15 Fun and Fast Marathons for Beginners

15 Fun, Fast and Beginner-Friendly Marathons

If you’ve decided this is the year you’ll run your first marathon, but are overwhelmed at the thought of choosing the perfect race, we understand. With more than 1,100 marathon races in the U.S., each with very different courses and vibes, there are a whole lot of options for beginners! And shouldn’t you look for something that’s a little, well, easier for your first time?

While we don’t believe running 26.2 miles anywhere can really be called “easy,” these 15 U.S. marathons are especially good for those ready to take that first step. From big city races to small rural routes, there’s something for everyone here to ensure a positive and memorable first marathon experience.

To compile this list of 15 beginner-friendly marathons (listed by date, starting in February), we selected races that will help newbies be confident, happy and stress-free on their first go-round. That means you’ll find picks known for their flat and fast courses, scenic destinations, top-notch organization and logistics, ideal weather and high-energy fanfare. Believe it or not, there are even a few race weekends that may just feel like a vacation.

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15 Beginner-Friendly Marathons

Austin Marathon
Photo: Mario Cantu

1. Austin Marathon
Location: Austin, TX
Date: Sunday, February 15, 2015
First-timers and veterans alike don’t have to worry about unpredictable winter weather at this marathon. With average race temps between 44-65 degrees, the city that keeps it weird welcomes 5,000 runners (with plenty of enthusiastic cheering) to explore its hilly, urban course. Rock on with 30 local bands as you pass Lady Bird Lake, Congress Avenue and more, before crossing the finish at the State Capitol, where Austin’s best food trucks await. Registration fee: $140-$145

Napa Valley Marathon
Photo: Arturo Ramos

2. Kaiser Permanente Health Care Napa Valley Marathon
Location: Calistoga, CA
Date: Sunday, March 1, 2015
If you’re a wine lover, it’s tempting to go off-course at this popular destination marathon through California’s beautiful wine country. But there’s plenty of time post-race to raise a glass and celebrate the journey to Napa. This point-to-point race features rolling hills and is unfortunately not very spectator-friendly. But you and 3,000 other runners will be too busy drinking in the sweeping views and twists and turns of the Silverado Trail to notice. Registration: $250; sold out

Los Angeles Marathon
Photo: ASICS Los Angeles Marathon

3. ASICS LA Marathon
Location: Los Angeles, CA
Date: Sunday, March 15, 2015
Don’t be intimidated by flashy, big city races! This 30th annual marathon puts 25,000 runners in the spotlight, but more than half of them are first-timers who deserve the star treatment. After a pitch-perfect start at Dodger Stadium, the net downhill course leads you through the sights and sounds of LA neighborhoods including Hollywood and Beverly Hills. You’ll know you’re near the finish line when you can spot the iconic Santa Monica Pier. Registration fee: $180-$205

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Flying Pig Marathon
Photo: Michael E. Anderson

4. Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon
Location: Cincinnati, OH
Date: Sunday, May 3, 2015
The people of Cincinnati believe anything is possible. Yes, pigs can fly and even you can run (or walk) a marathon. This 17th annual family-friendly weekend of racing reaches new heights year after year as nearly 5,000 marathoners fly through the city’s neighborhoods and along the Ohio River, while more than 100,000 fans or “Street Squealers” cheer them on. Think that sounds awesome? Just wait until you see the highly-coveted 3-D medal. Registration fee: $90-$115

Eugene Marathon
Photo: Eugene Marathon

5. Eugene Marathon
Location: Eugene, OR
Date: Sunday, May 10, 2015
There’s no better place than TrackTown, USA, home of American distance running and the old stomping grounds of legends like Steve Prefontaine, to go the distance and earn a fast time. The mostly flat course (save for the hill at mile 8!) takes marathoners on a scenic tour of the Willamette River trails. But it’s the final 200 meters on the historic track of Hayward Field where you can really turn up the speed and find your inner Pre! Registration fee: $95-$115

Vermont City Marathon
Photo: Karen Pike

6. People’s United Bank Vermont City Marathon
Location: Burlington, VT
Date: Sunday, May 24, 2015
First-time marathoners won’t ever feel alone on this charming course through the Burlington streets, along Lake Champlain and among the Adirondack Mountains. Not only do 3,600 other runners make great company, the clover-shaped course is spectator-friendly, so your biggest fans (and lots of friendly strangers) can spot you at several mile markers. Then, celebrate together with a sweet treat at the finish — Ben & Jerry’s ice cream! Registration fee: $90-$125

RELATED: The 50 Best Half-Marathons in the U.S. 

