Since I am currently on 5 days of doctor ordered run rest, tomorrow is going to be a hard-core gym day. And since I can’t run I figured I would talk about running and semi-torture myself. I am brutal like that.
I was catching up on emails tonight and came across a guide to some of the best marathons in the U.S. According to Active.com they are as follows:
Best Rural Race: Napa Valley Marathon
You don’t need to be a pretentious snob with a lifetime subscription toWine Spectator to understand the appeal of Napa. The race is miles of pristine rolling countryside (mustard fields that will later be replaced with grapevines), with only the last mile in town. The fast course requires a Herculean effort between several municipalities, and has 1,300 volunteers for a 2,300-person race. Runners get a plethora of perks in return for their entry fees.
“I think the most important thing is we treat every runner like they’re the only one in the race,” says race co-director David Hill. www.napa-marathon.com.
Best Small-Town Race: Richmond, Virginia
Richmond is a smaller city that thinks big. Its marathon offers prize money and has many of the same features of Chicago or New York, but without the crowds. Instead, you’ll run by stately neighborhoods on tree-lined streets, albeit with a smaller audience.
“You get a lot more of the funky urban multicultural experience in Chicago,” says Meg Daniel of Kennesaw, Georgia, who has run both. “In Richmond you get a little bit of everything else: the stately old neighborhoods, the quiet Zen-like tranquility of the river, and the historical in-town setting.”
Plus, race directors entice marathoners with two dedicated “Junk Food” stops (miles 16 and 22), stocked with cookies, pretzels, Gummi Bears, soda and other sweets to keep runners on a highwww.richmondmarathon.com.
Best Big-City Race: New York City
The New York City Marathon is doing what the city has always done–embracing those from abroad. New York’s field is comprised of a stunning 12,000 international runners, and the town welcomes them with some of the largest marathon crowds going (two million or so). The runners tours all five boroughs of the largest city in the U.S., and is one of only two marathons to garner national television coverage, which is why “big” doesn’t really do it justice. Now that ING is ponying up one of the largest prize purses in marathoning, look out: New York’s only going to get bigger. www.ingnycmarathon.org.
Best Destination: Honolulu
Here’s some running therapy for you: Think December. Think white sand, warm temperatures, the sound of waves lapping against the shore. Good. Next, visualize running in shorts while your friends back home are trying to find ways to keep their extremities warm. Now think fireworks over a pre-dawn sky, torch-lit roadways, Japanese banners, costumes and drums. Picture a long, dramatic uphill that will suck the wind out of your lungs, followed by a view that has a similar effect. The Honolulu Marathon is one of the world’s greatest spectacles of running. If you’re up for scenery and a wild time, this is the place.www.honolulumarathon.org.
Best Chance for a PR: Chicago
There are some obvious reasons why those seeking to catch lightning in a water bottle invade Chicago. The crowds are enormous, and no matter how fast you are, there’s someone to run with. The course is flat, which means even pacing–the best route to a PR. But there are other explanations why people speed here. An underrated one is that runners can walk out of their hotels, across the block and up to the starting line in Chicago. In many other “fast” marathons, you sit on a bus for an hour or more, then anxiously kill time (outdoors) in a temporary village that is often as welcoming as Amityville. Chicago removes a great deal of the stress before a marathon by nature of its loop course, which means you run relaxed. And when you run relaxed, you run very, very fast.www.chicagomarathon.com.
Toughest Marathon: Pikes Peak (Colorado Springs)
A race that began as a challenge between smokers and non-smokers, Pikes Peak has enough standing between you and the finish line without chronic emphysema.
“The joy of running the event is really overwhelmed by the agony of it,” says Ron Ilgen, race director. “I was one of many who say while they’re running, I’ll never do this again.'”
But they just can’t stay away. Keith “Curly” McKenney of Georgia finished just four minutes before the cutoff. “Standing thereI could only think of how well we had all done, and how I never wanted to do that again.” This year, he’ll attempt “The Double”: the Pikes Peaks Ascent, Saturday, followed by the marathon (up AND down) on Sunday. If you think that’s brutal, try volunteering. Twenty-two garden hoses are hooked together to transport water to the last aid station. Then there’s the occasional snowstorm. It’s a world-class mountain race, but it’s still a mountain race. The point? Yes, you’re a badass if you run it, but know what you’re getting into before you decide to conquer Pikes Peak.www.pikespeakmarathon.org.
Most Charitable: Marine Corps (Washington, D.C.)
