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The 15 Best Spring Marathons in the U.S.

15 Best Spring Marathons

When it comes to spring marathons, the iconic Boston Marathon is always the pinnacle event of the season. After the tragic events during last year’s race, all eyes will be on Beantown next April more so than ever. But it’s not the only time runners around the country will lace up and define courage over the course of 26.2 miles. These top 15 U.S. spring marathons (listed by date, from mid-March to early-June) are all perfect opportunities for any runner to prove there’s no such thing as a spring break.

On the selection process: We spent a lot of time reading online participant reviews and soliciting input from the entire editorial team, as well as running contacts from around the country. When it came down to the tough choices, we went with picks based on positive reviews, reputation, popularity and the unique value they offer to the runner. We try to create these lists to not only feature some of the always-popular, bucket list annual races, but to also shine some light on some newer, smaller or challenging races that offer the runner something off the beaten path to create a more diverse (and somewhat surprising) compilation.

1. Yuengling Shamrock Marathon

Location: Virginia Beach, VA
Date: March 16, 2014
Sure, temperatures start to thaw out in March, but it’s still nowhere close to beach weather on much of the East coast. The Yuengling Shamrock Marathon disagrees! Since 1973, the Virginia Beach race has welcomed a wee clan of more than 4,000 marathoners to its fast and flat shoreline every St. Patrick’s Day weekend. In addition to a stretch along the famous beach boardwalk, the BQ (Boston Qualifying) course makes its way past historic hotspots like Cape Henry Lighthouse (one of the oldest in the country) and the site where Jamestown colonists first settled in 1607. More than 22,000 other runners and walkers join in the rest of the racing festivities, which include a half-marathon, 8K and “Leprechaun Dash.” All can celebrate with a jig and a swig at the post-race party with live entertainment, Irish beef stew and — what else? — ice cold Yuengling and shamrockin’ swag. Registration fee: $120-$135

Photo: Charlottesville Marathon

Photo: Charlottesville Marathon

2. Miller Lite Charlottesville Marathon

Location: Charlottesville, VA
Date: April 5, 2014
The Miller Lite Charlottesville Marathon is a favorite among authorities like Runner’s World, The New York Times and Running Times, who have all touted it as one of the most scenic marathon courses around. And we certainly can’t find any reason to argue! The 12th annual race is a looped route featuring a mix of flats and hills — some quite challenging, but all very beautiful in the diverse rural setting. Thirty five hundred runners in both the marathon and half-marathon (there’s also an 8K and kids run) will travel through the area’s historic neighborhoods, past Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia and among the Albemarle wine country and Piedmont horse farms along the BQ course. Registration fee: $93-$123

Photo: Kentucky Derby Festival

Photo: Kentucky Derby Festival

3. Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon

Location: April 19, 2014
Date: Louisville, KY
And they’re off — the 18,000 runners at the Kentucky Derby Festival that is! The largest day of road racing in Kentucky history, this event also includes a half-marathon and team relay marathon. Once they’re out of the gates, marathoners will take on the BQ course that includes a hilly section through Iroquois Park around mile 12 and a quick trot through the infield of the historic Churchill Downs. Spectators, we suggest you grab a mint julep and place your bets before the finishers come down the final stretch in downtown Louisville. Registration fee: $80

Photo: FayFoto/Boston

Photo: FayFoto/Boston

4. Boston Marathon

Location: Hopkinton, MA
Date: April 21, 2014
Marathon Monday, which falls on Patriots’ Day each year, has always felt like a holiday in Boston, but the horrific bombings at last year’s race made it feel like a nightmare. Now back for its 118th year as the world’s oldest annually contested marathon, an increased field size of 36,000 runners will once again head out to the same starting line in Hopkinton. They’ll conquer the same historic course and challenging Heartbreak Hill in front of the same steadfast crowds of more than 500,000 spectators. And finally, they’ll cross the same iconic finish line on Boylston Street — a part of the race many were unable to complete last year. Boston is the big leagues. It’s a pilgrimage for runners and often a lifelong quest to even qualify — because you’ve got to be wicked fast. But runners love a good comeback story and we’re all looking forward to the many that will unfold along the 26.2 miles through Beantown this year. Registration fee: $175-$225 (Registration for qualified runners is closed.)

