Fast Fall Marathons to Earn a BQ

The 15 Fastest Fall Marathons to Earn a BQ

From the starting line in Hopkinton, MA to the iconic finish line on Boylston Street, the local roads and rolling hills that make up the Boston Marathon course are hallowed grounds to the running community. And it’s the only major public marathon to require official qualifying times for participants, excluding charity runners.

According to the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), this practice started back in 1970, when the field size of the race increased to well over 1,000 runners with the nation’s first running boom. Not wanting to compromise the quality of its race, the BAA determined the first qualifying time standards, which continue to evolve and grow tougher each year.

Qualifying times vary from year to year. In 2013, the times dropped by five minutes across all age groups. Today, if you’re between the ages of 25-34, you’ll have to run at least a 3:05 (men) or a 3:35 (women) marathon to earn a coveted BQ (short for “Boston Qualifying” time). We say at least because the actual registration is a rolling process, with the fastest qualifiers being allowed to sign up first. Those with slower BQ times run the risk of getting cut off, depending on the number of registrations in any given year.

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These qualifying time standards often represent the pinnacle goal for marathon runners. Dreaming of racing in the most historic and fastest marathon in the country? Signing up for one of these BQ-friendly fall marathons may be your best to drop time and secure your spot on the storied streets.

Note: The qualifying window for the 2016 Boston Marathon opened on September 13, 2014 and registration will likely begin September 2015. Once the field fills up, the BAA will then open the qualifying window for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

The following races, listed by date starting in mid-September, were selected for their national reputations as fast, flat courses with high percentages of BQ times.

Advocate Marathon
Photo: Advocate Dreyer Last Chance BQ.2 Chicagoland Marathon

1. Advocate Dreyer Last Chance BQ.2 Chicagoland Marathon

Location: Geneva, IL
Date: September 12, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 61%
What makes it so fast: This small race may be one of the last (and best!) opportunities for runners still hoping to qualify for 2016. It’s got BQing down to a science and treats its 300 participants like elites on the pancake-flat, eight loop course with 16 aid stations. There are even Boston Marathon registration kiosks waiting for you at the finish line!

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Revel Big Cottonwood
Photo: Revel Big Cottonwood

2. Revel Big Cottonwood Marathon

Location: Salt Lake City, UT
Date: September 12, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 20%
What makes it so fast: The stunning scenery of the Wasatch Mountain canyons and the foothills of Salt Lake City are the perfect backdrop for a speedy BQ. Because the downhill course, featuring multiple switchbacks, has a 5,278-foot elevation drop, runners who are used to sea-level running should barely notice any of the altitude effects usually associated with mountain runs.

Erie Marathon
Photo: Erie Marathon / Todd Van Hoeser

3. Erie Marathon

Location: Erie, PA
Date: September 13, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 33%
What makes it so fast: This is another popular marathon packed with BQ hopefuls. Around 2,500 of them will head to the lakeshore city for a flat, two-loop course through Presque Isle State Park. The race offers few surprises, with gentle curves and little wind. And because of its mid-September date, a BQ in Erie might give you a qualifying time that’s good for two years.

Leigh Valley VIA Marathon
Photo: Leigh Valley Via Marathon

4. Lehigh Valley Health Network Via Marathon

Location: Allentown, PA
Date: September 13, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 24%
What makes it so fast: Head to rural Lehigh Valley for the third fastest race in the country, with an average finish time of 3:54:24. Designed by Bart Yasso of Runner’s World, this super flat, fast course is strategic. Each year, 2,500 runners take advantage of the shady stretches, cinder trails and the net elevation drop of 240 feet.

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St. Georges Marathon
Photo: St Georges Marathon

5. St. George Marathon

Location: St. George, UT
Date: October 3, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 18%
What makes it so fast: While it’s often touted for its dreamy scenery and unparalleled race day logistics, this small southwestern marathon (less than 1,000 finishers) is also acclaimed for its speed. The point-to-point course near the Arizona border gives you a natural turbo charge as you descend nearly 2,600 feet among the red rocks.

Medtronic Marathon
Photo: Twin Cities in Motion

6. Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon

Location: Minneapolis, MN
Date: October 4, 2015|
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 13% (2014)
What makes it so fast: This popular race is the ninth largest in the country and is the self-proclaimed “most beautiful urban marathon in America.” The vibrant course along the Mississippi’s riverbanks from Minneapolis to St. Paul, the 300,000 supportive spectators and the early fall weather set the scene for ideal racing conditions year after year.