People can, and in fact are, raising money for charity at almost any marathon these days. Some have become destinations for charity groups; others are linked directly to organizations. Along those lines, Marine Corps staff have turned what used to be a sore spot for them (the difficulty of gaining entry) into a chance to do good: Raise money through one of their chosen charities and you receive a coveted race bib. So you can feel good about your race, even before the gun goes off.www.marinemarathon.com.
Most Legendary: Boston
The Boston Marathon has taken quite a beating recently–by the weather, by the press, by the inability of anyone not born in the Rift Valley to win the thing. Sure, it’s got some issues. Like the fact that the trip out to Hopkinton feels like a cross-country tour in your parents’ old station wagon, the one with vinyl seats and without air conditioning (“We’re on a pilgrimage to see a Moose!”). But this is still the granddaddy of them all–the one on every runner’s wish list, either to run in or to win. It’s a fabled course, steeped in history, and you feel its magnitude at the starting line. There’s just nothing like Boston. And until you’ve suffered through the journey like the rest of us, there’s a little piece of your running puzzle that’s missing. www.bostonmarathon.org.
Best New(er) Race: Baltimore
Baltimore, seemingly rife with orange cones and potholes, was not in the running for “Most Scenic Marathon” on our list. But it’s here because those in charge are determined to keep improving their race. Michael Shilling of New Jersey has run every Baltimore Marathon since it began in 2001.
“The beauty of this marathon lies in the fact that the race director and race management company listen to the runners,” he says. “They have changed the marathon every year based on runner feedback.”
That includes the course, which has been smoothed out since its inaugural year and starts and finishes at Baltimore’s coolest feature, the stadium area that houses both the Ravens and the Orioles. Note the plentiful pre-race restrooms, top-notch expo, swank race shirt (Under Armour is the main sponsor) and lots of spectators. www.thebaltimoremarathon.com.
Best Race at Altitude: Salt Lake City
Yes, the air is thin. Salt Lake City rests at around 4,500 feet. But the vociferous encouragement may make you forget that it feels like you’re breathing through a straw. “This town took ownership of the race from the time it was announced,” says Jeff Wilson of Columbus, Ohio. “They took the race as their own and made it special.”
“Special” included a finish through the Olympic Plaza and boisterous crowds, in addition to a race management company that sweated the details.
“Great races combine a tireless service to the athlete with an attitude of fun,” says Wilson, a veteran of 31 marathons. “We’re all out there to celebrate the day, the sport and each other. The best (races) build on that.” www.saltlakecitymarathon.com.
Join the Best Race at Altitude discussion.
Most Scenic: Big Sur
So you know that car commercial, where a sedan is knifing down a two-lane road high above the ocean with some overdone Led Zeppelin song cranking in the background? You know how your eyes drift from the car you can’t afford, over to the dazzling view? That’s Big Sur, a breathtaking stretch of Northern California coastline. And you, my friend, are going to see it at a much more reasonable speed. Because as beautiful as it is, the Big Sur Marathon is also hilly, and no place to shoot for a PR. Looking west, that won’t matter much.
“Spending the better part of four hours watching the California coast is a pleasant way to spend a morning, even as the pain in my legs constantly increases,” says Rick Swayne of Los Gatos, California, a regular here. Be sure to bring along a portable camera; you’ll want to document your slow, painful, gorgeous journey. www.bsim.org.
Best Place to Feel Like a Movie Star: Los Angeles
Drawn to the bright lights of show biz like a moth to a porch light? You’ll dig the 8:30 a.m. start (though some have complained of the heat). Love hearing people call out to you? The personalized bibs (with your first name in big letters) will be right up your alley. Dream of competing in a reality television show? Try crying at the end of a marathon in front of a grandstand full of beautiful people. Los Angeles makes you feel like a somebody.
“The city made such a big deal about it,” says Kelli Picon of Greeley, Colorado, who ran the race in 2004. “There were posters all over L.A., Hollywood and everywhere else we went. We saw coverage of it on TV–it made us all feel very important.” www.lamarathon.com.
Best Marathon/Vacation Combo: Vancouver, B.C.
It’s about time somebody recognized our neighbors to the north. Vancouver, whose marathon is typically at the end of April, is a beautiful historic city with a British feel and plenty of entertainment for everyone. The race itself is a well-organized, athlete- and spectator-friendly race that gives you a jumpstart on sightseeing. Plus, the hills aren’t so bad that you’ll have to spend the rest of your vacation holed up in the hotel.www.adidasvanmarathon.ca.