Grandmas Marathon
Photo: Jeff Frey/Associates Photography

7. Grandma’s Marathon
Location: Duluth, MN
Date: Saturday, June 20, 2015
Over 32 rivers, creeks and streams and through the woods, to Grandma’s Marathon we go! This small-town race has been a popular choice for beginners since 1977. The point-to-point course is very flat with a few gentle hills (and a big one at mile 22). It’s fast with a cool northeast tailwind for speedy times. It’s stunning with views of Lake Superior along Old Highway 61. And it’s supportive, with loud crowds right when you need ‘em most. Registration fee: $105-$115

Missoula Marathon
Photo: Missoula Marathon

8. Missoula Marathon
Location: Missoula, MT
Date: Sunday, July 12, 2015
Experience majestic Missoula bright and early! The beloved point-to-point race kicks off at 6 a.m. with fireworks as 1,750 runners travel through the valleys and among the mountains of Big Sky Country. The countryside roads are pretty flat, except for a hard climb before mile 14. When you cruise into the downtown finish, don’t be surprised if it feels like the whole town is there to congratulate you as you earn the unique horseshoe-shaped medal. Registration fee: $80-$125

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VIA Marathon
Photo: John R. Hofmann

9. Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon
Location: Allentown, PA
Date: Sunday, September 13, 2015
If you want your first marathon experience to be as fast as possible, take on this super flat race through the bucolic Lehigh Valley. Designed by Bart Yasso of Runner’s World, it’s the second fastest race in the country, behind the much more grueling Boston Marathon, and boasts an average finish time of 3:49:56. The shady course, capped at 2,500 runners, follows the Lehigh Valley River along a mix of roads and cinder trails. Registration fee: $110-$155

Twin Cities Marathon
Photo: Wayne Kryduba courtesy of Twin Cities In Motion

10. Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon
Location: Minneapolis, MN
Date: Sunday, October 4, 2015
It’s no surprise first-time marathoners make up 30 percent of the field at this popular race that claims to be the “most beautiful urban marathon in America.” They’ve surely heard about the four sparkling lakes, tree-lined streets, stretches on both sides of the Mississippi River and 300,000 screaming spectators throughout the hilly course from Minneapolis to St. Paul. But what’s new this year for the 12,200 runners? Beer at the finish line! Registration fee: $105-$130

RELATED: The 20 Most Inspiring Runners in the U.S. 

Chicago Marathon
Photo: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

11. Bank of America Chicago Marathon
Location: Chicago, IL
Date: Sunday, October 11, 2015
It’s one of the largest, most famous marathons in the world, but the Windy City (and its 1.7 million spectators) will blow you away with its efforts to make all 45,000 runners feel special. Beginners and elite athletes alike take on the flat, fast and magnificent miles through 29 diverse neighborhoods, from packed streets of fans in Lincoln Park to vibrant celebrations in Chinatown. Here’s another world-class idea: post-race deep dish pizza. Registration fee: $185-$210

Marine Corps Marathon
Photo: Marine Corps Marathon

12. Marine Corps Marathon
Location: Washington, D.C.
Date: Sunday, October 25, 2015
This extremely popular marathon is by no means easy (and sells out fast!), but it’s appealing to beginners who make up one-third of the 30,000 total runners. Often called “The People’s Marathon” because it doesn’t offer prize money to winners, this race is a tour to D.C.’s major monuments, along the Potomac River and through Georgetown, so there’s a lot of distraction — not to mention support from the inspiring Marines along the course. Registration fee: $125

RELATED: 5 Running Tweaks That Took an Hour Off My Marathon Time

Las Vegas Marathon
Photo: RNR

13. Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon
Location: Las Vegas, NV
Date: Sunday, November 15, 2015
Everyone knows the glitz and glam of Sin City really comes alive after hours, so it’s only fitting this race has a 4:30 p.m. start time! Join other runners, walkers and Elvis impersonators for a 26.2-mile night out on the Las Vegas Strip, as you high-roll past the famous casinos to the tunes of live rock bands. This marathon isn’t all fun and games though — it also gives a major payout to its charity partner, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. Registration: $125

Honolulu Marathon
Photo: Honolulu Marathon

14. Honolulu Marathon
Location: Honolulu, HI
Date: Sunday, December 13, 2015
Do we really need to explain why 30,000-plus runners flock to Hawaii every winter? This huge marathon welcomes racers of all abilities and has no cap on participants or cut-off time. So soak up the sun (and the Aloha spirit) on this flat course in downtown Honolulu, past Waikiki Beach and even around a few volcanoes, with tropical views abound. We give you permission to pamper yourself in paradise post-race, too. Registration fee: $55 early entry, valid through February 4

Disney World Marathon
Photo: Disney World Marathon

15. Walt Disney World® Marathon
Location: Orlando, FL
Date: Sunday, January 10, 2016
Join Mickey, Minnie and the rest of the gang to make your marathon dreams come true at this fairytale race in “The Happiest Place on Earth.” Disney runs are all about the fun, so channel your childhood memories by competing in costume, like so many other participants. Remember to keep an eye out for your favorite Disney characters along the course through all four theme parks for one-of-a-kind race day photo ops! Registration fee: $175-$205

Any other first-timer-friendly marathons we missed? Share them in the comments!

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