Wineglass Marathon
Photo: A.D. Wheeler

7. Wineglass Marathon

Location: Corning, NY
Date: October 4, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 15%
What makes it so fast: It’s one of our favorite fall marathons and often makes other top marathon lists for good reason. There are few flat, fast countryside courses as picturesque as this point-to-point race in the Finger Lakes during the peak of leaf-peeping season. The one-of-a-kind glass medals given to the 2,000 finishers don’t hurt, either.

Chicago Marathon
Photo: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

8. Bank of America Chicago Marathon

Location: Chicago, IL
Date: October 11, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 10%
What makes it so fast: Clocking in at 45,000 runners, Chi-Town hosts the second largest and one of the most renowned marathons in the world. See where the Windy City can take you on the flat course that runs through 29 diverse neighborhoods. The field is deep and the support from 1.7 million cheering spectators is thick — just like the city’s signature pizza.

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Mohawk Hudson Marathon
Photo: Mohawk Hudson Marathon

9. Mohawk Hudson River Marathon

Location: Schenectady, NY
Date: October 11, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 23%
What makes it so fast: With nearly a quarter of the field earning a BQ, this simple, small-town race knows what it’s doing — without any extra hoopla. This flat, downhill (370-foot drop) course might be just what you need to hit your magic time. The scenic bike paths and city streets along the beautiful Mohawk and Hudson Rivers are just an added bonus.

Steamtown Marathon

10. Steamtown Marathon

Location: Scranton, PA
Date: October 11, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 20%
What makes it so fast: Celebrating its 20th year, this race is a classic favorite among BQ strivers. But even with a net elevation loss of 955 feet, it’s a challenging course for its 3,000 runners, due to the (cruel) timing of a few hills just before the finish. On the upside, two scenic miles on the Lackawanna River’s dirt trails will be a welcome respite for your tired legs.

Ashworth Awards Baystate Marathon
Photo: Ashworth Awards Baystate Marathon

11. Ashworth Awards Baystate Marathon

Location: Lowell, MA
Date: October 18, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 25%
What makes it so fast: With an average finish time of 3:53:05, this “for runners, by runners” race just earned the number two spot for fastest marathon in the country. Its no-frills mission: To help you BQ. However, its double loop ‘round the Merrimack River has a few turns and rolling hills to keep you on your toes.

Indianapolis Marathon
Photo: Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

12. Indianapolis Monumental Marathon

Location: Indianapolis, IN
Date: November 7, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 16%
What makes it so fast: Forget the Indy 500! There’s another high-speed race taking over Indianapolis. Join 4,000 racers in exploring the city’s biggest highlights along the loop course. Local fans will push you past the Indiana State Capitol, Lucas Oil Stadium and the famous Indianapolis Museum of Art as on your way to the finish.

Anthem Richmond Marathon
Photo: Sports Backers

13. Anthem Richmond Marathon

Location: Richmond, VA
Date: November 14, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 10%
What makes it so fast: How did this riverside race earn the nickname of “America’s Friendliest Marathon?” Maybe it’s the high-energy bands and party zones. Or maybe it’s the junk food stations at mile 16 and 22, stocked with Gummy Bears, cookies and soda! Either way, the course is downhill to the finish line (where pizza and beer await), making it a fast and fun marathon.

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Philadelphia Marathon
Photo: GORE-TEX Philadelphia Marathon

14. GORE-TEX Philadelphia Marathon

Location: Philadelphia, PA
Date: November 22, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 13%
What makes it so fast: With an epic starting line soundtrack, the City of Brotherly Love sends more than 10,000 runners through America’s most historic streets. You’ll head over flat roads along two rivers, and back to the Philadelphia Art Museums steps for a memorable finish. It’s the country’s eighth largest race, and one of the loudest thanks to its enthusiastic crowds.

California Marathon
Photo:; Sean Dulany

15. California International Marathon

Location: Sacramento, CA
Date: December 6, 2015
Percentage of runners who BQ (2014): 23%
What makes it so fast: If you missed a BQ earlier in the season, look to this late fall race (“the fastest in the west”) to give it one more try before winter. With pace teams for every Boston qualifying standard, superb organization, cool temps, 50,000 fans, and a 340-foot net drop, this rolling hill marathon sets its 6,200 runners up for a BQ success story.

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