Photo: Kemper Mills Fant Photography

Photo: Kemper Mills Fant Photography

5. Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon

Location: Roanoke, VA
Date: April 26, 2014
Like rolling hills? You better if you want to run the Foot Levelers Blue Ridge Marathon, which is often hailed as “America’s Toughest Road Marathon” and featured on many marathon bucket lists. A group of 750 runners will face 7,430 feet of total elevation change over the course, with three huge climbs and descents on Mill Mountain, in the Blue Ridge Parkway and up Roanoke Mountain. So how do runners endure the killer ups and downs? According to race directors “it’s like running through a postcard,” and the most breathtaking views of the region’s mountains and valleys are (of course) best seen from the top. There’s also a half-marathon or 10K option available at the event, with net proceeds from all races benefiting Friends of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Registration fee: $80

Photo: Big Sur International Marathon

Photo: Big Sur International Marathon

6. Big Sur International Marathon

Location: Carmel, CA
Date: April 27, 2014
It’s no surprise to see Big Sur International Marathon, the largest rural marathon in the world, on this list since it makes pretty much every other list of top marathons out there. Now in its 29th year, the stunning point-to-point course runs along scenic Highway One (the nation’s very first scenic highway), touches seven California State Parks and features 13 significant hills in the last 13 miles. Perhaps the 4,500 elite and everyday marathoners are too distracted by the sweeping Pacific Ocean views and passes through Redwood forests to notice?  We don’t think so, but Big Sur was voted “Best Destination Marathon” in 2012 by Competitor magazine. With additional race distances suited for everyone (21-miler, 10.6-miler, 9-miler, 5K and 3K kids run) and plenty to do around the Monterey Bay area, we’d put this at the top of our spring getaway list, too. Registration fee: $160-$300; sold out

Photo: Shiprock Marathon

Photo: Shiprock Marathon

7. Shiprock Marathon

Location: Shiprock, NM
Date: May 3, 2014
There are only 1,500 runners at the Shiprock Marathon, but its intimacy suits the hallowed land of the Navajo Nation. Runners say the highlight of the BQ course is passing by the “Tsé Bit’a'í” (Shiprock) itself, a 27 million year old 1,583-foot isolated monadnock or remnant of an extinct volcano. Now in its 31st year, the event also includes a team relay, half-marathon, 10K, kids race and 5K walk, with all proceeds to aid NavajoYES, and authentic Southwestern pottery for all age group award winners. Registration fee: $65-$75

Photo: Wisconsin Marathon/JET Events

Photo: Wisconsin Marathon/JET Events

8. Wisconsin Marathon

Location: Kenosha, WI
Date: May 3, 2014
Join more than 1,000 Cheeseheads for the sixth annual Wisconsin Marathon on its beautiful waterfront course along Lake Michigan’s coast. The marathon and half marathon share the same roads for the first 11.5 miles, traveling on an out-and-back, mostly flat BQ course peppered with a few rolling hills. There’s even a special “All Cheese Corral” for anyone who dons dairy- or cheese-themed apparel during the run. Regardless of what you look like at mile 26.2, you’ll still find a free brat, beer and big ol’ cheesy medal waiting for you at the finish line. Registration fee: $69-$90

Photo: Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon

Photo: Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon

9. Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon

Location: Cincinnati, OH
Date: May 4, 2014
It started out as a drinking/brainstorming session among a group of local runners in 1999, a tentative course scribbled on a bar napkin. Today the 16th annual Cincinnati Flying Pig Marathon has reached new heights as one of the largest marathons in the country. More than 30,000 marathoners and half marathoners will cover the beautiful BQ course which “flies” through Cincinnati and its nearby neighborhoods and over the bridges of the Ohio River — all with 150,000 enthusiastic spectators rooting them on. While the 3D medal is one of the most coveted among marathoners, runners not quite ready for that distance can sign up for the half, relay, 10K or Flying Piglet kids fun run instead. Registration fee: $90-$115

Photo: Cleveland Marathon

Photo: Cleveland Marathon

10. Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon

Location: Cleveland, OH
Date: May 18, 2014
The 37th annual Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon hits all the right notes — and not just because it passes the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along its legendary route. This Forest City tradition is one of the 50 oldest marathons in the U.S. and its BQ course is one of the flattest and fastest in the country. More than 20,000 runners (which includes those participating in the half-marathon, 10K, 5K or kids run) get the full Cleveland experience with sights like FirstEnergy Stadium (home to the Cleveland Browns) and Lake Erie and sounds you’d only expect from the “Rock ‘n’ Roll Capital of America.” Registration fee: $85-$120

