. This marathon has a registration cap of around 30,000 runners, though the marathon sometimes gets ten times as many applicants.
Though this list represents the best marathons in the world, it's only a small selection out of hundreds of events. No matter where you live, there's a good chance that there's a marathon in your area. Make no mistake; marathons are 26.2 miles of pure athletic persistence. You should seriously consider whether you're ready before you sign up or begin training. Nevertheless, a marathon is a rewarding experience for people of all ages, runners and spectators alike, especially if you ever get the chance to go to one of the events on this list.