Best Race to Leave the Kids Behind: Las Vegas
Running is to Vegas as gambling is to the Vatican. Running means early mornings, carb-fests and sweat-drenched shirts. Vegas means sleepless nights, all-you-can-eat shrimp and sweat that smells like rum and Coke. Maybe that’s the allure: If you’re going to sacrifice your social life in the pursuit of endurance, you might as well celebrate the end of it all in Party Central. Tom Stieg of Washington state knows. He came up short of a Boston qualifier in a windy Vegas last year.
“I was so disappointed I didn’t get to Boston, I headed right for Monte Carlo Brewery and just went crazy,” he says. “I was there for the rest of the day, still in my running stuff.” Some runners say they come for the fast course. We say they’re bluffing.
Best Race with a Half Marathon: Flying Pig (Cincinnati)
Many people don’t know that Cincinnati was once known as “Porkopolis,” or that it houses one of the best rib joints in the country (a favorite of the late Bob Hope). In fact, pigs are ubiquitous in the ‘Nati; even the statue commemorating the city’s bicentennial has four winged swine on top of a riverboat’s smokestacks.
Now, for the first time, the Flying Pig Marathon (purveyor of one of the best medals on the circuit) serves up a half-slab of marathon in addition to the full slab. It’s a great addition for those who don’t quite have the appetite for all those hills. www.flyingpigmarathon.com.
Best Race Off the Radar: Cal International
This marathon is actually pretty well known, if you live west of Boise. But Cal International is held in December, after all of the major fall marathons have come and gone. To many runners east of the Rockies, it never crosses their minds. Their loss.
Cal International is one of the best point-to-point marathons going. It runs downhill from Folsom Dam to the center of Sacramento, and is impeccably organized. Typically good weather greets runners, as does a varied course, a fantastic finish line and good crowds — which makes Cal International a good change of scenery, or a great place to rebound from a fall marathon disaster. www.runcim.org.
Best Race That Lives Up to the Hype: Twin Cities
The Twin Cities Marathon lays claim to being the “Most Scenic Urban Marathon.” Apparently, it’s all true. Talk to anyone who has run it, and it’s as though they’ve been hypnotized by the fall foliage and the pristine neighborhoods.
“I would say if you’re going to run a marathon in a city, you’d be hard-pressed to beat Twin Cities,” says Jesse Pagels of Chicago, who has run all the big ones. Twin’s course traipses through stately neighborhoods, along the shoreline of the lake and on the banks of the Mississippi. But it’s not just scenery that draws people: Twin’s point-to-point course begins just outside the Metrodome, which means a cozy warm-up and plenty of restrooms. At the other end in St. Paul, the finish up Summit Avenue then down past the capitol is one of the most memorable in the country.www.twincitiesmarathon.org.
Biggest Bang for the Buck: Houston
Way back in the ’90s, the HP Houston Marathon was having an identity crisis. They were losing elite runners to other races, and registration was stagnant even as marathoning was experiencing a second boom. Enter new race director Steven Karpas, a runner with a marketing and finance background. Exit prize money for elites. Karpas and the marathon staff plugged that money back into runner benefits and race technology. For $65, each entrant gets a training T-shirt, official race T-shirt, finisher’s sweatshirt, finisher’s beer mug, finisher’s medal, finisher’s certificate and a hot breakfast at the finish line. Houston also helped pioneer the art of tracking runners online.
“We wanted to grow our race, and thought the one way to do that was if runners were direct beneficiaries of the aspects of the race,” Karpas says.
It’s worked. Since 2001, the HP Houston Marathon has added a half marathon and 5K and has grown its participation to 18,000 total runners. The half marathon is the men’s national championship race, but every runner feels elite in Houston.
“Lots of races claim they do everything for the runners,” says Randy Moore of Minneapolis, who ran Houston last year. “Houston lives up to everything it claims.” www.hphoustonmarathon.com.
Of the above mentioned the only one I have run is Cal International (CIM). Although it was a terrible race for me, it is a beautiful course and is worth running. The only tricky part is that it appears to be a straight downhill course. Let me tell you that is IS net downhill, but most of the course is rolling hills so hill training is necessary. I am running Vegas this year which is the same weekend so CIM is out this year. If you are looking for a winter race Cal International is a good choice!
Okey dokey, time to go catch up on all of my guilty pleasure shows in the DVR. Come on now, you know that’s how I roll on Friday night!!! What? Most couples don’t watch the Jersey Shore on their anniversary?