11. Sugarloaf Marathon

Location: Eustis, ME
Date: May 18, 2014
It’s the largest ski area east of the Rockies, but you can hardly expect the Sugarloaf Marathon to be all downhill. Celebrating its 32nd year, the race is Maine’s oldest continuously run marathon and it’s a beauty. A total of 1,600 racers (in the marathon and 15K) wind their way through the jaw-dropping mountains of western Maine along Route 27, the state’s scenic highway. The BQ course starts flat for five miles before tossing in a mix of rolling hills. But the last 16 miles have an elevation loss of 980 feet — making it one of the top 15 fastest marathon courses in the nation. Bonus: It’s charitable, too. In 2013, the Sugarloaf Marathon contributed roughly $13,000 to the Sugarloaf Region Charitable Trust, the largest donation in the event’s history. Registration fee: $65-$85

Photo: RunVermont

Photo: RunVermont

12. KeyBank Vermont City Marathon

Location: Burlington, VT
Date: May 25, 2014
The KeyBank Vermont City Marathon puts on a sweet treat each year for its 3,600 marathoners and relay teams. At the 26th annual event, participants will run all over the charming Burlington area, with Lake Champlain, the Adirondack Mountains and the Green Mountains setting the scene. The BQ course is shaped like a clover leaf, so it’s very spectator-friendly for the throngs of enthusiastic cheerleaders and on-course entertainment that come out each year. In case you need extra motivation at this race, there just so happens to be free Ben & Jerry’s at the finish line! Registration fee: $90-$115

Photo: Alex Derr

Photo: Alex Derr

13. Newport Marathon

Location: Newport, OR
Date: May 31, 2014
Whether you want to run your first marathon or earn a BQ, you can do it at the Newport Marathon in the heart of Oregon’s central coast. There’s only one catch; you must like oysters because you can slurp ‘em down at miles 11 and 19 of the flat, very fast and scenic course. According to race officials, almost half of all 1,000 participants earn personal records (PRs) at the race. They’ll run through some of the most picturesque neighborhoods and fishing villages along the bay, with only a few gentle rolling hills and one short steep hill (mile 4) along the way. Then it’s flat to the finish, where runners earn the unique recycled glass medal. Registration fee: $85-$105

Photo: Deadwood Michelson Trail Marathon

Photo: Deadwood Michelson Trail Marathon

14. Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon

Location: Deadwood, SD
Date: June 1, 2014
According to Runner’s World, the Deadwood Mickelson Trail Marathon is the “Best Kept Secret in Marathoning.” Well, the secret’s out, because we can’t wait to tell you about the invigorating point-to-point BQ course of the largest trail marathon in the country. The first 1.5 road miles start in the old mining town of Rochford and lead 500 marathoners (and 2,250 half-marathoners and 50 relay teams) to the start of the Mickelson Trail, through the sacred land of the Lakota Sioux. Here they’ll cover a mix of small climbs and flat ground in the first half and a huge stretch of downhill (especially from mile 19 to 20) before coming to the end of the trail. It’s not necessarily a fast course, but if you want the thrill of trail running (meadows, forests, babbling brooks and lots of mud) in a marathon setting, this race is for you. Registration fee: $65-$95

Photo: Steamboat Springs Camber Resort Association

Photo: Steamboat Springs Camber Resort Association

15. Steamboat Marathon

Location: Steamboat Springs, CO
Date: June 1, 2014
The 33rd annual Steamboat Marathon gives 500 marathoners and 1,200 half-marathoners a beautiful BQ course along the Elk River with majestic views of the snowcapped Rockies. It’s no surprise Runner’s World named it one of the “Top 10 Destination Marathons in America.” This is not a race for walkers as it has a five-hour time limit on the course (not to mention rolling hills and steep descents), but there’s also a 10K and kids run. You can soak up everyone’s accomplishments post-race with a dip in one of Steamboat’s historic hot springs. Registration fee: $70-$80

Got spring marathon fever? Check out even more races in the directories on marathonguide.com and runningintheusa.com.

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